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.

Graph

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."

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 21.

    #18 It was part of my research when buying. I'm just at the edge of the 1 in 100 year flood area for the River Leen. Along with 100,000 other people and both Nottinghams major hospitals- the Leen flows through both hospitals grounds. The only way I could be 150 feet above river level is to move to the next county. As it happened my street barely had puddles because the defences (& drains!) worked

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 20.

    Well, on the plus side, they have a house with a river view...does that push the price up?

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 19.

    Why ask why do people buy houses in places that might flood?Why not ask, why would builders, contractors, the council, or whoever build houses in a place where it might flood? If there are houses out there, people are going to buy them..

  • rate this
    +21

    Comment number 18.

    The answer to this question is ignorance, not affordability.

    When I bought my present home, I checked the Environment map. I am safe from anything up to a flood of 150 foot above sea level.

    This is the biggest purchase you can make. You don't spend that amount of money on a pup, unless you are daft or lazy.

    The flood risk should be part of the survey, but if it isn't, do your research.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 17.

    #12. Thats my point... flood defences. Without them most of Nottingham (especially West Bridgeford) would be under water. I can find plenty of photos of 1950s London badly flooded. York floods annually, Even Sandy flooded New York city!

    Millions DO live in flood plains, its just that they flood very rarely and the defences (even Medieval ones) generally work.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 16.

    In Chacewater in Cornwall there is an area of housing that floods regularly, the old lady who used to play in the marshes there when she was a child is amazed anyone would live there.

  • rate this
    +46

    Comment number 15.

    Why do people still keep buying houses in a flood plain? Simple - the rest of us pay the insurance for them by artificially ensuring that they can get insurance. That way, the rest of us pay, while they enjoy their picturesque location, content in the knowledge that when the river rises and ruins tens of thousands of pounds worth of property, they just get a big fat hand out from the rest of us.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 14.

    Actually, UK builders and architects need to re-think.

    Build houses on stilts.

    It's done in other parts of the world.

    The industry's problem is how to make that feasible and attractive to UK lifestyles.

    At minimum - build the new houses in flood plains on stilts / design them to withstand floods. It can be done, but it means designing them and building them differently.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 13.

    An unintended pun i believe - G Cox - Subside?

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 12.

    Peter Sim, you are not quite right. Not that many people live on flood plain per se . Only a tiny part of Cambridgeshire is flood plain. On top of that many genuine flood plain towns have effective defenses now (eg Tonbridge and London).

    A flood plain is the area that swollen rovers habitually flood; even if very infrequently in human time scales.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 11.

    If you want to build on flood plains the govt needs to organise a flood insurance pool. No sensible insurer would offer cover for new homes in these locations. In 2007 I refused an offer from a national builder to insure their new homes in the Thames flood plain in return for all their commercial insurance business. I would have been mad to take the offer.

  • rate this
    +40

    Comment number 10.

    Looks like whoever built that Abbey in Tewkesbury back in the day knew their stuff

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 9.

    Presumably, the prices of houses in areas prone to flooding don't fall because the flooding danger has already been factored into the price.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 8.

    one house we lived in had a boat dock on the second floor and flood gates on the ground. It was expected to flood and allowed to do so. You just moved furniture. For those in flood plains buyer be ware, demolish and build to be flooded.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 7.

    #4 Or where I live in Nottingham which used to be part of a swamp before being drained. Nottingham castle is on the rocky bit, the rest of us live next to the rivers.

    As you say pretty much the whole of Cambs. is at sea level or even a little below. Potentially anywhere in the county can flood. Do we seriously suggest not living in the whole of Cambridgeshire???

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 6.

    should it be inundated not indunated in the caption of the first photo?

  • rate this
    +52

    Comment number 5.

    You can't do much about existing homes - other than build flood defenses and ensure the development fair insurance policies. You can assume that the value of these homes will fall. There should be a ban on NEW house building in flood areas - those who are determined to build should sign a contract that states that they will NOT receive pubic funding if they need the help.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 4.

    Well Peter_Sym if you're talking historically the only place you could build in Cambridgeshire would be places like the ISLE of Ely, as the rest was below water before being reclaimed from the sea.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 3.

    Why should we subside the insurer of those who choose to live in flood prone areas; especially if like most they have not flood proofed their houses.

    Do they jump up and down asking to pay extra to help people like who are refused subsidence insurance just because there are some claims in the area. Whitby is a timely reminder.

  • rate this
    +43

    Comment number 2.

    My question would be why are house construction companies allowed to build on areas know to flood.

    The land is probably cheap to buy as it has no other use except for grazing animals.

    One of the proposals that I would like to put forward is that solicitors include a historical flood search within their search criteria when acting for a client, even if that means going back hundreds of years.

 

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