Can Real Estate Agents Be Sued Over Sea Level Rise Flooding?

With sea level rising, real estate agents face a growing risk of lawsuits from buyers and sellers regarding the disclosure of flood-related facts about a property of interest.

The National Association of Realtors ™ (NAR) commissioned a study of flood-related lawsuits filed between 2000-2020. According to an article in the association’s magazine, researcher found 4,500 flood-related lawsuits (not all sea level rise related, of course) were filed. Of those, 61 lawsuits “specifically involved a real estate professional or brokerage.” Furthermore, six resulted in “significant verdicts and awards against the real estate licensee and brokerage.”

NAR said most of the cases “were brought by buyers against seller’s agents or brokerages and alleged fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, and intentional misrepresentation or omission.”

As coastal flooding becomes more frequent, more damaging, and impacts more and more properties and neighborhoods, real estate agents are going to have to become more aware flooding is in their communities. They’re also going to have to consult their brokers and real estate attorneys for a clear understanding of what they’re required to disclose according to their state’s disclosure laws and what sellers themselves have to tell buyers. Failure to meet the requirements puts their clients and their own financial futures and careers in jeopardy.

Please read “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions for Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents” for more information about this issue and many more.

Sea Level Rise Added Billions of Dollars to Hurricane Sandy’s Storm Surge Damage

When it comes to sea level rise, buyers, sellers, owners, and real estate agents need to be aware of both the increased occurrence of nuisance flooding — tidal floodwaters that inundate neighborhoods on sunny days — and storm surges that can strike quickly and inflict billions of dollars in damages in a very short time.

A study recently released by researchers at Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists and journalists dedicated to informing the public about climate change, demonstrated the threat sea-level-rise-fueled storm surges pose to coastal communities. The researchers gathered information about Hurricane Sandy and concluded that a few additional inches of sea level rise contributed over $8 billion dollars worth of damage to the $62.7 billion the super storm inflicted on New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

To arrive at that astonishing figure, the researchers analyzed water levels during Hurricane Sandy and compared it with an estimate of how high the water would have risen without human-caused sea level rise. Based on a conservative estimate of just over four inches of sea level rise added between 1900 and 2012, the year Hurricane Sandy struck, they estimated that sea level rise added $8.1 billion to the total tab the states had to spend repairing storm damage, including power grids and transportation networks.

The researchers noted in their analysis that economic damages may have been much higher than stated in their report. “Our estimates do not account for potential long-term economic effects, such as losses and gains in broad economic activity associated with employment and production changes across industries in the aftermath of a damaging cyclone event,” they wrote.

Climate Central’s chief scientist and CEO Benjamin Strauss, Ph.D., put the report in perspective: “Just a hands-width of sea level rise from climate change caused more than 10 percent of the damage from Sandy’s towering floodwaters. The implications are enormous. For any lesser ocean flood, the percentage must be higher.”

Clearly buyers, sellers, owners, and real estate agents can’t afford to ignore the influence ever-rising seas have on damaging storm surges when they’re evaluating coastal properties.

Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents Need to Know Their Community’s Plan to Fight Sea Level Rise Flooding

How a community plans to deal with sea level rise flooding can have a big impact on buyers, sellers, owners, and real estate agents.

As sea level continues to rise, coastal communities are having to make difficult decisions about how to prevent flooding. Often the plans involve building or improving seawalls, installing pump stations, and raising property and critical infrastructure, such as roads and underground pipes.

These types of projects can have a substantial impact on property owners. How? Many cities and towns are planning or actually implementing projects with hefty million and even billion dollar price tags that have the potential to cause a spike in taxes or utility fees. In addition, the projects themselves can include seawalls, pump stations and infrastructure improvements that can block views and/or involve many years of construction.

Many owners are waking up to the fact that they need to keep up-to-date on how their community plans to deal with sea level rise flooding to ensure that their property value and quality of life aren’t negatively impacted. Right now, Miami Beach, Florida, a city that’s aggressively combatting sea level rise flooding, is debating the placement of a large pump station. Many residents don’t want it in their neighborhoods for fear of how it will impact their view and ability to enjoy their community. Similar arguments are going on elsewhere, including in Miami and Charleston, SC, where residents are concerned about proposed tall seawalls blocking their views.

Current property owners aren’t the only ones who need to stay on top of a community’s sea level rise plans. Buyers, too, need to perform due diligence and find out what projects are being considered and how they will impact their property of interest. There have been cases where buyers have moved into a home only to find out that a tall seawall or pump station was about to be built nearby or that the roads out front were going to be dug up for years.

