Confronted with floods in the Southwest, wildfires on the West Coast, and sweltering heat waves in the Midwest, Americans are slowly accepting that climate change is here. In fact, a new study by Anytime Estimate found that 87% of Americans believe climate change poses a risk to the world.
Increasing natural disasters already threaten Americans' homes, and those fortunate enough to avoid disaster loss face higher insurance and energy prices.
Whether you’re a first-time home buyer looking for a single-family home, an investor hunting for off-market properties, or a real estate developer rehabbing distressed homes, climate change will likely have some impact on your home-buying experience.
Read on to learn more about U.S. attitudes toward climate change, including how Americans plan to adapt, what sacrifices they’re willing to make, and how they expect climate change to impact the housing market.
1. A Majority of Americans Are Worried About Climate Change
A large percentage of Americans (94%) believe in climate change. About 87% say climate change poses a risk to the world, with 65% saying it poses a serious risk.
There’s a lot of evidence that climate change is already here. For example, Charleston, South Carolina, has already experienced serious impacts from climate change-related flooding. Data from the National Weather Service shows that the number of annual flood days in the city spiked a staggering 750% from 1980 to 2020, and many Charleston homeowners have begun elevating their homes — a project that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
2. Few Americans Dismiss Climate Change
The survey found that only 6% of Americans don’t believe in climate change, and only 7% believe that climate change doesn’t pose any risk. Those numbers suggest that there’s a 1% sliver of Americans who do believe in climate change but believe it poses no risk.
3. A Majority of Americans Say Climate Change Impacts the Way They Vote
More than three-quarters of Americans (76%) say climate change impacts how they vote. A little more than one-third (36%) say it has a small impact on their voting habits, and 40% say it has a big impact. Only 25% say it has no impact on the way they vote.
4. Most Americans Who Believe In Climate Change Say It’s Already Happening
Nearly 6 in 10 Americans (59%) who believe in climate change say the impacts are already being felt. An additional 18% of believers say the effects aren’t yet being felt but will be felt in their lifetimes. Nearly one-fourth (22%) believe the effects of climate change won’t be felt in their lifetime (12%) or will be felt more than 100 years from now (10%).
Many Americans already have firsthand experience with the effects of climate change. The Northeastern U.S. is generally considered safe from the worst impacts of climate change, but Scituate, a small town in Massachusetts, has had to adapt to flood risks that range from “major” to “extreme” to “severe.” The town plans to raise roads and properties above the flood zone, but in some areas, the flood risk is so severe that entire neighborhoods must be moved inland.
5. Rising Temperatures, Increased Natural Disasters Are the Main Concern
Nearly 6 in 10 climate change believers (59%) say the most concerning consequence of climate change is rising global temperatures, with the same percentage also selecting increased natural disasters as their top concern.
A close third was lack of clean water (58%), followed by wildlife extinctions (58%), lack of food (53%), rising sea levels (49%), plagues and pandemics (43%), global conflicts and wars (39%), and human extinction (34%).
Climate change is likely going to be so expensive that some disruptions are inevitable. A report from nonprofit research group First Street Foundation predicts that in only 30 years, climate change-related flooding will cost the U.S. $30 billion annually. Additionally, real estate brokerage Redfin found that four counties in California are at risk of losing more than $2 trillion in housing value from wildfire risk.
6. Americans Understand That Climate Change Will Hit the Housing Market
More than 9 in 10 respondents (93%) believe climate change will impact the real estate market. The most common effect they expect is increased utility costs (60%), followed by more homes destroyed by natural disasters (53%), increased home insurance costs (53%), more expensive homes (50%), and mass migration out of high-risk areas (49%). Only 7% say the real estate industry will not be impacted by climate change.
Mortgage underwriters aren’t yet sure how to figure climate change-related risks into their underwriting process, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Today’s mortgages don’t have that risk included in the price, but once those risks become clear and it becomes standard industry practice to price them into home loans, people who buy properties in flood- or wildfire-prone areas will almost certainly have to pay higher interest rates on their conventional home loans.
7. A Majority of Americans Would Pay More for a Safer Home
A large percentage of respondents (93%) say they’d pay more for a home that was safe from climate-related risks, such as floods and fires. The additional amount they’d pay was around $30,000 on average.
They may have to pay more for insurance, too. Property insurance rates have increased as severe weather events caused by climate change have become more frequent. Flood insurance premiums have made some Florida properties unaffordable for many buyers, and homes made of flammable materials are much more expensive to insure in wildfire-prone areas than homes made of brick.
8. Climate Risks Aren’t a Deal-Breaker for Most Americans
Interestingly, 63% of Americans say they’d buy a home in an area that had a high risk of climate-related disasters. Americans would take the risk if they could get a good deal (18%), if they liked the area (13%), or if there hadn’t been any recent disasters (13%). In addition, 12% of respondents say they wouldn’t be concerned at all about buying a home in a high-risk area.
