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When buyers make an offer on a home, the chance of a natural disaster isn’t always the first thing on their minds.
But buyers do appear to change course when presented with evidence of a high risk of future flooding.
A study published Monday by Redfin suggests that buyers who viewed homes in high-risk flood areas ended up turning to higher ground with their eventual offers when presented with the brokerage’s flooding data.
For buyers who lacked access to the same flood data, the same cannot be said, according to the report. These Redfin clients, kept in the dark on flood risk as part of the study, ended up bidding on homes that had a higher risk of future flood damage.
It’s the strongest evidence the Seattle-based brokerage has yet found that these types of tools actually alter buyer decisions, Redfin Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather said in the report.
“Equipping people with flood-risk information helps them make more informed decisions,” Fairweather said. “Some will opt to move out of risky areas altogether, while others will stay put but invest in making their homes more resilient to disaster.”
In the study, buyers working with Redfin agents were split up into two random groups. The first group made offers on homes after being presented with flood-risk data. The other group was not provided information on future flood risk.
Armed with this tool, the portion of the first group that viewed homes with an average score of 8.5 — “severe” or extreme” flood risk by Flood Factor’s standard — ended up making offers on homes with only moderate risk, an average score of 3.9.
The other group, which viewed homes with an average 8.5 flood-risk score but didn’t know it, bid on homes with an average score of 8.5 — every bit as risky as the ones they initially viewed.
Still, buyers seemed to only change their behavior when presented with scores in the highest level of flood risk, the study found. Properties with moderate risk were largely unaffected in the eyes of buyers, Redfin’s report states.
“Homebuyers should still consider flood ratings below severe and extreme, as lower ratings don’t equate to zero risk,” the report reads.
The study took place from October 2020 to January 2021. Redfin’s research team partnered with the University of Southern California, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the National Bureau of Economic Research, according to the report.
“Climate-risk data may start to have an even bigger impact on homebuyer decisions now that the housing market is slowing and tilting more in buyers’ favor,” Sebastian Sandoval-Olascoaga, an MIT researcher involved in the study, said in the report. “Today’s buyers have more leeway to seek out the home features they really want. For some buyers that might mean considering only turnkey homes, and for others it might mean limiting their search to homes with minimal flood risk.”
The groups described above — the ones that worked with Redfin agents and viewed higher-risk properties on average — were a smaller part of the larger study, which comprised 17.5 million Redfin.com users and examined trends of how people used disaster-risk data on the site.
In parts of the country where storms have caused prominent flooding incidents in the past, users were more likely to click through and explore the flood scores in detail. Users were most likely to click through when viewing properties in Houston; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Cape Coral, Florida.