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:
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)
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.
- 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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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 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)