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.
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.
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.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster has proposed the creation of a chief resiliency office position at the highest levels of state government to help coordinate the state’s response to extreme storms and sea level rise flooding.
According to a report in The Post and Courier, the resiliency chief would develop plans to seek federal funding for flood mitigation projects, control development in vulnerable areas, and improve how the state responds to disasters.
If the new position is approved, South Carolina would join Florida and North Carolina — states long considered resistant to discussing climate change and sea level rise flooding — in appointing a high level official to deal with the problems created by global warming.
The South Carolina climate change czar would also be responsible for collecting the latest climate change information and relaying it to government officials and the public. Local government officials have told the state they need money for seawalls, drainage improvements and other projects to hold back rising tides. Charleston alone estimates it needs $2 billion to protect residents and real estate.
It’s unclear at this point whether Gov. McMaster’s proposal will get the support it needs from the state legislature. Meanwhile, sea level continues to rise.
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.)
A weather station in Antarctica recorded the hottest temperature ever reached on Earth’s southern-most continent. Scientists at Argentina’s Esperanza research station on the Antarctic Peninsula said the temperature hit 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Randall Cerveny, an official with the World Meteorological Organization, told National Public Radio, “This is unfortunately a continuing trend.” The station set the just-broken heat record in 2015. Cerveny added, “We are seeing these high temperature records — not only in Antarctica, but across the entire world — fall, whereas we just don’t see cold temperature records anymore.”
The last decade was the hottest ever recorded. Researchers are concerned that this is setting up a positive feedback loop where the warmer weather warms seawater which melts glaciers which causes even more warming. The end result is that the seas rise at an ever quickening pace, which puts more coastal areas at risk of flooding.
Melting glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland are the greatest contributors to sea level rise. Scientists worry that instability in the ice sheets due to global warming could lead to a massive release of ice and meltwater into the oceans. They’re working to understand the many ways warm air and seawater are impacting the glaciers. Their findings will help buyers and owners to decide where it’s safe to invest in coastal real estate.
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.
Many buyers in coastal areas are purchasing second homes or vacation properties. Too often they’re submitting offers without first finding out if the property or street out front is experiencing sea level rise flooding or if the property is in a neighborhood or community at risk of sea level rise flooding.
This failure to perform due diligence when buying real estate can prove costly. Properties that flood can have high maintenance costs and could actually lose value. In addition, owners of properties that flood or that are in the vicinity of flooding could face high taxes — as their communities struggle to deal with the flooding — flood insurance premiums and homeowners association or condo association fees.
In this video, I give buyers tips on how to find out if a property experiences sea level rise flooding, is at risk of flooding, or is in a neighborhood or community that floods. Then I discuss the risks the flooding can pose should they go through with the purchase.
Surprisingly, finding out if a property floods, itself, can be a real challenge. For instance, often the flooding only occurs during the fall king tide season or when a storm is whipping up the water so buyers won’t see it. Furthermore, in some states sellers don’t have to disclose the flooding problem to buyers.
Resiliency and retreat are the mantras for coastal communities coping with sea level rise flooding. Resiliency is improving infrastructure to allow people to remain in coastal areas. Among the options are raising sea walls, roads and other critical infrastructure and installing pumps to move floodwaters off valuable real estate. Retreat is moving people away from areas that flood when it’s too expensive or impossible to defend the land.
Researchers at the University of Southern California’s School of Engineering used artificial intelligence to predict where coastal residents are likely to migrate when sea level rise forces them inland. Their report might surprise you.
The study, led by USC Computer Science Assistant Professor Bustra Dilkina found that sea level rise flooding could force 13 million people in the US alone to move inland by 2100. The inland cities that take them will face increased competition for jobs, higher housing prices and greater demands on essential public services, including roads, schools, law enforcement and water and sewer services.
“Sea level rise will affect every county in the US, including inland areas,” Professor Dilkina fold USC Viterbi. “We hope this research will empower urban planners and local decision-makers to prepare to accept populations displaced by sea level rise. Our findings indicate that everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not. This is a global impact issue.”
The study identified which cities and regions are likely to fact the largest influx of sea level rise refugees. The list includes Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Denver and Las Vegas. Smaller midwest cities could also face a spike in population from people moving away from the coasts.
Sea level rise flooding is a growing problem for coastal communities along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastlines. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of information out there — and certainly not in one place — to help buyers, sellers, owners, and real estate agents to make informed decisions about how to respond to the challenge.
I created SeaLevelRiseRealEstate.com and wrote “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions” to give people an understanding of climate change and sea level rise, along with the questions they need to ask and the valuable resources that can provide useful answers, so they’ll make the right decisions based on the threats posed by sea level rise flooding and their ability to address them. To further reinforce the points made on the website and in the book, I produced five introductory videos that I’m posting on this site all at once.
The videos consist of an introductory video followed by videos that each address the central issues that should be of concern to buyers, sellers, owners, and real estate agents. The videos aren’t as comprehensive as the information found in “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions” but they give a great overview of the general issues of concern.