The Most Endangered Real Estate Markets in the U.S.
By 2045, $135 billion in property will be under threat from rising water levels, according to a report.
The Most Endangered Real Estate Markets in the U.S.
For most homeowners, the single largest investment they will make in their lives, and the biggest asset they will own, is their family home. Homes in coastal areas, however, are facing a growing threat from rising seas and other issues, often caused by a changing climate.
Rising seas and chronic flooding impose a serious, long-term threat that can lower property and resale values, leaving homeowners to relocate to safer areas, discount their house, pay recurrent bills for property damage, or eventually find they have an unsaleable property and a mortgage that is, quite literally, underwater.
Research from Zillow shows that more than $900 billion worth of homes in the United States will be impacted by increased flooding and storm damage, mostly in coastal communities. By 2045, $135 billion in property will be under threat, and almost 300,000 people will be forced to adapt to regular, disruptive flooding, or they’ll need to move.
Homeowners in some high-risk areas are no longer eligible for flood insurance, and will have to rely on federal disaster funds. In addition, decreasing tax revenue in some of the most vulnerable towns and cities will mean that essential services – such as police, fire, rescue – will be cut when they’re badly needed.
“In the long run some places will have to be abandoned, but in the short term it’s not clear,” said Dr. Ben Strauss, chief scientist at Climate Central, a non-profit research center that studies the impact of climate change. “It will all depend on how we plan.”
For now, these areas of the United States are most under threat.
High Risk Areas: Huntington Beach, Long Beach/Lakewood, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, San Mateo, Stockton
The Details: Along the California coast, beach communities face growing land erosion. Record-breaking ocean floods will become an annual event within 20-60 years, according to a Climate Central report. $36.5 billion worth of property and 145,000 people are located on land becoming increasingly flood prone.
In addition, more than 11.2 million people – 30 percent of the state’s total population – are at greater risk from wildfires, as average mountain spring and summer temperatures climb and mountain snow packs decrease. There are now three times as many annual fires in California than in the 1970s, according to research from Climate Central.
On the plus side, a National Resources Defense Council study found that California is probably the state best prepared to deal with climate change, having passed acts such as the California Global Warming Solutions in 2006 and the Water Efficiency Bill in 2010. Solar panels are mandatory in all new buildings and the state plans to have 100 percent of energy provided by renewable sources by 2045.
High Risk Areas: Bradenton, Fort Lauderdale, Key West, Lower Keys, Miami, Miami Beach, Upper Keys, West Palm Beach
The Details: The Miami metropolitan area, together with Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach, will likely lose more than 30,000 homes to rising sea levels, with floods occurring 26 times or more a year, according to Climate Central figures. In fact, Miami alone contains a quarter of the total number of at-risk homes for the entire country.
Tourism and transportation, Florida’s biggest industries, together with wetlands and mangrove forests, are also under threat.
On the plus side, the local government in Miami Beach is investing $500 million to elevate roads and install pumps, and has passed new building codes that require higher elevation in all new construction. Other counties are investigating building sea walls and other anti-flooding measures.
Many coastal homeowners are also trying a new, ecological approach called “living shoreline,” which uses oyster shells and marsh grass to create a living seawall, and potentially reverse coastal erosion.
High Risk Areas: The entire multi-island state of Hawaii faces a bleak future due to rising sea levels.
The Details: A recent report from the University of Hawaii shows the entire chain will become hotter and drier – meaning there will be fresh water shortages – and stormier. Tourism – the main source of income in the islands – will all but disappear as beaches vanish.
In 80 years, the shoreline of Hawaii’s main city, Honolulu, will be almost a mile inland from where it lies now, according to the report. About 34,000 homes will be underwater.
“By the end of the century, I would be surprised if Waikiki Beach is still there,” said Charles Fletcher, a University of Hawaii geologist, who helped prepare a climate change study for the state, in a Huffington Post article.
On the plus side, Hawaii is one of the few states to adopt a statewide climate adaptation policy, which means that climate adaptation measures must be added to all new planning and development.
