Coastal Property Values Take a Hit Due to Climate Change

A house behind sandbags on North Topsail Beach, NC photo

Why can't the Wall Street Journal call it what it is?

When I opened my architectural practice many years ago, my dad bought me a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, telling me that anyone with a business should read it daily. I have had a love-hate relationship with it ever since, hating the editorial and political side but getting a lot out of the news side. I have often cancelled my subscription out of outrage, and guiltily slunk back because I wanted access to their other stories (and Christopher Mims, the source of so many TreeHugger posts.)

As TreeHugger Sami recently noted, Sea level rise has caused $7.4 billion drop in home prices in Southeast US. Now the Wall Street Journal picks up the story; one thing they are good at on the news side is following the money. In a recent article, Sarah Krouse, Laura Kusisto and Tom McGinty follow the value of ocean-front real estate and confirm that it is taking a real hit due to rising waters and more frequent storms.

The Journal findings dovetail with recent research. A Harvard University study in May showed home prices at lower elevations are suffering, while once-modest neighborhoods on higher ground in Miami-Dade County, Fla., are appreciating more quickly, by virtue of their geography. University of Colorado researchers studying data from 2007 through 2016 found homes vulnerable to rising sea levels across the country are selling at a 7% discount to similar but less-exposed properties.

People who want to stay in the area are spending big bucks to raise their houses, and are paying significant premiums for insurance- in the high-risk areas, as much as five times asa much as for homes in low risk zones. Others are selling their homes for way below asking prices and are despondent about moving away from the beach.

“It kills us not to be able to walk out back and see water,” said Ms. Carriera, 27, but “you would be spending more money to upkeep it than actually enjoying it and that’s why we went inland. I guess it’s just peace of mind.”

It is an important article. It shows that rising waters and changing weather is directly affecting peoples lives, the economy of coastal cities, and is having a real financial effect, something that Wall Street Journal readers understand. If there was ever an article that could be used to explain the straightforward financial consequences of climate change to a skeptical audience, this would be it.

And then they go and spoil it all by writing, early in the story:

The effects of the planet’s slow heating are diffuse and its causes are debated. That hasn’t stopped climate-change expectations filtering into business decisions and values of financial assets. In coastal residential real estate, those expectations are turning an old dictum on its head. “Location, location, location” is receding from the waterline.

The effects are not diffuse- they are concentrated right there on coastal real estate. The causes are not debated, the debates ended long ago. You now have people who support science and people who deny science and they don't talk to each other much. And this is the Wall Street Journal, which follows the money, and the money here is factoring climate change into their decisions.

I agree with Andy. It gets hard for me to keep subscribing when I cannot separate the news from the editorial. Perhaps it is once again time to give them a call.