Why do people buy houses in places prone to flooding?

Tewkesbury indundated Tewkesbury has been indundated four times in recent years

Floods have brought chaos to homes in many parts of the UK. But do house prices dramatically fall in flood areas and if not, why not?

There's a poignant image of the picturesque town of Tewkesbury flooded this week, its famous abbey surrounded by the brown waters of the Severn.

The image is near identical to one from 2007. A casual viewer might well be tempted to ask: "Who would live in a place like this?"

After all, plenty of property purchasers can be put off by a survey that comes back with damp or a bit of subsidence.

The Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, was asked this week why house building is still going on in flood plains. But surely the question is why people are still buying houses in flood plains. Or continuing to live in places that have suffered catastrophic floods.

One might assume that there would be massive falls in property prices after a highly publicised episode of damaging flooding.

But the figures don't seem to back that up.

If you take a place like Tewkesbury, you can see that the floods of 2007 did not significantly affect prices.

Start Quote

Tewkesbury has beautiful buildings... some people think that outweighs the odd flood”

End Quote Anthony Rhodes, local estate agent

In June 2007, the average property value in the historic market town was £241,821. It dropped slightly to £238,200 in July, the month floods hit - when the average property price in England was £258,855. But the average price stayed consistently about the £240,000 mark for the rest of the year, according to figures collated by property website Zoopla.

Prices in Tewkesbury have dropped since, but not at a vastly disproportionate rate to the rest of England. Tewkesbury's average property is now £215,322, with the average value in England £236,134.

It's a similar picture in parts of Cumbria that were heavily affected by floods in 2009, and also less severely in 2005.

In October 2009, the average property value in Cockermouth, was £217,243, dropping to £213,234 in November - when floods hit. Today the average property price is £208,749, according to Zoopla.


Of course there is only so much that can be extrapolated from figures collated by property companies. There are locations within locations, and varying property sizes.

But there are estate agents in flood-hit places like Tewkesbury, Hull, Carlisle and York who suggest that although prices tend to fall, generally by about 10%, just after a flood, they remain largely unaffected in the long run.

People see severe flooding as a one-off event, according to Jonathan Harris, director at property finance broker Anderson Harris. Even if houses have been flooded before, prospective buyers may spot ways in which they can flood-proof them.

Could floating homes be the answer?

floating home

The recent flooding across the UK has seen hundreds of householders desperately trying to prevent water from entering their houses.

But what if your house was buoyant - rising at the same level as the surrounding water?

And of course, most of the people who live in places like Tewkesbury and Cockermouth have lived there a long time, and like living there.

"My partner bought a place in the newly developed Walton Cardiff in 2010. It's on a flood plain, but it's slightly raised. There is water nearby now, but the property's fine," says 28-year-old Sophia Spencer, a lettings manager at Andrews estate agent in Tewkesbury.

"People outside the area seem a lot more wary about buying in Tewkesbury than people who live here. But it's a lovely market town with lots of black and white houses and tea rooms. I've lived here all my life so the floods don't put me off," she says.

Living somewhere picturesque for a slight discount can warrant some people taking a calculated gamble.

"Tewkesbury has beautiful old buildings, with unbelievable views. Some people think that outweighs the odd flood," says Anthony Rhodes, of Rhodes Real Estate in Tewkesbury.

Stuart Chester, who lives in Purley on Thames, just outside Reading, says he was fully aware that the property he bought 20 years ago was prone to flooding when he purchased it.

"Having a river at the bottom of the garden was a big attraction, as I like to do a bit of fishing. [And] it felt like a nice community," he says.

Stuart Chester, garden Stuart Chester, and his garden during a previous flood

The 68-year-old says the setting of the property, overlooking the Chilterns, and its proximity to Reading, also influenced his decision, and he thought the "inconvenience" of a flood every couple of years was worth it.

Since then his garage, garden and cellar have been flooded about 10 times, but as the house was built above the level of the great floods of 1947, it has escaped unscathed.

"For a home in such a delightful setting, it's a small price to pay," he says.

Of course for many people living in a flood risk area, it comes at a far greater cost. The 48,000 homes affected by the 2007 floods cost, on average, between £20,000 and £30,000 to repair, while the cost to the economy was £3.2bn, according to an Environment Agency report.

