This story was originally published in Builder.

If land acquisition and real estate investment strategists didn't already have enough on their plates, what with polar opposite mixed-signals on the economic horizon line, now there's this.

What to make of the location of building lots and their relative susceptibility to weather and disaster events, and the fact that the frequency of these events seems to be accelerating?

One study uses evidence that disaster risk has begun to determine winners and losers in real estate value.

Another deep analysis of data, human behavior, and land values reaches an almost opposite conclusion--indicating that people are still anteing up top-dollar for residential sites even if the known disaster risk is high in those locations.

What does this mean when it comes to land strategy in an environment where it already takes too long to bring land parcels online for vertical development, and where entitlement risk already ranks as a big red flag for forward-modeling of business activity?

Yesterday, a CNBC report from correspondents Diana Olick and Erica Posse focused on work being done by Harvard's Jesse Keenan, which observes that those with wherewithal are literally gravitating toward a "high-ground" in real estate, versus lower-elevation coastal areas considered to be more flood prone. Olick and Posse write:

"What we see here is a theory of climate gentrification that suggests that in Miami, higher elevation land will be worth more," said Harvard University's Jesse Keenan, who co-authored the first peer-reviewed study offering evidence of the existence of a climate change signal in the real estate market.

The study tracked the values of more than 100,000 single-family homes across Miami going back 45 years.

"What we found is that the higher elevation properties are essentially worth more now, and increasingly will be worth more in the future," Keenan said. "Populations, including speculative real estate investment will densify in these high elevation areas."

Keenan claims home values on Miami's coast are already worth 10 percent less now than they would be if climate change didn't exist.

Almost diametrically opposite to Keenan's theory--which would suggest that free-market dynamics are reshaping property valuations as climate impacts play out, creating winners and losers based on relative elevation levels in coastal areas--another analysis questions whether proximity and relative exposure to disaster risk plays any role at all in determining the desirability--and value--of property.

UNLV research economist Shawn McCoy focuses his study not on coastal flood plains, but rather on the areas currently getting headlines thanks to the monstrous scorching wildfires that have put so many homes and communities at risk in the Western and northwest regions of the United States. An article in UNLV's news center by Keyonna Summers spotlights McCoy's counterintuitive behavioral economic findings when it comes to property and land values and disaster risk.

“To the extent that homeowners value the environmental amenities in these high-risk areas,” McCoy said, “if the market participants systematically underestimate the likelihood of a fire, we may observe inefficiently increased rates of housing development in forested areas, as well as a potential decrease in the willingness among existing homeowners to take the steps needed to prevent fire from impacting their homes.”

McCoy said it is unlikely that media coverage of the recent fires in California will bring about lasting changes in homeowners’ subjective beliefs of a fire impacting their property.

“Despite an initial drop in real estate prices in risk-prone areas, the results of our study suggest that homebuyers’ initial fears about fire risk will fade, and development in risk areas may continue to increase,” he said. “This is a problem: A lot of recent work shows that wildfires are not just a result of changes in global climates, but also rapid housing development into forested lands.”

Now, Russell McIntyre holds the title senior professional, policy researcher and strategy analysis for CoreLogic Government and Public Affairs, and he's made it his business to connect the dots between what Mother Nature's up to and what people are paying for real estate where Mother Nature's especially active these days. McIntyre writes:

The frequency of these disasters is increasing, with meteorologists already saying that 2018 will be another busy, above average hurricane season. But it’s not just about hurricanes – we have to be prepared for all types of major catastrophes – the recent California wildfire season has been disastrous for millions of families, the May 2017 hail event in Denver led to $1.4 billion in losses, and there’s a 72% chance of a magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake striking the San Francisco Bay region in the next 25 years. To prepare, we need to properly assess risk in order to mitigate damage as much as possible, ensuring a quicker and less painful recovery process.

This litany of issues doesn't even go so far as to include drought and its expanding impacts on land valuations, property values, and home prices.

It's open-mike time. Your thoughts on what all this means for buyers of land for eventual residential development and construction are welcome.

What are the questions to ask as the rate of these disasters increases?

What are investors' and developers and land planners' strategies and responsibilities, especially given the fact that people's memories, when it comes to valuing properties that may be intensely at risk, seem to be incredibly short-term?

How are land strategists navigating climate and community development, and what factors figure into calculations, negotiations, and decisions on whether or not a land investment is prone to disaster disruption?

These days a deal not only needs to pencil, it may also need to float, withstand wildfire, endure seismic activity, and have a water supply. Or not. Maybe, buyers will line up for it if it has none of those factors, but instead has a great view.

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