New “HazardAware” Website Gives Gulf Coast Real Estate Owners, Buyers Info on Risks Posed By Sea Level Rise and Climate Change

In the age of climate change and sea level rise, one of the most difficult tasks for real estate owners and buyers is to evaluate a property’s risk of damage from ever-worsening natural disasters. Experts from several universities have developed a new website called HazardAware to make the process of evaluation a little easier in Florida and coastal area counties in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

When real estate owners and buyers enter an address in a search window on the site, they’re given “A home’s HazardReady Score” which tells them whether a home is more or less resilient to natural disasters than average. They’re also given a wealth of data on a home’s, neighborhood’s and community’s risks for certain types of hazards, such as wind, tornadoes, flooding and hail, and a general analysis of the threat sea level rise poses to a property.

HazardAware also assists real estate owners and buyers by telling them what questions they should consider about a given property and what they can do to reduce their exposure to certain risks.

When I ran a couple of addresses that I’m familiar with on the HazardAware website, I received four pages of thought-provoking information, including links where I could get even more information about climate change, sea level rise, insurance and other relevant topics. (Oddly enough, for both properties located in South Florida and Southwest Florida HazardAware listed “Extreme Cold” as among the top four hazards based on insurance loss, which seemed a little suspicious.)

HazardAware also has a section that discussed the properties’ risk of sea level rise flooding based on a their status under FEMA’s Coastal High Hazard Areas program, but it didn’t really delve too deeply into the issue. At this point, real estate buyers and owners involved in property located near the coast may want to increase their knowledge of a property’s, neighborhood’s and community’s sea level rise flooding risk by visiting Climate Central and using its excellent hazard maps.

As with all online tools, HazardAware is a great place to gather general information about a property’s risk of damage from natural hazards, such as sea level rise, but owners and buyers still need to perform additional due diligence. For example, they need to verify information provided by the online tools and find out the specific insurance claims history of a property. They also need to further research the threat the natural hazard currently poses to a property, neighborhood and community, what is being done to address the threat, and how it will impact how much they will have to pay for property maintenance, insurance, and taxes, and, ultimately, how it will impact their property value.

Another critically important factor to research is the health of the loCAL mortgage and insurance industries. If providers of mortgages and/or insurance are struggling in an area, this could be a warning that the local real estate market is in jeopardy.

Florida’s New Condo Inspection Law Protects Real Estate Owners — at a Cost

Last year’s partial collapse of a condominium building in Surfside, Florida, that tragically killed 98 people, led to a call for stricter inspection regulations. Gov. Ron DeSantis responded recently by signing a law with much tighter inspection requirements.

Under the new state law, all residential building three stories or taller must undergo a detailed structural inspection after 30 years and then every 10 years after that. Buildings within three miles of the coast — where salty ocean water can be highly corrosive to structural components — face even tougher rules. They have to be inspected after 25 years and every seven years after that.

Whenever structural damage is found, buildings are required to undergo a more thorough secondary inspection. The results of the inspections have to be made available to unit owners and local government officials.

In addition to the inspection rules, the new law requires condominium associations to evaluate their reserve funds every 10 years to make sure they have enough cash to cover the cost of major repairs.

The new law, which is due to go into effect in January 2025, could lead to a substantial increase in condo fees and special assessments. Depending on the size of a building, professional engineering inspections can cost tens of thousands of dollars. And buildings that have not maintained sufficient reserves could face large special assessments to cover the cost of repairs identified by structural engineers and/or to bring underfunded reserves into compliance.

With sea level rise and stronger tropical storms adding stress to buildings located near the coast, real estate owners and buyers in Florida should be encouraged that the new law will improve safety and reduce the odds of another Surfside-like collapse. But, for budgeting purposes, they need to be aware of a building’s age, inspection status, potential repair issues, and reserves status. Condo board members, meeting minutes and financials should provide a clear picture of a building’s situation.

