Wildfires don’t hurt hot real estate markets

Our love for nature causes more homes to be built in the path of destructive wildfires and leads to more blazes.

 

More people than ever want to live on the wild edges of Western cities, despite the risk wildfires pose to their homes. A recent study by researchers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, found that wildfires drive down real estate prices only in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Home prices in burned areas typically rebound to pre-fire levels within one to two years.

High risk zones are defined as having high probability of a wildfire based on the physical attributes of the terrain surrounding each property. Homes in these zones see a drop in price following a fire, but quickly rebound and spike less than three years after the incident.
Shawn J. McCoy and Randall P. Walsh

The finding illuminates a troubling trend: Some of the West’s most fire-prone areas — densely forested, scenic, mountain landscapes that are conveniently close to cities — are also some of its most desirable. When more people move into these areas, the cost of fighting fires rises because there is more to defend — more lives and property at stake. On top of that, because people unintentionally spark many wildfires, the overall risk increases when the woods become more populated, as does the potential destruction these fires can cause in terms of property damage and loss of life.

Yet developers will continue to build in high-risk areas as long as there’s a demand. Residential growth in forested areas across the United States has exploded in recent years, from an estimated 12.5 million housing units in 2000 to 44 million by 2010. “We should be worried about that,” said University of Nevada, Las Vegas, research economist Shawn McCoy, who led the study. “The societal costs of wildfire will increase, because people continue to develop there. They know that those homes will sell regardless of the risk.” 

Many homes are in or border zones with the threat of wildfire. As the price of homes in wildfire zones only drops for a short period of time after a fire, there is still high demand for homes in such areas.
Shawn J. McCoy and Randall P. Walsh

McCoy and his team analyzed real estate data from nearly 360,000 properties across eight Colorado Front Range counties, which experienced 18 severe wildfires between 2000 and 2012. They compared the prices of similar houses located in high- and low-risk burn zones before and after wildfires. And they considered the relative risk of homes within those zones, their proximity to recent wildfires, and residents’ views of the burns and their aftermath.

The researchers found that the value of homes within sight of burn scars did dip after a fire and were slower to rebound. But even there, homebuyers’ awareness of fire risk didn’t impact their willingness to invest in those properties. Overall, housing values in the high-risk zones dropped in the year following a wildfire, but rebounded to pre-fire prices in one to two years.

The study area — part of the so-called “wildland-urban interface” — is one of the West’s fastest-growing urban areas. In Colorado alone, nearly 7 million acres fall within it. As more people pack into these areas, the federal dollars needed to fight fires will continue to increase. Already, wildfire suppression accounts for 52 percent of the Forest Service’s budget; by 2021, it’s projected to increase to 67 percent. “We have so many homeowners living in fire-prone areas that we have to come to terms with that,” McCoy said. “How do we protect those people?”

The Waldo Canyon fire burned its way to the backdoors of homes in the Colorado Springs area in 2012.

Paige Blankenbuehler is an assistant editor for NewTowncarShare News. Email her at [email protected].  

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • We are hiring a Wyoming Conservation Associate Full time, competitive pay and benefits. Location: Cody, WY (preferred), Jackson, WY, or Lander, WY Visit www.greateryellowstone.org/careers for...
  • The National Parks Conservation Association, the nations leading national park advocacy organization, seeks a Regional Director to lead and manage staff for the Southwest Regional...
  • This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • The Foundation NoVo Foundation acts from the original meaning of philanthropy: the love of humanity. The Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing a global social transformation...
  • A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • The Tanner Humanities Center and the Environmental Humanities Program of the University of Utah seek an environmental writer to offer classes in Utahs Environmental Humanities...
  • The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • 2+ acres, 400+ feet on Snake River, 2800 sf residence, NWF-certified wildlife habitat, excellent hunting, fishing, birdwatching, stargazing, sunsets & panoramic views. In the heart...
  • Guardians is expanding and looking for a few great people to join us in protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health...
  • Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • Ouray County, Colorado, a popular tourist destination, has dramatic mountains and amazing winter ice climbing. Challenging terrain and high altitude can push visitors to their...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Coordinator-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Manager-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Southern CA. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • Are you a climber and a writer who is passionate about mountain literature? Do you love searching through old alpine journals for stories of esoteric...
  • Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...