Are Coastal Virginia Home Values Sinking from Sea Level Rise?

Ghent, Norfolk flooded street and houses
Flooded street in Ghent after Hurricane Florence, September 2018. Photos by
Andrew Cooper

Jeannie Monaghan doesn’t live in a flood zone. She and her husband Keith had been in their home, situated in the Kings Grant neighborhood of Virginia Beach, for five years with no signs of flooding. Then Hurricane Matthew struck in October 2016, and water seeped in their back door, flooding their garage, living room and bedroom.

“We had never experienced anything like this before. We don’t live in a flood zone, and we weren’t covered by flood insurance. Walking into your house to find it flooded is just such a shock,” Monaghan recalls.

The Monaghans had to tear their carpet out and live without floors for three months. Demand for flooring and contractors to perform the installations was extremely high in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, and there was no choice but to wait.

Between the flooring replacement and other precautions the Monaghans took to protect their house from future flooding, the couple spent about $11,000. They installed a new back door with a 2-inch rise to keep water from entering, updated their gutters and purchased sandbags and other water diversion tools. Because of the extent of the damage, FEMA helped to offset the initial cost of the repairs with a small business loan.

The Monaghans now have flood insurance on their home, and they are prepared in the event of another major flooding event. They have made a habit of clearing out their gutters frequently and having their drains cleaned to prevent backup. They are also considering removing trees from the yard to improve water drainage.

“I would recommend everyone in this area get flood insurance. The cost is just so minor compared to what the repairs from flood damage can be,” Monaghan says.

The Monaghans’ story is just one of thousands of home flooding experiences in Coastal Virginia. Dr. Timothy Komarek, assistant professor of Economics at Old Dominion University, has conducted research on the effects major flooding events—including hurricanes like Matthew and other storms such as Nor’easters—have had on the region’s housing market.

Komarek’s research found two significant outcomes. The first is the impact the flooding events had on the sale prices of homes.

“After a significant weather event, it wasn’t the houses in really high-risk zones that were seeing the biggest decline in the sale price. It was the houses in the next level down, the lower risk zone, that saw a negative effect on their home values,” Komarek says.

How significant was the effect? On average, Komarek says the number was up to 5 percent of a home’s value for a few years following a major hurricane or flooding event. Again, these are homes that are not in the highest risk areas but rather in the moderate risk areas that end up experiencing flooding after a major weather event.

“Living right on the water, you have a good idea that flooding could be a problem. It’s already a consideration in the price of the home. But these lower risk zones tend to be a little further away from water, and that’s where we’re seeing the impact of flooding on home values,” Komarek says.

The other outcome measured in the research was the time a home was on the market before it was purchased. Homes that were right along the water experienced an increase in time on the market—usually a week or two—after a major flooding event.

As for sea level rise, Komarek says it certainly plays a factor in all this, but it is something that is difficult to track statistically. Whereas data on the housing market can be easily collected in the wake of a major hurricane, it is more difficult to find a direct impact from sea level rise because it is a gradual, slow-moving phenomenon. What is clear, though, is that certain neighborhoods in the region are bearing the brunt of the flooding burden.

Home flooding, Ocean View, Norfolk
Ocean View

Christ and St. Luke's, flooded street, Norfolk
Christ and St. Luke's

Richmond Place on Hampton Boulevard, flooded

Flooding in Norfolk
Richmond Place on Hampton Boulevard

Jenn Bryant, realtor at Team Bryant Homes at Triumph Realty, has been practicing real estate in Coastal Virginia since 2003. She recalls Hurricane Matthew as the storm that flooded homes in several neighborhoods that were not prone to flooding in the past—homes like the Monaghans’.

“I’ve seen worse hurricanes come through and do tons of damage, but the flooding from Matthew was the worst I’d seen in 16 years of real estate,” Bryant says.

There were at least 1,400 Virginia Beach homes damaged during Hurricane Matthew. In at least two of the highly affected neighborhoods in Virginia Beach, Bryant says, backed up pump stations contributed to the problem. It became apparent after the unexpected flooding in several areas of Virginia Beach that there were issues with the city’s ability to handle stormwater. For various reasons, stormwater improvements have been delayed for decades—and that has had a detrimental effect on the neighborhoods that are not equipped to handle the excess water that collects during major storms.

Bryant acknowledges that homeowners on the water understand they are in a flood zone, so those waterfront homes do not seem to be as affected by major flooding events as other neighborhoods. For homes in neighborhoods that had not experienced flooding prior to Matthew, there has been greater concern among buyers.

“What we’ve seen is reluctance from buyers in some of those areas because they made headlines for flooding after Hurricane Matthew,” Bryant says. “Not everybody who has a house that was damaged during that storm was covered with flood insurance, especially those who were not in high risk zones.”

There is no easy solution to this issue for realtors, but Bryant says her team is very aware of flooding concerns and works diligently to ensure her buyers are prepared.

“Every time we write an offer, we check flood maps. We’ve got insurance agents on standby just to make sure that we know what flood insurance is going to cost and if our buyer can afford it,” Bryant says. “I always encourage buyers to check the property history before deciding on a home. And really, it’s wise for anybody who owns a home in this area to have flood insurance.”

Virginia Beach is certainly not the only Coastal Virginia city facing flooding issues. Norfolk is experiencing one of the fastest rates of sea level rise in the country. In response, the City of Norfolk has embarked on an extensive coastal resilience project to bolster the Ohio Creek communities, which are heavily affected by sea level rise and flooding. Water in the Elizabeth River is rising, and frequent storms cause the outdated stormwater systems to overflow. The issue is particularly bad during high tide, and people in these communities are often unable to leave their neighborhoods due to flooding.

The Ohio Creek Watershed Project is being funded by a $112 million federal grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s National Disaster Resilience Competition. It is a multifaceted project aimed at improving the city’s infrastructure for water management in a way that enhances the community and prepares the homes and businesses in the area for the future effects of sea level rise.

The City of Norfolk has contracted Arcadis, a design and consultancy firm, to design the stormwater infrastructure improvements for the project. The objective is to build infrastructure to combat the issues that are currently being faced, as well as those on the horizon.

“Across the country, our firm and similar firms are working on these types of resilience projects. Since one of the biggest symptoms of climate change is large and more frequent storms, we anticipate more of those in the future, and we have to plan for them,” says Jillian Parrinello, a water resources engineer with Arcadis. “For this project, there’s been a lot of community awareness and involvement—taking the needs of the community into account, as well as the realities of sea level rise.”

Water is simply a part of life here in a coastal region, and the impacts of major flooding events continue to be felt in many CoVa neighborhoods. The Ohio Creek Watershed Project is a refreshing example of how coastal cities can respond to the issue of flooding and sea level rise in a way that prioritizes citizens and bolsters communities.

Chelsea Sherman
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