Real estate company

Major real estate company adds wildfire risk to all listings and says 30 million households could be at risk over the next few decades

Potential home buyers have been able to assess the flood risk on potential homes for years. But this has not been the case for other types of natural disasters, particularly forest fires.

And as wildfires become an increasing threat to homes due to climate change, a real estate company is making it easier for home seekers to assess the risk of wildfire damage before closing a house.

Realtor.com and nonprofit FirstStreet Foundation are launching a model that will assign a wildfire risk score to every listing on the Realtor.com website, which they say is the first metric of its kind to respond to forest fire concerns.

The new wildfire risk measure, which went live on Monday, is being rolled out as this year’s wildfire season starts earlier than usual, and the intensity and duration associated with wildfires in the United States are increasing.

“We make wildfire risk information freely available to help homeowners, buyers and sellers make informed decisions that can help protect their properties and their families,” said Sara Brinton, Chief main product at Realtor.com, in a statement to Fortune.

Forest fire risk accounting

The new wildfire risk model will take into account factors such as the materials used to build a house, the local weather and the distance between a property and sources of flammable fuels, such as trees, grass and other plants. It will also map wildfire risk data for listings, and each property on the Realtor.com website will receive a ranked score reflecting its vulnerability to wildfires.

Until now, home seekers have not been able to easily factor the risk of wildfires occurring near or on their property into their decision to purchase home or home insurance, unlike the risks flooding, whose data has been more readily available for decades.

The National Flood Insurance Program has been in place since 1968, providing homebuyers with detailed information about the risk of flash flooding to their home and offering specialized insurance policies that can cover damage.

In 2020, FirstStreet also released its own Flood Risk Data Map, which found millions more homes where flood risk is not considered in federal maps. FirstStreet data is now used by property companies nationwide to assess flood risk on their listings.

Fire risk increases for homeowners

Publicly available wildfire risk data can be especially welcome in states like California and Texas, which have had major problems with wildfires in recent years.

The 2018 California Camp Fire, fueled by a long drought in the state and propelled by high winds, was the deadliest and costliest wildfire in state history, killing 85 and destroying more than 18,000 buildings. Texas, meanwhile, was engulfed this spring in one of the largest wildfires in its history, which has already resulted in more than $23 million in agricultural losses.

These two states are the most exposed to high damage costs from wildfires, according to data from the model, which found that in California alone, more than $3 trillion in properties are at risk.

But the future could be even worse.

Between 2005 and 2020, wildfires burned nearly 90,000 structures across the country, including homes and businesses, with damage steadily increasing each year. Last year was another record for wildfires, as nearly 7.7 million acres were charred in the United States due to prolonged drought and record-breaking heat waves.

More than 30 million homes nationwide will be at risk from wildfire over the next 30 years, about one in five single-family homes, according to the Realtor and FirstStreet model, as parts of New Jersey, North Carolina and Florida are expected to bear the same wildfire risk as California does today. The potential value of properties at risk of wildfire damage is nearly $9 trillion.

The increasing frequency of wildfires is creating heavy losses for insurance companies, which has led to higher premiums in many risk areas to reflect the higher intensity and longer duration of wildfire seasons in many parts of the United States.

Higher premiums have made wildfire insurance increasingly unaffordable for many homeowners, and vulnerable states have pushed to reduce wildfire risk and premiums. The California Department of Insurance released a new plan in February that requires insurance companies to lower their premiums if homeowners take steps to increase wildfire safety, such as clearing the area surrounding their property of flammable materials.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com


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