Video: King Tide Sea Level Rise Flooding Season Kicks Off Along the US Coastline

Aaaaaaand, here we go again. King tide sea level rise flooding season kicked off this week in the historic Marina District in Delray Beach, Florida. Every fall, the sun and moon align in a way that creates extra high tides over and over again.

Coastal communities all over the US are experiencing similar sunny day flooding that’s only getting worse due to sea level rise. Cities and towns are spending billions of dollars to hold back the water, which will ultimately be proven futile unless we cut back on burning the fossil fuels that are causing global warming.

This round of flooding, which peaks on Thursday, is bound to worsen the storm surge from Hurricane Ian. I really feel for the people who have to live like this. The salty water is murder on vehicles and property. Stay tuned.

Sea Level Rise Flooding Isn’t The Only Climate Change Symptom Vexing Coastal Real Estate

Climate change is posing many challenges to coastal communities. Sea level rise flooding is one of the more obvious symptoms of a warming planet. Other problems include longer, hotter heat waves and droughts. This time of year in South Florida, sargassum seaweed season begins and it can run sporadically right through the fall.

The smelly, scratchy seaweed washes ashore by the ton on hundreds of miles of beaches in South Florida, Mexico and throughout the Caribbean islands. The seaweed drives tourists away and could one day threaten local real estate markets when buyers get fed up.

Scientists say seaweed blooms in the Caribbean and off Brazil are getting worse every year due to global warming heating up the ocean and humans using too much fertilizer on farms and lawns. Runoff containing animal waste from large-scale farms is also a problem.

Coastal communities are employing a number of methods to combat the seaweed. Some plow it into the sand, others truck it away at great expense. Some communities are even exploring ways to harvest and process the seaweed before it ever reaches land.

The sargassum seaweed problem is expected to get worse until humans stop or at least cut back the use of greenhouse gas producing fossil fuels and get water pollution under control. Real estate buyers and owners in coastal communities need to keep an eye on the seaweed problem as it could one day impact the value of their properties.

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.

Sea Level Rise Increases Conflict Over Public Access to Private Beaches

When buyers purchase real estate on the beach, they often assume they own the entire stretch of sand from their door to the water’s edge, but that’s not always the case. Property owners in states like California and Florida own the beach up to the point where water laps at their beach at high tide. The public is allowed to walk in the wet sand that emerges between mean high and low tide. States like New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon and Texas, on the other hand, allow public access to all beaches.

State laws, however, aren’t always the last word when it comes to beach access. Federal law requires coastal communities to provide public access to beaches that have been restored using federal funds. Public access doesn’t end until a beach is eroded away again. (This article by Thomas Ankerson, director of the Conservation Clinic at the University of Florida College of Law, does a great job of explaining the legal issues surrounding beach access.)

As sea level rise causes more beach erosion, property owners are finding beach walkers ever closer to their back doors. In some communities, this is increasing tension that already existed between property owners who believe they have a right to the quiet enjoyment of their stretch of beach and the public who believe no one should have exclusive right to the sand.

In Florida, the state with the most beaches, battles are breaking out between some beachfront property owners and the public. A recent example is a conflict emerging in Palm Beach in South Florida. According to an article published this week by WPTV, a West Palm Beach TV station, private property owners in the tony resort community are posting poles that tell beachgoers where their private beach starts and warning them not to trespass.

Christine Stapleton, a form Palm Beach Post reporter and beach walker, posted a photo of a pole on Instagram. “Legally, these landowners do own the beach up to the mean high tide line,” she wrote in her post. “And Article X, Section 11 of the Florida Constitution clarifies that the state holds the seaward of the mean high-tide line (MHTL) in trust for the public.”

Stapleton then goes on to question the authorities’ role in allowing private property owners to unilaterally claim a section of the beach that should be open to the public. “So why does the Town of Palm Beach and Florida Department of Environmental Protection allow wealthy landowners to decide the location of the mean high tide line?” she asks. “Why does the town and DEP allow these landowners to decide when a public beach should be closed because of erosion and put up poles declaring the eroded stretch of beach private and claiming ownership?”

Palm Beach’s town manager told WPTV that the property owners need to follow state guidelines when they post poles.

