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Real Estate vs Mother Nature

By Datta Khalsa, Broker

There is a mindset that has developed among the people of Iceland through generations of living in some of the world’s most challenging conditions that is summed up in their saying, “Iceland is trying to kill you”.

Amidst the increasingly extreme conditions that we are now facing even here in historically temperate California, the validity of this saying is starting to extend beyond the borders of Iceland, and it is interesting to see how public policy and private property ownership continues to evolve to meet that challenge. The fires of the past few years were the first round of the widespread hardships imposed on many of our fellow residents, while the rains and landslides that came in their wake brought a second round of misery to many of those same people.

And now up in Tahoe, the initial elation of record-breaking snowpack bringing an epic ski season is being replaced with the realities of 15 feet of snow burying people’s homes, as the sheer weight of snow and ice have caused widespread collapse of decks and large flat roofed commercial buildings. When property owners there look up at the large icicles and mounds of heavy snow looming from their eaves, they may well think that their own homes are trying to kill them, while along their roads the snow has piled up so high that PG&E workers now have to actively clear snowbanks away from low-lying power lines.

With the snowpack now starting to melt, the focus of concern has also turned to flooding in the valleys, where farmers face record losses as long dormant lakes begin to reform around the farms which were formed decades ago after their waters had dried up or been diverted. Our own Pajaro Valley has suffered massive flooding in the wake of the recent levy failure, and it remains to be seen how the hundreds of displaced families and businesses will be able to return their lives to normal as the government and insurance companies work to develop a sustainable plan for recovery.

A similar battle against nature has been raging for decades along the coast for property owners at the other end of the financial spectrum, where sea level rise and coastline erosion have formed the basis of the Coastal Commission’s policy of managed retreat, which is in immediate conflict with homeowners' personal property rights. The increasing numbers of bluff failures up and down our coastline have become reminiscent of the Jimi Hendrix lyric, “castles in the sand fall in the sea, eventually.” And while that’s all well and good in a lyric, it is pretty hard to be that philosophical when it’s your own house being lost.

It seems like humanity’s mission to survive the elements has come full circle in regions like these, where once desirable real estate is starting to lose its value due to nature’s impact, and now more than ever it has become important to evaluate the benefits of buying a particular property you might desire against the risks it may face in the coming years.

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