Other states may have inspection and reserves requirements similar to Florida’s that need to be considered when owners and buyers are involved in coastal real estate located within their borders.

Key Greenhouse Gas Reaches Level Not Seen Since Sea Levels Were 16 to 82 Feet Higher Than Today

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego reported today that carbon dioxide — a key greenhouse gas fueling global warming — has reached levels not seen for millions of years. This has dire consequences for people who own real estate in coastal communities vulnerable to sea level rise flooding.

Measurements taken at Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory in Hawaii peaked at 421 parts per million in May. The last time the level was that high over 4 million years ago sea levels were 16 to 82 feet higher than they are today. The new reading is 1.8 parts per million over 2021. Before the Industrial Revolution got underway in the 1800s, carbon dioxide levels were around 280 parts per million, where they’d been for nearly 6,000 years of human civilization.

Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas that remains in the atmosphere for an extended period of time. The NOAA report not only stresses the need for humans to rapidly reduce the use of fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it also sounds the alarm for people who own or are considering buying coastal real estate in areas that are now experiencing or at-risk of experiencing sea level rise flooding.

NOAA’s latest report on sea level rise predicted an average of about 2 feet of sea level rise between now and the end of the century based on current greenhouse gas emissions. If they’re not reduced, that figure rises to up to 7 feet of sea level rise. Some areas are forecast to experience greater or lesser amounts of sea level rise than others due to land elevation, land subsidence, ocean currents and other local conditions.

It’s important to note here that when we talk about up to 7 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, we’re talking about a gradual but accelerating rise in ocean level. This will put more and more coastal real estate at risk of flooding in the years and decades to come before the end of the century.

“The science is irrefutable: humans are altering our climate in ways that our economy and our infrastructure must adapt to,” said NOAA Administrator Risk Spinrad, Ph.D, in an article on the agency’s website. “We can see the impacts of climate change around us every day. The relentless increase of carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa is a star reminder that we need to take urgent, serious steps to become a more Climate Ready Nation.”

The bottom line is to deny or ignore climate change and continue to burn fossil fuels at the current or an even greater rate is to deny basic science. We all need to do what we can to reduce the consumption of coal, oil and natural gas to protect lives, property and, quite frankly, the future of humanity.

New Report Lists Boston Area Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Threats

Longer, hotter heatwaves, contaminated drinking water wells, and more coastal flooding are on tap for the Boston area due to climate change and sea level rise between now and the end of the century. That’s according to a study of 101 cities and towns in the Boston area released today by UMass Boston and the Greater Boston Research Advisory Group (CBRAG).

Among the findings included in the Climate Change Impacts and Projections for the Greater Boston Area report:

  1. Average annual temperatures could range from 3 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher by the end of this century compared with the start of the century.
  2. Days over 90 degrees could increase from an average of 10 to as many as 80 a year.
  3. Traditional food products, such as cranberries, maple syrup and lobsters and shell fish, could be lost. (Lobsters and some fish are already moving north to escape warmer ocean water.)
  4. Reduced snowpack and faster evaporation due to higher temperatures could lead to a reduction in groundwater needed for drinking water, agriculture and industry.
  5. Sea level rise could contaminate coastal drinking water wells by forcing salt water into fresh groundwater aquifers.
  6. Sea level rise could also boost the number of days Boston experiences sunny day or “nuisance flooding” from approximately 15 days a year to over 180 days.
  7. Quicker, more intense rain storms combined with higher seas and groundwater tables could lead to even worse flooding in coastal areas.
  8. Less hurricanes are expected to hit the region, but the ones that do are likely to be stronger and more damaging.

Researchers say the actual outcomes of their predictions will be influenced by the world’s ability to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Commenting on the report, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said: “We know that the window of time to act on climate change is closing quickly and it is critical to align our policies and programs with the latest science. The CBRAG report analyzes Boston’s climate risk projections so we can make the most informed decisions on how to protect our communities from unavoidable impacts while mitigating emissions that contribute to climate change.”

