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Effects of coastal erosion: A future view of at-risk housing markets

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Many people dream of owning a beachfront property. However, it comes with many risks. For homeowners, factors like the risk of natural disasters property damage and maintenance costs can make owning a house on the beach unpredictable. While these coastal property challenges have been around for centuries, a worsening threat to homeownership is, unfortunately, becoming a concern. Cue coastal erosion.

Due to global warming, rising water levels causing coastline recession rates to increase are threatening coastal communities and properties. In fact, around 40% of the U.S. population currently lives in coastal areas that may be vulnerable to sea level rise.

Zillow and Climate Central conducted a report assessing which communities are at the highest risk of new properties succumbing to coastal flooding and erosion due to the rising sea levels across the globe. The results were clear, if pollution and global warming continue unchecked, it’s estimated that 17,800 existing homes built after 2009 will face a flood risk of at least 10 percent each year, on average, by 2050.

To help visualize the damage that could be done to the U.S. coastlines, we’ve outlined what some of the most at-risk housing markets could look like by 2050 due to coastal erosion. Read on to discover which housing markets are at the greatest risk and how to protect your property and bank account if you're a coastal homeowner.

What causes coastal erosion?

Coastal erosion is defined as the process by which the rise of local sea levels, strong wave action and coastal flooding wear down or carry away rocks, soils, and/or sands along the coast. Although all coastlines are affected by natural events like storms and waves that cause erosion, the combination of storm surge at high tide with the added impact from strong waves creates the most damaging conditions for the coastline.

While the rising water level is mostly due to a combination of meltwater from glaciers and ice sheets due to global warming, pollution and unchecked environmental protections are only exacerbating the threat.

A future look at 5 of the most at-risk housing markets

With average coastline recession rates of 25 feet per year in the Southeast and rates of 50 feet per year along the great lakes, homeowners are faced with a difficult decision; whether to stay or go when it comes to coastal properties.

Despite the increasing risk of rising sea levels, coastal flooding and erosion, new homes are continuing to be developed in risk zones. Twenty-four cities—including Tampa, Virginia Beach, Charleston and Galveston—have allowed at least 100 homes built in risk zones since 2010.

Mid-level projects expect sea level to rise at least 19 inches by 2050. Below, we’ve visualized what the coastline of some of the top at-risk housing markets could look like in the near future due to coastal flooding and erosion.

At-risk cities are determined by the number of homes existing in a risk zone by 2050. “Risk zones” are classified as areas with elevations below local projected sea levels plus annual or decadal flood heights.

1. Ocean City, New Jersey

Ocean city, which sits on New Jersey’s coastline, has a string of beaches filled with attractions and residential properties. In May 2021, home prices in Ocean City, NJ were up 29.4% compared to the previous year, with a median selling price of $705,000. That said, many homes in Ocean City are at risk of coastal flooding and erosion (38.2%), despite the increased housing prices. See a snapshot of what Ocean City’s coastline and housing market is expected to look like by 2050 below:

- Number of homes at risk by 2050: 7,254 (38.2%)
- Value of homes estimated to be compromised: $5,386,315,345
- Housing growth rate ratio in risk zones vs. safe zones: 1.5
- Cost of average home insurance premium: $1,054 (21% lower than national average)

Ocean City, New Jersey

  • Number of homes at risk by 2050:7,254 (38.2%)
  • Value of homes estimated to be compromised$5,386,315,345
  • Housing growth rate ratio in risk zones vs. safe zones1.5
  • Cost of average home insurance premium$1,054 (21% lower than national average)
Ocean City, New Jersey 2020
Ocean City, New Jersey 2050

2. Galveston, Texas

Galveston, Texas, which is home to a coastal island on the outskirts of Huston, is one of Texas’ top tourist destinations. Even with 2,559 houses on the Galveston coast at risk due to the expected sea level rise by 2050, the housing market is still “somewhat competitive,” according to Redfin.

What’s more, the cost of premium home insurance in Galveston is 23% higher than the national average, due in part to the risky housing market. Find more key information on properties at risk below:

- Number of homes at risk by 2050: 2,569 (22.5%)
- Value of homes estimated to be compromised: $1,031,591,600
- Housing growth rate ratio in risk zones vs. safe zones: 1.7
- Cost of average home insurance premium: $1,647 (23% higher than national average)

Galveston, Texas

  • Number of homes at risk by 2050:2,569 (22.5%)
  • Value of homes estimated to be compromised$1,031,591,600
  • Housing growth rate ratio in risk zones vs. safe zones1.7
  • Cost of average home insurance premium$1,647 (23% higher than national average)
Galveston, Texas 2020
Galveston, Texas 2050

3. Charleston, South Carolina

The housing market in Charleston is projected to be among the top ten in the U.S. for the next several years. However, if you’re planning to plant roots in Charleston, you may want to first determine if your property would be among the 2,507 properties at risk of coastal erosion.