As sea level rise continues, conflict between private property owners and beachgoers is bound to increase. It’s important for real estate buyers and owners to know their rights so they don’t overstep their boundaries and for the public to know where they’re allowed to tread so they don’t trespass. As Christine Stapleton told WPTV, “My feeling is let’s get together and make this work.”

The Surfside Florida Tragedy Will Change How People Handle Coastal Real Estate

As a long-time resident of South Florida, this is the most difficult post I’ve had to write for SeaLevelRiseRealEstate.com. My condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives in the tragic Surfside, Florida, high-rise building collapse. May they find comfort in the memories of their days together.

Although the investigation into the disaster has barely begun, structural engineers analyzing potential causes have suggested that rainwater and maybe even sea level rise-driven, salty ocean floodwater that pooled on a flat pool deck may have damaged the building’s concrete and steel reinforcement structure to the point that the pool deck collapsed into the garage and brought the floors above with it. For a few years, structural engineers had warned the condo board that the water damage needed to be fixed immediately. The condo board says that it did its best to convince the residents that they needed to fund the repairs, but it was a slow process. Investigators will have to sort out the details.

Regardless of the ultimate cause of the catastrophe, the lessons are clear for buyers and owners of real estate in coastal communities. They need to practice due diligence when evaluating coastal properties.

When buyers are purchasing condos, townhouses or homes in seaside communities, they need to have the structures fully evaluated by licensed and experienced home inspectors. When they receive the inspection report, they need to read it in detail and ask the inspectors to explain any deficiencies and whether it’s still worth purchasing the subject property.

In cases that involve homeowner’s associations or condo boards, buyers need to treat the interview process as not only an opportunity for the board to become familiar with them but as an opportunity for them to find out if the board is managing the property well. To do this, buyers need to get a copy of financial records and annual reports and actually read them to see if the association is properly funded or burdened with debt and holding enough reserves to cover the cost of anticipated maintenance. They also need to find out if the property is properly maintained, if there are any ongoing maintenance issues, and if there are any anticipated maintenance projects — and how much each resident will have to pay toward the projects. Special assessments can cost each owner tens of thousands of dollars. Another crucial part of this due diligence process is asking the board for a copy of recent property inspections, whether they were conducted by a private firm or city department.

Both salt-water infused rain and sea level rise flooding can damage structures. Buyers need to find out in writing from sellers or the board whether or not the property is subject to sea level rise flooding now or will be in the near future. They also need to know what, if anything, is being done to control the problem and how much it will cost.

Buyers aren’t the only ones who need to practice due diligence. Owners of coastal real estate need to be pro-active when it comes to the maintenance of what is essentially their home. They have to get involved either by becoming board members or becoming active participants — and problem solvers — in the board’s deliberations. When a structural engineer identifies a problem that needs to be addressed immediately, they need to pressure the board and other residents to get on board and get it repaired.

Owners also need to pay attention to the threat sea level rise flooding poses to a property and what the board intends to do to address it. If fellow residents aren’t interested in properly maintaining a building, it might be time to sell.

Over the years, I’ve rented condos in buildings that were well managed and some that weren’t. One condo building I lived in a block from the ocean was so poorly maintained that saltwater intruded through the stucco exterior causing so much damage practically the entire structure had to be replaced to make the building habitable. Another building I’ve lived in was so well managed that the owners fixed slight deficiencies before they caused any noticeable damage. Condo and homeowner’s association fees for some buildings might seem high on the short-term, but if the money is being used to avoid costlier problems down the road, the investment is clearly worth it.

Over the past few months, I read an article in the Charleston Post and Courier that said one of the first questions buyers in Charleston — a city that’s being impacted by flooding from sea level rise, storm surges, and heavy rain — were asking is “Does this property flood?” A real estate agent quoted in a Miami Herald article said agents in her city rarely if ever asked that question — this despite Miami being ground zero for sea level rise flooding. The Surfside tragedy will likely result in buyers being much more likely to ask questions regarding flooding and building maintenance. Condo and homeowner’s association boards and owners in their building are going to have to be much more pro-active regarding building maintenance to protect their investment and their lives.

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.

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.

