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How to Talk to Homebuyers About Wildfire Risk
March 22, 2022

How to Talk to Homebuyers About Wildfire Risk

by The CE Shop Team

You Can Help Answer Clients’ Questions About Wildfire Risk in Your Area

As wildfires in the Western United States have become steadily larger and more destructive in recent years, many homeowners are examining the risk that fire could pose to their property. 

Some homebuyers are even taking the threat of natural disasters into account when deciding where to put down roots.

If you’re an agent working in a state where wildfires are common, it’s important for you to be able to answer your clients’ questions about wildfire risk, from the history of blazes in your community to the steps that homeowners can take to help prevent a disaster.

Homebuyers Are Concerned About Natural Disasters

A 2021 survey from Realtor.com found that 78% of recent homebuyers considered the risk of natural disasters, such as tornadoes, severe winter storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and droughts, when deciding where to buy a home.

Additionally, about a third of homeowners said that they’re nervous enough about a future disaster that they’ve considered selling their home, moving, or both.

“It’s really good to see homeowners wanting to know more about the risks of their homes. The risk is invisible,” Tom Larsen, a principal of industry solutions at real estate data firm CoreLogic, told Realtor.com. “Everything has some risk. There is no risk-free home.”

The survey also found that 47% of homeowners are more worried about natural disasters now than they were five years ago.

A 2022 Redfin survey confirmed that the worsening risk of natural disasters is on homeowners’ minds. 

One in 10 people planning to buy or sell a home in the next 12 months said that “climate-related risks,” including hurricanes, floods, wildfires, extreme temperatures, and rising sea levels, are the primary reason for their move, the Redfin survey found. 39% said the risks are a contributing factor.

“As natural disasters become more unavoidable, climate change is top of mind for homeowners in a way it wasn’t 10 years ago or even two years ago,” said Redfin Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather. 

“Moving to homes in neighborhoods with lower risk and away from places with higher risk is a trend that will pick up speed in the next decade as people feel the impact of disasters like fires, floods, and extreme heat both financially and emotionally. It’s expensive to protect your home or to fix water or fire damage, and many homeowners in high-risk areas like parts of California and coastal Texas are exhausted from worrying about the next wildfire or hurricane.”

Living in the Wildland-Urban Interface

Wildfire experts say that fires are no longer confined to a particular season but have become a year-round reality, affecting both forests and grasslands. That was made devastatingly clear following the wildfire in Boulder County, Colorado, which destroyed more than 1,000 homes in late December.

As climate change worsens, extreme wildfires are expected to become even more common, putting millions of Americans’ homes at risk.

Part of the problem is that over the past few decades, an increasing number of people have moved into the wildland-urban interface (WUI), which the Colorado State Forest Service defines as “the area where structures and other human developments meet or intermingle with wildland vegetation.”

Homes in the WUI are often at a higher risk of being consumed by a wildfire. In fact, the U.S. Fire Administration says that more than 46 million homes in 70,000 communities across the United States are at risk for WUI fires.

Between 1990 and 2015, 32 million homes were built in the WUI, NPR reported. As new neighborhoods continue to be developed in these areas, homebuyers must be aware of the risk they’re taking — and as an agent, you can help.

Talking About Wildfire Risk

As an agent, it’s important for you to be transparent and ready to answer any questions that arise about the risk of wildfires in your area. You might initially feel uncomfortable having these conversations, especially if you’re worried about scaring off a potential client, but most buyers will be grateful for your honesty. Not only will you be allowing them to make an informed decision regarding where they live, but your candor will help build a better agent-client relationship.  

29 states require that information about flood risk be disclosed to homebuyers, including whether a property sits in a flood plain or how much flood insurance costs, but only two — California and Oregon — require information about wildfire risk to be disclosed, NPR reported

Because most states don’t require sellers to talk about wildfire risk, it’s up to you to ensure that your homebuyers are armed with the information they need to make the decision to buy.

You should familiarize yourself with home improvement projects that can help mitigate wildfire risk, from removing certain landscaping elements to replacing siding and roofing with materials that are more resistant to fire. Every small step taken by homeowners can make a big difference in preventing a wildfire from spreading.

“Between 60-90% of homes lost to wildfire are due to embers carried by wind ahead of a fire,” The New York Times explains. “If an ember lands on a house, or on mulch beneath a window, or enters an attic through a vent, it can ignite, setting the house on fire.”

In California, homes built in the WUI in the past decade “have been required to have fire-safe features like noncombustible siding and double-sided tempered windows,” The Times notes. But even keeping gutters and roofs clear of leaves and other debris can help.

To learn about the wildfire risk in your area, visit WildfireRisk.org/Explore. The website, which was created by the U.S. Forest Service, has an interactive map that shows the risk to homes. The map isn’t intended to be used to evaluate the risk to individual properties, but it’s an excellent resource for determining the risk to a particular community.

Once you educate yourself on wildfires, you can share relevant information with your clients and encourage them to prepare for a possible disaster. When neighbors are well-informed and work together to mitigate fire risk, they can make their communities safer places to live.

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