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.
Social scientists studying the effectiveness of climate change communications strategies wrote an opinion piece that concluded personal financial interest is the leading cause of real estate owners in coastal areas denying that sea level rise flooding poses a threat to their property.
Risa Palm, a professor of Urban Studies and Public Health at Georgia State University, and Toby W. Bolsen, an associate professor of American politics in the political science department at Georgia State, wrote the column for The Conversation. They said they showed property owners who lived in South Florida neighborhoods at-risk of sea level rise flooding and hurricane storm surge maps produced by First Street Foundation that indicated that their properties could be inundated or be impacted in other ways by floodwaters in the next 15 years. Their homes were also identified as being at risk of devaluation due to their proximity to the threat of sea level rise flooding.
“Surprisingly, we found that those who had viewed the maps were on average, less likely to say they believed that climate change was taking place than those who had not seen the maps,” Palm and Bolsen wrote. “Further, those who saw the maps were less likely than those survey respondents who had not seen the maps to believe that climate change was responsible for the increased intensity of storms.”
The researchers said Republicans surveyed “had the strongest negative response to the maps.” In fact, they found “party identification was the strongest predictor of general perceptions of climate change and sea level rise.” Ultimately, however, they said, “the majority of homeowners denied that there was a risk to their property values, regardless of political affiliation.”
In the end, Palm and Bolsen recommended that governments and organizations trying to educate the public about the threat of sea level rise flooding not only use easy to understand facts but a “nuanced approach” to change the way the information is perceived. Or, as they said, “As advertisers well know, it takes more than facts to sell any product.” To get people to stop and pay attention, the information also needs “an emotional hook.”
This study may explain why buyers continue to purchase property and owners continue to hold real estate that scientists have clearly identified as at-risk of sea level rise flooding within the next couple of decades. Unfortunately, turning a blind eye to this factual information won’t save them as the seas continue to rise at an ever-quickening pace.