Owners who plan to sell their homes need to know not only what’s planned for their neighborhood but also whether or not their state requires them to disclose what they know to buyers. Real estate agents should keep informed not only because it’s part of their professional duty to know what’s going on in their farm area, but, because they may be held accountable by buyers if they unknowingly purchase a home that will be impacted by sea level rise infrastructure projects.

The bottom line here is that buyers, sellers, owners, and real estate agents can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to sea level rise flooding or the approaches their communities plan to implement to combat it. The stakes — property value and quality of life — are too high.

Read more about this important topic in “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions for Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents”.

Kindle E-Reader Version of “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions” Now Available!

Great news! The Kindle E-reader version of “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions for Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents” is now available on Amazon.com. The Kindle version joins the paperback version which was published last week.

The point of “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions for Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents” is to educate all parties about this creeping catastrophe and to show them how to perform due diligence — gather information from multiple sources — BEFORE they make real estate decisions. This is critically important to buyers in coastal communities because they are purchasing homes that actually experience sea level rise flooding and they don’t know it until the water shows up at their doors; sellers are selling properties without knowing their legal obligation to disclose flooding to buyers; owners think the flooding won’t affect them until they can’t drive on and off their property because the streets are flooded; and real estate agents are selling properties that flood — usually unaware of the problem — and they could face costly lawsuits.

I spent hundred of hours researching, writing, and editing the 2021 edition and ended up with 177 pages jam-packed with facts, charts and photos. The book is beefed up with chapters that cover: what happened over the last year; the relationship between the burning of fossil fuels, global warming, and sea level rise; what happens, in detail, when sea level rise flooding strikes a community, a neighborhood and an individual property; the pros and cons of the solutions communities and property owners are using to address sea level rise flooding; and how to research whether or not a property is currently experiencing sea level rise flooding or is soon to be inundated.

When readers finish “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions for Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents” they will have a comprehensive understanding of how sea level rise flooding works and why everyone involved in real estate in coastal communities needs to pay attention to it before it threatens their financial futures. The truth is: sea level rise flooding is happening now and it will worsen in the future. Check out the book today!

PS: Now that the book is published, I’ll get back to posting the latest developments regarding global warming, sea level rise flooding, and real estate. Please check back often! Thank you!

The New, Improved “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions for Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents” is Finally Here!

It took some doing, but the paperback version of the 2021 Edition of “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions for Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents” is now available on Amazon.com! The Kindle e-reader version is in Amazon’s review process.

The hardest part of writing this year’s edition was forcing myself to stop as new information about global warming and sea level rise kept streaming in. The new book is much more comprehensive than the first edition. It has special chapters that cover developments in the field since the 2020 edition and a detailed description of what happens when sea level rise floodwater streams into a community, neighborhood, and individual property. It also has more information and instructions on how buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents can protect their financial future by performing due diligence — gathering information from more than one source — before they make a critical real estate decision in a coastal city experiencing or soon to experience sea level rise flooding.

The challenge to anyone involved in real estate along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastlines remains unchanged: There is no single source of reliable information that will give them the facts they need to know about past, present, and future sea level rise flooding. So they have to put on their detectives’ hats and find it themselves. “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions for Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents” will give them the tools and insight they need to gather the information they need to make informed decisions.

Please check back often. I’ll have a lot more to say about the book, and, now that Covid-19 appears to be calming down, I’ll post a lot more updates with the latest developments regarding sea level rise and real estate.

2021 Edition of “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions for Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents” Coming Soon!

Sorry I haven’t updated the site lately, but I’ve actually been busy writing the 2021 edition of “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions for Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents.”

Managing the threat of Covid-19 threw me off my intended schedule, which was to release the book in November or December of 2020, but I’m back on track to bring you a comprehensive look at the risks involved in purchasing real estate in coastal communities that are currently experiencing sea level rise flooding or will have to confront the challenge in the years and decades to come. The new edition includes the latest developments regarding sea level rise science and the approach federal, state, and local governments are taking to address the flooding. It also has chapters that describe in detail how sea level rise flooding impacts communities, neighborhoods and specific properties, and what buyers, sellers, owners, and real estate agents need to do about it.

Those of you who purchased the 2020 edition of “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions” on Amazon.com will find a lot of new information presented clearly and concisely. The book will be of special value to buyers, sellers, owners, and real estate agents operating in coastal areas who want to make informed decisions regarding real estate transactions in areas confronting this creeping threat.

I will update the site when the book is available in paperback or Kindle versions, which should be in about two weeks. Thank you for your patience.

Once the book is released, I will get back on track to updating this site on a regular basis with the latest reports regarding sea level rise flooding and real estate.

