Picture yourself stepping outside your home and walking down to the shore for a morning surf or entertaining friends on your deck while watching the sun descend into an orange tinted horizon, the sound of waves your background music. For many, a San Diego beach home with whitewater views and sand access is the ultimate dream, but environmental considerations and unique related costs can make the reality of buying at the beach seem less than idyllic. Whether you’re shopping for a rental home or a forever home to enjoy your family, it's crucial to educate yourself on how to best protect your investment.
Homes near the beach are particularly vulnerable to flooding, bluff erosion, and seismic disruption. According to the Times of San Diego, San Diego County’s bluffs have experienced erosion of up to an average of six inches per year over the last 25 years, largely due to storm water, irrigation runoff and sea-level rise. In a U.S. Geological Survey research geologist Patrick Barnard warns, “‘Coastal change, cliff retreat, sea level rise, and extreme storms could expose more than 250,000 residents and $50 billion in property to erosion or flooding in Southern California by the end of the century.’” In San Diego County, there have been over a dozen bluff collapses from Encinitas to Torrey Pines since 2016 with some having fatal consequences. While this by no measure means that your dream beach house is necessarily at risk, it’s important to keep in mind when buying a home overlooking the ocean.
Even beach homes not on the cliffs may be subject to flooding, particularly in the neighborhoods of Oceanside, Mission Beach, and Imperial Beach. In Mission Beach, over 1,105 properties are likely to be affected by flooding over the next 30 years.
In order to prevent property damage, it’s important to understand each unique home's risk factors.
In addition to ensuring you read the standard environmental hazard reports issued to buyers during the escrow disclosure process, it may be necessary to hire experienced professionals to help you better understand the terrain your home is sitting on and what, if anything, should be done to mitigate and prevent property damage before a major incident, like bluff collapse onto Jimmy Durante in Del Mar in 2019. A licensed engineer, land surveyor, or geological inspector can inspect existing retaining walls and foundations or conduct a geological study as to whether your home may need a seawall in the future. They can assess the stability of the cliff based on water marks, drainage, and erosion factors.
Experienced coastal architects, designers, and builders should be consulted in order to mitigate risks and safeguard your property. Approximately 34% of San Diego’s coastlines already have some type of armoring. However, since protective structures can impact the size of the beach by preventing erosion or cutting off public access, many cities within San Diego County are regulating the building of seawalls, which is why it is important for new homeowners to educate themselves on local legislation.
Every city has its own unique policies for maintaining the character of its beaches and safety of its bluffs while maintaining public access. City regulations are constantly changing and being updated in response to environmental hazards and Coastal Commission analyses. The California Coastal Commission requires at least a 40-foot setback from the bluff and specifies that structures be removed when they are 10 feet or less from the edge and that new homes be built so they’re secure for 75 years without relying on sea walls - whether in existence already or not.
For the Lindstroms in Encinitas that meant being restricted to building their new home 60-feet from the edge of the cliffs, which was 25 feet further back than their neighbor’s already existing homes, and prevented from building a seawall. California courts upheld the Coastal Commission’s decision.
In Solana Beach, a Public Recreation Impact fee on seawalls was approved in 2019 on top of an existing sand mitigation fee. This means a group of four homeowners along one stretch of beach on Pacific Avenue in Solana Beach, who have been appealing the denial of an application to build a seawall for several years, were finally approved, but will pay $210,000 in fees for the right to build with one homeowner making a $140,000 donation towards improving beach access.
Oceanside’s Local Coastal Program (LCP) is unique because it allows the city to exempt certain types of coastal repair and maintenance work, an authority most cities don’t have. This has resulted in the city approving repairs that conservation groups and the state commission have questioned.
Preserving the beaches and properties has even led to contention between cities with Carlsbad protesting Oceanside’s plan for retaining beach sand. While in Del Mar, rail safety measures involving fencing have met with protests from residents who will be cut off from beach access. Being well-informed about neighborhood events will help you decide the best location to buy and best way to reduce risks to your investment.
Expect to pay higher costs for home insurance if you’re living in a possible coastal flood zone or along the bluffs and make sure to ask the right questions about your policy. Know what is covered and what isn’t particularly in the case of natural disasters. Ensure you have enough coverage to rebuild your home from the ground up, if necessary. Most importantly, familiarize yourself with previous insurance claims on the home that can alert you to historical and potential problems.
Additionally, ask questions about any existing restrictions on your particular property, such as permit limitations on protective seawalls and policies on repairing any armoring or beach access structures in the case of damage. If you’re considering remodeling or additions, it’s imperative to know where the existing setbacks are and any prohibitions against new structures may be. Make sure to thoroughly read the fine print of your disclosures and consult a real estate attorney if necessary.
Ultimately, buying at the beach is absolutely worth the hassle – studies show it improves both physical and mental benefits in addition to the financial opportunity – as long as you manage your expectations and are aware of the hidden costs.
If you need help finding your dream beach house or navigating San Diego’s coastal real estate market, give me a call today!