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$1.5 Trillion Worth of U.S. Homes Threatened by Wildfires

california-wildfiresAccording to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, last year’s California wildfire season was the most destructive on record, with over 9,000 fires burning more than a million acres in 2017. Moreover, some of those fires swept through areas populated by some of the nation’s most expensive real estate. Now Redfin has taken a look at what the 2018 fire season may be like, and the numbers are shocking, with Redfin finding an estimated $1.5 trillion worth of homes projected to be at risk from wildfires in the year to come—around 7.7 percent of the United States’ total housing value.

To make matters worse, wildfires have been trending toward being more widespread and damaging in recent years, with 9.8 million acres of land burned by wildfires nationwide in 2017, compared to 5.4 million acres in 2016. However, Redfin found real estate agents in the affected areas reporting that homebuyers weren't hesitating to look for homes in these regions once the immediate disasters were over.

“People who are still in shock from losing their homes and possessions from the October fires are greeting one another at open houses while comparing notes on the hotels or rentals where they are temporary living,” said Redfin Santa Rosa agent Starling Scholz. “People view wildfire risk as a price of living in California that’s well worth the rewards: beautiful weather, nature and well-paying jobs.”

Redfin ranked the Top 10 U.S. Counties for Fire Risk, ranked according to the estimated total value of homes at risk in the respective areas. Redfin’s blog post explains that “To be considered, there had to have been at least five major fires recorded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the county since 1960.”

California dominates the list, both because the state has seen regular outbreaks of wildfires for years, and because those fires often hit high-dollar real estate. The Top 10 U.S. Counties for Fire Risk include:

  • Los Angeles County, California (estimated total value of homes in the county: $918.1 billion, with nearly 1.5 million homes at risk)
  • Orange County, California ($391.5 billion estimated total value; 581,506 homes at risk)
  • Santa Clara County, California ($327.9 billion estimated total value; 354,255 homes at risk)
  • San Diego County, California ($316.5 billion estimated total value; 581,635 homes at risk)
  • Harris County, Texas ($185.6 billion estimated total value; 837,912 homes at risk)
  • Riverside County, California ($140.8 billion estimated total value; 454,924 homes at risk)
  • San Bernardino County, California ($106.1 billion estimated total value; 365,576 homes at risk)
  • Dallas County, Texas ($103.7 billion estimated total value; 452,284 homes at risk)
  • Ventura County, California ($93.4 billion estimated total value; 170,877 homes at risk)
  • Clark County, Nevada ($88.6 billion estimated total value; 384,329 homes at risk)

Redfin Chief Economist Nela Richardson explains, “Despite strong demand and severe inventory shortages, California has built the fewest number of homes per new resident of any state, with just one unit for every four new residents, compared to one new unit for every 1.8 new residents nationally. When people whose homes just burned down are jumping back into bidding wars to buy new homes in the same area, you know wildfires alone won’t cool these competitive markets. However, California’s chronic lack of homes and eroding affordability make recovering from a natural disaster much more challenging than in states like Texas with more adequate housing supply.“

You can read Redfin’s full 2018 wildfire analysis by clicking here.

About Author: David Wharton

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