Downsizing and Real Estate

8/24/2022 | By Rivan V. Stinson

If you’re planning to relocate, check the weather forecast first, suggests Rivan V. Stinson of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. Severe weather events that have affected much of the world, including homes that have been destroyed by flooding, wildfires, and storms, so Stinson recommends tools to assess the risk of disasters and need for specialty insurance.

A recent report by Redfin, an online real estate brokerage, found that a record number of home buyers are relocating – primarily to more affordable parts of the country.

But any savings you realize by moving to a lower-cost area could disappear if your home is in the path of natural disasters. Severe weather events are occurring more and more frequently. In 2021 alone, the United States experienced 20, and the trend shows no sign of slowing in 2022.

Fortunately, there are tools you can use to assess the risk of disasters – and take steps to mitigate them – before you buy a new home.

Tools to assess the risk of disasters

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently updated its flood maps to incorporate more variables, including flood frequency and the types of floods – storm surges, river overflows and heavy rainfalls, for example – that could affect a particular area. With the old maps, FEMA assessed risk based mostly on the elevation of your property.

To find your FEMA map, go to You can get specific information about the risk flooding poses to a prospective home from Risk Factor ( The free tool provides flood and wildfire data for more than 145 million properties across the country. Risk Factor will rate the risk of floods or fires for a specific address on a scale of 1 to 10 – 1 being a minimal flood or fire risk and 10 being the highest. It will also project the risks to your county over a 30-year time frame, identify the FEMA zone your property is in and give you a range of what you could expect to pay for flood insurance premiums.

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Knowing your home’s risk of flooding will help you determine whether you should buy flood insurance. Flood damage is not covered by standard homeowners insurance policies, so you will have to purchase a separate flood policy from a private insurance company or through FEMA. For more information, go to

Thomas Fire off Foothill Road Ventura CA - photo by Joe Sohm, Dreamstime. Before you move, use these tools to assess the risk of disasters – inc. storms, flooding, wildfires, and earthquakes – and insurance needs
Thomas Fire off Foothill Road Ventura CA

FEMA’s National Risk Index assesses the overall risk of disasters for every U.S. county, as well as the risk that it will be hit by one or more storms and natural disasters (including wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and coastal flooding). The NRI also provides an estimate of the cost of natural disasters for specific counties.

Take Maricopa County, Arizona, home to Phoenix and numerous retirement communities. The NRI says it has a “relatively high” risk for wildfires, strong winds, river flooding and other disasters, and the index estimates the annual property loss at more than $44 million.

Hazard Hub’s free risk tool, used by both insurance agents and individuals, can also show you your property’s risk of damage from various calamities. As a plus, Hazard Hub also evaluates the risk of “man-made” issues, such as crime, nuclear plant accidents, leaks from underground storage tanks, and more.

© 2022 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Rivan V. Stinson

Rivan V. Stinson is a staff writer at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. For more on this and similar money topics, visit