South Florida Real Estate Still Booming Despite Rising Sea Levels

Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma have had Southern real estate businesses on a revenue rollercoaster regarding property value. Yet despite unfortunate predictions for future hurricane seasons, South Florida’s real estate will continue to develop as planned. And not without gusto.

Scientists report that sea levels have been on the rise since the end of the Ice Age. Now, with climate change, the sea level of Florida may see as high an increase as 2 feet by the year 2060.

This high sea level, regular flooding, and projected major hurricanes may make Florida a place for leaving. Yet according to real estate consultant Peter Zalewski, who offers bus tours to potential investors in Miami, the market for Florida condos is still popular.

“Chances are,” said Zalewski to NPR, “[investors aren’t] going to be in here long-term. Basically, they’re looking to invest their money, look for a little uptick in the pricing and then dump it, take the profit and move on to the next play.”

In Miami’s urban area alone up to 20,000 condominiums are nearly completed. These projects regularly gain the attention of investors both national and international.

However, Zalewski says, international investors have become more uncertain due to President Trump’s immigration policies. This uncertainty has resulted in a market downturn, but the rising sea level is never mentioned by clients.

“For people who come invest in a condo, they really don’t care,” said Michael Montalvan, a property manager for overseas investors. “You know, I’ve never seen an investor come talk to me about [the sea levels] at all.”

However, the rising sea levels are harder to ignore for those who live in South Florida, many of which are seniors. Home ownership in 2016 was dominated by people aged 65 or older. Many Floridians have begun seeing street flooding on a regular basis during king tides, when the high tides occur during the full or new moon.

Weather such as hurricanes, thunderstorms, and heavy rains have also caused flooding. A single gallon of rainwater alone can weigh as much as 8 lbs.

The increase in flooding is also because the average elevation for housing in Miami is just 6 ½ feet above sea level. Even the core of Miami’s real estate swell, Brickell financial district, experienced waist-deep flooding during Hurricane Irma.

South Florida’s local governments have been giving the flooding and rising sea levels their full attention. Tomás Pedro Regalado, mayor of Miami between 2009 and 2017, had approved a $200 million referendum dedicated to flood prevention in 2017.

“We need to have more pumps,” said Regalado. “We need to have a better seawall structure. What we saw with Irma could happen again. And if it does, the damage could be in millions and millions.”

According to Miami Chief Resilience Officer Jane Gilbert, the sea levels in Florida are rising slow enough that it offers time to plan and build accordingly. Up to 33% of renters move annually in the United States, but Floridians won’t be going anywhere.

Rather, Gilbert says, Floridians are making plans to elevate their homes as a part of a long-term investment. Landscaping alone can increase the resale value of a home by 14%. With elevation options, a Florida home could potentially increase its ROI even more.

“There’s no rush,” said Gilbert. “People can look at their elevation and make their own plans over the course of the next 30 or 40 years.”

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