Although only 5.6% of homes are at risk by 2050, the value of these homes is estimated at $2,258,124,316. Below is what experts expect Charleston's coastline and housing market to look like by 2050:

- Number of homes at risk by 2050: 2,507 (5.6%)
- Value of homes estimated to be compromised: $2,258,124,316
- Housing growth rate ratio in risk zones vs. safe zones: 0.5
- Cost of average home insurance premium: $2,382 (58% higher than national average)

Charleston, South Carolina

  • Number of homes at risk by 20502,507 (5.6%)
  • Value of homes estimated to be compromised$2,258,124,316
  • Housing growth rate ratio in risk zones vs. safe zones0.5
  • of average home insurance premium$2,382 (58% higher than national average)
Charleston, South Carolina 2020
Charleston, South Carolina 2050

4. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Although the number of home listings continue to decline in Virginia Beach, Virginia, sales transactions are rising, showing there is a strong demand for real estate in this coastal city. With the real estate market relatively affordable compared to other parts of the country, this is an attractive location for homebuyers.

With such a high demand, developers are making the most of the remaining land available and building properties wherever they can — even in risk zones. In fact, the housing growth rate ratio in risk zones is 1.1 times the growth rate of those built in safe zones. Here’s more key information on at-risk Virginia Beach properties:

- Number of homes at risk by 2050: 1,557 (1.1%)
- Value of homes estimated to be compromised: $879,460,938
- Housing growth rate ratio in risk zones vs. safe zones: 1.1
Cost of average home insurance premium: $2,281 (54% higher than national average)

Virginia Beach, Virginia

    • Number of homes at risk by 20501,557 (1.1%)
    • Value of homes estimated to be compromised$879,460,938
    • Housing growth rate ratio in risk zones vs. safe zones1.1
    • Cost of average home insurance premium$2,281 (54% higher than national average)
Virginia Beach, Virginia 2020
Virginia Beach, Virginia 2050

5. Tampa, Florida

The Tampa, Florida housing market is very competitive and it’s not hard to see why. Tampa, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, is home to beautiful beaches, culture and attractions. However, Tampa, Florida is among one of the most at-risk neighborhoods in the U.S., with new homes being built in risk zones at a rate 6.7x higher than in safe zones. Below is a look at what the Tampa coastline and housing market could look like in 2050:

- Number of homes at risk by 2050: 347 (0.3%)
- Value of homes estimated to be compromised: $160,585,034
- Housing growth rate ratio in risk zones vs. safe zones: 6.7
- Cost of average home insurance premium: $1,376 (5% higher than national average)

Tampa, Florida

    • Number of homes at risk by 2050347 (0.3%)
    • Value of homes estimated to be compromised$160,585,034
    • Housing growth rate ratio in risk zones vs. safe zones6.7
    • Cost of average home insurance premium$1,376 (5% higher than national average)
Tampa, Florida  2020
Tampa, Florida  2050

The cost of coastal flooding and erosion for homeowners

According to a recent study in just 30 years from now, erosion will have dramatically thinned an estimated 2,451.6 miles (36 percent) of sandy coastline in the United States and 22,429 miles (14 percent) around the world., in just 30 years from now, erosion will have dramatically thinned an estimated 2,451.6 miles (36 percent) of sandy coastline in the United States and 22,429 miles (14 percent) around the world.

What’s more, coastal flooding is already minimizing property value in coastal communities. Not only will this impact the land and property value, but coastal erosion will impose a heavy toll on areas with a concentration of businesses and tourism.

With Mother Nature working against them, coastal homeowners are left to decide whether they will enact fight or flight when it comes to the effects of coastal erosion. In the United States alone, coastal erosion is responsible for roughly $500 million per year in coastal property loss , including damage to structures and loss of land.

Protecting your property from coastal erosion

While it is not possible to prevent erosion from happening, there are a few ways to secure your property to minimize damage and keep your home.

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Conduct a site assessment

A site assessment characterizes your property by observing conditions on and around where you live. In many cases you will need the assistance of a professional, such as a geologist, to complete the assessment which will provide an understanding of the interactions between coastal, geologic and ecological processes at a site.

An assessment will help you identify the types, locations and causes of erosion occurring at a site. This step allows you to determine if action is required, and if so, which approaches will be the most effective.

Here are a few questions you should have answered during the site assessment:

  • Is erosion occurring on your site? If so, where?
  • How fast is the erosion occurring?
  • How frequently, and under what conditions does erosion occur?
  • Does erosion reflect seasonal changes or a chronic problem?
  • Is your property or safety at risk?

