Take the Sea Level Rise Real Estate Quiz

Flooding is the most frequent and costly natural disaster in the U.S. Unfortunately, it’s also among the hardest to detect for real estate buyers. That’s due to the fact that between bouts of flooding — including sea level rise flooding — properties, roads and neighborhoods can appear high and dry.

The sea level rise real estate quiz video is meant to show buyers how hard it is to tell where flooding has occurred. The videos clips with dry properties were recorded during the dry season in South Florida. The clips with flooding taken at the same locations were recorded during fall king tide season, when the Earth, Sun, and Moon were in a certain proximity that promotes higher than normal tides.

A small but growing percentage of properties located right along the beach and Intracoastal Waterway flood several times a month from August through December. This type of sea level rise flooding is occurring in many communities along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coastlines. The situation is getting worse every year as the ocean continues to rise.

Clearly, buyers purchasing coastal properties need to ask sellers, real estate agents, neighbors, public officials, and flood insurance providers if the property of interest experiences sea level rise flooding. The laws governing the disclosure of flooding vary widely from state to state, so buyers need to consult multiple sources to get a complete picture before submitting a real estate contract.

Florida’s State Government Does a 180 on Sea Level Rise Flooding

Just a few short years ago, the state of Florida’s official position on sea level rise was not only “no problem” but “don’t mention it”. Then Republican Gov. Rick Scott made national headlines by banning mention of climate change and its many impacts from official state discourse.

This month, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis turned the tide — so to speak — on sea level rise by signing into law a bill that created the Resilient Florida Grant Program in the Department of Environmental Protection. The program will use millions of dollars in state funding to aid local communities in their efforts to combat sea level rise flooding, which has been damaging coastal real estate and infrastructure for years. Some of the funding will be spent on new seawalls in Miami and West Palm Beach, drainage improvements in Key West, and reconstructed roadways at many locations.

In addition to the grant program, Gov. DeSantis signed a bill that requires the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a statewide risk assessment and draft a three-year sea level rise resilience plan.

Environmentalists are generally encouraged by the state’s willingness to acknowledge and take on the challenges posed by sea level rise flooding. They would, however, like to see officials take the next step and actually tackle the root cause of sea level rise: the burning of fossil fuels that’s driving global warming.

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.

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.

Real Estate Owners & Buyers Beware: Sea Level Rise Can Cause The Costly Failure of Cast Iron Pipes

The last couple of years, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has experienced numerous costly and environmentally disastrous cast iron sewer pipe collapses. There are many reasons cast iron pipes fail, but it’s mostly due to corrosion (rust) that degrades the pipes to the point that the effluent escapes through cracks, holes and breaks.

Recently, experts have identified sea level rise as a contributor to the pipe failures. Cast iron is notoriously vulnerable to rusting. Exposure to salty seawater as the water table rises or from repeated flooding can speed up the process.

Unfortunately, the problem of cast iron pipe failures isn’t limited to municipal water systems. Prior to the mid-1970s, cast iron pipes were the pipes of choice to hook up homes to on-site septic systems and municipal water/sewer providers. As sea levels rise and cast iron pipes are increasingly bathed in salty water, these private pipes are put at risk, too.

Buyers and owners of real estate in coastal areas need to pay attention to this threat. A friend of mine bought a home decades ago that was built along the Intracoastal Waterway in the 1940s. This summer, she noticed that her plumbing was backing up frequently. A plumber analyzed the system and found that the problem stemmed from heavily corroded cast iron pipes under her home and yard.

As she found out, repairing or replacing cast iron pipes on even the most basic system can cost into the tens of thousands of dollars. For most of us, that’s a lot of cash.

What should buyers and owners in coastal communities do about cast iron pipes? Owners of homes built before the mid-1970s that are experiencing frequent plumbing problems need to find out if their properties are serviced by cast iron pipes and what shape they’re in. A licensed plumber should be able to inspect the system and issue a report.

Knowing the status of cast iron pipes will help owners to decide whether to leave the pipes alone or to repair or replace them. Time is of the essence, especially since many insurers won’t cover flooding from sewer backups due to corroded pipes. Owners should discuss insurance claims with their insurance providers and also research the possibility of joining existing class action lawsuits against cast iron pipe manufacturers.

Buyers of older home in coastal communities should consider having a licensed home inspector or plumbing contractor inspect the pipes, first to determine if they’re cast iron and second to determine what shape they’re in. The inspector or plumber should be able to assign a rough life expectancy for the pipes. Buyers, however, must keep in mind that the pipes will be increasingly exposed to salt water as sea levels rise. If the pipes are in moderate to poor shape, the decision to proceed with a transaction will depend on the buyers’ ability to absorb the cost of repair or replacement should the pipes begin to fail.