Boston and the surrounding communities can use the report to map out their response to climate change and sea level rise challenges. Real estate owners and buyers in the affected region should stay up on the proposed solutions as they can impact their taxes, access to potable water, operational life of their septic systems where used, quality of life, and, ultimately, property value.

“Above-Normal” Hurricane Season Forecast Means Coastal Real Estate Owners and Buyers Need to Consider Insurance Options NOW

An ongoing La Nina and above-average Atlantic Ocean water temperatures are leading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to forecast an above-normal hurricane season. “NOAA is forecasting a likely range of 14 to 21 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher), according to an agency news release.

With this extreme threat level, owners of coastal real estate and even those well inland in the Eastern U.S. and Hawaii who could be impacted by flood and wind damage from a degrading storm, need to review their insurance coverage. Considering scientists are reporting that global warming and sea level rise are super-charging hurricanes and tropical storms, people who own real estate in at-risk regions should put this on the top of their to-do lists.

Lenders require homeowners with mortgages to purchase basic dwelling coverage that covers the cost of repairs to a damaged home. In areas vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding, lenders may require special windstorm and flood insurance.

Considering that FEMA’s flood maps are notoriously outdated and homes well outside the designated flood zones have been damaged by flood waters in past storms, it’s important for homeowners in areas with even a seemingly remote chance of getting hit by floods to consider purchasing coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program. For example, in August 2017, thousands of homes outside the FEMA-designated primary flood zone flooded when Hurricane Harvey rolled over the Houston area.

With insurance costs skyrocketing in many coastal areas due to increased claims from past hurricanes and storms, fraud and other reasons, some homeowners are going without insurance. They tend to fall in two camps those who are gambling that their properties will not get hit by a hurricane or tropical storm and those who believe they have enough reserve funds to cover the cost of repairs if they do.

These homeowners need to be aware that waiting until a storm is likely headed their way to purchase insurance won’t work. Flood insurance purchased under the National Flood Insurance Program won’t actually kick in until 30 days after a policy is purchased. In addition, if a tropical storm or hurricane watch or warning is issued in a 16,000 square mile box around Florida, the state’s Citizens Property Insurance Corporation and most private insurance companies will not accept applications for new coverage. Insurers in other states may have their own last-minute purchase limitations. There’s also a risk that providers may not be able to process applications made before a storm in a timely manner.

When property owners are reviewing their insurance policies, they should also revisit their coverage amounts. With inflation, even $250,000 in coverage won’t provide as much repair and rebuilding purchasing power as it used to. They should also double-check their deductibles to make sure they’re still in line with their financial resources.

Evaluating homeowners, flood and wind insurance can be drudge work under the best of circumstances. However, with the high risk of storms and recent years of climate change super-charged storms wreaking record destruction on coastal real estate and points far inland, not doing your homework can lead to serious negative consequences should a storm hit your property.

Sea Level Rise Flooding Threatens More Than Your Real Estate

When people who own real estate in coastal communities consider the threat posed by sea level rise flooding, they often focus only on their own structures and land. That can be a costly mistake.

The fact is sea level rise flooding outside their property lines can impact their property value, financial future and quality of life. How? For example, nearby roads that flood can keep owners from reaching their property. Wastewater systems that are infiltrated by seawater can become ineffective or even inoperable, which can result in sinks and showers that don’t drain and toilets that don’t flush. And taxes can go up when cities and towns are forced to raise seawalls and other critical infrastructure.

A Civil Grand Jury in Humboldt County in Northern California is busy drafting an assessment that lists the many ways sea level rise will impact coastal communities there. In a report titled “The Sea Also Rises”, the Grand Jury warns that the county, which includes Arcata and Eureka, is at risk from flooding due to the double-whammy of sea level rise and natural land subsidence.

