After the floods: are the worst-hit homes blighted forever?

Kent and Surrey are at last recovering from winter's freakish rains, but are the worst-hit homes blighted forever? Owners and would-be buyers need to know.
A couple of years back Staines changed its name to Staines-upon-Thames in an attempt to to ally itself with posher postcodes such as Richmond and Henley, while distancing itself from the infamy of Ali G and his Staines Massive. After falling victim to a season of flooding this riverside town might like to switch back.

Today, as submerged homes across Kent and Surrey are drying out, experts fear the long-term damage to the property market. Who, for example, would be brave enough to buy a home in the Kent village of Yalding, where several hundred residents were homeless over Christmas?  Or Wraysbury, in Surrey, where locals vented their rage at the Environment Agency's flood defence strategy after many homes were under six feet of water? 

Jeremy Boyle, associate director of estate agents The Frost Partnership, is based in Wraysbury and staying positive. He says buyers have short memories, and will be drawn back by the great rail links and village atmosphere."There were floods here in 2003 and the market was strong again following those," he says.

However, buying agent Edward Heaton, of Heaton and Partners, noticed an "immediate and marked" increase in clients saying they would not buy a property at risk of flooding. "Many of the well-publicised villages and areas that have been badly affected could now be stigmatised."

HOW DO I CHECK FLOOD RISK? 
Flood risk goes far beyond Wraysbury, Godalming, Egham and the other highprofile locations. Do a free check with the Environment Agency (environment-agency.gov.uk, or call Floodline risk. Estate agents are duty-bound to ask vendors about a property's flood history, but solicitors and surveyors also need to investigate and there would be legal repercussions if they failed to do so. You can spend £200 on a report from a flood-risk consultant.

WILL HOUSE PRICES BE HIT? 
Buying agent Heaton believes they will lose 25 per cent at worst, with some properties "virtually unsaleable" for the next year or so. Estate agent Boyle suggests owners of flood-damaged homes give up trying to sell in the short and medium term, "until there are some assurances from the Government on insurance and flood defences". Michael Parry-Jones, a partner at Grantly estate agents in Guildford, does not feel entire towns will take a hit, but says individual homes will struggle to sell if new defences aren't put in place.

WOULD I BE MAD TO BUY A PROPERTY THAT HAD FLOODED? 
The winter's floods were exceptional — Wraysbury, for example, was floodfree for more than a decade previously. But when negotiating a price you must take the potential risk into account. The average cost of a flood clean-up is estimated at £20,000-£40,000. Agents say that while it wouldn't be madness to buy one of these properties, it would be crazy to pay the full market price, and a discount of about 25 per cent might be in order.

WHAT ABOUT INSURANCE?  
In the case of properties that are particularly flood-prone, insurers can refuse cover or quote sky-high premiums. The Government's response is a scheme called Flood Re which will allow owners of high-risk homes to take out affordable insurance, paying up to £540 a year for the flood element of their cover. However, it will not cover homes built after January 2009, those in council tax band H, and some leasehold properties. The scheme will launch next year.

CAN I GET A MORTGAGE?  
Lenders' policies differ, and each property will need to be assessed. You won't get a mortgage anywhere if you are not able to get insurance.

CAN I FLOOD-PROOF A HOME?  
See our panel below for measures you can take, and visit knowyourfloodrisk.co.uk for more information. The Government is offering £5,000 grants to homeowners affected, and flood expert Gordon Robb says some might be in line for insurance premium discounts. "You can make your home a lot more resilient, but you cannot 100 per cent flood-proof it," he adds.

WAYS TO HOLD BACK THE FLOOD - FOR A WHILE  
  • You can slow a deep flood's entry to your home long enough to save possessions and make plans. The National Flood Forum has a directory of sandbag suppliers — so stock up (bluepages.org.uk)
  • Invest in floodgates to hold off water threatening to come through the front door or garage.
  • Install flood-proof doors and windows, and consider raising thresholds. Swap wood floors for stone tiles to lessen the damage.
  • Air bricks that are flood proof, or can be covered when flood risk rises, will stop water ingress.
  • Check your pointing. Fit water-resistant skirting boards (or varnish those you already have).
  • Raise electrical sockets, fuse boxes, controls and wiring to 1.5 metres above floor level.
  • Fit non-return valves to drains and pipes to stop waste water flooding the property.
  • Landscape your garden and driveway to help divert water away from your home.
Source: Environment Agency

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