About 30% of householders had to move out while repairs were carried out, with one in 10 displaced for more than a year, creating a huge disruption to home life.

Some of the UK's most devastating floods
Sheffield Sheffield, 1864: More than 200 people died after Dale Dyke Dam collapsed, emptying a reservoir across parts of the city
Lynmouth Lynmouth, 1952: Devon coastal village devastated after water and debris cascade from waterlogged Exmoor - 34 killed and 420 left homeless
Canvey Island North Sea flood, 1953: Storm tides kill 307 people across east coast of England, 58 of them in Canvey Island in Essex (pictured)
Rotherham 2007 UK, 2007: Series of floods across UK prompted biggest civil and military rescue effort in UK history - 13 people died

Then there is the worry over insurance, with the Association of British Insurers warning 200,000 homes in high-risk flood areas could be left without cover after June 2013, which could in turn affect mortgage offers.

For some existing homeowners, there is concern they could become trapped in properties that are practically unsellable.

Spending more on flood defences is one option. But for some people, the obvious solution is to build new properties away from areas prone to flooding.

A 2011 report by a government advisory group, the Committee on Climate Change, found that tens of thousands of properties were still built on flood plains around the UK - around 12,000 to 16,000 every year in England alone. A BBC investigation found a similar pattern in Wales.

"Rightly or wrongly, many communities feel that a lot of these new developments have contributed to the flooding," says Helen Shepherd from the National Flood Forum.

How to minimise flood damage

Rooftops, St Asaph 2012
  • Put valuable items on high shelves
  • Fit pump in basement or under-floor void to extract flood water
  • Flooring: lay tiles with rugs rather than fitted carpets
  • Doors and windows: install synthetic or waxed windows and doors, or varnish
  • Kitchen and bathroom: use water-resistant materials; where possible, raise fridges and appliances on plinths
  • Electricals: raise electrical sockets, fuse boxes, controls and wiring to at least 1.5 metres above floor level

"Some say properties are being built on land that used to take in the water slowly. They also feel these developments are often plugged into an ageing draining infrastructure, which communities feel is beyond their capacity."

Kiran Curtis, principal at KCA architects, says the basic issue is that development is generally encouraged within urban areas, rather than within green belts, with a preference for previously developed land.

"If you look at places like Sheffield, or other parts of Yorkshire, local authorities want to try and regenerate old industrial and mill towns, which are often near rivers. There is a conflict, in that for good reason they want to bring urban centres back to life, but there's a historic problem that they do flood and can lead to development within flood plains," he says.

The Environment Agency says one in six homes in England is now at risk of flooding.

But Shepherd warns that the nature of flooding is changing, and increasingly anyone could be at risk.

"About 80% of flooding this summer was surface water flooding, so it is not just people that live on flood plains that are affected," she says.

Sue Tapsell, head of the Flood Hazard Research Centre, agrees.

"What we are seeing now is more flooding from pluvial events from intense summer storms. It means flooding, which tended to be the result of coastal tides or river floods - so we knew the most at risk places - is more unpredictable. It could happen everywhere."

You can follow the Magazine on Twitter and on Facebook


More on This Story

In today's Magazine


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    259.Sheilagh Stones
    Why do other cities not copy?
    Too late, they've all built houses on their flood plains so no space left to create a deep valley

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    lets all live in treehouses, problem solved.

    Seriously though building on flood areas is asking for trouble, it's just cheap and lazy of the construction firms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    Exeter used to suffer severe flooding, but after the worst one, about 50 years ago, when the lowest part of the city flooded badly, they built a flood-prevention scheme, basically creating a deep valley on the flood plain so that, when rain was very heavy, the excess water had somewhere to go. Problem solved. Why do other cities not copy? Do they enjoy being flooded????

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    The Environment Agency fails to manage water properly. If there are going to be these huge buildups of rainwater, there need also to be large reservoirs to take the surplus, so the water has somewhere to drain to immediately instead of causing floods.

