Sea Level Rise & Real Estate: What happens when whispered truths are spoken out loud?

Sea level rise flooding is rapidly transforming from an issue that was whispered about in many coastal communities — for fear mere mention would tank the local real estate market — to one that’s appearing on the front pages of major newspapers. This week alone the Miami Herald featured articles titled “‘Now, It’s About Elevation’: Buying a South Florida home in the era of sea level rise” and “Miami Beach residents want sea level rise fixes. But finding the right spot is a battle”.

The first article features interviews with a real estate broker and other experts who commented on how higher elevation properties in the flat, flood-prone South Florida landscape are becoming the most valued by middle-class buyers as sea level rises. (Apparently, wealthy buyers can afford to absorb the loss if their properties are flooded.) The second article examines the growing NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) movement among residents in Miami Beach as the city struggles to find a location for a much-needed pump station that threatens to sully residents’ views.

Both articles are well-reported and matter-of-fact about the many complications sea level rise flooding poses to people involved in South Florida real estate. Reading the pieces made me think about how far we’ve come toward acknowledge the problem and what this tide change (pardon the pun) in awareness means to buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents.

One thing’s clear: As buyers become more educated about the risk of sea level rise flooding, they are becoming more sophisticated about where they purchase property in coastal communities. An article published last December in the Charleston, SC, Post & Courier put it bluntly: “Downtown Charleston house hunters ask about home’s flooding history first”. With flooding an ever-worsening problem, “Does this property flood?” is sure to become the first question buyers ask in coastal communities all along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico.

This reality is going to force owners to pay more attention to sea level rise to make sure that they get out before their property begins to lose value due to the direct flooding of their property or their neighborhood. Sellers are going to have to be very careful that they fill out seller’s disclosure forms in accordance with their state’s laws. (At this point, state seller’s disclosure laws range from full flood disclosure to none at all.) And real estate agents are going to have to make sure that they’re aware of which neighborhoods and properties in their farm area experience sea level rise flooding, that they fulfill their obligation to disclose the flooding to buyers in accordance with their state’s disclosure law and, if they’re a Realtor ™, their association’s Code of Ethics, and that they advise their sellers to comply with their state’s disclosure requirements. Conferring with real estate attorneys is always a good idea as there have been cases where real estate brokers and agents have had to pay out large sums of money for mishandling flooding-related issues.

Most Americans’ greatest investment is their homes. As buyers become savvier about sea level rise flooding and the many ways it can impact their home and their financial futures, it’s going to become harder to sell them a property that’s experiencing flooding now, soon to experience flooding, or difficult to access due to flooded roads. With this in mind, everyone involved in coastal real estate has to keep up to speed on this creeping catastrophe to make smart real estate decisions.

Author: Larry Richardson

Larry Richardson relies on his journalism, real estate, photography and videography experience and education to create SeaLevelRiseRealEstate.com and annual editions of "7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions for Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents." Richardson, an inactive but licensed real estate agent in Florida with a dozen years of experience, also owns StepByStepChef.com, which features YouTube videos with over 10 million views