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Sea level rise will put $1 trillion worth of U.S. homes in jeopardy

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That’s as many as 1 in 8 homes if you live in Florida

The signs of climate change are everywhere for coastal real estate
Photo by Alexei Barrionuevo

Our planet is still in overachiever mode when it comes to atmospheric warmth, with the most recent State of the Climate report confirming that 2015 indeed toppled 2014 as the hottest year on record. Which means we’re still on track for a terrifying new reality: By 2100, NOAA predicts sea levels will rise six feet. A new study from Zillow says that will mean close to $1 trillion in U.S. residential real estate losses.

Using NOAA’s data modeling, which shows which areas of different cities would be submerged after six-foot sea level rise, Zillow created its own maps that show the correlated values of the submerged properties. About 1.9 million US homes—a total of $882 billion in losses—will have at least their first story underwater by 2100. That’s about two percent of all U.S. homes.

But that percentage becomes even higher in certain regions. Hawaii will lose one in 10 of its homes. Florida will lose one in eight. And when you go by city, those numbers get scarier. Miami and Honolulu lose about a third of their housing stock. Boston loses 17 percent.

Not surprisingly, Miami will fare the worst

Some cities are certainly preparing for this reality—sculpting "smart hills" to buffer storm surges, building park-like barriers to absorb the floods, raising streets to keep them dry—but the question is whether people who are investing in these at-risk properties are listening. So far it doesn’t seem like property buyers aren’t ready to heed these warnings, especially in luxury markets like Miami which continue to explode as more frequent floods lap at the doorsteps of some of the most highest-priced homes in the country.

If a looming trillion-dollar disaster isn’t worrying enough by itself, Zillow has placed this flooded future in perspective for us. Consider negative equity, the other definition of "underwater" when it comes to property. The U.S. homes that were financially underwater in 2012, at the height of the mortgage crisis, represented a value of about $1.2 trillion. So the loss of homes due to sea level rise—homes that will technically be underwater twice—will be at least as financially devastating to the economy. That doesn’t even include the businesses that will be displaced.