The list of problems the Grand Jury says will be created as seawater inundates more and more land includes the following:

  1. Communities around Humboldt Bay will experience more frequent flooding.
  2. Highway 101 and the only access road to King Salmon could be cut off by floodwater.
  3. The local energy system could be disrupted as flooding impacts a PG&E generating station, municipal water transmission lines, electrical transmission towers, and transmission poles.
  4. An interim spent nuclear fuel site could be damaged.
  5. Commercial properties, including three cargo and commercial docks, could be flooded.
  6. Environmentally contaminated sites in the Arcata and Fairhaven could be compromised.

The Grand Jury isn’t only forecasting future problems, it’s taking stock of problems that exist today. For example, the report says property values in the Fairhaven/Finntown area are already suffering because very high tides are causing septic systems and leaching fields to fail — which is a problem in many coastal areas experiencing sea level rise flooding.

In its draft summary, the Grand Jury is calling on all elected officials to make sea level rise flooding a priority. “The County of Humboldt; the cities of Arcata and Eureka; and the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation, and Conservation District should formally state their immediate and continuous support for, and commitment to, SLR (sea level rise) mitigation and adaptation efforts,” it wrote.

Cities and towns all along the US coastline are taking stock of the threats posed to residential and commercial real estate, public lands, and critical infrastructure. A few years ago, an environmental consultant estimated that the mid-sized South Florida city I live in needs to spend $378 million to defend itself against sea level rise. With inflation, it’s likely the actual cost is higher now.

Owners and buyers of real estate in coastal communities need to know what’s at-risk from sea level rise flooding in their community, how much it will cost to eliminate and mitigate the flood waters, how much local taxpayers will be expected to contribute to the effort, and the soundness and life-expectancy of the projects being implemented and those under consideration. Not knowing this critical information could lead to an unexpected loss of property value and spike in taxes and other expenses.

2021 Was a Record Year for Sea Level Rise, That’s Bad News for Coastal Real Estate

This week, the the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that four key climate change indicators reached record highs in 2021. The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, ocean heat, ocean acidification, and sea level rise all broke records. The WMO also reported that the years 2015-2021 were the warmest since the industrial revolution–with 2016 being the hottest on record.

Professor Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General, commented, “Our climate is changing before our eyes.”

In 2021, humans burned more fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — which released more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The global warming we’re creating is what’s driving the sea level rise that’s already flooding coastal real estate.

The most disturbing findings for those who own or are interested in purchasing real estate vulnerable to sea level rise flooding: Ocean heating hit a record high in 2021, with the last two decades showing the greatest rate of temperature gains. (Ocean heating and expansion are a major driver of sea level rise.) In addition the rate of sea level rise is accelerating. It increased at nearly .18 of an inch per year from 2013-2021, a rate more than double the increase measured each year between 1993 and 2002.

There’s no sign in 2022 that humans are going to break their addiction to fossil fuels. According to basic science, that means the globe is going to continue to warm and sea level is going to continue to rise at an ever-accelerating rate. Flooding will, too.

Coastal real estate owners who are betting that they’ll be able to sell before the problem impacts their property value need to factor the rapid changes taking place on air, land and sea into their calculations.

Cape Hatteras Houses Collapse into Ocean: Is this the future of sea level rise?

When it comes to sea level rise damaging beachfront real estate, Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the Outer Banks of North Carolina is the canary in the coal mine. The thin, sandy barrier island is infamous for losing houses to the sea whenever there’s a hurricane or strong tropical storm.

Now, before hurricane season even begins, houses in Rodanthe, south of Nag’s Head, are being swept out to sea. The National Park Service says three houses have been lost to the waves since February and another nine are currently at-risk of the same fate.

There are several factors contributing to the string of house collapses. A low pressure system swirling off the Outer Banks is sending powerful waves crashing onto shore. In addition, the barrier island has long experienced erosion due to regular wave action that gets worse whenever a hurricane or tropical storm hits or even passes close to the area.

