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Housing markets with flood and wildfire risk are booming

Flood-prone areas have seen a 103% increase in population over the past two years

U.S. counties most prone to flooding saw 384,000 more people move into them than out of them over the past two years, a 103% increase during that time. Similar trends are being observed in areas prone to wildfires and excessive heat as home prices have remained generally elevated well after the pandemic-driven homebuying boom.

This is according to data from Redfin, which conducted an analysis of migration patterns sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau cross-referenced with climate risk scores from the First Street Foundation, a research-oriented nonprofit that aims to define the risks of climate change in the U.S.

A combination of an explosion in remote work combined with record-low interest rates during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused people to search for more affordable housing, fewer taxes and warmer weather. This pushed migration into states like Florida, Texas and Arizona, despite the fact that these states carry higher levels of risk from extreme heat, wildfires, drought and storms.

“It’s human nature to focus on current benefits, like waterfront views or a low cost of living, over costs that could rack up in the long run, like property damage or a decrease in property value,” said Redfin Deputy Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather. “It’s also human nature to discount risks that are tough to measure, like climate change.”

While the U.S. continues to reckon with issues related to housing supply, disaster-prone areas generally have a higher pool of available homes, leading to reduced prices. But a lot of building activity is also concentrated in areas associated with higher climate-related risks.

“America is increasingly building housing in places endangered by climate change; more than half (55%) of homes built so far this decade face fire risk, while 45% face drought risk, a separate Redfin analysis found,” the data explained. “By comparison, just 14% of homes built from 1900 to 1959 face fire risk and 37% face drought risk. New homes are also more likely than older homes to face heat and flood risk.”

Homeowners and renters may not have felt the full impact of climate-related disasters since, oftentimes, they do not end up directly paying for renovations or repairs necessitated by an adverse climate event, Fairweather said.

“Insurers and government programs frequently subsidize the cost of rebuilding after storms hit, and mortgages mean homeowners are ceding some risk to lenders—especially if their house goes into foreclosure after a storm,” he explained. “But with natural disasters intensifying and insurers pulling out of disaster-prone areas including Florida and California, Americans may start feeling a greater sense of urgency to mitigate climate dangers—especially if their home’s value is at risk of declining.”

Which, for many Americans surveyed by Redfin, is a concern. According to a survey of roughly 2,000 U.S. residents commissioned by Redfin and conducted by Qualtrics in May and June 2023, nearly half (48.7%) of respondents who moved within the last year believe that an increasing frequency or intensity of climate events like natural disasters, excessive temperatures and/or rising sea levels will “likely impact home values in their area in the next 10 years,” the data said.

Among the top migration destinations most impacted by climate risk, coastal Florida has seen nearly 60,000 more people move in than move out over the past two years. This includes to areas like Lee County, which includes Fort Myers and Cape Coral. The area was most recently ravaged by Hurricane Ian in September.

Meanwhile, inland California, Utah and Arizona have seen their populations swell as the risk of wildfires has only grown, Redfin found.

Recently, prominent insurance companies have exited some of these areas. Farmers Insurance announced earlier this month that it will cease providing coverage in Florida, while State Farm and Allstate are pulling back on types of coverage in California. All the exiting companies have cited climate risk in explaining these decisions.

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