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Redfin Report: Homebuyers Seek Fresh Air

Feb 12, 2024
The real estate industry mantra “location, location, location” took on a rather toxic hue with ATTOM Data Solutions’ third annual Environmental Hazards Housing Risk Index
News Director

Migration patterns shift amid climate concerns, with air quality emerging as a factor in homebuying decisions.

Housing affordability has plummeted over the past few years and homebuyers are are looking for a bargain, but a new Redfin report says they're also looking for fresher air. 

While migration patterns might align more closely to work and family, air quality is also becoming a concern for some. 

Redfin published a report that shows about one million more people moved out of, rather than into, U.S. metros with high risk from poor air quality between 2021 and 2022, while low risk metros saw one million more people move in than out. 

The areas facing high risk from poor air quality are concentrated in the American West, which is grappling with intensifying wildfires, and many are in expensive states like California. Redfin found that the median home sale price in metros at high risk for poor air quality was $563,710 as of December 2023, which is 65% higher than the $341,483 median sale price in low risk metros.

Transparency around climate risks has the potential to impact which homes people choose to live in. A Redfin study from 2022 found that homebuyers who have access to flood-risk information when browsing home listings online are more likely to view and make offers on homes with lower flood risk than those who don’t have access.

“Deciding where to live is all about prioritization. With housing costs hovering near their record high, the top priority for many homebuyers is getting a good deal,” Redfin Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather said. “Even when homebuyers do consider climate change, poor air quality often isn’t top of mind because it’s not as visibly destructive as hazards like flooding and fires. But as the dangers of climate change intensify, we will likely see more people factor air quality and other disaster risks into their decisions about where to settle down.”

A Redfin-commissioned survey fielded in May-June 2023 found that 9% of recent U.S. home sellers cited concerns about climate change as a reason for their move. Other reasons were still more common. The top three answers were more space (31%), proximity to family (24%) and getting a better deal on a home (20%).

There are roughly 14 million U.S. properties (about 10% of all properties) that are estimated to have at least a week of poor air quality per year, and almost six million of those face at least two weeks. Some places grapple with months of unhealthy air. Fresno, CA is expected to have over two months of poor air quality in a bad year under current environmental conditions, and more than three months 30 years from now, primarily due to wildfire smoke.

From 2000 to 2023, an average of nearly seven million acres burned in U.S. wildfires each year, up from roughly three million from 1983 to 1999, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. 

During the pandemic, soaring housing costs in the Seattle area forced many residents to seek housing elsewhere. However, the worsening threat of wildfires has also played a significant role in prompting some individuals, including Fairweather, to relocate. 

She eventually relocated to Wisconsin. While initially enjoying clean air, her newfound sanctuary was not immune to environmental challenges. In June 2023, the region found itself engulfed in unhealthy smoke emanating from Canadian wildfires.

“There’s no such thing as a climate haven,” Fairweather said. “Climate change is making its mark everywhere on Earth. The Midwest may be protected from sea level rise, but it’s still vulnerable to storms, heat waves, drought and now smoke. The best thing homeowners can do is be prepared: do your research on which climate dangers impact your area and what investments you can make to insulate your family and home from those risks.”

The issue of poor air quality is not confined to wildfires alone. For instance, Los Angeles faces risks associated with O3 pollution. With Los Angeles County projected to experience 21 days of orange+ air quality due to O3 this year-- the second-highest in the nation-- the area saw a significant exodus of 337,757 residents between 2021 and 2022, driven in part by concerns over air quality and the region's exorbitant housing costs.

Despite the concentration of high air quality risk in the Western U.S., other regions of the country are not exempt from climate-related threats. While certain areas may not face "high" air quality risks, they are still susceptible to various climate dangers.

For instance, metros like Phoenix, Dallas, Tampa, Austin, San Antonio, and North Port experienced substantial population growth between 2021 and 2022. Although these areas do not face high air quality risks, they are not devoid of environmental concerns. Dallas, for instance, faces a range of climate hazards, including extreme temperatures and the highest number of fires in 2022. Similarly, Phoenix grapples with a severe water shortage, while Tampa and North Port contend with flooding, storms, and insurance coverage issues.

Redfin's analysis also revealed a surge in population growth in flood-prone counties. These flood-prone metros, often more affordable than those endangered by poor air quality, have witnessed a notable increase in migration, highlighting the complex interplay between climate risks and housing dynamics across the nation.

About the author
Christine Stuart is the news director at NMP.
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