    The Environment Agency should be actively building more reservoirs, rather than merely issuing flood warnings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    In our town planning permission was granted to build a new hospital .... on a flood plain ! A block of flats was built next to it with a lowerground floor car park. The car park was flooded during the recent rain. There are approved plans to build a housing estate on this same flood plain. "People" had little say in these decisions ... just a few who stood to benefit substantially ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    'cos they're dim.
    Buildings centuries old were built on elevated ground (eg., Tewkesbury abbey); what did they know that modern 'planners' don't ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    Because they never think and then want someone to blame.I decided not to buy a house for the sole reason that it was on a flood plain and the foundations were sixteen feet deep,that was telling me something!sorry not much sympathy here ,especially if there had been flooding before !

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    Anyone who lives in Tewkesbury knows most of the houses aren't prone to flooding, the entire town was built in a Y shape which follows the flood plain.

    But seriously though Venice is built on a swamp. If the people in the 5th Century can build a city on water, then surely we, with our modern technology can build foundations that can take excess water while leaving the building unscathed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    For many of the same reasons Zionists chose Palestine to build a new Israel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    How did Japanese geniuses have the opportunity to build nuclear powerstations in a earthquake ridden country and not expect propblems! Yet Germany -a virtually zero earthquake zone are relinquishing theirs !
    Have I missed something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    A flood plain is the natural place for a river to overflow. Fill it with concrete buildings and tarmac over the land, and it makes flooding worse in other places. Flood defences will just move the problem elsewhere, and make it worse. Flooding is becoming worse because we are over developing the natural overflow of the rivers.

    The question should be, why are we building on our best arable land?

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    Get a Consulting Chartered Civil/ Structural Engineer to check the site out. Common or garden solicitor, surveys by mortgage company etc won't bother. Common sense (easy in hindsight!!) helps. Contact the council for advice or who/ what they can recommend to check issues.
    Maybe this is one for Trading Standards is there a item in a new house (on a flood plain) contract?? Hmmm

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    Markus UK people buy homes near rivers and the coastline, they offer attraction and natural beauty. This is the reason why such properties hold their value everyone wants to live in the countryside or near the coastline. People are well aware they live on flood plains they just take risks. They are not silly I bet you would trade your home in the city to be next to the coast

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    Moby Dick's back - absolute classic. And just think of the tripe a developer would use to advertise this 'Cetacean situated aspirational home'

    You see this is part of the problem, there is zero pressure on the developers to include any 'real' information in sales particulars, all the onus is on the purchaser via their respective solicitor. So when you read 'riparian' think flooding inevitable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    People build on flood plains because it is easy to build on flat land. Transport links where historically better, rivers to bring materials and sell produce. It would also mean you were close to your arable land (flood plains) to farm and defend it. Historically the advantages of living there were massive.

    However what was historically good no longer applies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    If we insist on using flood plains for new houses, build them on concrete stilts and make sure the homes are watertight.

    Bedrooms downstairs and living rooms with their more expensive furniture upstairs along with a fully-comprehensive insurance policy would help alleviate all this damage and misery.

    Block-paving front gardens for car parking hasn't helped either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    I suspect people are silly enough to live in flood zones because NIMBYS and their banker friends do everything to prevent building in proper places. People are desperate, that is why they do silly things like buying a house on a floodplain. They would probably buy a house on an active volcano or even on Moby Dick's back if they had the opportunity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    Shouldn't the title be more along the lines of

    'Why do people build houses in places prone to flooding?'

    This idea was well known to the Anglo-Saxons who did there best to stay well away from river flood plains and as a general rule living somewhere with -ton at the end of a place name will therefore help to minimise flooding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    If you own/buy a house where it might flood, (there is enough information about to know this), simply flood proof it just in case the worst happens.
    Dont look at it as an opportunity to get rid of your old sofa, tv and kitchen appliances. I dont want the Government to waste my taxes on paying for flood defences for the stupid who decide to buy in flood prone areas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    Try cleaning the storm drains once in a while, used to see drainage vehicles all the time, not seen one for years now, where do they think the water will run to when all the drains are blocked ?


Page 1 of 14



  • Kim Jong-ilKorean kidnap

    The film stars abducted by North Korea and forced to make movies

  • TabletFeeling flat

    Are tablets losing their appeal?

  • scarlett Johansson7 days quiz

    Did someone try to impersonate Scarlett on the red carpet?

  • Woman reading on subwayCover shots Watch

    The disappearing books of the New York city subway

  • llamasLlama drama

    Two unlikely fugitives go on the run in Arizona

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.