Climate Change and Bay Area Real Estate

A town in Louisiana is doing something groundbreaking in the face of climate change. Forty residents of Pecan Acres will be the among the first climate refugees in the country, as the state uses some $12 million in federal funds – specifically, community development block grants for disaster relief – to demolish the old homes destroyed in annual floods, and relocate the entire town to higher ground. In the process they’ll restore the original wetlands which will help protect the surrounding communities. 

It’s an inspiring story of proactivity in the face of increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and serves as a blueprint for the kind of outside-of-the-box thinking we’ll need to safeguard housing into the next century. 

We may not be dealing with insufficient levees, but climate change is absolutely a factor any prudent buyer should take into consideration when it comes to choosing the right Bay Area home.

Coastal Considerations 

First, an eye-raising prediction: By the end of the 21st century, sea levels in the Bay are projected to rise three to four feet in the best-case scenario, and a full ten feet on the doomsday side of the coin. While sea levels are rising more slowly on the West Coast than the opposite end of the country, this is really happening and there are long-term implications here that are wise to consider. And then there are the issues that are already at play: 

  • More powerful storms and their subsequent run-off can impact roofs, foundations and siding, not to mention compromising the roots of surrounding trees that may be in falling distance of your home.
  • Increased isurance costs in fire zones and for architectural features like beautiful wood shingle siding.
  • Expanded flood maps across the Bay Area cover more ground than ten years ago. Hurricane Harvey, which struck in August 2017, flooded close to 100,000 Houston-area homes. In Harvey’s federally declared disaster areas, 80% of the homes had no flood insurance because they weren’t normally prone to flooding.
  • Areas prone to landslides are seeing a faster rate of erosion than ever before due to storm runoff.
  • Underground creeks that have never before posed an issue are causing more havoc to foundations and auxiliary structures.  

Location, location, location takes on an entirely new meaning when the home of your dreams is in a low-lying neighborhood with an aging sewer system. And mitigating risk in the age of climate change means understanding the kinds of things that are becoming more and more common and ensuring that you’re appropriately troubleshooting and/or factoring them into your homeownership choices and final budget.  

Short and Long Views

Big real estate firms are pouring significant resources into calculating climate risk and its likely effect on property portfolios, everything from increasingly extreme weather to a rise in sea levels. In 2018, from May through July, much of the East Coast down to Florida saw rainfall up to three times normal levels. Building for resilience, on a portfolio, property and citywide basis, is paramount to staying competitive. Factoring in climate risk is becoming the new normal for our industry. Investors see climate considerations as a necessary layer of fiduciary responsibility to their stakeholders, as well as an opportunity to identify markets and assets that will benefit from a changing climate. Natural disasters caused $300 billion worth of damage in 2017 and $160 billion in 2018. (CNBC)

Agents these days have to know more than the latest and greatest properties coming to market. If you’re not hearing about the pros and cons of a given home or a specific area in terms of its ability to withstand Bay Area-specific climate change impacts, ask yourself what else might be missing. And then call me.

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