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Rising Waters Don’t Scare Off Wealthy Buyers

Baltimore, Maryland, founded as a port, thrived because of its location on the water. Today, high-priced housing, marinas and tourist attractions -- including Harborplace, with its green-roofed pavilions -- ring the Inner Harbor. (Natalie Kornicks/Capital News Service/MCT)

Baltimore, Maryland, founded as a port, thrived because of its location on the water. Today, high-priced housing, marinas and tourist attractions -- including Harborplace, with its green-roofed pavilions -- ring the Inner Harbor. (Natalie Kornicks/Capital News Service/MCT)

Baltimore — Business is good for Steven Murphy. Last year the Baltimore real estate agent sold $45 million worth of property in trendy waterfront neighborhoods including Fells Point, Locust Point and Canton.

Even after Hurricane Sandy inundated New York and New Jersey just last hurricane season; even after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005; and even after Tropical Storm Isabel saturated the streets of Baltimore a couple of years before that, money is flooding into waterfront properties.

Condominiums at new luxury complexes like the Ritz-Carlton Residences, with its own marina, and the lavish 24-story Silo Point condos, with terraces that tower over the harbor, sell for more than $1 million.

Murphy, who has been selling real estate for more than 14 years, could recall just one client saying no to a home because of worries about storm surges. It happened last fall.

“I remember it very well,” Murphy said. “The buyer was looking in the Canton-Fells Point side of town, which is lower on the water table than Federal Hill. But that’s the only time that has ever happened to me,” he said.

After Hurricane Sandy, he said, more people were concerned about flooding. But that, he said, didn’t last long.

“Once the media is on something, it’s high on people’s radars,” he said. “And after a couple of years, people lose that level of concern.”

Federally regulated or insured lenders require flood insurance before they will give a buyer a mortgage for properties in flood plains.

The Baltimore Planning Department’s All-Hazards Plan, which provides information about various potential dangers, says the biggest threat facing the city is flooding.

“Coastal flooding usually occurs as a result of nor’easters and hurricanes, (and) the city has suffered several significant floods that have led to loss of life and significant damage,” according to the plan, adopted in 2004.

But home buyers do not seem worried about floods, and Baltimore does not seem not prepared, said Joseph T. “Jody” Landers III, former executive vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.

“I think more people have decided to move out of Canton and Highlandtown because they can’t find a parking place than because they’re near a flood plain,” Landers said.

Skip Tolley of Real Estate Professionals Inc. takes his clients out to view waterfront properties on his boat, “No Worries.” He said he has never had sellers say they were leaving their home because of worries over sea-level rise.

“Reasons for selling are mostly moving to downsize, moving closer to grandchildren, moving south to warmer weather,” he said, “but never because of rising tide levels.”

Landers, who was a Baltimore city councilman from 1983 to 1991 and who ran for mayor in 2011, said he’s not aware that anyone “has taken a serious look at this issue,” either in trying to deter more development in those areas or in trying to protect against floods.

“It’s like anything else,” he said. “We tend to kind of put things out of our mind unless they are brought to our immediate attention.”

Jagadish Shukla, president of the Institute of Global Environment and Society and a professor of climate dynamics at George Mason University, says the public is simply uninformed.

“They are not ignoring it,” he said. “They are just not aware. We have not done a good job conveying to society what the consequences are.

“My feeling is that people will not ignore (sea-level rise) if it is really explained well,” Shukla said.

Shukla mostly blames the federal government for allowing local governments to give developers permission to build in flood plains “left and right.”