Yesterday’s late afternoon announcement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will have a devastating impact on Rumson real estate values. In what some called a politically-motivated decision, the agency raised the final Base Flood Evaluations (BFEs) of all previously-designated AE flood zones in Rumson from 12 feet to 17 feet. In addition, FEMA expanded the AE flood zone to include all Rumson properties between Bingham Avenue and the Rumson-Sea Bright bridge (area in red on map above). The ruling brought howls of protest from local leaders, but the FEMA official said the agency clearly designated the 2014 maps as “Preliminary Flood Maps and Data”, subject to revisions and updates. The BFE changes take effect on April 1, 2016.
Diane Terten, real estate broker voted “best in Monmouth and Ocean Counties”, said the dramatic expansion of flood zones will make it much harder for Rumson home owners to sell their homes, and predicted Rumson property values would drop as much as 30-40% as a result of the FEMA decision. That means the median Rumson home price will decrease from $1.2M to $800-$900,000. Local builders asked whether new construction completed in 2014 and 2015 in the old AE flood zones would be grandfathered at the previous 12 foot BFE height, but the FEMA spokesperson had no information abot that issue. He said homes currently under construction will not be grandfathered, and will have to be lifted to meet the new 17 foot elevation.
FEMA’s announcement was both unexpected and unusual. Normally there is a 90-day opportunity for public hearings before Base Flood Elevations are changed, but FEMA gave no such opportunity for this ruling. In addition, no other New Jersey shore towns are affected by the decision, leading to speculation that President Obama directed FEMA to make the changes in a strongly-Republican town in retaliation for Governor Chris Christie’s endorsement of Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee for president. After Hurricane Sandy the Democrat president and the Republican governor seemed to overcome their political differences, but Christie included several nasty comments about Obama when he endorsed Trump. Rumson is a textboook example of a wealthy and strongly-Republican town, and reporters from the Newark News said their review of voting records dating back to the Civil War showed a Democrat never received a majority of votes cast in Rumson.
New Jersey is in FEMA Region II, which includes New York, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and FEMA usually makes this type of announcement at the Region II office in New York City. However, yesterday’s announcement was made in the White House briefing room in Washington, D.C., and the FEMA official was personally introduced by President Obama, who had a broad smile on his face. If you don’t have a smile on your face, you should. After all, on what day did the changes take effect? That’s right, April 1st. Happy April Fools’ Day!
Note: I wrote this post. The information in it reflects my personal opinions, and not necessarily the opinions of Diane Turton, Realtors.
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