Does climate change affect property prices? Only if you believe in it

A house in Lumberton, North Caroline, in the aftermath of a hurricane. Image: Getty.

In the wake of two powerful hurricanes in the U.S. this fall, the scientific evidence that climate change will raise the risk of severe weather events continues to grow.

In some coastal areas such as Hawaii and Florida, roughly one-tenth of all homes are expected to be underwater if sea levels rise by six feet. Zillow estimates that the value of homes at risk of being underwater is $882bn.

But not everyone in the U.S. public seems to agree about the future effects of climate change: In a Gallup survey from last year, 42 per cent of Americans agreed that global warming will pose a serious threat to their way of life, while a hefty 57 per cent disagreed.

Our recent research suggests that beliefs about the effects of projected climate change may impact real estate prices decades before the projected damages are expected to occur.

The valuation of a real estate asset depends on many parameters. The asset’s distance from the coast endows it with both scenic coastal views and inevitable exposure to coastal flooding.

Our study, published online in September, explored how residential real estate prices are impacted by beliefs about climate change. Using a novel set of data, we were able to uncover a relationship between differences in beliefs about the occurrence and the effects of climate change – that is, the change in the long-term likelihood of adverse weather events – and the real estate valuation of the homes exposed to those risks.

We used a comprehensive data set on coastal home transaction prices in the U.S. that maps individual homes to future inundation projections, employing proprietary data from Zillow and scientific forecast data on sea levels from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. We matched this to survey data on U.S. population beliefs about climate change from the Yale Program on Climate Change.

We discovered that homes projected to be underwater sell for more in counties with more climate change deniers, relative to believers. In other words, houses projected to be underwater in “believer” neighborhoods tend to sell at a discount compared to houses in “denier” neighborhoods. One standard deviation increase in the fraction of believers leads to a 7 per cent difference in the price of a home projected to be underwater.

With data like this, it’s important to figure out whether the results could have been influenced by other factors. What if beliefs about climate change are not correlated with other determinants of housing prices? For that reason, we controlled for a variety of house characteristics, including age, distance from the coast, lot size, number of bedrooms and parking, as well as regional characteristics such as average income, elevation and short-term flood risk.


Controlling for the distance from the coast is particularly important. All else being equal, most people prefer to live near the beach and will pay a premium to do so. That means houses more vulnerable to coastal flooding are more likely to have higher valuations due to their proximity to the coast. That can suggest a spurious relationship between homes being projected to be underwater and sales prices. But our analysis indicates there is a clear correlation.

Our study shows that disagreement about the occurrence and consequences of projected natural disasters may give rise to a valuation gap in U.S. real estate, decades before these disasters occur. This finding does not speak to whether climate change deniers or believers are wrong. But they cannot both be right. Whether their disagreement reflects expectations about climate risk or mitigation policies – such as coastal walls to prevent flooding – remains an open question.

The Conversation

Constantine Yannelis, Assistant Professor of Finance, University of Chicago; Lorenzo Garlappi, Professor of Finance, University of British Columbia, and Markus Baldauf, Assistant Professor of Finance, University of British Columbia.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Leeds is still haunted by its pledge to be the “Motorway City of the Seventies”

Oh, Leeds. Image: mtaylor848/Wikimedia Commons.

As the local tourist board will no doubt tell you, Leeds has much to be proud of: grandiose industrial architecture in the form of faux-Egyptian temples and Italian bell-towers; an enduring cultural legacy as the birthplace of Goth, and… motorways. But stand above the A58(M) – the first “urban motorway”  in the country – and you might struggle to pinpoint its tourist appeal.

Back in the 1970s, though, the city council was sufficiently gripped by the majesty of the motorways to make them a part of its branding. Letters sent from Leeds were stamped with a postmark proudly proclaiming the city's modernity: “Leeds, Motorway City of the Seventies”.

Image: public domain.

During the 1960s, post-war optimism and an appetite for grand civic projects saw the rapid construction of motorways across England. The construction of the M1 began in 1959; it reached Leeds, its final destination, in 1968. By the early 1970s the M62 was sweeping across Pennines, and the M621 loop was constructed to link it to Leeds city centre.

Not content with being the meeting point of two major motorways, Leeds was also the first UK city to construct a motorway through the city centre: the inner ring road, which incorporates the short motorway stretches of the A58(M) and the A64(M). As the council put it in 1971, “Leeds is surging forward into the Seventies”.

The driving force behind Leeds' love of motorways was a mix of civic pride and utopian city planning. Like many industrial cities in the North and Midlands, Leeds experienced a decline in traditional manufacturing during the 1960s. Its position at the centre of two major motorways seemed to offer a brighter future as a dynamic city open for trade, with the infrastructure to match. In response to the expansion of the roads, 1970s council planners also constructed an elevated pedestrian “skywalk” in an attempt to free up space for cars at ground level. Photos of Leeds from that time show a thin, white walkway running through blocky office buildings – perhaps not quite as extensive as the futuristic urban landscape originally envisaged by planners, but certainly a visual break with the past.

Fast forward to 2019 and Leeds’ efforts to become a “Motorway City” seems like a kitsch curiosity from a decade that was not always known for sustainable planning decisions. Leeds’s historic deference to the car has serious consequences in the present: in February 2019, Neville Street – a busy tunnel that cuts under Leeds station – was found to contain the highest levels of NO2 outside London.

City centre planners did at least have the foresight to sink stretches of the inner motorways below street level, leaving pedestrian routes largely undisturbed. Just outside the centre, though, the roads can be more disruptive. Sheepscar Interchange is a bewildering tangle of arterial roads, Armley Gyratory strikes fear into the hearts of learner drivers, and the M621 carves unsympathetically through inner-city areas of South Leeds with pedestrian access restricted to narrow bridges that heighten the sense of a fragmented landscape.

 

Leeds inner ring road in its cutting. Image: author provided.

 

The greatest problem for Yorkshire's “Motorway City” in 2019, however, is not the occasional intimidating junction, but the complete lack of an alternative to car travel. The dire state of public transport in Leeds has already been raised on these pages. In the early 20th century Leeds had one of the most extensive tram networks in the country. The last lines closed in 1959, the same year construction began on the A58m.


The short-sightedness of this decision was already recognised in the 1970s, as traffic began to build. Yet plans for a Leeds Supertram were rejected by successive Conservative and Labour governments unwilling to front the cost, even though smaller cities such as Newcastle and Sheffield were granted funding for light transport systems. Today, Leeds is the largest city in the EU without a mass transit system. As well as creating congestion, the lack of viable public transport options prevents connectivity: the city's bus network is reasonable, but weaker from East to West than North to South. As a non-driver, I've turned down jobs a short drive away that would be a logistical impossibility without a car.

Leeds' early enthusiasm for the motorway was perhaps premature, but there are things we can learn from the 1970s. Whatever else can be said about it, Leeds' city transport strategy was certainly bold – a quality in short supply today, after proposals for the supertram were watered down to a trolleybus system before being scrapped altogether in 2016. Leeds' rapid transformation in the 1960s and 70s, its grandiose visions of skywalks and dual carriageways, were driven by strong local political will. Today, the long-term transport strategy documents on Leeds City Council's website say more about HS2 than the need for a mass transit system within Leeds itself, and the council has been accused of giving up the fight for light rail and trams.

Whilst central government's refusal to grant funds is the greatest obstacle to Leeds' development, the local authority needs to be far more vocal in demanding the transport system the city deserves. Leeds' desire to be the Motorway City of the Seventies might look ludicrous today, but the political drive and utopian optimism that underpinned it does not.