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.

 
 
 
 

The Tory manifesto promises to both increase AND decrease the rate of housebuilding

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick. Image: Getty.

In his 2014 Mansion House speech, the then-chancellor George Osborne expressed with uncharacteristic honesty the motives at the heart of how the Conservatives see British housing politics: “The British people want our homes to go up in value, but also remain affordable; and we want more homes built, just not next to us.”

Five years later these contradictions remain unreconciled and present in their manifesto, which contains two different and contradictory – but clearly extensively targeted and focus-grouped – sets of policies.

The Conservatives have two housing targets. The first is to make significant progress to hitting “our target of 300,000 houses built a year by the mid-2020s”. The second is their aim to build “at least a million new homes” during the next parliament, which implies a target of 200,000 homes a year. This is not only 100,000 lower than their initial target but also lower than the current rate of housebuilding: 213,660 new homes a year. They have therefore implied at separate points in the same manifesto that they intend to simultaneously increase and decrease the rate of housebuilding.  

There are similar conflicts in their approach to planning. They intend to make the “planning system simpler” while simultaneously aiming to introduce community-led design standards for development and planning obligations to provide infrastructure for the local community.

None of this is unsurprising, The Tories don’t seem to know if they want to build more houses or not – so of course they don’t know whether they wish to make it easier or harder to do so.  

Politicians like obfuscation on housing policy to placate NIMBY voters. Take for example prospective Conservative MP and ‘environmentalist’ Zac Goldsmith’s crusade to save treasured local car parks. The manifesto can equally be accused of pandering to NIMBY instincts, protecting their shire voters from all housing, including ones they might actually need or want, by promising to protect the greenbelt.  

Instead, Conservatives intend to foist development on Labour-leaning inner-city communities and prioritising brownfield development and “urban regeneration”. This requires massive, infeasible increases in proposed density on brownfield sites – and research by Shelter has shown there are simply not enough brownfield sites in cities like London. Consequently, it is not clear how such a policy can co-exist with giving these inner-city communities rights on local design. Perhaps they intend to square that circle through wholesale adoption of YIMBY proposals to let residents on each street opt to pick a design code and the right to turn their two-storey semi-detached suburban houses into a more walkable, prettier street of five-storey terraces or mansion blocks. If so, they have not spelt that out. 

Many complain of NIMBYism at a local level and its toxic effects on housing affordability. But NIMBYism at the national level – central government desire to restrict housebuilding to make house prices rise – is the unspoken elephant in the room. After all, 63 per cent of UK voters are homeowners and price rises caused by a housing shortage are hardly unpopular with them. 


There is anecdotal evidence that protecting or inflating the value of homeowners’ assets is central to Conservative strategy. When George Osborne was criticised for the inflation his help to buy policy caused within the housing market, he allegedly told the Cabinet: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom, and everyone will be happy as property values go up”. More recently Luke Barratt of Inside Housing noted that most Conservatives he spoke to at the 2018 party conference were scared “they’d be punished by their traditional voters if the values of their homes were to fall”. He was told by a Conservative activist at the conference that, “If you build too many houses, you get a Labour government”.

But the senior figures in the Conservative Party are painfully aware that the continuing housing shortage presents major long-term problems for the Party. As the manifesto itself acknowledges: “For the UK to unleash its potential, young people need the security of knowing that homeownership is within their reach.” Perpetual increases in house prices are incompatible with this goal. The problem has greatly contributed to the Conservatives’ severe unpopularity with a younger generation priced out of decent accommodation. 

Equally, there is increasing evidence that ‘gains’ from rising house prices are disproportionately concentrated in the south of England.  The differences in housing costs between regions greatly reduce labour mobility, suppressing wage growth in the north and midlands, which in turn leads to greater regional inequality. The policy of coddling southern homeowners at the expense of the economic well-being of other regions is a major long-term stumbling block to Conservative desires to make inroads into the ‘red wall’ of Leave-voting labour seats outside the south.

Before dealing with the issue of where housing should go, you must decide whether you want to build enough housing to reduce the housing crisis. On this issue, the Conservative response is, “Perhaps”. In contrast, even though they may not know where to put the necessary housing, the Labour Party at least has a desire in the abstract to deal with the crisis, even if the will to fix it, in reality, remains to be seen. 

Ultimately the Conservative Party seems to want to pay lip service to the housing crisis without stopping the ever-upward march of prices, underpinned by a needless shortage. Osborne’s dilemma – that the will of much of his party’s voter base clashes with the need to provide adequate housing – remains at the heart of Conservative housing policy. The Conservatives continue to hesitate, which is of little comfort to those who suffer because of a needless and immoral housing shortage.

Sam Watling is the director of Brighton Yimby, a group which aims to solve Brighton’s housing crisis while maintaining the character of the Sussex countryside.