A company called Total Care Restoration has an excellent fact sheet that’s in line with other resources I’ve read about the threat sea level rise poses to cast iron pipes. This link is not provided as an endorsement of their services, it’s only for informational purposes. https://totalcarerestoration.com/cast-iron-pipes/

Video: A Failed Sea Wall, Sea Level Rise Flooding & You

Coastal cities and towns are taking different approaches to sea level rise flooding. Some communities are ignoring the problem and hoping it will just go away, which is irresponsible considering that the burning of fossil fuels continues to warm the Earth, ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt, the ocean continues to expand, and sea levels continue to rise at an accelerating pace. Some communities are acknowledging the problem but are waiting for it to hit a critical point before they respond — which might be too late. And still others are taking the responsible approach and planning and implementing projects to fend off the floodwaters, but even this approach, as you’ll see in the video, is not risk free.

To protect their property and jobs, buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents need to know how their community of interest is tackling the challenges posed by sea level rise flooding. And, as this video about a well-intentioned but failed sea wall project in my South Florida community attests, if local government officials are up to the job.

My city clearly illustrates the available options and consequences of which approach a coastal community takes to dealing with sea level rise flooding. Within a half-mile stretch along the Intracoastal Waterway near our downtown core, we have: 1. A section of sea wall currently being raised to protect a roadway, critical infrastructure and million dollar townhouses; 2. A section without a raised sea wall that chronically floods for the four or five month king tide period between September and January with devastating consequences for several property owners; and 3. A section of sea wall that was raised a few years ago that has structural faults that are allowing floodwaters to inundate a park.

As you can see, the city’s approach to managing sea level rise-driven flooding runs the gamut of what’s possible in all coastal communities: Try to protect the property, let it flood, or make an attempt to stop the flooding that, unfortunately, fails. All have lessons for buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents.

If the improved section of sea wall manages to hold back the floodwaters, then the the city may have found a viable solution — at least on a short-term basis. Sea level rise isn’t ending any time soon. (It’s also important to note here that South Florida is built on porous limestone which can allow sea water to flow under sea walls rendering them ineffective.) The section that’s being allowed to flood shows what can happen if a city doesn’t take on the sea level rise challenge, but the waters, as waters do, continue to rise. And the section with the failed sea wall shows the very real and expensive consequences of a well-intended approach that failed.

The failed section of seawall is falling short for two easily visible reasons: 1. Engineers left a yard-wide gap in the seawall so the cruise boats could easily be serviced — which, even with protective measures installed after the fact, allows floodwaters to course through into the park; and 2. Floodwater bubbles up in joints on the park side of the sea wall, indicating some kind of structural failure. Bottom Line: A failed sea wall is as good as no sea wall at all. Property behind it will still be inundated.

With seas continuing to rise, and mere inches of it posing a threat to property, structures, roads and critical infrastructure, it’s clear that buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents can’t afford to ignore the problem. They need to know: 1. How their community of interest intends to take on the sea level rise challenge; 2. How the plan, if any, will impact their property; 3. Whether or not the plan makes sense; and 4. If local officials are up to implementing the plan and taking corrective measures if it fails.

Without this level of knowledge, buyers, sellers and owners could be floored when floodwaters show up on their street or at their doors and they’re hit with higher maintenance costs, higher insurance premiums, higher taxes and, if applicable, association fees. They could also have to park a block from their home, take off their shoes and socks, and wade through the floodwaters to reach their doors.

The Siberian Town that Broke 100 Degrees & You

On Saturday, June 20, the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk located above the Arctic Circle hit a scorching, all-time record high of 100.4 degrees. What’s that have to do with those of us who live thousands of miles away in the U.S.? As residents of the same planet, a lot.

First, the record is a sure sign that the simple science behind climate change, read global warming, is on the mark. It goes like this: We burn fossil fuels (think oil, gasoline, coal), greenhouse gases — most notably carbon dioxide — accumulate in the atmosphere, the greenhouse gases trap radiation from the sun in the atmosphere, and the atmosphere, ocean and land heat up.

Second, the heating of northern climes isn’t just a matter of extreme summer weather. Under the spell of the sun that never sets this time of year up there, the land surface heats up and permafrost begins to melt. As it melts, methane, a more potent but not as long-lasting greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere, leading to even more warming. The feedback cycle generates more and more melt and more and more methane release.

We’re not done with second point yet. The heating of the northern climes also leads to the normally damp land drying out, which results in forest fires. The fires pose at least two threats: They release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — accelerating global warming — and the soot can settle on snow and ice fields. There, the dark soot absorbs solar radiation which result in faster melting. The water pours into the ocean contributing to sea level rise. Scientists witnessed this dynamic when wildfires in Canada coated Greenland’s ice sheet in soot and melting occurred at a faster rate.

Third, the global warming-driven record high temperatures in Siberia, Alaska, Greenland and other high latitude locations can alter weather patterns. Specifically, they can cause a buildup of high pressure areas that stall the jet stream, which normally keeps weather systems moving from west to east. When they stall, they, too, can heat up. This is contributing to the seemingly never-ending series of monthly high temperature records being set around the globe.

