Ask An Agent: How Does Climate Change Impact Real Estate In The GTA?

Chris Chopik is Toronto’s leading and only realtor with an expertise on the way climate change is impacting real estate values in North America and around the world.

The Sage Real Estate sales representative has been on the board for The Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, Green Enterprise Toronto and Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests (LEAF).

He is known in the media for ditching his car and practicing Bicycle First Real Estate when visiting clients or going to showings. He came to real estate because of his interest in the impact of climate change on the industry and his promotion of sustainable housing. He believes real estate is a vehicle for quality of life. While real estate can come with status and wealth, that status and wealth shouldn’t come with the cost of many hours in your car.

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He works hard finding properties for his clients that match their ideal lifestyle. If they like to be by nature, he will find them a home near a park. If they drink coffee many times a day, he’ll make sure they walk out a door near two or three coffee shops. For him, there’s more value in an asset that delivers more time to your life than there is in an asset that takes time out of your life.

He started noticing that the properties that put more time back in your life tend to be more environmentally sustainable. In turn, it’s in his interest and those of his clients to preserve to environment so they can maintain their quality of life.

Chopik has written a paper on the topic and may be the only agent in town who can answer this week’s question.

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How is climate change impacting, and may continue to impact, real estate sales in the GTA/Toronto?

Climate change is affecting real estate across the continent and Toronto is no exception. The local impacts most acute are seasonal flooding, which is particularly important in some susceptible neighbourhoods. I won’t say which specific neighbourhoods, but there are ways to find out.

In the future, there is definitely an indication that heat waves in Toronto could become a problem. The Urban Land Institute has put a document out called Scorched where they describe the impacts of increased heat in urban locations across the continent and they’re talking about real estate value.

Toronto gets hot in the summer. Let’s say we get we get twice as many humidex index warnings. Those are times when our power grid becomes susceptible to failure. If you live above the eighth floor or have mobility issues in a Toronto highrise and the power goes out in the summer during a heat wave, that can be a society-wide problem. If you can’t do the stairs, the elevator is down and you have no operable windows then you’re kind of in a solar oven. Also, we have an aging population that’s moving out of their houses into single-storey living spaces, which are typically condos. It’s as we get older that mobility problems typically happen, so you have a growing number of people who are increasingly going to have a need to adapt.

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What we’re seeing across the continent is weather that’s more erratic and unpredictable. I was just in Louisiana, presenting at a conference on climate change and real estate risk. Louisiana is at the forefront of sea level rise and coastal erosion, and while I was there, I wish I had my winter coat. For that to happen in Louisiana in November is very unusual, but it’s maybe no more or less unusual than coming home and finding snow on the ground, which I haven’t seen for a number of years in Toronto. I also used to go winter camping with a bunch of guys and we would go out in our snow shoes in February and have a great time making snow forts and quinzees, which are insulated snow shelters. But, when the weather is fluctuating in February, it’s not safe to go out and do that because if you get wet, basically you’re dead. So we don’t do that trip anymore. I keep my motorcycle and bicycle available for transportation in the winter because sometimes it feels like March in the middle of February.

I don’t think climate change has impacted real estate in Toronto yet, but there are knowable areas of flood risk in Toronto. You can ask around. There are a lot of neighbourhood residents that have received letters from their insurance company saying, “You’re not insurable for basement flooding of any kind.” So, if we were comparing houses in those neighbourhoods and one street has uninsurable basements, the other has insurable basements, they’re in the same school district and the housing stock is otherwise equal, presumably there is a value to having an insurable, useable and dry basement compared to a likely to be wet sometimes basement.

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I don’t know that we have data that says homes in a flood susceptible neighbourhood are selling for less money than homes in a flood resilient neighbourhood. I don’t think the data is there at this point in part because the marketplace isn’t aware of the data being available. Home owners don’t know about it and realtors aren’t talking about it. How is it affecting price today? I don’t think it is. How will it affect price tomorrow? One day a neighbourhood is going to make it in the news and that neighbourhood is going to have a stigma for being flood prone.

I don’t think our industry knows what’s happening as far as how climate change impacts real estate. I think most realtors who have practised in a neighbourhood for a long time tend to have a good idea what’s happening in that neighbourhood, but whether they know that one street is a flood risk and the other isn’t may or may not be part of their knowledge base. I believe that the future of real estate is going to include a climate risk index. Basically a walk score for your climate risk, so you can punch in your postal code or street address and know whether the property is susceptible to flood risk or wild fire, etc. It’s a concept and hopefully someone with big heels and good data repository would be able to see it through.

In our marketplace, the knowledge isn’t there. Some people may have an idea or some realtors that have practised in a neighbourhood for a long time will or should know where those points of susceptibility are, but I don’t think our marketplace is really tuned into this issue at all at this time. However, I think we are only a couple lawsuits away from knowledge of climate change susceptibility being a prescient and formal obligation realtors must have.

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