Climate Change Impacting Austin Real Estate Not So Hard to Fathom
By Brendan Long
After graduating from the University of Texas in May 2021, Sami Sparber ran into the same issue many Austin residents are facing – too few places available for rent or sale.
“If you found a place to live, you had to apply right away because within hours or days that unit could be gone,” Sparber said.
Already-rising sales in the Austin housing market were accelerated by the prospect of remote work during the pandemic, allowing families to move anywhere. Afforded freedom of movement, people across the country escaped their living situations to reside in the warm Austin climate. At one point in 2020, there were less than 1,900 homes for sale in Austin. For perspective, there are 18,000 realtors in Austin.
“We’ve had a lot of influx of folks, because they’re coming from extremely cold climates, we’ve had people coming from the California area where they had all the fires,” said Susan Horton, president of the Austin Board of Realtors.
However, the Austin climate has changed mightily over the past few decades. According to data from the National Weather Service, the city had an average of 12 days over 100 degrees in the 1970s. In the present day, that average is now 30 days.
Marc Caudert, who works in the office of sustainability for the city of Austin, says things could get worse before they get better.
“[With] potential wildfires in West Austin, it’s not a question of if it happens, but when it will happen,” Caudert said.
Austin has already seen the effects of a shock weather event. This year’s winter storm caused widespread power outages that resulted in property damage and deaths. While the storm didn’t slow down the real estate boom, it did provide questions for some potential buyers.
“I had several folks want to know about our grid and where a house might be situated to where that house was on a specific grid that didn’t lose power,” Horton said.
As a result, the sales of whole-home generators in Austin have increased dramatically. According to an article from the Austin-American Statesman, the city’s utility provider has received hundreds of requests to install the generators in homes throughout the area.
However, not everyone can afford it. Sustainable building technologies like generators will be more common in places that aren’t affordable, according to Caudert.
That’s where Austin’s recent climate equity plan comes into place. Adopted this September by the City Council, the community-led effort hopes to reach net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2040 in Austin. The strategy focuses on sustainable buildings, transportation and land use, transportation electrification, food and product consumption and natural systems.
Another sustainable building technology that’s gaining traction in the area is water backup. Power outages, floods and zebra mussels have all caused problems for Austin water supply the past few years. Sometimes that’s led to boil water notices and even outages, like during the winter storm. According to Caudert, problems like this could become more common.
“We do live in a flash flood alley,” Caudert said.
In 2018, the National Weather Service conducted a historical rainfall study for the Central Texas region that showed flooding was much more possible than previously thought. It’s for reasons like these Caudert says it’s the most concerning effect of climate change for potential homeowners.
Beyond the advocacy done by the city’s office of sustainability, one of the best things Austinites can do for climate change is to prepare for all scenarios.
“Do what you can to make sure that you and your family are safe,” Caudert said. “That is, looking at your house, building a kit, making a plan, know your neighbors, and just be aware of potential climate dangers.”