A Dream Cottage is FEMA Compliant

A family cottage needed to be FEMA compliant so the homeowner could make renovations.

“Our beach house is everything we ever dreamed about,” says Rick Hyne, who along with his wife, Marian, bought a cottage in Old Colony Beach, Old Lyme, which had been in his family since 1967. “Before my parents, aunt and uncle jointly purchased this house, my parents rented other homes in the area. We’d pile in the car, making the short trek from West Hartford to summer at the beach since I was six months old.”

Upon closing on the house in 2015, Hyne knew it needed updating. “I just had no idea when buying this place what was ahead of us. I never imagined the renovation process would be so complicated and didn’t realize how much money we’d end up putting into it.”

Built in the 1930s just two blocks from the beach, the original 1,700 square foot, two-story structure featured all four bedrooms and full bath upstairs with a half bath downstairs. “It wasn’t suitable for growing old,” notes Hyne. “We wanted to reconfigure the home, adding a fifth bedroom and full bath downstairs, without changing the footprint.”

Having a small corner of the home in the flood zone, it didn’t occur to the Hynes that they’d need to lift their home in order to make it compliant with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and town flood-plain ordinances, as recommended by the National Flood Insurance Plan (NFIP).

“Many homeowners aren’t aware of FEMA/NFIP’s 50 percent rule,” says principal Sabrina Foulke, AIA, Point One Architects based in Old Lyme. “If the cost of your renovation is more than 50 percent of the assessed value of your home, the structure only, then you need to bring it up to federal regulations. This usually means raising your home.”

“Several homeowners have come to us and don’t know what to do,” continues Foulke. “They were sold a home and now can’t renovate the way that they would like because of the added costs to comply with the regulations. In some cases, they don’t realize that they aren’t allowed to renovate a kitchen or bathroom without bringing the entire house up. Some even turn around and sell their properties.”

Foulke explains, “If a potential buyer is considering the purchase and renovation of a home that is valued at $500,000, but the home value is $200,000, the renovation of the home is limited to $100,000 (200,000 X .50); or the structure will need to be lifted to meet the modern flood requirements.”

“Not only did we need to lift the structure 2 to 3 feet, fill the basement with crushed stone, and invest in hurricane proof windows,” says Hyne, who tapped Point One Architects to create a whole new design for the house. “We needed to add a new septic system because the town deemed the current system to be non-functioning due to its age and condition.”

“We had to bring in an engineer to find space on the property and test soil,” says Hyne. “This added to the cost and complexity of the already arduous process.”

According to Sue Darmon, a real estate agent in William Pitt Sotheby’s Essex office, “The best thing that anyone can do before buying or selling a property is to educate themselves. When I list a house, I learn everything I need to know so that a potential buyer understands what they can or cannot do. I’m doing a disservice to everyone involved if I’m not doing my homework.”

“With that said, I’ve learned so much since I started selling waterfront properties,” Darmon continues. “Between FEMA and the individual towns, there are so many rules and regulations. Every town is different and every house is different. It’s complicated. I would encourage buyers to go to the town’s zoning and land use departments to ask questions and get official answers. Can I renovate? Can I build an addition? Can I knock it down and build new? Can I winterize?”

For Hyne, who lives full-time in New Jersey, he says he was fortunate to have Foulke as his advocate, attending all town and zoning meetings when he couldn’t be there. “She was experienced and proactive, walking us through the complexities and helping us to understand.”

He also had what he calls a “dream team” in place, working with Point One Architects, Steve Tiezzi of Tiezzi Construction, LLC (Chester) for the build and Jan Blonder of Design Essence (Old Saybrook) for interior design. “The three of them cared and treated our property like their own. Nobody could have done it better than this group.”

“We want to be a resource for the homeowner,” says Foulke. “We know where to go very quickly to let a client know if they can put money into a property or not. Education is key, not just for the homeowner, but the realtor too. A realtor that’s not from the shoreline, for example, may not know about the different town’s regulations and the rules for each town.”

“At the end of the day, it was all worth it,” explains Hyne, who noted that literally 50 years ago this property became a part of his family. “There’s a random rock out on the water at Old Colony Beach. It’s always been there and it means so much to so many people. This place has always been a constant in my life. Ultimately, I want to pass it down to my children and grandchildren so that’s it’s always a part of the family.”

And, now that it’s FEMA compliant, the Hynes’ house is ironically stronger and better than ever — a polished rock for the family for generations to come.

For more information on the challenges of purchasing, building or remodeling a home on the Connecticut coast, join Point One Architects (101 Shore Road, Old Lyme) for a Coastal Seminar, Thursday, Oct. 12, 4:30— 6:30 p.m. Free and open to the public. RSVP at Facebook/Point One Architects and call with any questions: (860) 434-7707