By John Dorschner
9 November 2013
(Miami Herald) – While most residents in South Florida still have no worries that global warming could dramatically lower housing prices, land-use attorney Sam Poole has already developed a plan to sell his house in a low-lying Fort Lauderdale neighborhood.
Poole has heard some scientists predict that the first financial effects are probably two decades away, and he wants to sell in about 10 years, well before panic sets in, assuming governments do nothing quickly to combat climate change.
“I don’t want to wait too long,” he says.
In fact, some leading South Florida scientists project the first effects are one decade away, not two, but Poole’s concern about sea level remains a rarity among homeowners in South Florida, where property values continue to boom in waterfront neighborhoods.
There are hints, however, that the real estate industry is preparing for change.
Len Berry, director of Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies, reports developers have quietly contacted the university to check out projections of how much sea level will rise in the coming decades as they look for future safe investments.
William Hardin, a professor of real estate at Florida International University, says he’s telling students, “If you truly believe in global warming, you’re going to have an issue being in real estate in South Florida.”
Jason King, with the Dover, Kohl urban planning group in Coral Gables, says the firm’s planners are now factoring in changing sea level in work with developers.
King reports mortgage lenders “are following the discussions very closely” on sea level rise, as are many others in real estate. “I can tell you they’re aware,” says King, “but I can’t tell you anything’s changed yet.”
The financial stakes are high. The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, a joint effort of four county governments, calculates the area could lose as much as $4 billion in taxable real estate with a one-foot rise in sea level.
At three feet, the loss could be $31 billion — escalating from there, perhaps at an accelerating pace unless governments and/or the private sector act to reduce carbon and other gases warming the water and atmosphere that in turn melts the ice caps and causes sea levels to rise.
For many, the key question is when. “Give me a time,” asks Jill Hertzberg, a leading Miami Beach real estate agent. She reads a lot about climate change and has no doubt that it causes rising seas. but “I don’t know what the direct effect is” on Miami Beach.
She says clients don’t mention climate change when they put down millions for waterfront properties. “Waterfront is very desirable.”
But for how much longer?
The most widely used projection is the Army Corps of Engineers’, which sees a three- to seven-inch rise in South Florida by 2030, and from nine to 24 inches by 2060. Those numbers are accepted by the four-county Southeast Florida Compact.
Harold Wanless, a University of Miami geology professor who’s long studied climate change, envisions much worse — a rise of as much as two feet by 2048, three feet by 2063 and 4.1 to 6.6 feet by 2100.
At three feet, much of South Florida — including major parts of far south Miami-Dade, Miami Beach, Dania and stretches of the western suburbs — is under water. [more]