High Risk Areas: Grant Isle, Houma, New Orleans
The Details: Across Louisiana, more than one million people are vulnerable to flooding and 25 percent of them lack levees for protection, reports Climate Central.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the resulting flooding, loss of life, and property damage showed just how vulnerable this low-lying city is to extreme weather events. The barrier islands that sheltered the city lost much of their landmass after Katrina, leaving New Orleans with even less protection for future storms.
A study released by Climate Central estimates that 10,000-13,500 square kilometers of coastal Louisiana land will be underwater by 2100, and that long-term, living in New Orleans will not be possible.
“[Flooding] is only going to continue to accelerate and we will see more dramatic impacts in the coming decades. We can take adaptive measures but eventually a lot of land will be submerged,’ said Dr. Strauss, who led the Climate Central study.
High Risk Areas: Annapolis Neck, Baltimore, Crisfield, Dundalk, Edgemere, Glen Burnie, Mayo, Ocean City, Ocean Pines, Salisbury, Shady Side, West Ocean City
The Details: Maryland has 257,000 acres, 53,000 people, and 40,000 homes at risk of flooding and storm surges, with 17 towns or cities where at least half the population is at risk, according to a Climate Central report.
Hotter summer temperatures due to climate change are also causing lower air quality in major cities, such as Baltimore and Washington, D.C. (Cities are generally hotter than surrounding rural or suburban areas.)
According to Climate Central, 110,000 people in Maryland are vulnerable to the extreme heat that the state will begin to experience more often. The cost of utilities can soar during hot summers as people use more air conditioning and electricity, meaning that the real cost of living in certain areas will be higher. Chronic poor air quality may deter prospective home buyers who have health conditions, such as asthma or emphysema.
High Risk Areas: Boston, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket
The Details: Massachusetts is at risk of both inland and coastal flooding. The state will receive heavier rain, and less snow, in winter months, and the frequency of storms will be greater, putting 210,000 people at elevated risk of inland flooding. The Atlantic hurricane season feature more major storms, impacting all the coastal New England states.
By 2050, the city of Cambridge is predicted to have a “100 year flood” every seven years and 133,000 people will live in high-risk coastal flooding areas.
People in these areas who face mounting bills for property damage and floodwater clean-up may start to relocate farther inland. If enough people leave, and new buyers don’t move into the area, property prices can fall.
The islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, off Cape Cod on the tip of the state, are expected to serve as early warning systems for the effects of climate change and rising seas, including erosion, beach loss, infrastructure damage (Hurricane Irene destroyed the Vineyard’s dock), lower water quality, and flooding.
On the plus side, Massachusetts has enacted management plans to manage coastal resiliency, including establishing more oyster farms, to ensure good water quality, and has taken aggressive measures to stop erosion.
High Risk Areas: Atlantic City, Avalon, Bayonne, Beach Haven, Camden, Egg Harbor Township, Hoboken, Jersey City, Long Beach, Newark, Ocean City, Seas Isle City, Toms River, Upper Township
The Details: New Jersey is at risk from storm surges, increased hurricane activity in the Atlantic, and “king tides” that will exceed the five-foot mark and flood both coastal areas and inland. The state currently has 352,000 people at risk of coastal flooding. By 2050, this number will increase to 462,000. Within 80 years, 250,000 homes will face repeated flooding.
In addition to flooding part of New Jersey’s subway system, Hurricane Sandy also caused 5.1 billion tons of sewage to be spilled in the state. Atlantic City will likely have “100 year floods” every five years in the future. Climate Central projects that the city of Hoboken will be lost to the sea by 2050.
On the plus side, New Jersey has been a regional leader in reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and encouraging solar energy production, which will help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.
High Risk Areas: Hempstead, Long Island, New York City, Southampton
The Details: Almost half of New York City’s 8.7 million residents live in Queens and Brooklyn, at the western tip of Long Island. Together with the island of Manhattan, these areas are some of the most densely populated, high-risk counties in the United States.
New York’s most vulnerable areas – 120 square miles – are less than six feet above the high tide mark, and contain half a million people, $101 billion in property value, and 1,200 EPA-listed waste sites.
