How to Develop Real Estate in Coastal Areas with Rising Sea Levels?

March 31, 2024

As global temperatures continue to rise, the issue of climate change has become increasingly pertinent. One of the most visible and concerning manifestations of climate change is the rise in sea levels. This environmental crisis presents a unique challenge for real estate developers, particularly those operating in coastal areas. But how should you, as real estate professionals, navigate these turbulent waters? This guide will walk you through the complex issue.

Understanding the Risk

Before exploring potential solutions, it’s important to understand the risk that rising sea levels pose to coastal real estate. Rising sea levels threaten to inundate low-lying areas, causing extensive property damage and potentially rendering some areas uninhabitable.

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The World Bank estimates that 140 million people could be displaced by 2050 due to rising sea levels. In the United States alone, more than 300,000 homes, worth almost $120 billion, are at risk of chronic flooding in the next 30 years according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. These figures highlight the gravity of the situation and underscore the need for prudent real estate development strategies in coastal areas.

Adapting Building Designs

One effective approach to combat the threat of rising sea levels is to adapt the design of houses and buildings. This involves incorporating elements into the design of homes that make them resistant to flooding.

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One such design technique is known as ‘amphibious architecture’, where a house is built to float on the water in the event of a flood. The house remains grounded under normal conditions, but can rise with the water level during a flood. This innovative approach could prove crucial in safeguarding properties against the destructive impact of rising sea levels.

Integrating Green Infrastructure

A key part of your strategy should be to integrate green infrastructure into your developments. This refers to the creation of natural spaces that can absorb or redirect excess water, reducing the risk of flooding.

For instance, creating wetlands around a property can act as a buffer against rising sea levels. These natural barriers can absorb water and slow the rate at which it reaches properties. Similarly, the construction of green roofs and rain gardens can help to absorb rainwater and reduce runoff.

Investing in Protective Infrastructure

In addition to green infrastructure, investing in protective infrastructure is another key measure you can take. This could involve constructing sea walls, levees and flood barriers to protect properties from rising water levels.

However, while such infrastructure can offer some level of protection, they cannot completely eliminate the risk. Therefore, protective infrastructure should be seen as part of a multi-faceted approach to mitigating the impact of rising sea levels on coastal real estate.

Choosing the Right Locations

Finally, careful consideration needs to be given to the location of new developments. This involves studying flood zone maps and sea level rise projections to identify areas that are less likely to be affected by rising sea levels.

By strategically selecting locations, you can reduce the risk to your investment and ensure the longevity of your properties. However, it’s important to remember that projections can change and what is considered a safe area today may not be so in the future.

In conclusion, developing real estate in coastal areas amid rising sea levels is a complex issue that requires careful planning and innovative solutions. By understanding the risks, adapting building designs, integrating green and protective infrastructure, and choosing the right locations, you can navigate these challenges and continue to successfully develop properties in these areas.

Long Term Planning and Insurance

Preparing for the long term effects of climate change and rising sea levels is crucial in the real estate market, particularly in coastal areas. Long term preparation involves two main aspects: future-proof construction and flood insurance coverage.

For construction, considerations such as the sustainability of building materials, elevation of properties, and long term maintenance plans come into play. These are aimed at ensuring the properties remain habitable and valuable in the face of rising sea levels. For example, using durable materials that can withstand water exposure can minimize the damage caused by potential flooding. Additionally, building properties on elevated platforms or stilt-like structures can keep them clear of rising waters.

Flood insurance, on the other hand, is a critical aspect of financial preparedness for property owners in exposed areas. According to the National Flood Insurance Program, flooding is the most common and costly natural disaster in the United States. Therefore, having a flood insurance policy in place provides property owners with a safety net, helping to protect their investments in the event of a flood.

However, it’s worth noting that the cost of flood insurance can significantly impact property values in coastal areas, with premiums potentially skyrocketing due to the increased risk. Hence, it’s important to factor this into the overall financial planning of coastal real estate investments.

Market Trends and Customer Preferences

Understanding the market trends and customer preferences associated with coastal properties can help real estate professionals navigate the challenges of rising sea levels more effectively. As more people become aware of climate change and its impacts, consumer behavior and preferences are shifting.

For instance, there’s been an increased demand for environmentally friendly homes and properties. This means that properties incorporating green technology and sustainable design are likely to be more attractive to buyers. Additionally, properties in areas that are implementing measures to combat sea level rise, such as coastal restoration projects and protective infrastructure, are also likely to be more appealing.

Moreover, a growing number of buyers are becoming cautious about purchasing properties in areas at high risk of flooding. Therefore, investing in properties located in less exposed areas can be a wise decision. However, it’s important to keep in mind that ‘less exposed’ doesn’t mean ‘risk-free’. Always conduct a thorough risk assessment before making any property investment decision.


In summary, developing real estate in areas susceptible to rising sea levels requires a meticulous, forward-thinking approach. It’s essential to understand the risks, adapt building designs, invest in protective and green infrastructure, carefully select property locations, plan for the long term, and stay abreast of market trends and customer preferences.

Although the challenges are significant, with careful planning and innovative thinking, it’s possible to continue to successfully develop and manage coastal properties. By doing so, real estate professionals can not only protect their investments but also contribute positively to the fight against climate change.