Jan 28, 2008

Could Climate Change Affect Your New Home?

Hurricane from spaceI recently lived through a California storm large enough for the national headlines to call a "hurricane," with 80-mile-an-hour winds and torrential rain. That's not something we see around here often. And although I mostly watched events from the comfort of my own home, where the power mercifully stayed on and the roof held strong, the experience made me look at my house in a whole different way.

That beloved tree in the backyard suddenly became a potential hazard, its branches waving threateningly. (In fact, an insurance broker I know says they've gotten numerous downed-tree claims since the storm.) I noticed how close the telephone poles are to our house - one good topple and the power lines would be on our roof. And I discovered a new flaw in our front porch - it has no water drain, and required bailing to remove the small lake that collected there.

On the TV news, I watched people endure much worse. And I kept thinking, "Why would you buy a house on such a steep hill/by a creek/next to all those tall trees?" Easy for me to say -- I wasn't there on a sunny day, when those houses probably looked beautiful and had great views of the San Francisco Bay.

But now, more than ever, it's worth imagining what rough climate conditions can do to your prospective home. And relying on the home's history may not do it. Yes, I confess, I just got around to watching An Inconvenient Truth last weekend. And although I already knew much of what's in it, the movie really brings home how much might change in the next 50 years, and the degree to which extreme weather patterns are already affecting the United States (and the world). (One relevant factoid from the movie: The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled in the last 30 years.)

Frankly, I don't understand why the real estate industry isn't talking more about this. So what if some people still think it's a "political" issue - shouldn't the mere possibility of increased hurricanes and 20-foot sea level rises have anyone with an ounce of investor's savvy think twice about buying, say, waterfront property? But talking about this openly still seems to be perceived as either taboo or a downer for the already-down real estate market.

So, where should you go for information? Check out NextGenerationEarth, by the Earth Institute at Columbia University, which offers state-by-state summaries. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) website also has some good general information on global warming, with a special report on how global warming will affect Florida. I've been looking for a website that will tell you how high your house is above sea level, but no luck yet. (Anyone got a hot lead?) And keep your eyes on the news!

Ilona Bray

2 Comments

This issue deserves greater attention than ever. All these climate change threats are very real and closer than we can imagine. As working for a Vancouver real estate company I can say that there is no time to caution people about the bad qualities of their house. Anyway the property market is in recession so that means that no one would risk the business in sake of eliminating the disasters. I know that it sounds really disappointing, but that`s how it works unfortunately.

I couldn't agree more - my husband and I are looking for a retirement location - we do not plan to retire for 15-20 years however we would like to start making friends and building a life where we might eventually live full time. Given all the dire predictions about climate change I wouldn't begin to buy a place without considering the fate of the place in 20-40 years or even longer so my children can inherit it. We also live in San Francisco and go to Stinson Beach often and I cam perplexed by the money people are paying for real estate that might be at risk in 30 years. No one else seems to think about it (except you and me) so perhaps we are just coo-coo...or have early onset enlightenment.