Use the search box or click on the map to find out how many homes in that area are built on land likely to be below sea level or flooded, on average, once a year by 2050. Blue shading over land shows this flood risk zone.
Even if the world more aggressively tackles global warming, about 350,000 homes across the US, worth about $190 billion at today’s prices, are built on land that’s at risk of annual flooding by 2050 — which is about when a new 30-year mortgage on one of those properties would be paid off. And if no steps are taken to curb carbon emissions, the number of at-risk homes jumps to about 385,000.
That’s the conclusion of a new study published Tuesday from Climate Central, a scientific organization that tracks climate impacts, and the real estate marketplace Zillow. You can check whether a certain location is at risk using the map above.
Although climate change may seem a distant threat, this study looked at conditions relevant to current homebuyers, given the lifecycle of a standard 30-year fixed mortgage. Many of the most affected locations are in major metropolitan areas on the coast, such as New York City, Miami Beach, and the Bay Area, where real estate prices are quite high. Yet most homebuyers are not asking questions about climate change and sea level rise, according to interviews with 11 realtors in some of the cities and towns facing the biggest risks.
“No one’s thinking about climate change as a reason to or not to buy on the Jersey Shore,” Kenneth Nilson, who has worked in real estate in New Jersey for more than 30 years, told BuzzFeed News.
What’s more, developers continue to build on land where flooding will be a more-or-less annual event by mid-century, even in places that have experienced damaging floods in the past decade.
“We’re still making pretty massive investments,” Skylar Olsen, director of economic research and outreach at Zillow, told BuzzFeed News. “We haven’t really learned our lessons.”
Climate Central’s experts looked at the overlap between risk zones for flooding from rising seas and storm surges, and Zillow’s residential property data. They counted the number of housing units — including single-family homes, condos, duplexes, cooperatives, and townhouses — in the risk zones, and recorded their current value.
To be included in a risk zone, a building must be on land at or below sea level, or where floods will happen on average once per year. But that doesn’t mean every home in a risk zone will flood — those elevated above ground level could remain dry.
The analysis also considered two different scenarios. The one called “medium emissions” on our map assumes that greenhouse gas emissions peak around 2040 and then decline sharply. The “high emissions” scenario is where no action is taken.
Neither scenario paints a pretty picture for coastal property values. “The coastline is looking bad,” Scott Kulp of Climate Central told BuzzFeed News.
One of the cities with the highest number of at-risk properties by 2050 is Miami Beach, Florida. In the better-case scenario, the city could see 0.7 feet of sea level rise between now and mid-century, with more than 3,100 homes, worth just over $2 billion, in the risk zone. In the high-emissions scenario, the city could see about 0.9 feet of sea level rise by then and more than 5,100 homes at risk.
In the Miami area, where rainstorms and regular high tides already flood low-lying areas from time to time, buyers are starting to ask questions about home elevations, flood insurance rates, and flooding problems and responses, realtors say.
Just this week, for example, longtime Miami Beach-based realtor Nancy Batchelor was on the phone with a potential client who asked about the home’s elevation due to concerns about flooding. Batchelor said clients weren’t asking these detailed questions about flood risk before Hurricane Irma struck Florida last year.
Still, these concerns rarely stop clients from ultimately buying property near the ocean. “There’s always going to be a demand to be on or near the water,” said Joanna Jimenez, a real estate agent in Miami Beach. “People are not going inland.”
And where homebuyers do ask about the risks, they are mostly concerned with current storms, not the effect of climate change over the coming three decades, realtors told BuzzFeed News.
Not included in the new analysis’s projections for Miami Beach are the city’s projects to counter flooding, such as raising streets and installing massive pumps. These projects so far have a price tag of $500 million.
But the preparations of wealthy cities like Miami Beach are the exception, not the rule. According to Thomas Ruppert, a coastal planning specialist at the government–academic partnership Florida Sea Grant, some smaller Florida communities know they have a problem, but acknowledge that “we aren’t going to do what Miami Beach is doing — it’s not economically possible.”
Another high-risk flooding area is New York City. Assuming some climate action, the city is projected to see 0.8 feet of flooding between now and 2050. That would put more than 5,400 homes in the risk zone, currently worth almost $3.4 billion.
Even though Superstorm Sandy pounded the city in 2012, knocking out power and causing widespread flooding, many homebuyers still don’t ask about the risks.
According to Bill Barrus, a real estate agent with listings in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn, about one out of 20 of his clients brings up questions or concerns about flooding.
But Cristina Dattolo, a real estate agent in Staten Island, said that most of her clients do ask whether a property is in a flood zone and about insurance rates. “I think Sandy kind of put this fear in people,” Dattolo said. She has had clients walk away from homes because the estimated flood insurance rates were too high.
Just one state over, however, multiple realtors told BuzzFeed News their clients only sometimes ask about flooding and it’s never held up a deal.
Despite being hard-hit by Sandy, people are still buying homes in coastal New Jersey cities like Ocean City, where more than 5,500 homes, worth some $3.9 billion, are in the risk zone even with action to tackle climate change. (Much of the New Jersey coast could see rising seas of about 1 foot by 2050, regardless of the scenario, according to Climate Central’s Kulp.)
Kulp and Zillow’s Olsen hope that their study will alert homebuyers to the threat to their homes, and their wealth, from sea level rise.
“A lot of people pass down wealth through their homes,” Olsen said. “So investing in an area that’s sure to be here for the next 100 years might even be more important than you think for your family’s livelihood.”
Lo Bénichou of Mapbox contributed reporting and editorial production to this article.