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."

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  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    The problem will persist until the British people demand their lawmakers do something to sort the problem with the developers out. Until then it's easy to answer the question, " Why do people still keep buying houses on flood plains?", because people are content having their homes flooded and their possessions ruined so long as developers can make a profit from their misery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Houses are built on flood plains as result of greed by developers who know they can stuff as many houses as they can on cheap land. If the council refuses, the developer wins his planning appeal. Many people buying the houses are people from away from the area who don`t know. In S Wales an authority was stupid or cheapskate enough to build a new hospital over a stream..this flooded this month.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I don't have a problem with building on the flood plain, provided that the properties are designed to cope. Building traditionally-constructed houses in flood plains is utter stupidity. Building properties on stilts or which are substantially raised up is the way forward. Shrewsbury (a town notorious for flooding) has recently led the way with some innovative building.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Why not build houses on stilts, put the living room over the garage. I know its too sensible people just won't do it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Why build on flood plains - simple it is easier to build on them them many other areas, water is scenic and therefore makes good kerb appeal, in other words the short sighted pursuit of quick money. There is enough land for building upon, despite the rampant immigration, without using flood plains and green belt areas but unfortunately it is not where developers think they can make quick money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    I'm a flood risk engineer and I undertake flood risk assessments for new developments. Planning permission for residential development in the flood plain is only given in exceptional circumstances (i.e. there is nowhere else) and a flood risk assessment, including detailed analysis of the flood mitigation measures, must carried out and approved by the EA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    It's like those flimsy wooden houses and aluminium trailers you see all over tornado valley in the USA. You'd think someone would have told them about bricks and mortar.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    I thought we had people in charge of planning new developments. Maybe those people should be liable personally for their stupid decisions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Whilst I have a great deal of sympathy for those affected by flooding, especially those who were not thought to be at risk, please spare a thought for those whose insurance premiums will be hiked up to pay for the damage, who are not able to live in such picturesque surroundings

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    23 Minutes ago
    The reason as to to why property prices do not appear to have fallen ...

    The Developers are the winners every time.They sell to you at a national average figure, you have to sell at a more realistic level taking into account, flood history. You Lose.

    Its a simple equation. Yes there are places built 100 years ago on a flood plain, doesnt make it right to do it today

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Do not so much blame the purchasers. Blame the greedy, immoral moneymaking, grasping property developers who build on flood plains regardless, and then leave everyone else to sort out the mess. These people should be jailed or, alternatively, made to pay in full for the clean up operation!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Flood plains should be a no-no for housing, full stop. Obviously (but apparently not to developers or council planning departments) susceptible to flooding they also replace the absorbant flood plain with hard surfaces, increasing the risk of flooding for other areas too. York 2000 years old? Yes, but they didn't have carpets or electricty then. Do you want to live in a 2000 yr old hovel?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    BBC - Why do people buy houses in places prone to flooding?

    Why do people buy houses near airports (and then complain about the noise)? Why do people buy houses next to motor racing tracks (and then complain about the noise)? Why do people buy houses next to a music venue (and then complain about the noise)?

    Because they don't do any research and feel entitled after the fact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    24. Andy The Thinker
    There is not enough housing in Britain for the people we already have here. Property prices have been artificially raised over the years by bankster"

    No, they've increased because there isn't enough building land available. And when someone proposes to make more available (which would hurt 'rich landowners' most), then everyone complains! People are their own worst enemies

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    While I agree that new houses shouldn't be built on flood plains that doesn't mean your home isn't at risk of flooding. Some people commenting seem to be naively smug their homes are not at risk. Our town flooded this year and we are 140 metres above sea level with no rivers or steams running through. It was purely due to surface water flooding (see end of article).

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Because the overinflated property prices of the housing market does not allow choice these days.
    Because councils and government allow building companies allow them to be built on flood plains etc.
    Look at the stupid idea's from our so called educated Chancellor, wants to slacken planning laws and build on green belt land! Oh good more area's that soak up water lost to concrete!

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    #37 baddog 2020; whilst I sympathise with your position it is a bit unfair to focus on the planners when they have been instructed by central government in some cases. It was John Prescott who took his revenge on the South by pushing through the plans for building on the Thames flood plain downstream from the Thames flood barrier.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    The answer to your question is simple - because they assume that nobody would be daft enough to build in an area prone to flooding, that regulations would prevent said people from building in such an area and that adequate flood controls would be provided for areas which have since become prone to flooding due to climate change.

    Sadly, all of these assumptions are wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Why do greedy councils grant planning permissions to greedy builders to build houses on flood relief land?
    Should this not be picked up by a solicitor Before you sign the dotted line? If the information is not made available, the Council should be liable for flooding costs along with the builder.
    Reduce immigration and birth levels, educate better and no unemployment benefit until 21.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Because they are wet behind the ears.


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