So, what’s all this have to do with you (us)? Record heat above the Arctic Circle is clearly a warning sign that the climate is changing more rapidly than many scientists anticipated. We have pumped more carbon into the atmosphere than has been recorded in millions of years. As a result, there is the very real risk that high temperatures now considered unusual will soon become the norm while extreme high temperatures become, well, more extreme. This cycle could accelerate to the point where, quite frankly, parts of the planet could become inhospitable to human life.

The reality of rapid global warming already poses a threat to millions of people who live in coastal areas. Many of us reside in cities and towns that are already experiencing sea level rise flooding or will likely experience it in the coming years. If the planet warms faster than expected, it’s likely that the rapid melt Greenland experienced due to extremely high temperatures last summer will become the norm. The warming could also cause the Arctic ice sheet, the other major contributor to higher seas, to become further destabilized as floating ice sheets that hold back inland glaciers break off the continent. If enough sea ice vanishes, inland glaciers could become uncorked and rush from land into the sea. The combination of melt in Greenland and a river of Arctic glaciers spilling into the ocean could lead to seas rising much faster than predicted when many locations are already struggling with the foot or so of sea level rise that’s been recorded in the last hundred or so years.

The bottom line for you (us) is global warming is fact. The heating we’re now witnessing and its consequences was anticipated decades ago by the majority of climate scientists. The only real X-factors are how much fossil fuels we’ll burn in the years to come and exactly how fast they’ll warm the atmosphere, ocean and land.

So where does this leave you (us)? Science says the only way to stop the dangerous global warming feedback loop is for humans to burn less fossil fuels. It’s that simple. To achieve this objective, we need to elect leaders who are dedicated to the cause and give our business to companies that help us to trade fossil fuels for environmentally-friendly energy sources.

If we fail to cut back on releasing carbon into the atmosphere, the tiny town in Siberia will prove to be the canary in the coal mine none of the miners listened to.

Virginia Beach Restricts Real Estate Development in Bold Sea Level Rise Plan

The city council in Virginia Beach, Virginia, voted this week in favor of a bold new plan to combat sea level rise and intense storm flooding. The city, which is in an area that already experiences climate change-driven flooding, requires developers to take more stringent steps to plan for flooding from sea level rise and strong storms.

Under the new plan, the city is calling on developers to design projects that handle 20 percent more rainfall than the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts for the region. As the earth’s atmosphere continues to warm, climate experts predict more storms with downpours capable of flooding. The city is also requiring developers to replace the methods they’re now using to predict where stormwater runoff will go with more accurate Environmental Protection Agency software.

The city’s plan also includes provisions that require new construction projects to accommodate flooding due to sea level rise predicted between now and 2085. Hospitals and other critical infrastructure will have to be built to handle 3 feet of sea level rise. Non-critical structures will have to cope with 1.5 feet of higher seas.

Acting City Manager Tom Leahy told The Virginia-Pilot that replacing old regulations with the new plan now will save the city money tomorrow. “The more we develop under the old standards, the more we’re going to have to fix down the road,” he said.

Virginia Beach’s investment in these regulations and other steps to combat flooding from sea level rise, storm surges and rainstorms is expected to save millions of dollars each year. The city says some federal funding will be needed to cover the cost of the new projects.

Virginia Beach’s pro-active approach to climate change related flooding is commendable. Many major coastal cities are allowing expensive development with little thought to the impending threat and the cost to future generations.

This brings up an important point for real estate buyers: Just because a coastal community allows development doesn’t meant it is immune to flooding. Always perform due diligence to find out if a property of interest experiences flooding or is likely to experience flooding during the period you intend to own it. Also consider the fact that flooding can result in higher carrying costs for maintenance, taxes and insurance and it may cause the property value to decline.

Can We Rely on Mangroves to Provide a Line of Defense against Sea Level Rise Flooding?

One of the greatest challenges involved in combatting sea level rise flooding is finding solutions that will stand the test of time. Some coastal communities have been seeking natural solutions, such as sand dunes, wetlands and native vegetation, to hold back ever-higher tides and storm surges. Planners recognize the ability of natural ecosystems to self-regulate and adjust to sea water as it exerts pressure to march inland.

In the U.S., some southern Atlantic and Gulf Coast communities have been including mangroves in their action plans. They’re counting on the thick, leafy forests that thrive in shallow coastal waters to not only absorb and store some of the carbon released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels that’s driving global warming but to act as a buffer against storm surges and higher tides. They also hope to benefit from the mangroves ability to capture sediments and build land when the seas are trying to erode it away.

The idea sounded great until a recent study led by Macquarie University in Australia found that unless humans reduce the release of greenhouse gases, the seas will soon rise at a faster pace than the mangroves can accommodate. With sea level rise accelerating, due to ocean expansion and the ever-quickening pace of ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica, the mangroves could start to disappear within the next thirty years.

Unfortunately, real estate alone won’t pay the price when mangroves are gone. Mangroves provide a valuable nursery for birds, fish and other organisms. Their loss will endanger whole ecosystems.