SOCASTEE, S.C. (WBTW) — Offered a buyout, hundreds of local families are faced with a daunting question. Their options — stay in a home that’s likely to continue to flood year after year, try to sell it on the open market, or take a government buyout.

But that buyout is potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars less than what their homes might be worth, according to a data analysis from News13. 

Homes in the 29588 zip code, which includes the buyout area, have rapidly been increasing in value over the last decade. In July, the median cost of a home — meaning that half are selling at a higher price and half are selling at a lower price — reached $275,000, a 21.4% increase over the previous year, with many homes selling for more than the asking price, according to July data from the Coastal Carolinas Association of REALTORS. That’s more than $100,000 more than what homes in that area were worth 10 years ago.

The cost of a townhouse or condo has gone up by 9.1% in the last year alone, reaching a median cost of $144,600.

The most a property owner can receive for a home as part of the buyout program is $250,000, meaning that the amount someone may receive will be tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of dollars less than what homes are currently valued at in the area.

Homes in Socastee have flooded dozens of times in the last several years. The area has what is classified as “severe repetitive loss properties,” meaning they can be heavily impacted by just a heavy rain, according to April O’Leary, the president and founder of Horry County Rising.

Those families, who thought their homes would be safe, now face nearly constant threats.

“For the longest time, it was not in a flood zone, and I think that it just adds salt to the wound,” O’Leary said. “Basically, it’s horrible.”

Rising waters, rising values

In 2011, half of the homes that sold in the Socastee area cost less than $145,200. By 2021, that number had risen to $250,000 — the most a property can get from the buyout program — according to the Coastal Carolinas Association of REALTORS. That amount has risen by $25,000 in the last year alone. 

In 2016, when Hurricane Matthew hit, the median cost of a Socastee home was $179,000. In 2018, when Hurricane Florence hit, that cost was $195,000, meaning that appraisals for the buyout program could be about $70,000 less than what a property would be worth today.

The price of homes selling in Socastee has historically been about $25,000 less than in the rest of Horry and Georgetown counties. 

As part of the buyout program, homes will be appraised at their pre-storm values. Which storm is used will be determined on an individual basis. If a home was impacted by multiple storms, the highest appraisal will be chosen. However, including financial moving incentives, a homeowner can’t receive more than $250,000 through the buyout program. 

According to Zillow listings, current as of Friday, a handful of homes were for sale in the buyout area. One was listed for $725,000. Another had an asking price of $269,000. 

One, listed for $375,000, is in an area that has been categorized as being in an “extreme” flood risk zone, according to Flood Factor from the First Street Foundation.

Flood Factor estimated that there are about 5,850 properties currently at risk for flooding in Socastee. In 30 years, 7,055 are estimated to be at risk. It also predicts that flood damage in the 29588 zip code will be $4.6 million this year, a number that will increase by 48% to $6.8 million within 30 years. 

The buyout zone is peppered with properties listed by Flood Factor as being at an “extreme” risk for flooding. The rest of the surrounding area is categorized as a “severe” or “major” risk.

Personal decisions

Terri Straka, who has lived in the Rosewood area for about three decades, has chosen to participate in the program. She’s been searching for a new home for two years.

“The alternative is, you either move or you elevate, and right now, with the market the way it is, those options are extremely limited because you are not going to find comparable, or comparable living arrangements anywhere in this country at this time, probably in this whole state, with the inflated housing market,” she said.

Although she knows she needs to, she doesn’t want to leave.

“You know, it’s a community,” she said. “You’re invested. It’s almost like it’s written into your DNA.”

Of the 400 homes in the buyout area, 40 have started the buyout process, according to Courtney Frappaolo, the director of community development for Horry County Government.

Some are trying to sell their properties. It’s a decision, Frappaolo said, that’s “a kitchen table conversation people have to have with themselves.”

The buyout program is funded by $13 million in grants. About $2 million in additional funds are being used for mitigation efforts. 

The enrollment period for the buyout program began in July and was extended to the beginning of September. Enrolling is the first step toward applying for the program, which is expected to take between six months to a year to complete. 

To be eligible, a property has to have repeatedly experienced property loss due to flooding, and be within the three-neighborhood buyout focus area, which is pictured below. 

A map of the Socastee buyout area.

Frappaolo said the county had reached out for assistance before Hurricane Florence because it knew there was a need and wanted to begin helping immediately. The county wasn’t able to secure funding directly from the federal government, and the process was funneled through the state. 

Homes that participate in the buyout program will be demolished, and the hope is that land will be used to help mitigate future flooding. 

Frappaolo said a lot of those owners can’t imagine selling their home and passing the burden on to another family.

“Those folks who have been at the front of the line, participating at this point, they really are the ones committed to making sure no one has to go through that again,” she said. 

The county wants to continue offering buyout programs in the area. Frappaolo said an interest form last year showed that 130 people throughout the county were interested in one. 

The county wants to provide assistance to as many people as it can, and officials are pleased with the number of people who have already started the buyout process. 

“Anybody that we can help get out of harm’s way is our goal, and we are incredibly pleased with that,” Frappaolo said. 

Cam Crawford, a member of the Horry County Council, said the county wants to recruit all 61 people in the target area for the program.

“I certainly don’t want to get in the business of telling people what to do with their houses, but I would just ask those properties that have been targeted to please consider the buyout,” he said.

Crawford said the impacted homes are slab properties, which means they are not raised. He said the more people participate, the more likely the area is to request a second or third round of funding for buyouts.

He said people have to decide what’s best for their family.

“I do think the market does play some role in it because they may be looking at it in some instances and thinking, ‘Well, maybe I could get more money if I sold it as opposed to a buyout,'” he said. “The problem with that is, the goal of this program, or another goal of this program is to remove the structure — this vulnerable structure — from this vulnerable area.”

A continuing problem

Socastee residents never expected to have to face a never-ending flow of floods.

“A lot of folks after Matthew thought, ‘This will be it, this will be the worst,’ and then, of course, Florence happened,” O’Leary said. “When people buy in those areas, people don’t think it is going to happen as frequently as it does, so it becomes a major inconvenience even if you are elevated.”

Hundred-year flood zones, she said, are now experiencing problems multiple times a year. And for these families, there’s a concern that a buyout might not be enough to purchase a house that would keep their children in the same schools. 

For now, Horry County Rising is pushing for changes to help mitigate flooding. O’Leary is pleased with recent flood protection efforts passed by the county and wants residents to push their local political leaders for a plan. The organization is also working with the state for solutions, wants home to be built higher up and is encouraging Congress to overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program. 

For people looking to move into the area, she stresses for them to check the county’s Map Your Move tool to see what their risk is. Many families moving into rentals, she said, have no idea they might flood. 

She also encourages purchasing flood insurance, no matter where someone lives in the county. 

“We tell people that if you live here, you absolutely need to have a flood insurance policy, no matter what,” she said. 

But for these families, she said, there’s no real recovery. Flood insurance will only rebuild a home to what it was before, not add flood protections. It also doesn’t cover the costs of housing while a building is being redone. There’s also the steep of relocating if a family chooses the buyout.

“Even with the flood mitigation buyout, there are so many out-of-pocket costs,” she said. 

O’Leary moved to the area to downsize. But after her family’s home flooded, it decimated their children’s’ college funds — despite them having flood insurance.

“There is no recovery,” O’Leary said. “You never recover financially.”