Despite warnings and rising insurance, Coastal home buyers ignore flood risk

Despite clear warnings and rising insurance premiums, Coastal home buyers ignore increased flood risk.

Apollo Beach, Florida, has an average elevation of 3 feet above sea level, with many homes directly on the water. Google Earth

Apollo Beach, Florida, is a maze of canals lined with hundreds of homes near the water's edge. The entire community is south of Tampa, just 3 feet above sea level, which means it is at risk from storms as sea levels rise.

Homebuyers along the coast of the United States can check the flood risk of each property as quickly as they check the size of the bedrooms - most coastal property listings now include details of future flood risks that take climate change into account. In Apollo Beach, for example, many properties are at least 9 out of 10 on the flood risk scale.

However, this knowledge does not prevent homebuyers.

Waterfront homes are selling out within days of being on the market. The same story is taking place along the coast of South Florida when scientific reports warn of the increasing risks of coastal flooding as the planet warms.

We are professors of urban geography and American politics who follow the real estate industry. To understand why people ignore the risks that can lead to excessive damages and ultimately lower the value of their property, we spoke to hundreds of Florida real estate agents about their clients' motivations and fears.

Nothing prompts buyers to consider long-term risks

We surveyed 680 licensed Florida realtors in late 2020. Their responses indicate that potential homebuyers, by and large, do not consider altitude or flood exposure when searching for new homes, and the availability of detailed flood risk maps had little or no effect.

Part of the problem may be that mortgage lenders and appraisers don't consider real estate's exposure to sea level rise, so homebuyers don't immediately feel the risks in their pockets. More affluent buyers who don't need a mortgage aren't required to buy flood insurance, and Congress has a history of rolling back flood insurance rate increases.

In short, there is no reason for buyers to consider long-term risks.

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