James Bovell, Property Persepctive

In light of the recent Category 5 hurricanes the Caribbean has had to endure, 13 years to the day since the Cayman Islands suffered at the hands of its own worst hurricane in living memory, Hurricane Ivan, I thought it would be useful to take a look at what we have learned from our experiences and, more worryingly, what we have not learned.

After Hurricane Ivan there was a slew of building projects in the Cayman Islands that clearly took heed of the necessary safety measures introduced. In the main, this was to build sufficiently far back from the coastal edge and to build high enough above sea level to avoid the horrendous storm surge that at one point pretty much engulfed the island during Ivan.

Yet after that flurry of safe and secure construction, I have seen in recent years a gradual lapse into the old, bad ways in some instances, especially when it comes to building up high. The current codes require a structure to be built one foot above the road (which should be at least five feet above sea level.) This should be at a bare minimum, in my opinion, because storm surge can easily reach higher than that especially with the flat elevation of Grand Cayman. But it is one thing to build six feet above sea level if you are located centrally away from the coast; it is quite another to build just six feet up if you are on a canal or waterfront location, when greater consideration must be given to building high above sea level.

It might seem like a steep outlay when you are constructing a home to build one foot higher off the ground than you initially anticipated, but the cost might not be as much as you think. I do not think people give enough credence to the devastation of storm surge. We must learn from the past and from present-day events that thankfully, have spared the Cayman Islands but which have devastated our neighbors elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Insurance lessons

Another lesson that I believe is slowly being heeded is the need for adequate insurance for both your home and its contents. Some of the islands affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria will have had no insurance at all and will now have to rely on a considerable amount of goodwill of others to rebuild their lives. Make sure your insurance policy covers the rebuilding of your home and also think about using an insurance company that takes into consideration the hurricane provisions you already have built in for your home, when it comes to writing your premiums. They ought to take into consideration the type of construction you have (whether it’s poured concrete, concrete blocks, etc.), whether you have installed hurricane shutters and hurricane-resistant windows, and so on. Although it goes without saying that all our insurance premiums will go up next year because of the knock-on effects of Irma and Maria, a good insurance company will take these efforts into consideration and your premium should be less than if you haven’t made hurricane provisions, as a result.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria have served as a healthy reminder to us all in the Cayman Islands to take the necessary precautions to avoid catastrophe, should a hurricane strike.

James Bovell is broker/owner at RE/MAX Cayman Islands.

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  1. This is certainly good advice, and should be taken by everyone building a new home, and especially everyone purchasing a home on these islands. Those of us who were around for Ivan well remember its effects and how devastating it was for those who were directly effected, and those of us who experience the ancillary effects.

    However, in the end it is the government’s responsibility to ensure current building codes do as much as possible to protect future construction, especially in areas close to the sea or to canals. As Mr. Bovelle states, the cost of added fill is little compared to the cost of restoring or rebuilding flood damaged property.

  2. I think that Mr Bovelle don’t completely understand hurricane and the tides that comes along with a hurricane . We have to remember that most of Cayman Islands are not much above sea level . Putting the house a few feet higher and further back is not going to really prevent flooding in a real bad hurricane, now that the Island is mostly water front homes . When a hurricane has a 10 ft storm surge all the water around rises to that level , so therefore that few ft wouldn’t prevent flooding .
    When we plan we shouldn’t plan for the minimum, we should always plan for the maximum .

    But what would have prevented allot of flooding is not to have let all that water inland and left the Island with more buffer that would prevent the water from traveling too fast . The mangroves played a important role but they are all gone today

    What I say is that houses be built on sturdy hurricane proof stilts footing 1oft above sea level and that 10ft being non livable space . That space can still be used in some other ways that it wouldn’t be wasted space . . But the Government needs to look into the future now that they have put the Islands in a vonerable situation .

  3. I respectfully disagree on both accounts.

    After Ivan I bought a wrecked house that cost $200k to restore yet I have now paid $140k in insurance since then. If we don’t get hit in the next 5-6 years I begin losing.

    In the US the insurance costs for a variety of my buildings the insurance costs $35k annually and over 10 years would cost me $350k. Each building is worth about that so by not insuring I can afford to have one burn to the ground every 10 years and once I sell for remaining land value I still win.

    This is all assuming your insurance/reinsurance company is solvent particularly in very large disasters. Time and time again financial models have an uncanny way of being seriously flawed, so if you and many like you get hit big, you may not get paid out 100%. And there are several ways insurance companies can calculate your payout even if they can make good.

    If you live in a risk area you will get smacked sooner or later. Building higher, further back, adding on more onerous overkill building codes costs society too much for those isolated one offs. Personally I would rather have the cash in bank or less operating expenses all the way. Better in my wallet than someone elses.

    It would make more sense to have the initial floor or first 5-6 ft on a ranch house built in such a way as to expect there to be water inside it at some point. Running electrical wires from the top down instead of through the slab etc etc would keep building costs at reasonable/affordable amounts without the over burdensome costs and processes for something that may, but mostly likely not, occur during ones ownership.

    Build strong yes, but reasonably, and costly no.