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How Sea Level Rise, Flooding Are Affecting N.H.'s Seacoast Real Estate


A new report from Columbia University and First Street Foundation finds that sea level rise and associated tidal flooding have already soaked up value from the coastal New England real estate market.

Researchers say homes have forgone $400 million in relative value since 2005. And in New Hampshire, it has cost homeowners $15 million in lost value.

An interactive tool the researchers developed, FloodiQ.com, provides a clearer picture. Through data visualization, it gives people a glimpse at how much value their property has already lost due to sea level rise and flooding. It also shows what’s likely to come in the next 15 years.

Overall, the report says other New England states have fared worse than New Hampshire. But in the Granite State, Hampton Beach is the town most affected by sea level rise and tidal flooding.

John Rice, a broker with Tate and Foss Sotheby’s International Realty based in Rye, says realtors along New Hampshire’s Seacoast are contemplating how rising seas might affect the area’s real estate market.

“I think, right now, everyone is sensitive to it,” says Rice.

NHPR’s Peter Biello spoke to Rice, who also serves as the Chief Statistician on the Seacoast Board of Realtors, about the new report and its implications. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This new report finds Hampton Beach has seen the greatest losses in real estate values in the state due to sea level rise and flooding. For example, it says one home on Page Lane in Hampton Beach should be worth about $300,000 more than it is. Does that surprise you?

No, but I'd put a caveat on that: This First Street report is based on tax assessment for the baseline of value, and in real estate when we're doing a market analysis, tax assessment is something that's nice to know, but starting from the tax assessment is not necessarily a valid baseline of value.

These properties in Hampton do get inundated, and because of the inundation, it's driving up the cost of flood insurance. And so the potential market for that property is tamped down because you're going to have to add on the cost of flood insurance to the cost of your mortgage. And that also tamps down improvement of the properties, which would have increased value.

Waves land on Ocean Boulevard in Rye in March 2018.

In your recent sales, how have you seen sea level rise factor into buyers' decisions to purchase a property near the coast?

I've seen it all over the place. I was thinking of one property on Ocean Boulevard in Rye. I felt the value of this house was around 800 [thousand dollars], maybe high seven. But with flood insurance laws, a potential buyer would have to come in and lift it up three feet to allow water to go underneath it, and would have to move up all of the utilities to the first floor. So when this was done, it changed the value of the property, and it ended up selling for a high five when it could have sold, and should have sold, in the high sevens.

Are you seeing buyers walk away from potential houses because they learn something about how flooding could affect the house in the future?

I'm not sure that I've seen buyers walk away so much as to exert extreme caution. Perhaps in some instances when they're making an offer they're a little cautious to go over a certain level because the property is in a flood zone. I'd like to say that your rank and file millionaire is conservative about properties in the flood zone. On the other hand, there are some people for whom this doesn't matter, and they're going to pay what they're going to pay.

Is there a correlation between personal wealth and how much someone cares about whether or not a property is in a flood zone?

I like say there is. There are some historic fish shacks in Little Boar’s Head in North Hampton. FEMA says that in order to be safe, you need to take those structures and pick them up 18 or 22 feet. People buy those properties anyway and pay big bucks for them and every other year they get blown across the street by the ocean. But it doesn't matter. People self-insure.

What do you tell clients about potential flooding in areas where they're looking to buy? Do you have any obligation to warn them about the potential risks of buying in a flood-prone area?

Absolutely. It's critical. I can't predict what the water's going to do or when the big one is coming, but I can say ‘Look if you are in a flood zone, you need to check out the cost of insurance.’ I think that's a standard obligation of a real estate broker.

How are your colleagues in the area thinking about the future? How might a changing climate affect the real estate market on the Seacoast?

I think right now everyone is sensitive to it. I work in the Rye/Portsmouth area, and of course last March we had that big inundation where the south end of Portsmouth was severely flooded. And everyone is very sensitive to the fact that when you list a property near the water, you need to know: Is it in a flood zone? If so, what is the designation of that flood zone? So you can pass that information on to your buyer.

Would you encourage your son or your daughter to buy a house on New Hampshire Seacoast?

I would caution anyone who's buying on the water to just understand what your obligations are under FEMA. Waterfront is waterfront -- it's still a wonderful place to live, but you just need to be aware of what the possibilities are when you do own on the ocean.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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