When Sara McKinley, 67, first caught a glimpse of her vacation home where she was planning to retire on Sanibel Island in Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, she was overcome with sadness, witnessing the scale of devastation. She presently lives in her primary home in Lakeland, Fla.
“The first few times I went down and as soon as I began to see the devastation, I burst into tears,” McKinley, a pastor who works as the director of clergy excellence at the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, told MarketWatch. “It was so traumatic to see the destruction.”
But warnings about the effect of climate change increasing sea levels and leading to more storms and hurricanes — such as Hurricane Ian in September 2022 — and cautionary tales about the real cost of rebuilding and repairing damaged homes have not deterred homebuyers.
“Researchers suggest that the most damaging U.S. hurricanes are three times more frequent than 100 years ago, and that the proportion of major hurricanes (Category 3 or above) in the Atlantic Ocean has doubled since 1980,” according to the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group.
“The number of people who are moving into flood-prone zones rather than moving away from them, between 2021 and 2022, increased by 384,000, up more than 100% on the previous year.”
The number of people who are moving into flood-prone zones rather than moving away from them, between 2021 and 2022, increased by 384,000, up more than 100% on the previous year, according to real-estate brokerage Redfin.
The No. 1 flood-prone spot where people are moving? Lee County, Fla., which encompasses Fort Myers and Cape Coral, where Sanibel Island is located. Nearly 60,000 more people moved into Lee County than moved out. These areas were destroyed by Hurricane Ian last fall.
“Florida is still the top migration destination. People are moving there for the warm weather, the lifestyle, and affordability,” Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at real-estate brokerage Redfin
But these are short-term considerations, she stressed. People moving to the Sunshine State “think of climate change as something in the very distant future,” Fairweather said.
Though these disasters appear to happen infrequently, despite research suggesting U.S. coasts are even more at risk from storms, new residents “may not be aware of how costly it is psychologically as well as in terms of the dollar amount rebuilding the home, and the trauma,” she added.
The complicated web of insurance in Florida
Hurricane Ian’s storm surge had flooded and destroyed numerous homes on Florida’s west coast last September. Many residents had lost their homes, and faced an uphill task trying to get their insurance company to cover the cost of rebuilding.
The duplex McKinley initially bought as a vacation home in 1998 for $150,000 suffered heavy damage. It was part of a very small condo association that includes five buildings and eight units.
McKinley said that — despite the fact that she has spent approximately $1,000 per year on wind insurance, and $3,000 on flood insurance for the last three decades — the insurance companies still came up short for the total costs needed to repair and rebuild the home. Thus far, she has had to spend