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 201.

    Prior to buying any house in our area the mortgage providers require numerous legal documents including a mining survey. What can't they include a flood survey as well? Once the demand for houses built in high risk flood areas disappears then house builders will stop construction knowing full well they can't sell them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    198. cantonboycardiff
    ohh pedantic on my use of grammar seeing as English isnt my mother tongue you got the gist eh yes they're stupid

    Personally I'm impressed. I wish their were more people who had more strings to they're bow, but these days schools don't seem to know what there doing when it comes to languages. So well done!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    We seem to have forgotten that one man's river flood defences produce the downstream man's flood. And building on flood plains doesn't just affect those houses; it affects everyone downstream of the flood plain, that was originally there to - the clue is in the name - flood, acting as a safe outlet for flooding rivers. We need to designate areas which CAN flood, and then allow them to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    @196.helo thar
    ohh pedantic on my use of grammar seeing as English isnt my mother tongue you got the gist eh yes they're stupid

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    I live right by the sea, there's the beach, a raised promenade, a further raised road then us. Renewing my insurance this year they asked if the house was within 50 metres of a large body of water. I said "No, the tide is out but in a couple of hours it will be." He didn't know how to mark that on his form, what a stupid question. It would have to be quite a tsunami to reach us up here anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    @195. cantonboycardiff

    You mean "they're" stupid, not "there" stupid

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Quite obviously there stupid. A person interviewed on TV said yesterday quote.They told us it was on a flood plain but it wouldent flood.well what do you think happens on a flood plain then???

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    If this minister Boles gets his way this problem will be much worse in 20years lets hope he gets slapped down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Surely the same question could be asked along the lines of why would anyone want to live in earthquake, volcano, Tornado area. Because simply, people do. The worst floods we have had in over a 100 years was 1953 when the East Coast and large swathes of the Netherlands were flooded. People still live in the Netherlands, East Coast and for that matter San Francisco. We share a planet with nature

  • Comment number 192.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    its all down to climate change. all this rain.... the stuff thats been bucketing down for 1000,million years... what ever happened to the ozone hole?

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Many properties now suffering floods have never been affected before, some 100's years old. It's not people buying properties in areas that flood, it's incompetent planners that allow natural soak away's to be built over. Acres and acres of tarmac roads, roofing, patios etc prevent water from draining naturally, it all goes into the sewer where eventually the ones on lower ground suffer the surge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    Before people keep banging on about developers building on flood plains there is one critical factor that people seem to forget , everyone of these developments needs planning permission . Point the finger first at planning officers and planning committees , then developers .

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    "The moderators don't let us be specific as to locations but we live where the famous ducks come from"!

    So you live in Mallard. That name should give a clue to flooding.

    Thankfully we live in the Rookery, Eagleton.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    The builders of Tewkesbury abbey a millenium ago clearly knew what they were doing, and to be honest a lot of the town is also either not in water or in less water than if it were further from the abbey. It isn't that silly a place

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    It is not a very big country and there are lots of people in it. Where else are they going to go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    #172 you just need a parachute to put the bins out thats all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    The reason is obvious. No other land has been made available for building for so long and land which floods no commercial entity wants so sell it to the highest bidder which is usually Jo public.
    Stop fully insuring these properties for floods because this is why developers buy, build and sell. Its legal. It's insurable and the land is cheap because its a 5 meters below sea level. No brainer !

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    170 This is about landspace for housing we are a small nation that makes land expensive thats just a fact. The nations I mentioned are land rich we are not therefore we have to adapt policies to that fact. As for my pension I have already been told I will have to work till 67 it may be longer we just have take it on the chin and accept it the party is over.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    Somewhere down the line in regards to this question, there is someone who makes money from it. Be it the claimants of insurance when their house and possessions are wasted by flood water or the developers who were able to buy the land cheap. As we should all know by now, when money and vast profit margins are involved, commonsense falls out of the window into the abyss. There’s your answer.


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