Survey Reveals Why Coastal Real Estate Buyers Don’t Take Sea Level Rise Seriously

Despite the threat sea level rise poses to coastal communities, buyers continue to line up and pay ever-higher prices for properties located in at-risk areas. Why don’t real estate buyers take sea level rise flooding into account when they’re purchasing coastal real estate? Risa Palm, senior vice president, provost and professor of urban geography at Georgia State University, and Toby Bolsen, a political science professor at the same school, surveyed 680 Florida Realtors in 2020 to find out.

In an article published last week on The Conversation website, Palm and Bolsen shared the results of their survey. They found that buyers in general aren’t considering a property’s risk of sea level rise flooding for the following reasons:

1. Mortgage lenders and appraisers aren’t considering sea level rise risk when they evaluate a property so homebuyers aren’t paying a penalty for buying at-risk properties.

2. Wealthier buyers who pay cash can self-insure so they don’t feel the bite of higher flood insurance premiums.

3. Wealthier buyers can take the steps necessary — such as elevating property and building seawalls — to fend off sea level rise floodwaters.

4. Retired buyers are ok with enjoying coastal property for the remainder of their lives and not worrying about what sea level rise does to it after they’re gone.

Only a tiny number of the agents reported that prices were “very frequently” holding steady or falling due to the risk of flooding and that lenders were frequently denying loans to properties located in flood-prone areas. Ultimately, 70 percent of the agents said “they expect little impact on the property market in the next five to 10 years.”

Palm and Bolsen believe coastal real estate buyers are making a mistake in not taking sea level rise into account when they’re purchasing properties. They write: “Because of rising sea levels and storm risks resulting from climate change, we conclude that many of the houses currently being sold in south Florida will not outlast their 30-year mortgages without damage or expensive adaptations, and that the resale of houses vulnerable to sea level rise is very likely to become increasingly difficult.”

Hopefully, their message will be heard.

New Miami-Dade County Law Makes it Easier for Buyers to Evaluate Condo Building Maintenance and Reserves

The tragic collapse of a the condo building in Surfside, Florida, that claimed 98 lives continues to force changes in the way real estate is bought and sold all across the country. This month, Freddie Mac and Fannie May, the quasi-government organizations that back many of the nations mortgages, began requiring condo associations to answer detailed questionnaires about a building’s maintenance, repairs, and reserves to determine overall safety and financial soundness as part of the process lenders use to evaluate mortgage applications.

On Tuesday, the Miami Dade County Commission took transparency a step further and unanimously passed a new law requiring condo and homeowner’s associations to file detailed financial and maintenance records for inclusion in an online library. Currently, Florida real estate law requires sellers to provide buyers with these documents only upon request AFTER a sales contract is executed. The buyer is then given three days from receipt of the information to cancel the contract if they don’t like what they see.

Some real estate agents told the Miami Herald they’re relieved that the new database is being created. They complained that condo associations and homeowners associations often made it difficult for sellers and buyers to access the relevant documents and too often they were delivered incomplete.

One potential shortcoming of the law is that the associations are only required to file the documents on an annual basis, which leaves the possibility that the information will be outdated by the time a buyer receives it. This could lead to a buyer not being aware of such critical information as a costly special assessment that is under review or approved since the last annual filing. Note to Buyers: Still request the latest condo docs and financials when conducting a review.

Overall, the move toward greater transparency regarding real estate is a huge plus for buyers and owners, especially when sea level rise is already causing maintenance and funding challenges for condo developments located on or near the coast. Regardless of a coastal state’s laws, buyers everywhere need to take a look at condo association and homeowner’s association documents and financials before they commit to close a deal.

When It Comes to Sea Level Rise and Real Estate, What You Can and Can’t See Can Hurt You

If you’ve lived in condo buildings near the coast for twenty years as I have, you know that every so often the buildings have to be inspected as part of routine maintenance. When inspectors find areas of stucco, concrete and rebar that have deteriorated due to intrusion from salty ocean moisture and rain, crews have to remove the trouble areas or, in some instances, reseal entire buildings. This type of pro-active maintenance is the sign of a well-managed building.

After the tragic collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, last summer, that resulted in the deaths of 98 people, some structural engineers wondered if sea level rise had caused ocean water to bathe underground support structures and garage walls, contributing to the building’s collapse. No ruling has been made to date, but the building’s collapse has caused some coastal cities and towns to either implement stricter building inspection protocols or to wait and see if the state is going to pass tougher inspection rules.

Regardless of their state’s inspection rules — which vary widely — owners and buyers of coastal real estate need to take the initiative and consider the risk rising seas pose to coastal real estate. Owners can no longer passively rely on their condo boards to do what’s right for their buildings. They need to get involved and make sure that they’re up to date on inspections, their buildings are being well-maintained, repairs are made promptly when problems are found above and below ground, and reserves are being built for the day when repairs are needed.

Buyers, too, need to make sure that their pre-purchase inspections include not only an analysis of their unit, but a detailed look at the current condition of the buildings and common areas — including beaches, seawalls, steps and garages. They also need to know how well the buildings have been maintained, the commitment of the condo boards to conduct routine maintenance and build reserves to cover them, and whether or not there are repair projects that need to be implemented in the near future — especially since they can lead to hefty special assessments.

In addition to gathering this information, owners and buyers should have a sense of how ever-rising seas are expected to impact their buildings and neighborhoods during the period they hope to live in the property. Sea level rise flooding can make roads unusable and interrupt essential services. It can also lead to increased carrying costs, including condo fees, special assessments, taxes, and insurance.

Sea level rise poses risks above ground and below ground in vulnerable coastal communities. Everyone involved in coastal real estate needs to acknowledge that it’s a growing problem and do what they can to protect their lives, properties and financial futures.

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.

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