Tropical Storm Eta Gives South Florida Homeowners a Wake Up Call: Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Flooding are for Real

Tropical Storm Eta made landfall in the mid-Florida Keys, but it left a lasting impression on homeowners 90 miles to the north in South Florida. Many who owned real estate inland away from the coastline in what they thought were high and dry neighborhoods in Palm Beach County, Broward County, and Miami-Dade County woke up on Monday, November 9, to flooded homes, streets and businesses. Climate experts are already saying the devastation is a result of a dangerous confluence of soils already saturated by repeated rain events in October, a tropical storm with heavy rains super-charged by climate change, and a drainage system based on gravity that’s operating less efficiently due to sea level rise.

Bryan Norcross, a hurricane specialist at Local 10 in Miami, said the region has experienced this type of flooding before, just not in recent years. “I’ve been dealing with hurricanes since the 1980s and that’s evolved into discussing how climate and hurricanes fit together,” he said in an article posted on the station’s website. “The fact that sea level is rising and rising a little more than just a half an inch, an inch at a time, that makes our drainage system work more poorly.” In other words, when there’s less difference between the elevation of water pooling on land and water in the drainage canal system and ocean level, the harder it is for the system to move water off the land and into the ocean.

In an opinion piece titled “Historic Eta flooding in Florida areas thought to be drier proves we’re all vulnerable,” Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago described what it was like living in a neighborhood that flooded. She said the experience at her home in Miami Lakes, an inland community she thought was not vulnerable to flooding, was like living on an island. Even if a resident’s house and street weren’t flooded, they were still impacted by the flooding because they couldn’t travel far before they encountered a flooded street.

“If your street didn’t flood,” she wrote, “you still couldn’t get out of your neighborhood because other thoroughfares did flood. Streets were dangerously deeper than they seemed at first.” She also worried that she would lose power and/or internet service due to the flooding.

Santiago’s final paragraphs are a cautionary tale for all who are considering purchasing real estate in coastal areas vulnerable to or now experiencing sea level rise flooding: “Global warming is real folks, not just a concept put out there that only concerns the scientists. Eta’s rains are here to show us just how up close and personal climate change can get in all of South Florida.”

Touring storm damage in my own city in southern Palm Beach County, I saw many streets that normally experience sea level rise flooding, especially in the fall “king tide” months, flooded to a higher level than I’d ever witnessed. Streets that residents needed to travel to get from their homes were bisected by floodwaters rendering them useless. This is a major frustration to many property owners in my area. Experts say property values in areas that experience sea level rise flooding are already appreciating at a slower rate than properties that don’t.

Tropical Storm Eta’s nasty surprise is a reminder to all property owners and buyers that they need to perform due diligence and know the risk of flooding to homes and businesses so they can make an informed decision regarding real estate ownership. It’s also a reminder that they can’t just focus on a given property or neighborhood, flooding in the wider community and region can also impact their ability to get around town and the costs of maintenance, insurance, and taxes, as communities are forced to invest ever more in efforts to prevent flooding events.

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.

Video: King Tide Season: The Sea Level Rise Stress-Test

King tide season returned to coastal communities this week, and with it came the king tide/sea level rise flooding that periodically inundates roads, real estate and whole neighborhoods. This video, produced for SeaLevelRiseRealEstate.com, features a discussion of the many ways the king tide months — roughly from September-January — provide the perfect stress-test to give real estate buyers, sellers, owners and agents a sense of how well their communities are battling against sea level rise flooding. It also gives them a read on the level of risk sea level rise flooding poses to their property of interest.

As ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt and the ocean heats and expands due to global warming, sea levels are gradually rising. Add the many inches of sea level rise accumulated over the last hundred years or so to the ancient king tides — higher than normal tides due to the unique alignment of the sun and moon in the fall — and you have a recipe for disaster.

Coastal communities all over the world face a greater threat of flooding during this period In the U.S. this can lead to an enormous amount of property damage as well as damage to roads, water pipes, sewer pipes and other critical infrastructure. The end result is that property owners in affected areas can face higher carrying costs, including expensive repairs, insurance premiums, and taxes as communities implement plans to stave off the flood waters.

During the king tide period, buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents need to take the time to see what’s actually happening in their communities, find out how much worse it could get, study what their local government intends to do to mitigate the flooding, and reach a dry-eyed understanding of how this will impact their carrying costs and property value. This information will help them to make informed decisions regarding real estate transaction.

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