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Sea level rise’s impact on property values will be greatest in N.J. Shore towns, study says

Property values in Ocean City are the hardest hit on the East Coast because of sea level rise, surpassing even Miami, according to a peer-reviewed study released Wednesday, Feb. 27. But popular communities such as Sea Isle City, Atlantic City, Avalon, Brigantine, North Wildwood and Mystic Island als

File: Water from the Atlantic Ocean washes over East Atlantic Avenue in Ocean City in a previous nor'easter. (Ron Tarver / Staff Photographer)
File: Water from the Atlantic Ocean washes over East Atlantic Avenue in Ocean City in a previous nor'easter. (Ron Tarver / Staff Photographer)Read more

Ocean City, N.J., faces the biggest hit to its property values from sea level rise on the eastern seaboard, surpassing even Miami Beach, according to a study released Wednesday.

But popular Shore communities such as Sea Isle City, Atlantic City, Avalon, Brigantine, North Wildwood, and Mystic Island also made the top 20 list, according to housing data analyzed by scientists with Columbia University and First Street Foundation, a nonprofit focused on risks associated with sea level rise and flooding.

Though property values along the New Jersey Shore certainly are increasing, the scientists said their work measures “relative” erosion of property values. In other words, the homes would have sold for more if not for shrinking shorelines, flooding, and storm surges associated with sea level rise, caused mainly by climate change. For example, a home that might have sold for $800,000 without those issues instead might sell for $650,000.

The group has released similar data in the past. But, for the first time, it included numbers for Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. Philadelphia, Croydon, and Bristol, all along the Delaware River, are “significantly impacted” by environmental changes, the scientists said. They created an online mapping tool so homeowners can plug in their addresses to see if their properties face a relative loss in value. In addition, it shows flooding levels and projected increases over 15 years.

“New Jersey has been hit terribly hard,” said Carolyn Costello, a spokesperson with Brooklyn-based First Street Foundation. “In fact, some New Jersey cities have been hit worse than Florida.”

Ocean City, with relative losses totaling more than a half-billion dollars, tops Miami Beach, facing more than $300 million. Without specifying the address, the authors cited a property on Haven Avenue in Ocean City as an example of the type of relative loss in property value, with a $119,702 dip.

Overall, New Jersey faces the second highest losses among states, at $4.5 billion, second to Florida, which is estimated at more than $5.4 billion.

The list is derived from research into relative property values of 15 eastern states, including Alabama and Mississippi.

To derive their peer-reviewed methodology, Steven A. McAlpine at First Street Foundation and Jeremy R. Porter, a Columbia University professor and consultant for the foundation, initially analyzed only the Miami-Dade County real estate market. They then applied that methodology to analyze millions of other real estate transactions in the east.

They took into account square footage, location, trends, and other issues associated with home values. They say they were able to calculate the impact of frequent tidal flooding on home values using data from 2005 to 2017.

They found that while most homes did appreciate in value, affected homes appreciated at “a significantly lower rate than comparable homes unaffected by tidal flooding.” They also found that roads that flood near a home also hurt its value.

"From Maine to Florida and through the Gulf Coast, we have seen the same phenomenon,” Porter said. “Increased tidal flooding has led to a loss in home value appreciation. We expect this trend to not only continue in the coming years, but to accelerate along with the accelerating rate of sea level rise.”

New Jersey is faced not only with rising seas, but also land that’s sinking because of its geology.

Maryland was also hit hard, losing $555.7 million in relative value.

Delaware lost $299.5 million in relative value, with Bethany Beach among the top locations facing relative losses.

Pennsylvania lost $10.1 million in relative value, with Bristol seeing more than $3 million of those losses. Croydon lost $2.4 million and Philadelphia lost $1.5 million, relatively small numbers by comparison to the Jersey Shore. But the impact on individuals can be considerable. The authors noted a single property in Ridley Park, Delaware County, lost $51,978 in relative value.

“Flooding is the costliest natural disaster in the United States,” said Matthew Eby, executive director of First Street Foundation.