Consider implementing design techniques

For those who live on the coast, there are several design techniques that can be applied to protect your shoreline property from damage. While some projects are simple, others are more complex and costly. Oftentimes, experts recommend leaving your site to function naturally as this is the best solution for environmental health. However if outside intervention is needed, soft methods or natural techniques like adding vegetation, drainage, and locating structures can be a good alternative to consider.

More invasive, hard methods may disrupt natural ecosystems and tend to be difficult to permit and install. These hard methods could include bulkhead, seawall, revetment and rockery.

Have an up-to-date home insurance policy

If your home is located on the coast, it may come with very specific risks that a traditional, inland home does not. As a result, it’s critical that, as a coastal homeowner, you consider a vastly different type of insurance to protect your special property – and it’s called coastal homeowners insurance.

Taking a few minutes to check your homeowner’s insurance policy to ensure you have adequate coverage can help you get back on your feet after damage from coastal erosion or any other type of natural disaster. Also, make sure your home insurance covers flooding, as this is also a must if you live on the coast line.

Create an emergency plan

Knowing what to do in the event of flooding or a severe coastal storm that can lead to erosion is critical if you live on the coast. Be sure to create an emergency preparedness plan that you and your family kno in the event of an emergency. Knowing where valuable documents are located and having a safe location to go to if your property becomes unstable are great places to start when developing your emergency plan.

Keep an updated list of your home’s contents

Documenting all your belongings will give you peace of mind and help with the insurance claims process in case anything is damaged due to property erosion or any other natural disaster.

Consider documenting your contents visually, either by taking photos of high-value items or walking through your home and videotaping your belongings for reference. Make sure to store this documentation in a safe location, safe or flash drive to avoid water damage.

Ways to help minimize the risk of coastal erosion

As a marine waterfront property owner you undoubtedly want to protect your investment and its unique shoreline environment. Below are a few ways your community can minimize waterfront property damage and risk, while supporting a healthy beach habitat.

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Discuss options with your community

Before beginning your own solutions like improving structural design on your property or even relocating, check with your local officials to see if they have community plans or suggestions for reducing erosion in your area.

Community-wide initiatives focused on strategic and natural erosion mitigation projects can protect your home and those of others.

Habitat restoration

Natural coastal habitats like dunes, wetlands and plants can slow waves, reduce wave height and reduce erosion. Healthy dunes and wetlands can provide a barrier between the water’s edge and your property, creating a first line of defense. Additionally, the roots of plants help stabilize sand along a beach.

By planting beach-friendly vegetation along your property you can help prevent sand from being carried off by waves.

Living shorelines

A living shorelineis defined as a protected and stabilized shoreline that is made of natural materials like plants, sand or rock. Living shorelines can slow waves, reduce erosion and protect coastal property

Beach nourishment

Beach nourishment involves replenishing the sand on a beach to widen it. However, it is a temporary solution that will not permanently reduce the risk of erosion.

Relocate or move

An expensive option, but one that will significantly reduce property risk, is to move your home further away from the coastline. Before following through with this option, we recommend you speak with professional engineers, architects and your local officials.

Finally, moving out of your property altogether is another option for those living in at-risk communities. This may ease your mind and allow you to firmly plant roots in soil that won’t move from under you.

Noteworthy beach erosion facts

  • Coastal counties of the U.S. are home to over 128 million people, or almost 40 percent of the nation's total population (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)
  • California tops the coastal populations chart with 26.7 million people living in coastal counties, followed by New York with 16 million, Florida with 15.8 million, New Jersey with 7.1 million, and Texas with 6.8 million. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)
  • Climate is perhaps the most influential force impacting the effect of erosion on a landscape. (National Geographic)
  • Topography, the shape of surface features of an area, can contribute to how erosion impacts that area. (National Geographic)
  • Vegetation can slow the impact of erosion. Plant roots adhere to soil and rock particles, preventing their transport during rainfall or wind events. (National Geographic)
  • From 1970 to 2010, the population in coastal counties increased by 34.8 million people, or approximately 40 percent. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)
  • The Grand Canyon is a result of erosion which is now more than 1,600 meters (1 mile) deep and as much as 29 kilometers (18 miles) wide in some places. (U.S. National Park Service)
  • To mitigate coastal erosion, the federal government spends an average of $150 million every year on beach nourishment and other shoreline erosion control measures. (Journal of Geographic and Natural Disasters)

The effects of coastal erosion are not just costly to the environment, but to homeowners. If you live in a coastal property, especially one in or near a high-risk zone, consider the options listed above to minimize the risk on your property and safety.

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