The Threat of Flooding in Coastal Communities Rises as Sea Level Rise Lifts Water Tables

When Tropical Storm Eta soaked South Florida with torrential rains in November, many property owners far inland were shocked to see streets and homes flood in their neighborhoods. Experts say that the extreme flooding was due to the enormous amount of rain that fell on land already saturated by heavy rains that fell in October. They also said that the nearly 75-year-old canal system built to drain what had for been Everglades swamplands was unable to cope with the volume of water.

Sea level rise was part of the problem, too. The drainage canals rely on gravity to transport water from land to sea. As sea levels rise, the difference in height between water on and under the land and the ocean is becoming narrower. As a result, floodwaters don’t flow as quickly downslope to the sea, and, during extremely high tides, sea water actually tries to rush inland through the canals.

Another reality of the canal system is that if the region is experiencing higher than normal “king tides” during a storm, authorities who oversee the drainage system have to close gates to keep seawater from rushing up the canals. During heavy downpours, floodwaters can get caught behind the gates and, with no place to go, they accumulate and flood the land.

Sea level rise poses another less obvious threat that’s right under our feet. As the sea rises, water pressure causes it to migrate inland underground through porous rock and/or soil. The pressure from the salt water, which is heavier than fresh water, forces the fresh water upward, effectively raising the water table.

This can have several negative effects. When the water table rises, it saturates the land. When it rains, the water that falls cannot be absorbed by the soil and flooding results. Another negative effect is that the groundwater itself can rise up to the surface and create flooding.

An even nastier effect of rising water tables is that floodwaters can, as was experienced in South Florida, flow into the wastewater treatment system through manhole covers and broken pipes greatly increasing the flow to wastewater treatment facilities. This influx of water can cause the facilities to lose efficiency or fail all-together. The higher water tables can also cause on-site septic systems to fail. Both problems can result in the release of stinky, and potentially infectious sewage into floodwaters and onto the land.

The flooding Eta brought to South Florida isn’t unique to the region, and it illustrates a problem that many coastal communities and real estate owners are coping with now or will confront soon as seas continue to rise.

Many coastal communities from Florida to Oahu are racing to cope with the problem of sea level rise-induced rises in water tables. A superb article by Grace Mitchell Tada titled “The Rising Tide Underfoot” recently published in Hakai Magazine discusses in detail how rising seas are threatening Oahu, Hawaii. As Dolan Eversole, a management coordinator with the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program, told the reporter: “Sea level rise does not look like the ocean coming at us. It looks like the groundwater coming up.”

In South Florida, seawater is migrating inland through porous limestone. In Oahu, it moves through basalt rock. The end result is the same. According to the article, higher water tables are wreaking havoc, flooding residential neighborhoods and commercial and industrial areas. It’s also threatening critical infrastructure, such as roads, pipes that carry fresh water, wastewater, and gas, and underground wires that carry electricity and information.

As the groundwater rises, it also has the potential to release and spread toxic substances, such as oil and chemicals, deposited in the soil, which could lead to environmental catastrophe.

As sea levels continue to rise, groundwater issues will pose an even greater threat to at-risk communities.

Owners and buyers of residential and commercial real estate in coastal areas can’t ignore the threat posed by sea level rise-heightened water tables. The flooding can not only damage their property, it can make driving and communicating difficult, it can cause a spike in maintenance costs and in tax and insurance rates, it can discourage buyers from entering the market, which will drive down prices, it can discourage tourism and other business activity, and it could ultimately lead to lenders and insurers pulling out of the local market altogether, which would be the death knell for a healthy real estate economy.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to combat rising water tables. For example, if you construct sea walls or natural berms, the seawater can easily migrate under and behind them through the porous rock and soil. With this in mind, owners and buyers of real estate in areas at-risk of rising water tables, need to perform due diligence and determine the level of the threat — has it happened in the past, is it happening in the present, and/or how far in the future will it happen. This information is critical when you decide if you can handle the risk and whether it’s worth taking on to begin with.

Are Miami Area Real Estate Owners Ready for 13-Foot Tall Walls to Control Storm Surge?

How do you protect nearly 3 million residents and $311 billion worth of real estate in and around Miami from more intense storm surges driven by climate change and rising seas? That’s the challenge taken on by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the solution its proposing could have a massive impact on real estate owners.

According to a report in the Miami Herald, the Corps has drafted a proposal that includes 10-to-13-foot high walls, moveable storm surge barriers for canal and river openings, along with the elevation of 10,000 homes and floodproofing of 7,000 buildings. The proposal, due to be formally released this spring, carries an $8 billion price tag, 65% of which would be federally funded. Local governments would pick up the rest of the cost.

