In late 2010 and early 2011, it began to rain in Toowoomba, a city in Western Brisbane, in Australia. It kept raining, harder rain than anyone had seen in years, and soon- within hours- there were flash floods throughout the city. Cars that had been sitting in calm intersections suddenly got flooded by waves of rising water, and at least eight people drowned that day. The toll kept rising, and terrible stories of mothers and children abandoning cars and being washed away were reported. It was a disaster.

It was also extremely unexpected. For years, Toowoomba had been at the heart of Australia’s massive drought, as chronicled in The Big Thirst Charles Fishman’s must-read on the future of water on Earth. Its reservoirs were 92% empty in 2010. Toowoomba’s problem was not enough rain, until, suddenly, the problem was far too much.

That’s what water does, though. It disappears and comes roaring back, unconcerned about humanly concerns. This is now California’s concern. With El Nino, massive rains are expected, and with them massive flooding. Areas in Los Angeles and Pasadena, as well as San Diego and Anaheim, are in dangerous flood zones. Beside the physical safety aspects, residential rehab pros who are working on houses have to make sure that their work isn’t ruined by floods. We’ve talked about strengthening gutters and storm windows, which can prevent rain damage, and how to fix a leaky roof, but floods are a different animal. Here is why your fix-and-flip property needs to be ready for flooding, and what to do about it.

How Can We Flood If There’s A Drought?

Californians can be forgiven for flood skepticism. After all, we’ve been told for years- correctly- that we are entering a generational drought. It’s bad news. So now we have to be ready for floods?

That’s the thing about water. It doesn’t come in at even replacement levels. Right now, the drought and the heavy rains will be working together. The last El Nino cycles haven’t been as bad as this one is predicted to be, and because the land is so dry, it’ll make the flooding even worse. We think a parched land will absorb the rain, and it will try to, but it is beyond parched right now. It is so dry, and so hardened, that according to the National Weather Service it will act like asphalt, and channel the water downhill to wherever it may go. This is what happened in Toowoomba, fatally.

Much of Southern California is at risk for this, and municipalities are preparing for it the best they can. Take, for example, the Devil’s Gate dam, in Pasadena, which has become choked over the years with sediment. The fear is that heavy flooding could quickly overwhelm it, sending water and debris into Northern LA, Pasadena, the Rose Bowl, and the areas along the 110 Freeway. Water could rush in from the San Gabriel Mountains in as little as 40 minutes. Cities are trying to figure out ways to divert this without overwhelming sewer and runoff systems. It’s a twofold plan off attack- to capture rainwater for storage (one year of rain won’t reverse the drought) and to make sure cities aren’t flooded.

Protecting Your Fix and Flip From Flood Damage

Of course, there is no sure cure for flooding. If it rains enough, there will be damage done, and if it is to your fix-and-flip, a year’s worth of work can be erased. We aren’t talking about the whole house being washed away, like in a tsunami, but even just a little flooding can cause an enormous amount of damage. Here are a few things you can do.

  • First off, buy flood insurance. California residents are urged to do that now. It might cost as much as $700, but flood damage, even just a few inches, can literally be tens of thousands of dollars. And buy now, because it often takes 30 days to go into effect.
  • Dry floodproofing is sealing the house from the outside to keep it dry below flood elevation. This generally involves special rubber sealant materials. It isn’t recommended for homes with basements, however, and there are some experts who think it isn’t good for any residences.
  • Wet floodproofing. This involves strategically preparing your house for a flood by allowing water into a place where there won’t be damage, like a concrete crawlspace. Think of it as in a zombie movie when they open one door so all the zombies flood in that one, and our heroes escape through another. Same principle. Water is lazy, and if there is an easy opening it will go to that. This way you might be able to avoid larger damage.
  • Barriers. This is of course one temporary way to go, which may appeal to you if you are looking to sell soon. Sandbags are the most popular one of these.

Of course, even if you are careful and take precautions, flooding can happen. Again, it isn’t on your schedule. So take care, but know that it might happen anyway. Here are a few ways to mitigate damage if you do get water.

  • Elevate expensive appliances and equipment. This seems obvious, but if you are doing a lot of work, chances are you have expensive equipment lying around. Make sure it is stored above the floor, preferably on the second story if possible. This is also true of TVs or other appliances.
  • Invest in a good pump to get the water out as soon as possible.
  • If possible, roll up and store carpet and rugs.

Water goes downhill, both naturally and metaphorically. It can come to your house. The dry earth can’t handle the rain, and it will move it toward the cities. The sewage and drainage systems won’t be able to handle the surge, and it will move toward your house. It can happen.

Remember, even a little damage can be disastrous to your residential rehab plans. You have carefully calculated how to turn a profit, and if there is suddenly a $40,000 flooding damage bill, all the work you’ve done can be for naught. So be prepared for flood damage, and use some of your hard money loan from Socotra, the leading equity-based lender in California, to make sure that the rains don’t bring ruin. You can’t control what water will do. But you can be prepared for its worst.