California is not a state unfamiliar with wildfires. In fact, it is quickly becoming a costly norm as nine-out-of-ten of the state’s largest wildfires in history have occurred during the last decade, according to Cal Fire.

With the wildfires, comes destruction. Wildfires are becoming more intense; especially as climate change worsens. Warmer, drier living conditions have maximized wildfire risks, and this creates room for fires to destroy more homes. The destruction includes the:

  • Camp Fire which destroyed over 18,800 structures in 2018;
  • Tubbs Fire which destroyed over 5,600 structures in 2017;
  • Valley Fire which destroyed over 1,900 structures in 2015;
  • Woolsey Fire which destroyed over 1,600 structures in 2018; and
  • Thomas Fire which destroyed over 1,000 structures 2019.

Unsurprisingly, with this high level of destruction, areas where California’s most destructive wildfires occurred saw immediate declines in the purchase of homes.

In the affected areas surrounding these five major fires, home purchases declined by an average of 38% in the three years after the fires hit, whereas communities just outside the affected areas declined by only 3%. On average, the affected areas saw home prices grow 21%, whereas areas surrounding the affected areas, that were not touched by the destruction grew 33%, according to Redfin.

In the immediate aftermath of a wildfire, people are not as interested in the areas in the line of fire, but this dwindles more and more with time and regrowth. Home purchases rebound as communities rebuild from the ashes. Further, home prices continue to grow in the affected areas, but at a much slower pace.

On average for the aftermath of wildfires, the first year sees:

  • home sales drop 43%;
  • home prices rise 10%;
  • all-cash home purchases increase 15%; and
  • new home construction increase 141%.

The second year sees:

  • home sales drop 41%;
  • home prices rise 16%;
  • all-cash home purchases rise 20%; and
  • new home construction jump 578%.

The third year sees:

  • home sales drop 29%;
  • home prices rise 29%;
  • all-cash home purchases increase 17%; and
  • new home construction increase a whopping 1,066%.

Shift of focus on rebuilding efforts

As climate change continues to worsen wildfires; efforts need to be made to mitigate risks of natural disasters. For example, legislators can limit construction in high-risk areas and focus on areas less vulnerable to natural disasters. Leaders can also incentivize builders to create more housing in regions resilient to wildfires and other natural disasters.

It’s also crucial to raise more awareness about the dangers of living in high-risk areas. Real estate professionals can start by providing information to homebuyers seeking to move to disaster-prone areas.

For those who already live in or wish to live in areas that are at high-risk of encountering wildfires, there are ways to help fire-proof homes. Newer construction, in general, holds up better against wildfires.

Fire-proofing a home through landscaping is part of creating a defensible space zone around the home. These steps include:

  • trimming and cutting down unsafe or clustering trees;
  • trimming shrubs to a maximum height of 18 inches;
  • removing any vegetation within three feet of the home;
  • clearing leaves and branches from the yard;
  • cleaning gutters and roof debris;
  • moving wood piles away from structures; and
  • replacing grass or vegetation near the home or other structures with gravel.

It’s also vital to be on the lookout for potential fire hazards, such as:

  • all grass and weeds;
  • dead or dry leaves, pine needles and tree branches;
  • vegetation beneath decks and porches;
  • tree limbs within ten feet of the chimney;
  • shrubs within a few feet of the home; and
  • trees clustered within ten feet of each other on or near the property.

Homebuilding in low-risk areas creates a foundation which is not set up for failure, but if one is looking to buy or sell in high-risk areas, it is vital to be aware of the risks. Raising awareness of these risks is integral to homeowners recognizing when to take precautions for potential fire hazards. Homebuyers will also need to consider the changing values of high-risk homes when investing in wildfire zones.