Saturday, July 13, 2013

Buying a South Florida House in a Time of Sea Level Rise

We have  finally closed on our new house.  It was probably not the greatest week to read this article in "Rolling Stone" about what rising sea levels will do to South Florida, although it wasn't new information to me.  I love the way the article concludes: 

"Stuart compares Miami with Baiae, the ancient Roman resort town in the bay of Naples that was once a playground for Nero and Julius Ceasar. Today, because of volcanic activity, the ruins of Baiae are mostly under water. 'This is what humans do,' says Stuart. 'We inhabit cities, and then when something happens, we move on. The same thing will happen with Miami. The only question is, how long can we stick it out?" But for Stuart, who lives in Miami Beach, the fact that the city is doomed doesn't diminish his love for the place. 'That's the thing about Miami,' he says. 'You'll want to be here until the very end.'"

When I was first learning about sea level rise and its implications for South Florida, I wanted to move to higher ground.  Much higher ground, like, say, Asheville, North Carolina.  But then I had a friend in the NC mountains who had a worse hurricane season than we did.  A hurricane (Dennis?) came ashore in the Florida panhandle and zoomed on up to North Carolina, where it did enormous damage, with lots of rain and wind and trees crashing down.

I realized, not for the first time, how interconnected we all are, and how there will really be no place to hide. 

If you want to see how sea level rise might affect where you live or the coastal places you love, you could have fun/horror playing with this interactive map.  You can plug in your zip code, and you can zoom in on your street.

So, here's the thing.  My old house will be one of the last ones to be inundated by the seas.  We're in a high point, such as high points are, in Hollywood.

Our new house is less than a mile from the Atlantic Ocean (.65 miles to be exact).  There's a barrier island between the Atlantic and the mainland (Hollywood Beach, which shares similar geography to the Miami Beach described in the "Rolling Stone" article).  There have been days in the house buying process where I've wondered if we were making the right choice.

But our old neighborhood, which has always been an interesting mix of shady, marginal, funky, full of potential, has other issues which affect the property value more immediately.  Our new house, which is in a stable, historic neighborhood, will appreciate and prove to be a much better investment, barring catastrophe.

We're betting that we can get several decades of enjoyment out of the house before catastrophe.  I know that we're risking never getting our money back, because we may not be able to sell ahead of the coming sea level rise catastrophe.  Just as it's tough to time the stock market, it's tough to know exactly when to sell a house.

But it was clear that the time had come to buy, if we were going to make a move.  We locked in our interest rate before they rose too much.  We got a good deal on our house--not as good a deal as we could have gotten a year or two ago, but we weren't financially situated to do this a year or two ago.  Until January of 2012, we had a condo in a 55+ building that we'd had trouble selling and that we couldn't rent out because of building restrictions.  And once we sold it, we still couldn't have immediately bought something else.  You need a big chunk of money these days to buy a house, and we had to bring money to the closing where we sold the condo.  Yes, that's not the way that closings should work, but after years of unsuccessfully trying to sell the condo, we were relieved.

So, now we begin the process of moving to the new house, getting rid of the possessions that won't fit in the new house, and selling the old house.  I'm a bit spooked because of our condo experience, but I remind myself that even if we can't sell, we can rent it out.

Yes, I know that there are hassles with being a landlord; I've done it before when stuck with a house we couldn't sell when the Navy base pulled out of Charleston.  It was the easiest money I've ever made.  I know all the ways it could have gone terribly wrong but it didn't.

And if we have to keep this house and rent it out, then we'll still have a house in the highest point in Hollywood!

And it's probably time to start thinking about buying something outside the state of Florida, something on higher ground.  I still can't shake this dream of a big plot of land, even though I know I'd probably not enjoy the farming life that my relatives were happy to escape a few generations ago.  The idea of a retreat center or an artistic colony still calls to me. 

But for now, my job is here, and there are many days I think it may be the last traditional job (by which I mean a job with a steady paycheck and benefits) I'll ever have, as I've watched these kinds of jobs vanish.  While I have it, I'll make the most of it.

And I'll enjoy my new house, where I can walk to the beach and read by the pool that's in my new back yard.

A month ago this very day, the appraiser fell into that pool.  Yes, you read that correctly.  To get the mortgage, we needed the appraisal to come in at a certain price, and we knew it might be close.  And then, the appraiser falls in the pool.

Happily, she didn't hold it against us or the house.  And it could have been so much worse.  She wasn't hurt, just wet.

Yes, it's been a very strange journey.  Happily, it's been full of moments, like the appraiser falling into the pool, that could have been worse, but turned out OK.  Maybe later, I'll write a blog post or two about it.

But for now, there's packing to do and cleaning to do (the seller hasn't really been living at the house, so it has the dusty, unlived-in feel).  Should we paint the house before we move in?  We have the paint left over from a kitchen project.  If we're going to paint, it would be easier before we move the furniture over.

And in between, I'll take refreshing dips in the pool, and maybe a stroll down to the beach, where the seas stay offshore, for now.  And I'll say a prayer of thanks that Tropical Storm Chantal didn't develop into something larger, and I'll say a prayer of supplication that we enjoy a quiet period of hurricane seasons, years and years if possible.  I'll continue to live in hope that the planet can heal itself and that it won't involve drowning us all.

1 comment:

Susan Rich said...

Congratulations! It sounds divine. Very happy for you!