Prospective home buyers can avoid sinkholes by doing their research ahead of time

Although not perfect, resources are available

TAMPA, Fla. - Many will argue there is no sure way to predict when or where the next sinkhole will open up in Florida, but for those in the market for a new home, you can put the odds in your favor.

Although they're not perfect, there are resources available to help prospective home buyers.

"You're rolling the dice if you don't do your homework. It's really a big issue," said Roger Bennet, who runs RAB Sinkhole Repair in Tampa.

Bennett says the key is research, even though there's no single one-stop-shop to guide you.

"It's not easy for an average citizen to go do because you really don't know what you're looking for," he said.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has a map available for download on its web site through the program, Google Earth.

The map shows yellow dots all over the bay area, but it's misleading.

The dots may indicate an actual sinkhole, but many -- if not most -- are claims of a sinkhole that are really just cracks in the walls or floors of the home due to ground settling.

"Just because you have some cracking in floor tiles, doesn't necessarily mean you have a sinkhole," Bennett said.

Another useful tool is the county property appraiser.

"It's a really, really helpful feature," said Ryan McKay of Brightway Insurance in Tampa.

He believes Hernando County's web site is by far the most user-friendly in the bay area.

Users can simply plug in an address and it will you if there's confirmed sinkhole activity on the property, or even better, if there's been a "repaired sinkhole".

It's must know information for homebuyers.

"If a home has a prior sinkhole loss and it wasn't properly repaired it is almost an uninsurable risk," McKay said.

Some insurance agencies, like Brightway Insurance, also have access to reports that the general public does not have access to.

McKay is able to pull reports on a specific piece of property and determine if there are prior claims or sinkhole losses at the home.

Bottom line, when you're looking to buy a home, your research about sinkholes should rank up there with finding the closest and best schools and parks.

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