Real Estate Sites Fall Short on Disaster and Wildfire Risk Ratings

Climate change has seen increased disasters and difficulties for residential areas. That includes flash floods in St. Louis and Kentucky; expected increased flooding problems in Miami, New York City, and Washington, DC; growing water shortages; and wildfires that can take out entire towns.

And yet, getting people to pay attention and even change their preferences of where to live—to choose locations that don’t present the same degrees of imminent threat—is difficult. According to an article in The Conversation from emergency management and public administration experts and researchers out of Arizona State University and the University of Central Florida, many real estate sites for buyers and renters offer risk ratings for such dangers as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires.

But it doesn’t seem to do much good. For example, coastal home buyers don’t pay attention to flood risks, even with warnings and the rise of insurance premiums, as some Georgia State University researchers have noted. There’s a quirk in human cognition that top researchers in psychology point to. Memory of information or experiences that one might expect to push people in other directions can get waylaid by the attraction of something that they want.

There are prices that people in real estate will eventually pay when developments go under (literally underwater in many cases) or up in smoke and plaintiffs’ lawyers look for someone to sue.

Clinical director Melanie Gall and senior research analyst Marie Aquilino from Arizona State and associate professor of public administration Christopher Emrich of UCF say that the real estate sites are falling short by not employing “long-established lessons from behavioral science” in how to get people to pay attention and choose differently.

“Studies show that people rely on personal experience as the dominant driver when considering risk,” they write, also saying that sites present risk as single abstruse numbers that may not mean anything to the users. “In the absence of having personally experienced flood or wildfire damage, they need actionable and understandable information.”

Based on testing they and others are doing with an online tool for Gulf Coast residents, they say, “Rather than just presenting a score, the tool offers information on the costs annually and over time that one can expect from each hazard, such as flooding or wind damage, and how the home’s census block compares with the local area, county and state. To capture the effects of sea-level rise, for example, we model the number of years it will take for a home to go from outside a high flood risk area to being inside.”

For those that lack personal experience of such disasters, it could help to express “risk information in relatable terms such as the number of assistance requests made to the Federal Emergency Management Agency after disasters, the rejection rate and the average FEMA funds received per applicant in the area.”

And risk information should be pulled together in one place to provide robust information.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.