Included in the proposal is the purchase of 350 properties through eminent domain to make room for the walls. If the plan is approved, the Corps aims to start construction on the massive project by 2026.

The Corps’ plans could have a major impact on the real estate market in Miami and Miami-Dade County. Some property owners could face the prospect of losing their real estate to eminent domain. Those who remain could see a spike in their property taxes and a loss in property value due to the higher taxes and proximity to flood-control structures. For example, properties that lose their water views to concrete walls could witness a drop in value.

Clearly something has to be done to reduce the threat posed by storm surge driven by climate change and rising seas. To protect their real estate investment and financial futures, buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents need to get involved when the final details are being hammered out over the next year.

One point to keep in mind is that the Corps’ plan only addresses storm surge, not sea level rise itself. Because South Florida is built on porous rock, seawater can seep under walls.

Another important point that needs to be considered is that Miami and Miami-Dade County aren’t the only coastal real estate markets facing upheaval due to climate change and sea level rise flooding. Cities and towns all along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastlines are struggling to draft effective plans to combat rising waters. Coming up with the billions of dollars needed to fund their projects is a whole other problem.

Why Coastal Real Estate Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Realtors Should Be Concerned About an Iceberg that Just Broke Off Antarctica

It’s well established that climate change — global warming — is causing glaciers to melt at an ever-quickening pace in Antarctica and Greenland. As a result, sea levels too are rising at a faster rate every year.

The challenge for scientists gathering the data government officials, planners and buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents in coastal cities need to make informed decisions in response to the rising waters is that there is more than glacial melting that can cause sea level to rise. The warming atmosphere and oceans are also eating away at ice shelves floating on the ocean that are the only barriers holding back inland glaciers that, if uncorked by the loss of the floating ice shelves, could raise sea levels not just by inches but by feet.

This point was illustrated today when satellite data showed sometime between February 8 and 9 an iceberg twice the size of Washington, DC, broke off the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica. The enormous iceberg itself won’t directly affect sea level rise. Floating ice already displaces a volume of water equal to the amount of water that runs off into the ocean as it melts.

The concern is that this calving event, the latest in increasingly frequent calving events, is another step in glacial retreat that could clear the way for an enormous amount of inland ice to flow into the sea, which would speed up sea level rise. In fact, if inland ice associated with the Pine Island Glacier and nearby Thwaites Glacier were free to flow into the sea, global sea levels could rise by as many as four feet.

Scientists don’t expect The Pine Island Glacier and Thwaites Glacier to slide into the sea tomorrow, but they’re still gathering the data they need to estimate when it could happen. With communities all along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastlines already spending billions of dollars to combat sea level rise flooding, buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents need to keep up on the latest developments in Antarctica and Greenland as if they were local stories. Ultimately, they are.

(The photo from the European Space Agency shows cracks forming on the ice shelf of the Pine Island Glacier in September 2019.)

Twitter Helps Researchers Identify Localized Sea Level Rise Flooding

When it comes to identifying localized sea level rise flooding, tidal gauges aren’t necessarily giving the full picture.

Climate researchers published a study this week in the journal Nature Communications that concluded Twitter may provide a more accurate read on what’s actually going on on the ground. Why? For one thing, there are only 132 tidal gauge stations covering over 3,700 miles of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coastlines. That leaves enormous gaps between the measuring locations.

As a result, the same high tide that causes little or no flooding in a location with a gauge could cause damaging flooding in another location with a different elevation or concentration of people and structures. The study says, “The same degree of inundation could have substantially different social impacts, depending on the distribution of people, infrastructure and economic activity along the coast.”

To get a clearer picture of how the flooding is impacting coastal locations, the researchers studied nearly half a million tweets sent by 5 million Twitter users in about 235 counties. What they found was that nuisance flooding was occurring in many locations that was not detected by tide gauges.

Most of the undetected nuisance flooding occurred in 22 counties, including those that encompass Miami, New York and Boston, with over 13 million people.

Having a clear picture of what’s happening everywhere is critical to drawing up plans to address the sea level rise flooding as the ocean level rises. “Understanding where coastal floods happen, identifying which meteorological and tide conditions produce floods, and grasping the consequences for flood-affected communities and infrastructure is critical for coastal flood preparation and response,” the study said.

Study co-authors, Frances C. Moore, of the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California, Davis, and Nick Obradovich, of the Max Plank Institute of Human Development in Berlin, Germany, caution that one major limit of their study is that once people get used to the nuisance flooding they become less likely to report it on social media.

The fact that even tidal gauges can’t always be relied on to give the complete picture of sea level rise flooding in a given area is all the more reason that buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents need to rely on more than one source when considering the flood risk for a given piece of property.