However, as secondary effects of climate change set in, many buyers may regret their purchase. After New York City passed a law requiring buildings to be decarbonized, a 2019 study found that it would cost more than $24 billion over the next decade to decarbonize all 50,000 of the buildings covered by the law. Standard property valuation methods don’t account for such costs, meaning that most U.S. real estate markets may be in for an adjustment as we discover the actual value of millions of properties — many of which will almost certainly plummet in value.
9. More Than a Third of Americans Would Never Buy a Home In a High-Risk Area
A surprising 37% of respondents say not even an amazing price reduction, an exceptional neighborhood, or a great school district could convince them to buy a home in a high-risk area.
A similar awareness is rising in the corporate sphere. As huge corporate property owners begin to assess how climate change affects their portfolios, they’re discovering massive risks, according to a report by McKinsey. One company found that its portfolio would see annual returns reduced by 40% by the end of this decade.
10. Cost Is Still King
When it comes to home-buying priorities, the top spot went to finding an area with a low cost of living, followed by affordable home prices, and proximity to family. Avoiding environmental disaster areas was a distant fourth place.
Although many properties will experience drops in value because of their vulnerability to climate change, others will see increases in value because of their advantageous location. Predicting which markets will decline and which will flourish is going to be a huge consideration for investors going forward.
11. More Than Half of Americans Say Climate Change Has Swayed Their Buying Decisions
More than 3 in 5 Americans (61%) say climate change has influenced where they've moved. The most common consideration was extreme temperatures (24%), followed by hurricanes (24%), flooding (23%), tornadoes (21%), earthquakes (21%), and wildfires (20%).
12. Almost 4 in 10 Americans Don't Consider Climate Change When Moving
A surprising 39% of respondents say climate change-related factors didn’t influence their decision to move, suggesting that many Americans who do believe in climate change still aren’t taking it seriously.
13. Climate Change Deniers Believe It's a Manufactured Political Issue
Among the 6% of respondents who don’t believe in climate change, the top reason is because they think it’s a made up political issue (43%), followed by the belief that it’s a natural cycle of the Earth with no connection to humans (40%). Another 20% don't believe because they haven’t personally felt the effects of climate change.
14. 7 in 10 Americans Believe It’s Not Too Late
An encouraging 69% of respondents say there’s still time to combat climate change, but most understand that it’s too late to avoid any negative consequences. Only 36% say they're confident that they wouldn’t be impacted by serious natural disasters, and only 35% say they're confident their life wouldn’t be affected by climate change.
However, projecting the effects of climate change on specific areas could prove to be a lot more complicated than it seems. Many areas that may not experience natural disasters can still be economically devastated by their effects. For example, another McKinsey study found that the business center of Bristol, England, isn’t vulnerable to climate change-related flooding, but most major transportation routes into the city had a very high risk of flooding.
15. Most Americans Want the U.S. to Do More to Fight Climate Change
Most politicians seem to treat climate change as a contentious issue, but the reality is that an overwhelming majority of Americans want the government to do more. Nearly three quarters of respondents (73%) say they want the U.S. to do more to combat climate change, with 49% saying they want the government to do “much more.”
Thirteen percent say they want the U.S. to do less to fight climate change, an interesting finding considering that only 6% of respondents don’t believe in climate change. There are some people who believe in climate change, but want the U.S. to do less to fight it.
16. Americans Don't Support Higher Taxes to Address Climate Change
Only 26% of Americans say they’d willingly pay higher taxes to fight climate change. Among options for fighting climate change, the most-supported choice was conserving forests and land (59%), followed by conserving bodies of water (54%), investing in renewable energy (52%), giving tax breaks for solar panels (47%), reducing the use of fossil fuels (47%), and investing in green jobs (44%). In fact, among all options, increasing taxes ranked last.
But the money will have to come from somewhere. A McKinsey study estimated it will take $9.2 trillion in annual investment to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Although that’s incredibly expensive, the cost of not mitigating climate change could be even higher.
17. 4 in 5 Americans Would Make Personal Sacrifices to Fight Climate Change
An encouraging 80% of Americans say they'd change their lifestyle to combat climate change. The most popular measures that respondents would be willing to make include recycling (70%), not wasting food (63%), using fewer plastic products (61%), and using less electricity (59%).
The least popular measures were taking public transportation instead of driving (24%) and only banking with companies that don’t invest in fossil fuels (23%).
However, the benefits of going green could offset some of the sacrifices. Achieving net-zero carbon emissions may produce many new supplemental industries. For example, industries such as green energy generation, green retrofitting, green building materials, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and emissions tracking will likely experience rapid development and create millions of jobs.
18. About Half of Climate Change Deniers Recycle Anyway
A surprising 47% of climate change skeptics recycle, suggesting that many people who don't believe in climate change can still be persuaded to participate in green causes.
19. Americans Are Pessimistic About the Planet’s Future
More than half of Americans (57%) believe climate change will force humans to leave the planet in the next 500 years. This pessimism is more common among young people. About 68% of Gen Z respondents think climate change will cause interplanetary migrations, compared to 62% of millennials, and 45% of baby boomers.
20. All Hope Is Not Lost
A solid 69% of Americans say they’re confident that it’s not too late to address climate change.