Sep 11, 2023 - Real Estate

Climate risks worry home buyers, especially on the West Coast

Illustration of a "For Sale" sign post flooded in water.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Potential climate disasters are a major worry for people buying homes in Washington, as well as elsewhere along the West Coast, according to new research from Zillow.

Why it matters: Recent extreme weather events — from heat waves to wildfires to heavy rain — are pushing more homebuyers to consider the effects of climate change when they search for a place, Manny Garcia, senior population scientist with Zillow, told Axios.

Driving the news: Of roughly 4,600 prospective homebuyers surveyed nationwide between April and July, more than 80% said they consider at least one climate risk when purchasing a home.

  • In Pacific states — Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska and Hawai'i — it's an even bigger consideration, factoring into the process for 92% of buyers, Zillow found.
  • That was the highest percentage of any U.S. region, Garcia said.

Yes, but: High home prices in West Coast markets may be forcing many people who are worried about climate risks to compromise and accept those risks anyway, he said.

  • While Pacific state homebuyers were more likely to consider climate change-related issues when choosing a home, they also were more likely than people elsewhere to say they plan to buy in an area with one or more disaster risks.
  • Sometimes that's because getting the desired amount of space — spurred by life events like a new baby or marriage — requires moving out of the city to a place further inland, which generally comes with more risk of wildfires or extreme heat, Garcia said.

What they're saying: "At the end of the day, most folks don't have the money to get everything they want, including a climate-proof home," Garcia said.

Other real estate experts told Axios that they've seen buyers' concerns about climate risks show up in an increased desire for air conditioning.

  • While Seattle once was the least air-conditioned large metro area in the U.S., that's no longer the case. Recent extreme heat events have made air conditioning in the region more of a necessity than a luxury, Scott Comey, owner of RE/MAX Elite in Lynnwood, told Axios.
  • Comey said fewer buyers are raising climate-change issues with his brokers than the Zillow survey would indicate, but concerns about landslides and extreme heat have been coming up more frequently than they used to.
  • About half his agents report fielding those kinds of questions from buyers, he said.

Plus: Rising sea levels are now a bigger concern for people buying waterfront property, Edward Krigsman, a Windermere real estate broker in Seattle, told Axios.

  • Homes located just a foot or two above sea level are "substantially more risky," making higher-situated homes more attractive to buyers worried about climate change, Krigsman wrote in an email.

The bottom line: Affordability trumps everything, Garcia said.

  • While West Coast buyers may stress the most about the risks posed by climate change, in the end, they're "taking what they can get," he said.
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