The funnel shape of New York City’s harbor can intensify storm surges, which combined with rising sea levels, poses a serious flooding risk for much of the city and its extensive underground subway system. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 caused parts of the subway in lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey to flood.
Hurricane Sandy, which caused $4.75 billion worth of infrastructure and property damage, showed just how vulnerable this densely packed metropolis is to rising seas and increasingly strong storms.
High Risk Areas: Belhaven, Cape Hatteras, Carolina Beach, Elizabeth City, Jacksonville, Kitty Hawk, Leland, Morehead City, New Bern, Surf City, Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach
The Details: North Carolina has 22 cities and towns where at least half the population is at flooding risk, comprising about 76,000 people, 56,000 homes, and 1.2 million acres.
A North Carolina assembly science panel report shows that sea level rise may be as much as 39 inches (or more) by 2100. In one county in the state (Hyde County), 90 percent of homes will be lost to a sea level rise of six feet, according to Zillow.
However, unlike many states, North Carolina’s legislature denies the science of climate change and passed a bill in 2012 that stops state officials from basing regulations on future sea level rises.
High Risk Areas: Chester, Colwyn, Croydon, Darby, Folcroft, Norwood, Philadelphia, Prospect Park, Sharon Hill, Upland
The Details: Until now, the historic city of Philadelphia has never had floods more than four feet over the high tide mark (which are capable of flooding its waterfront area). However, Climate Central estimates that there is now a 75-percent chance of regular flooding over this height by 2040.
This means that 12,000 homes, 27,000 people, and $3.4 billion in property values are at risk. To make matters worse, the suburb in the city with the highest flooding risk is home to Philadelphia International Airport.
High Risk Areas: Beaufort, Bluffton, Charleston, Folly Beach, Georgetown, Hilton Head Island, Isle of Palms, Kiawah Island, Mount Pleasant, North Myrtle Beach, North Charleston, Port Royal
The Details: South Carolina has more people and homes at risk of flooding and storm surges than its neighbor, North Carolina, but less overall land and only three cities or towns where half the populace is exposed to future flooding. Within the state, 88,000 people, 62,000 homes, and 384,000 acres are at risk, according to Climate Central.
The city of Charleston and its environs represent the most concentrated risk for the state,. Charleston experienced 219 days of flooding between 2005-2014. Homeowners in the Charleston area are finding they must discount their homes to sell them and face recurrent bills for flood damage and clean-up.
In addition, coastal tourism is a major industry in the state and will be heavily impacted.
On the plus side, South Carolina launched a Shoreline Change Initiative in 2010 that is addressing coastal impacts of rising seas and more severe storms, as well as requiring greater beachfront real estate disclosures for buyers and sellers.
High Risk Areas: Baytown, Bridge City, Corpus Christi, Freeport, Galveston, Groves, Houston, League City, Orange, Pasadena, Port Aransas, Port Arthur, South Padre Island, Texas City
The Details: The state of Texas has 95,000 homes, 979,000 acres of land, and 161,000 people at risk of serious or repeated flooding, according to Climate Central.
A number of smaller cities on the southeastern coast of the state, such as Port Arthur, are expected to be lost to the sea.
On the plus side, many coastal areas are already protected by sea walls, levees, forced drainage, and other flood management tools.
High Risk Areas: Belle Haven, Chesapeake, Chincoteague, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach
The Details: The state of Virginia is likely to experience historic levels of flooding in the next 20-30 years in its coastal regions. The state has about $54.8 billion in property – some 200,000 homes – less than nine feet above the high tide mark, with $17.4 billion in property – and 54,000 homes – under the five-foot mark. (Storm surges are predicted to exceed ten feet, according to a report by Climate Central.)
Virginia also suffers from natural sinking land, a result of ancient geological events. This, combined with shifting Atlantic Ocean currents due to warming seas, will mean that sea level rise will have a much stronger impact in this state than others on the Eastern Seaboard.
Norfolk – home to America’s largest naval base – will have 438,000 people affected if sea levels continue to rise. That’s 44 percent of the city’s total population.