Underwater: rising seas, chronic floods, and the implications for U.S. coastal real estate

Photo courtesy of Union of Concerned Scientists

With support from LDF, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a new study that analyzes projected economic impacts caused by accelerated sea level rise for the U.S. coastal real estate market.

About 2.4 million U.S. homes and 107,000 commercial properties, currently worth more than $1 trillion, may be chronically flooded by sea level rise by the end of the century. The study, which analyzed the entire lower 48 coastline, defined “chronic” flooding as flooding that occurs at least 26 times a year, simply with high tides, no storm required.

The study found 311,000 homes with a current market value of about $120 billion and 14,000 commercial properties assessed at nearly $18 billion could be flooding regularly in just 30 years. Damages to the property values could cause a ripple effect by forcing foreclosures and reduce collected property taxes for local communities, which fund vital public services and institutions. Using data on home values provided by the online real estate company, Zillow, the report identified Florida and New Jersey as states with the most homes at risk, with New York and California next on the list. 

Transitioning quickly away from fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas is the best way to slow global warming and sea level rise in the long-term. But with significant increases locked in over the coming decades, prospective coastal homebuyers should heed the adage “buyer beware” because many communities and states do not require current-day flood risks to be disclosed, much less future risk. Know Your Risk, a UCS guide released in conjunction with the study, provides information on how potential homeowners can assemble a clear picture of the risks they could be assuming. 

The guide suggests, for example, asking the seller, the realtor and town planner’s office if the neighborhood has flooded at high-tide and how often. A home inspector, meanwhile, should be able to say whether they see any evidence of tidal flooding on the property.

To check out a community’s overall chronic-flood risk, prospective buyers can enter the zip code into an interactive mapping tool that accompanies the UCS study. 

Coastal homebuyers need to start asking hard questions, to protect themselves and jump start important conversations in these communities. Is your home at risk?

Last updated June 19, 2018

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