New building codes and regulatory changes are in the future as Southwest Florida continues to recover from Hurricane Ian’s wrath.  

FORT MYERS BEACH – When it comes to once-in-a-generation hurricanes and Florida’s real estate market, one thing is clear: change is afoot.

Consider Hurricane Andrew. More than three decades ago, that deadly 1992 storm led to the consolidation of more than 400 different building codes into a single statewide code. The statewide code also established high-velocity hurricane zones – essentially, Miami-Dade and Broward counties – with even stricter codes.

Those stringent standards truly did make a difference.

Soon after Hurricane Ian made landfall a little more than one year ago, one analysis determined that wind losses in Lee County were twice as high for structures built before 1996.

This is why new building codes are in our near future. To continue upgrading the integrity of our structures, changes will need to be made to keep our buildings sturdy, safe and standing tall.

Then there are those looking to rebuild or renovate, whose homes were destroyed or sustained a considerable amount of damage from the storm, and the impact an existing rule under the federal National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that is significantly complicating some of those efforts.

FEMA 50-50

Under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 50% rule, homes that incur substantial damage – a FEMA standard that kicks in when repair costs reach at least 50% of a property’s market value – must be brought up to current building codes and floodplain regulations.

The need for such costly fixes is forcing many homeowners who can’t afford those repairs to sell. Others are resorting to tearing down the damaged properties and starting over, if not walking away.

On Fort Myers Beach, the hardest-hit community in Southwest Florida after Ian, as well as Sanibel and Bonita Beach, elevated homes on stilts will become far more prevalent, replacing the sea-level cottage homes that have defined this funky outpost for more than half a century.

Other potential regulatory changes we could see include replacing wood-framed structures with concrete block construction, even for homes that aren’t on the beachfront; updates to FEMA’s flood elevation maps, which occur every five years; amending height limits to accommodate more high-rises; and increased density, including to accommodate affordable housing.

Seize the moment

For both buyers and sellers, the potential market upheaval also represents an opportunity.  Many of those facing the 50-50 rule are living in homes that have been passed down for generations. Their mortgages are paid off, but access to the capital needed to rebuild or make the necessary upgrades to their homes is limited, so they choose (or are forced) to sell.

On the flip side, this creates room for those who have always dreamed of owning a home on a million-dollar lot to finally make it happen. Now is absolutely the time in Southwest Florida for folks to buy homes that have never been on the market in our lifetimes.

These shifts may enable you to own property that families and investors have sat on for decades; a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase beachfront property.

Though these changes will make home construction more costly overall, they will also increase our community’s resiliency. Your investment will be protected, as will your family, memories and belongings in a strong home for decades to come.

Significant events, global impacts

In the past several years, we’ve seen a rippling effect from the 500-year storm, a global pandemic and, now, the declaration of war in Israel. As these monumental events unfold, it’s only natural for people to see what’s happening around us and simply pause – and that includes those on the hunt for their forever home. The outside world can stop us in our tracks, make us assess what’s happening and figure out how our lives will continue to look moving forward.

No matter what’s going on in the world, people still must go home.

Despite the recent tumult, and the prospects of continued global uncertainty, the Florida market is returning to normal. The signs of season are here: Snowbirds are returning, newcomers and locals alike continue shopping for their dream homes, and we Floridians are rallying together after Ian to make sure the Sunshine State remains a beacon of opportunity for years and years ahead.

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Author: amyc