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Fire and flood protection demands full diligence for property managers

It’s been a horrible weather season for all of us. And that means it’s been a horrible weather season for property managers. According to Forbes, flood loss alone from Hurricane Ian could be as high as $18 billion. Uninsured losses are right behind, approaching $17 billion.

In addition, the nonprofit National Interagency Fire Center reports that, as of October 13 of this year, more than 6.9 million acres of land have burned from wildfires.

Don Wilkerson, CPM®, an IREM past president and this year’s IREM representative to the National Association of REALTORS®, also serves on NAR’s Insurance Committee and Disaster Insurance Task Force. He urges property managers to perform a thorough risk assessment and do so with the assistance of their insurers and lawyers.

Developing close working relationships with both of those entities (as well as with local fire and police authorities) will go far to ensure you are doing all that you can to protect your tenants, your residents, your ownership, and, of course, your property. “I encourage our people to accompany fire and insurance inspectors when they do their tours,” says the CEO of Gaston & Wilkerson in Reno, NV. “I’m not an expert. But I know where to go for expert advice.”

Through such interactions, “You can see where they’re coming from, and you can get a better understanding of the issues you’re facing.” He reminds IREM members that insurance firms can report their findings to your lenders, a red flag “if you decide not to take proper care of your property.”

And of course, “It’s incumbent upon property managers to take preventive measures seriously.” This encompasses chores such as inspecting fire extinguishers, landscaping and trash storage (“especially after someone moves in or vacates,” he says) to ensure that access and egress points are clear. “These are all part of our essential duties.”

He also points to ongoing education, certainly through IREM and NAR, and in particular to two toolkits produced by NAR: Flood Factor and Fire Factor

“Flood Factor has determined that there are 235 million properties that are subject to some form of risk,” says Wilkerson. And remember, the damage can come not just from the likes of a Hurricane Ian, but as well from extreme rainfalls.

This underscores the need for your research to go beyond the flood zone mapping traditionally created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “That mapping isn’t the be-all and end-all,” says Wilkerson, “and it’s often out of date. Our members need to be aware that just because you’re not in a FEMA flood zone, you might have flood implications that you should let your owners and tenants know about.”

Insurance protections here come with a Catch-22, he says. Where you need the coverage, it’s often more expensive than if you’re out of a flood zone, where it’s usually much more affordable.

Wilkerson says that IREM and NAR are working together on research to lower the costs of sufficient coverage for property owners and managers.

Turning to wildfires, “Fire Factor has estimated that about one in five houses in the US are at risk of damage by wildfires sometime in the next 30 years,” he continues. 

Both Factor toolkits will benefit users by exploring the area risks of flood and fire, and arm members with facts that can help in discussions with all stakeholders. Both Factors also serve as gateways to broader information about each environmental threat, such as the First Street Foundation, which provides what Wilkerson calls the “most comprehensive risk assessments” of both fire and flood.

In terms of other sources, “The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is perhaps the most authoritative source on wildfires in the US,” he says, and he points to Firewise, the NFPA’s certification program. “The NFPA also offers many statistics and best-practice guides broken out by property type and occupancy. He urges readers to search the NFPA website for “building and life safety.”

Other go-to sources for Wilkerson are:

Diligence in disaster prevention, no matter the threat, is a multi-tiered consideration. It involves the input of experts such as local fire authorities, your insurance carrier, and legal professionals. It involves taking full advantage of the documents and toolkits provided by industry associations such as IREM and NAR.

It demands a proactive approach on the part of all property managers. And, perhaps most important, this includes the all-important need for communication. “Being fully transparent with your ownership clients, your tenants and your residents will ensure trust and confidence for all stakeholders,” Wilkerson concludes.

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