Friday, March 27, 2009

Western North Carolina Real Estate Landslide Advisory: “You’re not thinking a mountain is going to fall on your house.”

Asheville Citizen-Times photos of recent Maggie Valley landslides. The Moody home and what used to be the Donin home.

On March 1, 2009 Western North Carolina mountain property owners were surprised to learn that their homes, and possibly their lives are threatened by landslides. Why didn't they know? Because North Carolina does not require hazardous land disclosure.

Thanks to the combined efforts of the Asheville Citizen-Times and the North Carolina Geological Survey, the public is now aware that much of the mountain real estate in the 23-county region known as Western North Carolina is landslide-hazardous. The newspaper’s, “ Homes in harm’s way on many WNC slopes," report verifies with the use of landslide maps and property records that approximately 1000 Watauga County residences and 300 lots are endangered by highly unstable slopes. Hazardous home sites in the other 22 counties have not been identified.

Weighing the Risks and Costs

Three Haywood County families wish that someone had explained the repercussions of investing in mountain real estate. On January 7, 2009 rain set off two landslides in Maggie Valley. The first destroyed Bruce and Lorraine Donins' Wild Acres home. There are unresolved legal issues for Ed and Pamela McAloon, the Donins' upslope neighbors. It was a section of their lot that fell and demolished the Donin residence. Haywood County has advised the McAloons that they are responsible for stabilizing their home site. Costs are unknown.

Walter Moody, owner of the second landslide-impacted property, told the Asheville Citizen-Times that a major portion of his lot collapsed and is resting 125 yards down a mountain slope. Joyce and Walter Moody’s home now sits 5 feet from the edge of the slope failure: cost to repair $400,000. Mr. Moody doesn’t blame anyone for his real estate loss but he notes the consequences:
When we built this house we put our savings into it. But today, what we know is that it wouldn't have made any difference if I put my money in the stock market or I put it into this house because I am going to wind up with basically the same thing — and that's nothing.
Landslide insurance: It isn’t available

In a recent e-mail Loretta Worters, vice president of the New York-based Insurance Information Institute told the Asheville Citizen-Times:

The present condition of allowing increasing waves of unregulated (or loosely regulated) haphazard growth to occur along these mountain ridges and slopes is likely to result in more houses being destroyed by landslides. Insuring a home that has a very high potential of having a landslide is akin to insuring a burning building; it just doesn’t make good sense.
The Asheville Citizen-Times has determined that landslide insurance is not obtainable.

Reporter Jordan Schrader asked Nikki Donin if her parents had considered landslides or insurance protection when they built their Wild Acres home. Her reply, “You’re not thinking a mountain is going to fall on your house.”

Property Values

Watauga County property owners should be asking why their homes are sitting in the path of potential landslides. Did the county know that that these building sites were not safe? Although county governments are unwilling to acknowledge the fact, they were all notified in 1998 by the North Carolina Department of Emergency Management that Western North Carolina mountain slopes were landslide-prone and highly hazardous.

Prior to the Asheville Citizen-Times landslide public-awareness initiative prospective buyers didn't know to ask, "Is this home site safe?" Now they do.

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