In the midst of the Corona Virus, which is plaguing some areas of the country more than others, has also come news of so many wild fires in California and other parts of the drought-stricken Western U.S. that the smoke reaches from coast to coast. The South Eastern U.S. and Gulf Coast states are suffering through a hurricane season that began earlier than expected. Miami has been drowning, Louisiana shrinking, and North Carolina’s beaches disappearing. The Midwest has suffered heavy tornado and flood damage. Both California and Utah have also had at least one earthquake this year.
So much bad news has led many prospective home buyers and even current home owners to ask where in the U.S. they could buy a home and not have to live in fear of a natural disaster.
For many of us, our work dictates the approximate area where we can live and have a reasonable commute to work. Even if we can work from home, the location of that home might be subject to other whims of nature, such as heavy snow, or unbearable heat or cold. So……. if where we live can be our choice, within limits, how important should the consideration of environmental risks and extremes be to home ownership?
According to a 2017 report by Attom Data Solutions, an Irvine-based real estate research firm, Los Angeles ranks third among major cities at greatest risk of losing housing from natural disasters. It trails only Oklahoma City and San Jose on the list covering all natural disasters.
Attom found that homes are in high demand in many areas of potential danger. Sr. Vice President Daren Blomquist said that’s because many high-risk areas tend to be job centers located in picturesque locales. “Often when you have natural beauty, it does go hand-in-hand with higher natural disaster risk.”
Even though there seems to be a surge of people wanting to move from California’s “burned-over” areas, many people whose homes are destroyed keep returning to the beautiful and familiar areas they’ve called home and the jobs that are located nearby. Some don’t have a choice, but others seem determined to “beat the odds.” It seems almost all people are attracted to oceans. Globally, ”44% of all people on Earth live within 150 km (93 miles) of the shore, and eight of the 10 largest cities in the world are near the coast.” But rising sea levels could mean that buying a dream home right on the beach could amount to “throwing money into the sea.”
It’s probably impossible to buy property where your home is guaranteed to be free from environmental damage of some kind. So what is a potential homeowner to do in order to minimize the risk to their property, treasured possessions and even their lives? The following considerations might help to lower your risk of property damage and loss:
- Given your choices, research what has caused damage to homes in that area in the past, and what the weather extremes in the area are most likely to be. Assess the risks vs. the benefits of the area, and then learn what should have been or could be done to make your home safer, or at least make most of your losses recoverable. A good real estate agent loan agent will be able to help you make a safer choice.
- Home Owners’ Insurance may help you sleep better at night, but be sure you know what your policy actually covers. Your basic homeowners’ policy pays to repair or rebuild your home, if it is damaged or destroyed by fire, hurricane, hail, lightning or other disasters listed in your policy. A standard policy will notpay for damage caused by a flood, earthquake or routine wear and tear. We have earthquake insurance on our brick home on the Wasatch Fault, but the brick isn’t covered. Unreinforced masonry isn’t built to survive an earthquake and the insurance companies know it. Flood insurance covers losses directly caused by flooding in an area that is normally dry. When purchasing coverage for the structure of your home, purchase enough coverage to rebuild your home and replace the contents.
- Local building codes and construction that counters the most common risks in the area are another consideration when buying a home. Even the construction of bridges and highways leading to your home might be a concern. Homeowners can protect their homes through seismic retrofitting, strengthened roofs and more secure connections between the building and its foundation. Check to see if those things are up-to-code before you move in, and if the previous owners have prepared for the local risks. If you’re building a new home, be sure you build it with durability and risk avoidance in mind from the start.
- Community preparedness efforts with the cooperation of you and your neighbors can be a big help in the event of any type of natural disaster. “Hope is not a strategy” is a great call to action. In my county, churches and city officials distribute preparedness information and conduct regular earthquake drills. In the Tornado Belt, media weather coverage and warning sirens alert people to go to their storm cellars or evacuate. Areas prone to hurricanes should have available sandbags and plywood for boarding up windows and doors in seasons and areas of predictable storm flooding, and seawalls and levees must be kept in good repair. Evacuation routes in the event of storms or fires should be clearly marked and safe shelters available at any time.
- Look to the future. How might future growth and development or climate change affect the area surrounding your new home? What are the predictions for the risk of future earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes? What is your city and state doing to protect its residents in the event of a natural disaster? For example, in Florida, decisions to relinquish some areas to the ocean, are preventing new construction in areas that are likely to be under water in the future.
In addition to the known risks in California and Florida, you might want to consider these other examples:
- Alaska’s biggest vulnerability is its transportation infrastructure. Virtually everything and everyone that goes anywhere in the state passes through Anchorage.
- Hawaii is well known for its volcanic hazard, but the islands are also susceptible to major earthquakes such as a magnitude 7.9 quake in 1868 that killed 77 people.
- The core of Tornado Alley extents from northern Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and western Ohioare sometimes included.
- When it comes to hurricanes, Florida has sustained 117 direct hits by hurricanes in recorded history — far more than any other US state, almost twice as many major storms as the runner-up, Texas. Louisiana is third in hurricane landfalls, followed by North Carolina and South Carolina.
- Alaska and California have more strong earthquakes than any other U.S. states. John Anderson and Yuichiro Miyata at the U. of Nevada, Reno, investigated and created a list of the Top 10 States, based on the greatest magnitude achieved every year:
- Alaska, 6.70
- California, 6.02
- Nevada, 5.11
- Hawaii, 5.00
- Washington, 4.97
- Wyoming, 4.67
- Idaho, 4.57
- Montana, 4.47
- Utah, 4.29
- Oregon, 4.24
Today’s rapid communication makes us instantly aware of damage to homes and communities around the world. What we need for that good night’s sleep is a report on how many people have lived in their homes for 30 years or more, like we have, without having to file an insurance claim! Lower interest rates make this a great time to buy a home. Go ahead and take the risk—but with both eyes open.