NORWALK, Conn. – Problem: The valuation period for the latest round of Norwalk’s property assessments ended the same day new federal flood insurance rules went into effect. Those new rules alter the value of seaside property, but the timing means the rules could not be figured into the reval, Sixth Taxing District Commissioner Mike Barbis, a real estate agent, said.
Connecticut law requires that municipalities revalue real estate no later five years after the Oct. 1 effective date of the previous revaluation. In Norwalk, that was Oct. 1, 2008, so this year’s reval date of Oct. 1 coincides with changes mandated by the federal Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012.
“It was just coincidental … but the Federal Flood Insurance program was completely overhauled and the implementation date happened to be 10/1/13,” Barbis said in an email.
To compound the pain, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) changed the country’s flood zones, which became effective July 8, he said.
“It used to be that much of coastal Rowayton/Norwalk required new houses and heavily renovated houses to be at 13 feet above sea level (much of our land is around 8 to 10 feet above sea level),” he wrote. “If you weren’t at that 13-foot level, new and heavily renovated were not eligible for flood insurance. The 13 feet above sea level setting was determined by the Feds to be the level at which only once in 100 years would the water get that high … Older and unrenovated houses were grandfathered.”
The new maps changed much of Rowayton to 15 feet, and some of it to 17 feet, he said. Some of the homes are now also in “velocity” zones, meaning they now require special construction measures and materials, he said.
“The problem is … these flood insurance and flood zone changes definitely lower the value of waterfront/coastal property – and this is happening to the most valuable parts of Rowayton,” he said.
One Rowayton homeowner complaining at a recent revaluation meeting said his home insurance had gone from $16,000 to $53,000 a year. His assessment “barely went down in value at all,” he said.
No one would buy a house that had insurance that costly for $250,000 of coverage, he said.
There is a move afoot in Congress to delay premium increases for some federal flood insurance policyholders. Sponsors expect a Senate vote on the legislation next month and vow to spend the holiday recess working to build support for it, according to MyCentralJersey.com.
Other Rowayton residents pressed officials on whether they used accurate FEMA maps when they made their valuations.
“We had maps that we had early in the year from the public works department,” Tax Assessor Michael Stewart said. “My understanding is that they have since been changed. I have not seen it since the new FEMA regulations have come out.”
That’s a point Barbis made as well.
“The fact that the Assessor’s Office did not have the new flood maps and did not use them in their assessments means they are missing a key piece that determines a current home’s value. And I can tell you that buyers are already very aware about all of this,” he wrote.
Stewart and David Arnold of Vision Governmental Solutions, the company that has done the assessments, said the valuations are based on the opinion of the marketplace.
“We don’t make a decision on what a property is worth, the buyers and sellers do. We just analyze that data and develop models from that,” Arnold said.
Rowayton residents protested that there hadn’t been many sales post-Sandy. Officials conceded that was true, but Assistant Tax Assessor Michael O’Brien said there was no evidence that Sandy had negatively affected home values.
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