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 81.

    Hundreds of houses have been built near me, on a flood plain. The council are either stupid or corrupt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    "I object to having to pay higher insurance premiums to cover households who live in areas prone to flooding."

    .... So do I. I have to pay more for trave insurance due to a past serious illness - there are lots of reasons why some pay more for insurance. Those in flood areas should pay up like the rest of us have to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Isn't it a bit like asking why people live in San Francisco, with the near-certainty of a major earthquake every so often? It's because some places are so desirable to live in in other respects that we subconsciously take the risk that it'll be 'OK on the day'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    70. Jim
    If a flood risk assessment (FRA) is done properly, then there should be no flooding to the development. From my experience, the EA are very thorough in assessing whether a development is properly protected. However, many developments were built before FRAs were required.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Our experiences of flooding in the US tells us that flood defenses do not work 100% of the time. We are reminded of this very year. I have suffered from two one-hundred year floods within a three year period, and I'm not in a flood plain. There are thousands of places across the globe that will suffer catastrophic flooding year after year, and yet people continue to rebuild. LOL.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    One thing I haven't seen in years - drain cleaning lorries that councils operated. Drains are full of dead leaves, rubbish, sediment and perhaps, a dead animal. Because of they are clogged, these are the first things to cause problems during prolonged periods of heavy rain.

    Councils have cut these to reduce money when infact its more of a false economy

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Near here developers are after planning permission to build on two fields that are next door to a BAE ammunition factory. I flinch every time I drive near it and wouldn't buy a house within 5 miles, but others do. Are they desperate or do they have a higher risk threshold. I doubt they'll flood but they could be blown to smithereens. ,

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Every time I see the film Grease where the cars race in the concrete culvert and I can't help but wonder why we don't have them here in the UK for known flood area - maybe I should grow up and stop watching Grease

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Surveyancing has to be undertaken when mortgages are taken out to ensure the house is fit for purpose.

    I would suggest that being sighted on a flood plane should automatically void suitability for a mortgage.

    The problem would quickly rectify itself if no one could buy flood plane housing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Why do people buy houses in places prone to flooding? Because they are following Lord Freud's advice about being less risk-averse. The silly bugg*rs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    In parts of the World (eg SE Asia)where communities live near a river that overflows in the 'rainy season'houses are built on stilts.Why are we not doing that in places like York,Worcester,Tewkesburyetc?I object to having to pay higher insurance premiums to cover households who live in areas prone to flooding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    56 Dominic.
    Thank you for your interesting input.
    Can you also tell us when development is authorised on flood plain is that done in the knowledge that peoples lives will be ruined or is it that measures to protect people just dont work?

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    "they also replace the absorbant flood plain with hard surfaces, increasing the risk of flooding for other areas too."

    It is a requirement of national planning regulations that surface water run-off from a development be attenuated to pre-development conditions, which in the case of a greenfield site, would be the greenfield run-off rate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    We keep building houses in dubious locations that very few can afford to buy. Our island is too small, there are already too many people living on it, and problem will get worse in the comng years.

    It's time to put up the 'no vacancies' signs, there is no more room at the inn.



  • rate this

    Comment number 67.


    You know what the problem is. Government. BAD GOVERNMENT.
    Poor decision making passed down the line. "Its not our fault , we were only following orders....." Sounds lame doesnt it?
    Its NOT an excuse.Doesnt anyone have the balls to make the right choices? Still NO.
    We are paying the wages of those poor decision makers.None of them seem up to the job from the top , down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Houses are built on flood plains because the developers are greedy - this country will be one big concrete raft soon - may God help us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Dear 56. Dominic - that's all very well BUT what about historical development on flood plains undertaken for HUNDREDS OF YEARS BEFORE all the bureaucracy came into play ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Flood risk engineers? Did not know we had any! What are their current views on all those poor people whose houses have now been ruined? Oh and what's the EA? Permission only given when there is "nowhere else"? What about all those brown sites that lie abandoned, developers dont like brown sites because they have to pay to remove previous ground debris and it cuts into their costs...!

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    People buy properties on flood-plains because the local authorities are run by juveniles who never learned their purpose at school, and built by developers who couldn't care less about the environment, do not know the meaning of "meadow" and only look for one thing - money. Local councils should bear the costs of clearing up this mess and compensating householders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Seems like sheer stupidity to me that a council does not liaise with the developer to build houses with raised foundations.

    Most modern 2 storey town houses have an integral garage at ground level and all rooms above (except the kitchen). It's surely not beyond the capabilities of man to have all your living quarters above the level of what a flood may be anticipated to rise to?


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