Risk of natural disaster doesn’t seem to dent home prices, appreciation

RealtyTrac: Weather and access to jobs may override concerns about home damage

More than half of U.S. homes are at high or very high risk of being hit by a natural disaster, but that doesn’t seem to translate into lower home prices or slow price appreciation in the most populous areas, according to a new report from real estate data aggregator RealtyTrac.

The firm’s first Natural Disaster Housing Risk Report assigned a natural disaster risk score to more than 3,000 counties nationwide based on risk data for hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes provided by federal agencies. Each county was designated as “very high risk,” “high risk,” “medium risk,” “low risk” and “very low risk.”

Tornado damage in Lapeer, Michigan image via Shutterstock.
Tornado damage in Lapeer, Michigan image via Shutterstock.

Only 34 counties contained more than 500,000 homes. Of those counties, none fell into the very high risk category, 13 were considered high risk, 13 were medium risk, seven were low risk, and one was very low risk.

The high-risk counties include Kings, New York, Queens, Bronx and Suffolk counties in the New York City area; San Diego and Riverside counties in Southern California; Wayne County in the Detroit metro area; Philadelphia County; and Middlesex County in the Boston metro.

Among those 34 most housing-rich counties, the average median sales price was $268,470 in April, 56 percent higher than the national median of $172,000, RealtyTrac said. The median price in the high-risk counties averaged $377,483 compared with $161,000 in the low-risk or very low-risk counties.

Compared to five years ago, high-risk areas experienced more home price appreciation in April than low-risk or very low-risk areas. Median home prices rose 34 percent on average in the high-risk counties and 23 percent on average in the counties with the lowest risk.

“The higher median home prices in many counties with a high risk for natural disaster indicates that other location-based factors such as weather and access to jobs override concerns about home damage as a result of earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, in a statement.

Of the 3,138 U.S. counties analyzed, 373 — 12 percent — were deemed “very high risk.” Those counties include 10.6 million housing units, representing 8 percent of all U.S. homes, mostly in the South and parts of the Midwest.

More than a third of counties (1,118) were classified as “high risk” with a footprint of 61 million homes. That’s 47 percent of all U.S. homes, mostly in the South, Midwest, the Eastern Seaboard, and the southernmost parts of the Southwest.

Of the remaining counties, 511 were considered “medium risk” and represented nearly 30 million homes (23 percent of the U.S. total). Just under 20 percent of U.S. homes (25.5 million) were located in the 865 counties that fell into the “low risk” category.

Only 3 percent of American homes (3.9 million) were in the 271 counties designated as “very low risk.” Most of the counties considered low risk or very low risk were in the northern half of the country.

“The potential risk of a natural disaster may not be the first item on most homebuyer checklists for a dream home, but prudent buyers will certainly take this into consideration along with myriad other factors that could affect home value,” Blomquist said.

“In the past, natural disaster data was technically available, but difficult for buyers and homeowners to dig up; however, now the data is readily available online for virtually any U.S. property, and buyers should take advantage of this.”

RealtyTrac offers natural hazard risk data for 110 million properties nationwide at its Homefacts.com site without a subscription.

RealtyTrac recently pulled that and other “hyperlocal” data, like the locations of registered sex offenders, from appearing next to for-sale listing detail pages on its website, realtytrac.com, in recognition of that fact that some MLSs prohibit display of non-MLS data around Internet data exchange (IDX) listings.

Visitors to realtytrac.com can still access hyperlocal neighborhood data associated with for-sale listings by clicking an icon on listing detail pages to generate property report pages, and see neighborhood data on foreclosure listing pages.


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