Experts, however, have predicted that higher seas due to sea level rise would serve to intensify and speed up the erosion and house destruction, which only makes sense. Higher seas scour away sand more quickly and effectively. They also mean storm surges will travel further inland with more punch. In addition, the warming of the oceans and atmosphere due to climate change is super-charging hurricanes and tropical storms, which means they pack a stronger wallop.

Home loss on the Outer Banks is also due to the unique geology of barrier islands. In their natural state, the narrow sandy strands are meant to migrate inland as sea level rises. The Park Service is allowed to protect critical infrastructure, such as roads, but not houses. Even if the Park Service could take steps to shield the houses, such as building seawalls, nature would eventually break through the armor and sweep them out to sea.

It’s important to note here that scientists blame the loss of houses not only on natural forces but also the fact that humans never should have built the homes on shifting barrier island sand to begin with. Real estate owners and buyers need to carefully consider the consequences of owning real estate on barrier islands and beaches all along the US coast, especially now that sea level rise is in play. One thing’s for sure, houses toppling into the sea are going to become more common as the sea level rises and storms intensify in the decades to come.

(Photo Credit: National Park Service)

Freddie Mac Warns Sea Level Rise is Not Priced into Coastal Florida Real Estate Values

If you want to see where the real estate market is headed in light of climate change and sea level rise, watch lenders and insurers. Why? They have to be forward looking to protect their investment.

With that in mind, a research brief published this month by Freddie Mac, a governmental-sponsored company that backs mortgages, should sound a wake-up alarm to real estate buyers and owners in Coastal Florida (and across the country). In the piece, titled “Homebuyers in Coastal Florida are Not Factoring Sea Level Rise Risk into Home Prices”, Freddie Mac reported that prices are not being discounted for properties that are in sea level rise (SLR) exposed areas not within FEMA-designated floodplains. In fact, researchers found buyers of a primary residence, individual investors, and institutional investors were paying a 3.5% price premium for these homes.

Freddie Mac also reported that homes located in areas vulnerable to sea level rise experienced price discounts after hurricane flooding likely because buyers perceived a heightened flood risk rather than due to the risk of sea level rise itself.

“We conclude that homebuyers either lack awareness of SLR risk or consider it a long-term risk that will not be a concern during the time they own a home,” the researchers said.

Freddie Mac is concerned that the failure to consider the threat sea level rise poses to a property now could eventually lead to sea level rise-driven price drops later when (and if FEMA) updates its flood maps to reflect sea level rise flooding. The researchers say Florida’s housing market, with its large share of vulnerable properties built at very low elevation, could be significantly impacted.

This is yet another example of why owners and buyers of coastal property need to assess the risk posed by sea level rise flooding to make informed decisions and protect their financial futures.

Florida’s New Statewide Office of Resilience Gets Sea Level Rise Half Right

This week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation to create a new Statewide Office of Resilience. The office is charged with creating an action plan to protect the state highway system from sea level rise flooding. It’s also responsible for creating a prioritize list of sites, such as medical centers, airports, utilities and emergency operation centers, that need to be hardened against rising seas.

The new law strengthens a 2021 law that required the state Department of Environmental Protection to develop a sea level rise resilience plan and a grant program to help cities and counties pay for infrastructure improvements.

While Florida officials should be applauded for taking the initiative and combatting the sea level rise that threatens coastal cities and towns, there’s a glaring omission. The law does nothing to reduce the burning of coal, oil and natural gas as well as agricultural sources of greenhouse gases that are driving global warming and sea level rise. This is kind of like working to put out a house fire without addressing the arsonist who’s flipping matches at it. This oversight will ultimately prove costly and disastrous for a low elevation state with coastal communities that are already flooding due to sea level rise and ever-stronger storm surges.

Florida’s half-way there on climate change and sea level rise. With billions of dollars worth of real estate under threat of inundation, let’s hope the state takes the next step and addresses what’s driving the problem.

%d bloggers like this: