Search For Climate Havens Spark One Of The Hottest Property Booms
One Of The Hottest Property Booms Is Being Driven By Rising Temperatures. Search For Climate Havens Spark One Of The Hottest Property Booms
Home prices are rising along France’s north-west coast, where people from Paris are arriving to escape costly urban life and sizzling summers.
In the popular imagination, the picture-perfect French country home is nestled among lavender fields on the slopes of Provence or perched near the crystal-blue waters of the Mediterranean.
But as residents of Paris — much like their peers in New York, London or San Francisco during the pandemic — gravitate toward a more bucolic and affordable lifestyle, they’re looking beyond the glamorous Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in the south.
They’re increasingly hunting for homes in France’s north-west, boosting the housing market in previously staid Brittany, Normandy and the Loire Valley.
These northern regions are experiencing some of the fastest house-price growth in the country. Prices in Brittany, for example, grew 13.5% over the past two years, according to data from real estate aggregator Meilleurs Agents. Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur’s growth was just 6% during that same period.
“It’s a mix of climate change driving people to cooler climates and urban folks tired of city life,” said Solenne Guezenec, a communications manager at real estate firm Barnes Nantes-La Baule. She has seen a jump in the number of Parisians leaving the capital for La Baule, a now much sought-after seaside town in the Loire region.
The English have long flocked to Brittany, especially to the northern Cotes-d’Armor region, according to a 2017 study from France’s national statistics agency. About 12,000 British nationals resided in Brittany in 2016, up from 5,000 people in 1999.
Yet that number could decrease as people fear for their status under Brexit rules, said Maggie Fee from the Association Intégration Kreiz Breizh, a local non-profit that helps new residents settle in Brittany.
“Some people are afraid they won’t qualify for residency, others don’t want to cope with the added stress,” she said. She has noticed fewer arrivals this year from the U.K. and some British people moving back home.
Parisians Seek Escape
In France, the north-west was previously looked down on for its wet and volatile weather — it evoked English artist J.M.W. Turner’s paintings of cold, stormy coasts rather than the sun-dappled beauty of the Route Cézanne.
But as rising temperatures roasted large swathes of the country the past few summers, the region has boasted more moderate temperatures and clear sunny days.
Other reasons are also driving the move. Some city dwellers felt unsafe after a spate of terrorist attacks in France over 2015 and 2016. Besides, Paris was only getting ever more expensive while apartments seemed to get smaller.
Like almost everywhere else in the world, lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic brought on a craving for more outdoor space and fresh air, and presented the possibility of remote work. Provence and the French Riviera are for tourists, celebrities and the ultra-rich.
“People just really want to breathe,” said Guezenec.
Take Marie Bedhet, a 38-year-old dress designer who was living in La Courneuve, a Paris suburb. After becoming disillusioned with city life, she and her partner Antoine sold their house and traveled around the country in a trailer with their two kids for a year.
When they wanted to settle down, she found her dream spot: the Cap Sizun, in the western tip of Brittany.
“One day we stopped our truck in front of a beach and Antoine turned to me and asked ‘How do you feel about settling down here?.’ So we did,” she said. “It’s paradise here.”
Demand from buyers like Bedhet have boosted home prices. In Brittany, they’ve risen 7.2% to to 2,996 euros ($3,545) per square meter in just the past year, according to data from Meilleurs Agents.
Manche in Normandy, home to the port town made famous by the Catherine Deneuve-starrer “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” has seen a 5.9% increase to 3,110 euros. Prices in the Atlantic Coast region, home to Ile de Ré, La Rochelle and the Arcachon Bay, grew 5.6% to 4,372 euros.
Living In ‘Vacation Land’
Young families as well as retirees who have moved are “living all year long in vacation land,” Barnes’ Guezenec said. Better internet infrastructure and faster trains have made the move possible, with some people taking the three-hour train to Paris once or twice a week for business meetings.
Foreign capital and the lack of new construction in large cities like Paris have also made life unaffordable for some, said local Brittany real estate agent Martin Becker.
Those who called Brittany home before it came into vogue aren’t all ecstatic about the influx of new residents. Marie Jolivet, a 28-year-old resident of Audierne, a quaint port town in Brittany’s far west, said it was difficult to find a place she and her partner could afford this past year.
“Prices went up like crazy, people from the cities were buying without even visiting the place,” she said, “It was something we had never seen before.”
Jolivet says people are coming up north partly because it’s too hot in the south. “Here we have cool summers,” she said.
She finally found a place she could afford, in Cléden-Cap-Sizun, a borough by the land’s end, for 160,000 euros, with an estimated 100,000 euros worth of construction needed to make the place livable.
“Locals have had a hard time digesting the news,” said real estate agent Becker. “It’s taking them longer to find their dream house.”
That’s not stopping the inflow. Sylvie Lesgourgues, a painter, lived in Paris for 40 years before she decided to relocate to Brittany. The 62-year-old said she felt opportunities to sell her art in the city were waning, and she couldn’t afford to pay 1,000 euros a month for her one-bed apartment in the hip 19th arrondissement.
With 60,000 euros from her late parents’ home in Normandy, Lesgourgues bought a 220 square meter house in Audierne, and moved there with her husband. She’s planning to spend another 22,000 euros on renovation.
Since her move to Audierne, she says “I sell my art really well. I also give classes. As a young retiree, I found work again. I really feel like I’m living again.”
Where Climate And Covid Migration Converge
Sleepy Humboldt County, on the northern edge of the California coast, is seeing a surge in housing demand that it doesn’t have the infrastructure to accommodate.
Living in Sonoma County, Jane Fusek was constantly haunted by fire. She’d never had her home destroyed, but she’d been evacuated more than once. She watched her brother lose everything in the 2015 Valley Fire, and a friend lose their in-laws to another.
“To live in the community then afterwards, it’s just you constantly — you get reminders of this tragedy over and over again,” she said. After the 2019 Kincade Fire, Fusek reached her breaking point. She was retired, renting alone and dealing with multiple sclerosis.
“I have to really take care of myself,” said Fusek, now 73. “And to live in a place that turns out to be stressful half of the year was not helping at all. I just needed to get out of there and get out of the smoke.”
First she moved to Fort Bragg, a former military outpost on the California coast near where her sister had settled. Then the pandemic hit, housing prices surged, and she was pushed farther north in search of somewhere she could afford to buy a home: Humboldt County.
Home to towering redwoods, lush marijuana fields, swirling fog, Bigfoot rumors and indigenous tribal land, Humboldt County has a deep quietness to it — eerie and peaceful in turn. As the West contends with climate change, Covid and a housing crunch, the county, located 250 miles north of the farthest edges of the Bay Area, has become a refuge.
But migration has also strained its already limited housing supply, leaving people like Fusek to compete with wealthier Bay Area evacuees who are able to work remotely, and longtime residents who are trying to hold onto their properties.
“We’re seeing the market just act like it never has before,” said Gregg Foster, the executive director of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission. “When realtor.com and the Wall Street Journal lists Humboldt County as one of the top 20 hot markets in the nation, you’re just like, what? Us? Are you kidding me?”
The factors that have made other areas in the U.S. more unlivable have only bolstered Humboldt’s appeal. While climate change has brought heat waves to much of the U.S., warming temperatures have made Humboldt milder than it used to be, piercing the once-constant fog and leading to more temperate days. Its isolated location on the coast and its concentration of old-growth redwoods and native trees make it less vulnerable to fires than its inland neighbors.
But its acres of native forests and its limited accessibility also make it harder for the county to support rapid growth. Houses built with redwood logs are sturdy and old and tend to stay in families for generations. After years of little turnover or new construction, inventory has stayed low. And now, demand has surged.
“It’s a little bit of everything. It’s just been a housing crisis here for years,” said Brett Watson, the mayor of Arcata, where he moved in 2006. “It’s just gotten more expensive.”
As Humboldt County joins the ranks of regions whose role as a climate haven makes them a target for rising property values, it is also contending with an influx of remote workers who’ve migrated up the coast. The pandemic-spurred “Zoom Boom” has hit western areas including Lake Tahoe, which straddles California and Nevada; and Missoula, Montana. It has also turned California cities like Sacramento and Stockton into appealing places to start a family. But Humboldt isn’t a resort town, or a Bay Area-adjacent hub.
“We don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate people — short term or long term,” said Annalise von Borstel, a real estate agent based in Eureka, who helped Fusek find her home. After a slowdown during the beginning of the pandemic, things started ramping up in January. By June 2021, “it was just a runaway train,” she said.
Housing costs in Humboldt County leapt more than 16% over the past year, according to Zillow, at $387,575 for a typical home in June 2021; housing prices in Eureka and Arcata, the county’s two largest population centers, grew by 18% and 13%, respectively. While making homes more unattainable for locals, these prices can seem particularly attractive for Bay Area transplants, for whom buying an average home can easily reach (or top) $1 million.
Fusek started looking for a home in September 2020, and was outbid on a dozen offers before closing on a house in McKinleyville in December, sight unseen. “I could tell that things were going to just get worse,” she said. “People had somehow discovered Humboldt and they were now just making [cash] offers way over the original asking price. If I had started looking maybe just a few months later, I probably wouldn’t be able to afford it.”
Other factors will soon likely make housing even tighter. Humboldt State University, the largest employer in the area, is planning to increase its technical offerings to become a polytechnic institution. As part of that designation, it’s poised to receive more than $450 million in investments from the state to build more labs and research capacity, and eventually increase its student population by 6,000 to 8,000 people. The university has its own plans to add about 2,000 units, but von Borstel says it won’t be enough to house the new students, faculty and staff — and it won’t be built fast enough.
“I know that the president of HSU and [College of the Redwoods] are aware of this issue and are trying to be proactive, but this should have happened years ago. So we’re behind the ball,” she said.
Already, HSU students have had trouble staying in the area after graduation because of the lack of housing and jobs to support them. A large new data center has plans to build and hire up in Arcata, and Google has invested in an undersea fiber optic cable that will connect Eureka and Singapore and lay the groundwork for more tech development.
That’s a mixed blessing for the county, says Foster. “As a community we’re having some success in terms of job growth and new companies,” he said. “And we’re like huh, well, where are we going to put all these people?”
Foster says local businesses have long had trouble matching their workforce needs to the population that can afford to live nearby. Short-term rental housing has long been in short supply, but with a housing market so hot, some owners are selling properties out from under renters.
“From lower income to higher income levels, we really need housing in all areas of the spectrum,” said Watson, the Arcata mayor.
The region is turning inward to look at creative ways to increase supply. Eureka has been easing its regulations on accessory dwelling units (second apartments on the same lot as single-family homes), which will pave the way for more small-scale construction, says Brandon Brown, a local Remax agent. And residents are starting to open their doors.
Three years ago — before the pandemic and the day Bay Area skies turned orange — Michelle Healy was living in Vallejo, California, when she had a premonition that she and her family had to go north, and that others would be following close behind.
So she moved to Arcata, where she renovated two buildings with her family. One is a craftsman house with two bedrooms, where she lives with her dog, Cooper; the other is a four-unit, two-story building that she rents out. The units’ walls are made with old growth redwood planks, and native plants bloom in the backyard.
Though she’s gotten requests to rent rooms out to everyone from electric company linemen to film directors, she’s prioritized opening her doors to first responders, offering lodging for those who travel there temporarily to meet the region’s growing essential needs, from fighting fires inland to manning hospital beds.
Her place has been booked for the last two and a half years. Now she’s started connecting with other people in the neighborhood to see if they have any extra rooms.
As California’s current fire season continues to worsen — the month-old Dixie Fire is now the second-largest in state history — Fusek is relieved to be settled where she is.
She doesn’t envision Humboldt ever becoming a booming metropolis, and predicts that some of the Covid transplants who moved in for a season might boomerang back after dealing with the fog and the wind and the remoteness. But she also sees her friends and family who live in high fire risk areas eyeing the drive north more seriously.
“It’s a very, very hard decision for people to make to try to upend yourself,” she said. “But I told them they have a place to come, if they need to get away.”
With Climate Change, There May Be No Best Place To Live
If you’re looking to move somewhere in the U.S. to ride out the climate apocalypse, bad news: The list is growing shorter.
Climate change is having a breakout performance this year. Throughout the U.S., the slow-motion calamity long described in scientific studies and news articles has been visible to the naked eye or felt on tingling flesh — here too wet, there too dry, everywhere too hot.
It’s only human to wonder where the higher, safer ground might be. Where to run?
The Answer: No one really knows. It’s not just that the map of places prone to extreme events is expanding, making the question both more pertinent and more difficult. It’s that, even as the reality of global climate change becomes ever more certain, predicting its local effects remains anything but a sure bet.
Consider America’s two Portlands — Oregon and Maine. Tucked into the northwest and northeast corners of the Lower 48, each was thought to be a safe haven from the ravages of climate change. Not anymore.
In 2011, students in an urban studies class at Portland State University in Oregon were asked to consider the future impact of climate change on the region. Their 93-page report states:
Climate change impacts in Oregon are predicted to be less severe than in other areas of the country. Generally, models project warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers in the Willamette Valley and other areas west of the Cascade Range. This will likely make the Willamette Valley a more desirable place for environmentally displaced people to locate.
Indeed, the Northwest is often cited as a potential retreat from climate chaos. The Willamette Valley, which runs from Portland south to Eugene, remains a very desirable location; about 70% of Oregonians live there. But the term “hotter, drier summers” has taken on some unexpected detail in recent months.
Fires have burned 380,000 acres of Oregon this year, following a hot, dry and fiery 2020. A half dozen major fires still burn in the state. Air quality is a major concern throughout Oregon.
At one point this summer, it was considered good news that the smoke from forest fires was so heavy that the dense cloud that resulted might reduce temperatures by a degree or two.
In June, Portland reached a record 116 degrees in the midst of a freakish heat wave. The temperature, which followed record-breaking highs on each of the two previous days, could have been worse. In the village of Lytton, British Columbia, 400 miles north of Portland, the temperature hit 121 degrees. Even Seattle experienced triple-digit heat on three consecutive days.
As the Guardian reported, the heat wave “put a torch to a comforting bromide that the region would be a mild, safe haven from the ravages of the climate crisis.”
The heat wave of 2021 may eventually be viewed as a dividing line between the Before and After Times in the Northwest.
“The problem with calling this a once-in-a-1000-year event is that the climate system is not in a balanced state,” the Oregon Climate Office tweeted in June. “The past is no longer a reliable guide for the future. These events are becoming more frequent and intense, a trend projected to continue.”
Portland, Maine, is another place that has received attention as a potential refuge from climate chaos. It makes sense. Portland is cool and coastal while being less vulnerable to the sea rise that is already complicating life in many East Coast cities.
As one climate scientist told the New York Times in 2016: “Portland is high enough that certainly for the next few centuries it’s not going to have significant sea-level rise.”
On the other hand, Portland is not exactly balmy, with an average low temperature in January of 13 degrees. So any prospect of the city getting colder is cause for concern.
To understand how that could happen, it’s necessary to understand the evolution of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, the ocean current system of which the Gulf Stream is a part. The AMOC, as it’s known, transports warm surface waters up the East Coast of North America before crossing the Atlantic to Northern Europe.
A study published in August in the journal Nature Climate Change notes that, over the last century, “the AMOC may have evolved from relatively stable conditions to a point close to a critical transition.” The change to the AMOC is related to a North Atlantic “cold blob” created by a melting Greenland ice sheet and greater rainfall in the region.
“The warm, salty Gulf Stream feeds into the northward flowing current that forms the upper limb of the AMOC in the northern North Atlantic,” writes Columbia University oceanographer Arnold Gordon in an email.
But not all of the Gulf Stream flows north into the AMOC. Part of it turns south. “The ratio of the northward flowing limb and the southward flowing limb varies,” Gordon writes. With climate change, he writes, “the models suggest less will go northward.”
The potential outcome of this global atmospheric and underwater turmoil is colder water off the coast of Portland. Instead of getting a little warmer from climate change, Gordon writes, Maine’s largest city might get a little cooler. Scandinavia and the U.K. might get a lot cooler.
The unreliability of micro trends within a relentlessly advancing macro trend of global climate change is a recurring feature of scientific discussions. Earlier this year I talked to hydrologist Lisa Micheli, CEO of the Pepperwood Preserve, a climate research project in Sonoma, California.
Northern California’s drought has been severe and pervasive. In recent years, fire has twice scorched the preserve where Micheli works.
Yet Micheli made a point of noting that uncertainty, as much as anything, still calls the tune. As parched and smoky as the local climate is, it still has the potential to change radically from the path it has been traveling, ultimately becoming wetter instead of drier.
The city is at low risk of environmental disasters.” A headline from the Idaho Statesman this month offers a somewhat different take: “More Wildfire Smoke, Poor Air Quality for Boise. As Summer Lingers, When Will It Clear?”
Meanwhile the West Coast and Northeast, where more than 100 million Americans reside, have also had a rough summer, with intimations of rougher times to come.
In the West, dry land and intense heat are making fires hotter, more voracious and harder to fight. In California alone, 2 million acres have burned in 2021, with 3,000 structures destroyed. Given that last year was the hottest and most destructive in California history, the pattern is not encouraging.
In the East, New Jersey and New York are drying out after rains and floods that left death, destruction and a knot of insurance claims in their wake. On Sept. 1, Hurricane Ida dropped as much rain in Central Park in an hour, 3.15 inches, as Chicago typically gets for the whole month of September.
(Ida broke the record established in New York just the week before by Tropical Storm Henri.) More than 50 died as the remnants of Ida visited the Northeast, most in highly built environments that might once have seemed impervious to nature.
As global climate changes in locally threatening ways, millions of Americans will experience freakish weather events, and the particulars of that lived reality will increasingly exert themselves in public debate. Many people will no doubt transition, perhaps quite quickly, from denying or ignoring climate change to demanding that their property and lifestyle be protected from it.
Scientific uncertainty about the specific effects of climate change will continue. But the debate over the fact of climate change, which in the U.S. has been so long hobbled by propaganda and political reaction, is essentially over.
Denialism is steadily being consumed by flames in the West, storms in the South and floods in the East and Midwest. The fight over who will pay, how much, and to protect whose property, has yet to begin.
An Iceland Vacation Home With Front Row Seats To A Rare Sight: Greenery
Tina Dico and Helgi Jonsson’s property above Lake Thingvallavatn has views of an extinct volcano, the top of the country’s second-largest glacier and something less common: lush, green surroundings.
With its waterfalls and glaciers, Iceland offers views that are hard to beat. But Tina Dico and Helgi Jonsson managed to do just that with their new vacation home, built on a lot where the view is made even more spectacular by a rare bit of greenery.
Less than an hour’s drive from the couple’s main house in greater Reykjavik, their half-acre property above Thingvallavatn, one of Iceland’s largest lakes, has a clear sight of Skjaldbreidur, a 3,500-foot mountain formed by an extinct volcano, and, just beyond, the top of the Langjökull ice cap, Iceland’s second-largest glacier. But what sealed the deal was a number of spruce, pine and birch trees.
“When you’re used to having no trees around, which is pretty much how it is here in Iceland, this place is like walking into a green haven,” says Ms. Dico, a 43-year-old, Denmark-born singer and songwriter.
Ms. Dico, who performs under the name Tina Dickow in her native country, and her husband, a 41-year-old Icelandic musician and painter, bought the property in 2013, not long after she relocated to the subarctic island. They paid $226,800 for the property, which came with a 500-square-foot, A-frame house dating to the 1970s.
Ready to take advantage of recent zoning laws allowing larger buildings, they decided to replace the structure with a 1,600-square-foot, three-bedroom home that has one full bathroom and a second-story sleeping loft. It also features a deep bathtub in the main living area that converts into a daybed. The couple share the house with their three children: Emil, 9, Jósefína, 7, and Theodór, 4.
The couple worked with KRADS, an architecture studio with partners in Reykjavik and Copenhagen, but, aided by their families, they ended up building a large part of the house themselves. They estimate they saved up to $156,400 by doing everything from applying the facade’s Siberian larch cladding to putting up their own doors.
Construction started in 2015, and the home was completed in summer 2020.
Iceland, with its rapidly decreasing glaciers and rising sea levels, is on the front lines of climate change, and there is no bigger story for the country, says Mr. Jonsson.
The Langjökull ice cap, whose peak is visible from the family living room, is getting smaller, like so many of Iceland’s glaciers. Mr. Jonsson compares it to the current state of a glacier in southeast Iceland, where he took childhood hikes. “It used to take 10 minutes to get to the edge of that glacier,” he says. “Now it takes an hour.”
Issues related to sustainability and the project’s carbon footprint were on the couple’s minds when they planned the house.
Instead of just tearing down the original A-frame, which was in good condition, the couple gave it away. It is now being used as a guesthouse by the father of one of their contractors, who had it lifted by crane and then transported by flatbed truck.
They also opted for an environmentally friendly sod roof, which, says their architect, KRADS founding partner Kristján Eggertsson, is more expensive to build. The packed soil, he says, “filters impurities out of the rain water before it returns to the ground.”
The house is close enough to their main home—a 5,000-square-foot four-bedroom equipped with a recording studio—for a quick day trip, but offers a radical change of scenery.
In the summer, lush moss adds to the area’s otherworldly greenness. “But it’s even more amazing in the wintertime,” says Ms. Dico, when there is more snow than in the coastal region where they live.
The icy country roads and deep snow can make it difficult to get to, she says, but the family doesn’t hesitate to make the trip to enjoy atmospheric nesting.
When the children are older, Ms. Dico says, she plans to take advantage of their access to Skjaldbreidur—which she calls “the old volcano across the lake”—and take up cross-country skiing and winter hiking.
For now, “We do a lot of sleighing and drinking hot cocoa, while enjoying the view, the peace and the fireplace,” she says.
This fall, the couple is recording an album—their first since building the vacation house—and they are taking stock of how it may affect their creativity. Ms. Dico says the drive to the house goes through a typically treeless stretch of landscape, which she likens to being on the moon, then ends at what she describes as the home’s fairy-tale setting. “It’s all just incredibly inspiring,” she says.