It hard enough to buy a home, but the climate crisis is making it even more challenging. Will a prospective house be underwater? Catch on fire? Real estate brokerage firm Redfin is offering a new tool to assess those and other climate risks.
Anyone who visits the site will soon be able to see a climate safety rating ranging from 0 to 100 for the county, city, neighborhood, and zip code of the home they’re looking at. The grades, provided by the startup ClimateCheck, are based on an analysis of an area’s risk for five climate-related disasters—storms, temperature, drought, fire, and floods—over the course of 30 years, which is the length of a traditional mortgage.
“A home is a huge financial investment, and these days consumers are seeing all too many examples of climate-related risks like fires, floods, and heat waves,” Christian Taubman, Redfin chief growth officer,said in a statement. “By bringing ClimateCheck’s data to every location page on Redfin.com, we’re making it easy for consumers to make better-informed decisions about buying, selling, and renting.”
The risk assessment is based on dozens of models from various groups and agencies, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, Forest Service, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The assessment is based on the worst-case climate scenario known as RCP 8.5 in which carbon pollution rises unabated. Analysts then make these global models relevant to the local level with a technique called downscaling.
ClimateCheck assesses not only future threats, but also how much a region’s level of danger is projected to change over time. Areas expected to experience more dramatic changes are considered riskier compared with ones already experiencing major climate hazards. This may sound counterintuitive, but there’s a logic to it: In areas where risk is low but projected to increase rapidly, infrastructure is likely worse-equipped for future disasters. That means there will be big challenges and costs associated with adaptation.
Redfin believes its tapping into a real need with this new service. A survey the company conducted earlier this year found that 49% of respondents were factoring climate change into a potential move over the coming year. Nearly 80% said that increasing risk of a climate disaster in an area would make them hesitant to purchase a home there. If this tool can help people be better equipped to make informed decisions before uprooting their lives, that’s good.
But of course, Redfin’s new tool is designed for people who can afford to buy homes, which is a minority of people in the U.S. What about renters or those in poorer neighborhoods who can’t afford to move? When it comes to climate risks, lower-income neighborhoods tend to bear far bigger burdens. Poor neighborhoods are up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit (3.8 degrees Celsius) hotter than rich ones due to the lack of trees and abundance of sun-absorbing (and heat-reflecting) concrete.
The federal government spends far less on fire prevention in poorer areas. Nearly half a million government-subsidized households are in flood plains.Redfin’s own research has also found that flooding is worse in neighborhoods that have been historically redlined, meaning communities of color are already dealing with the toll of climate change its impact on their homes and home values. If we’re truly going to ensure everyone is kept safe amid the climate crisis, empowering those with the ability to choose where to live is just one small piece of the puzzle.