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Where to buy property for the climate emergency

gold coast homes property
Photo by John Lockwood on Unsplash

OXYGEN FILES: Browsing glossy property marketing and getting excited about en suites might be fun but serious investors and home buyers should consider one more thing when deciding what and where to buy: the climate emergency.

A new suite of tools has been developed that includes national, state, regional and city-level analysis of what the near and medium-term climate future holds. 

The smart money will be interested in these tools because fire, flood, extreme heat, severe weather and sea level rise will detract from property values and occupant comfort.

The CSIRO, in conjunction with the Bureau of Meteorology and the Commonwealth Department of the Environment, has released an interactive online tool based on Australia’s national resource management regions and subregions.

It displays information to the sub-regional level about temperatures, fire, rainfall, seasonal changes and other data. It also explains the main factors shaping the local climate, such as latitude, proximity to pressure zones and prevailing winds, delivering a quick primer on how climate and geography shape the weather.  

Is Tasmania the best buy?

Tasmania is being viewed as a climate refuge by mainlanders because it is expected to be relatively cooler than other states. But it’s not all good news for the Apple Isle, according to the data.

In both the southwest and the southeast of the state, a harsher fire climate is expected to emerge, and seas are forecast to rise, so some properties with ocean frontage should be avoided.  There is probably going to be less rainfall in spring but across all seasons heavy rain events are more likely, prompting flash floods, mud slides and other impacts. More hot days and warm spells are forecast too, along with fewer frosts.

Winter heatwaves forecast

This national climate dashboard is one of a number of online platforms and resources savvy property buyers should consult.

In Queensland, the state government is now comfortable using the term “climate change” and might be making up for lost time with a number of information initiatives, following the previous regime’s policy of silence about the problem.

Using the South East Queensland Climate Change Adaptation Research Initiative (SEQCARI), Adaptation Options for Human Settlements in South East Queensland,  you can compose a property query around risk types, settlement patterns, adaptation planning and adaptation programs. 

The government has also launched a Queensland Future Climate dashboard and supporting information.  Developed by the Queensland Department of Environment and Sciences’ Science Division, it gives users high-resolution mapping of trends around extreme heat, heatwaves, hot nights, maximum temperatures, extreme rainfall and drought.

Data can be examined at a local council, bio-regional, economic and regional disaster planning level.

Not surprisingly, Queensland is expected to be hotter across all seasons, and heatwaves will be more frequent and longer. The north of the state could be experiencing winter heatwaves by 2070.

Queensland is almost certainly going to experience too much of a good thing in terms of solar rays. And, the recent combination of destructive bushfires early in the season, prolonged drought, above-average temperatures and low rainfall, appears to be a sign of what’s to come.

Is NSW a good prospect?

The NSW government has also released a resource that forecasts the impacts for the state’s regions and subregions. The NSW and ACT Regional Climate Modelling project (NARCliM) is the result of a multi-agency research partnership between the NSW and ACT governments and the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of NSW, Sydney. 

NSW agencies that contributed to the modelling include the former Office of Environment and Heritage, Sydney Catchment Authority, Sydney Water, Hunter Water, NSW Office of Water, Transport for NSW, and the Department of Primary Industries. 

You can examine over 100 climate variables including temperature, rainfall and wind, down to a granular level – and probably give yourself a good scare in the process.

The Greater Sydney Metropolitan area is not looking good, with extreme heat days above 35 degrees tipped to increase by 2030, fire weather setting in earlier in spring, and rainfall set to increase.

For those in drought affected areas more rain probably sounds like nothing to complain about, but in Sydney, as recent downpours have shown, the stormwater infrastructure can’t cope with major rain events, so flash flooding could become more common.

Sydney region temperature as per NSW government climate projections tool

Coastal property hot – or not?

Coastal properties have long been the high-value prestige pick but buyers should first check out the Coastal Risk Australia map.

Using a combination of Google Earth, LIDAR and scientific modelling, the map shows that when it comes to sea level rise some of today’s glittering property hotspots are likely to be extremely wet in future decades.

The Gold Coast and its McMansion canal-front addresses appear to be one of the worst long-term prospects, while Cairns, Southbank in Melbourne, Byron Bay, Port Douglas, Darwin and Newcastle are also risky picks.

However, most of Hobart, Fremantle, outer Melbourne and elevated parts of Sydney look reasonably safe from ocean ingress. 

Melbourne predicted high tide flooding 2100

While you’re data-diving …

If you’re reading The Fifth Estate, sustainability in terms of energy efficiency and associated carbon emissions is probably also one of your criteria for a good property investment. In a hotter climate with more frequent heatwaves, thermal comfort and the costs associated with mechanical cooling are also something to keep in mind.

CSIRO has developed an Australian Housing Data Portal dashboard that can help gather some useful insights in this regard.

One concerning insight from the dashboard is that despite 6 Star being the minimum energy performance for a detached dwelling required for National Construction Code compliance, in 2019 about 20 per cent of dwellings achieved between 5 stars and 5.9 stars under NatHERS, and a small percentage were under 5 stars.

For apartments, the data looks even worse, with just over a quarter of apartments gaining a rating of between 5 Stars NatHERS and 5.9 stars, and just over 10 per cent sitting in the 4 star to 4.9 star band.

In NSW, which accounts for 78.6 per cent of the apartments certified by NatHERS this year, more than 40 per cent failed to achieve 6 star, and more than 10 per cent of those were under 5 stars.

By contrast, in 2019, Victoria had no apartments rating under 5 stars , and only about 20 per cent under 6 stars. South Australia and Western Australia also had no new apartments rated below 5 stars, and WA also has the largest proportion of all properties rating above 6 stars – about 50 per cent of these properties are 7 stars and above, including close to 20 per cent at 8 stars and above.

NatHERS ratings distribution for new apartments in 2019

star ratings for new class 1 dwellings in 2019

In Queensland, apartment rating distributions mirror those of NSW, with around 40 per cent not achieving 6 stars.

So, if a NatHERS rating is part of your criteria, WA might be worth a look.

The Housing Data dashboard also provides insights into design trends for thermal comfort by state and postcode, construction methods and local and state building code variations, post-code level data on fixed appliances, including hot water system types and solar PV installations and data classified by state and NatHERs star rating on home energy use patterns.

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