With Tropical Storm Erin moving west over the eastern Atlantic this week, the fact that we haven’t yet hit peak hurricane season and are still cleaning up from Hurricane Sandy, can make you wonder: Why live in a place prone to natural disaster? But avoiding them is not so easy. While you might dodge hurricanes by not buying a home in coastal regions, the torrential storms spun off by them can reach far inland. Then there are other natural disasters to consider: devastating floods, rampaging wildfires, earthquakes and tornadoes. In 2012 the U.S. declared 99 natural disasters, a record number for the past few years, up from 81 in 2010. As a result, homeowners insurance rates rose in badly impacted areas — sometimes dramatically.
To help homebuyers (and renters) determine the areas most and least likely to be struck by a major disaster, Trulia has devised a map showing the areas most and least likely affected by natural disasters — so that you can weigh that when buying a home, right alongside the threats of dry rot, mold and crime. Here’s how it works: When you zoom into the area that you are interested in, you’ll notice that “Natural Hazards” are listed on a menu of items to select as relevant to your search, along with such others as “Home Values” and “Schools.” Click on that, and you’re offered an array of potential disasters to choose from. And when you click on one of those the intensity of the threat it poses is shown on the map in colors ranging from blue for “low” to red for “high.”
Of Trulia’s top 10 relatively “safe zones,” a few major cities made the list, along with several other familiar places where you just might want to buy. [See the gallery here.]
“When Hurricane Sandy hit, we knew we had to provide more information on natural hazards to our consumers, because buying a house is such a huge investment,” said Lee Clancy, vice president of consumer products at Trulia. “With these maps, users will be able to visualize where their dream home is located relative to where natural hazards have hit. That information can prove to be invaluable before you sign on the dotted line.”
Will such maps lead to drastic decreases in homeownership along the Atlantic Coast or Gulf of Mexico? Probably not. But they might at least help you zoom in on a particular neighborhood or city there that’s least likely to be affected.
The price of neglecting that can be more than higher insurance rates or the cost of home reconstruction or repairs, though. According to a report this week from real estate analytics firm CoreLogic, when a natural disaster occurs a mortgage holder is almost twice as likely to default in high-risk areas such as Miami, as compared to low-risk one.