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NPR and WBUR Boston’s Here and Now: What Happens When Climate Change Affects Your Ability To Sell Your Home?

Elizabeth Boineau, a Charleston, South Carolina, resident who had planned to sell her 1939 Colonial-style house, will have to tear it down because of repeated flooding.

Here & Now‘s Robin Young talks with Boineau (@eboineau) about what’s happened.

“I was flooded three times, and the first was Joaquin, which was a tropical storm that came through and brought torrential rain, and that was followed by Hurricane Matthew, that was in October of ’16,” she says. “And then the big wallop was what became tropical storm Irma in September of ’17. Irma brought eight inches inside, swirling around.”

Interview Highlights

On why her house was put on the market at a price lower than its worth

“I have not had an ultimate or end-user homeowner make an offer on the home that was not very low end. The offers I’ve had are builders, and the builders see opportunity because they have the resources and the tools to remake the home at a lesser cost, perhaps, than the end-user or homeowner. So I literally, the day the article came out in The Washington Post, got a new contract that replaced the one that had fallen through and had been on the table about six weeks. And it’s not great, but I am encouraged that there is someone interested, and it’s a matter of getting approval from the Board of Architectural Review. So I’m hopeful, and so we’ll see.”

On why her home couldn’t be reconstructed to raise it higher off the ground 

“[My house is] 14 feet BFE, which is basic flood elevation, and that comes around to about nine and a half feet off the ground.

“The same insurance company that told me they would not pay for mold insisted that I demolish and just the demolition was $25,000. And yet the insurance payment to redo everything was not significantly more than that. And I had to renegotiate in order to get a fair settlement, but even so, it wouldn’t have come close to the cost of elevating and renovating the home.”

Boineau stands in her deconstructed home. (Courtesy Elizabeth Boineau)
Boineau stands in her deconstructed home. (Courtesy Elizabeth Boineau)
(Courtesy Elizabeth Boineau)
(Courtesy Elizabeth Boineau)

On why she decided to raze her home

“I have been dealing with the hope of a grant from FEMA. The ICC — Increased Cost of Compliance — grant, which is only $30,000, but at the same time, this particular builder, developer wants it demolished. And I’m grateful that I was eligible since I have had severe, repetitive loss. I’m known as SRL. I’ve said that rhymes with, you know, SOL.

“The damage to my home exceeded at least half its value, and in my case, it exceeded 100 percent the value. Therefore, FEMA has granted $30,000 for the house for either demolition or elevation. I can have it demolished for $30,000. I can’t have it elevated for anything close to 30, so I do at least feel like those funds will go towards starting over, blank canvas for someone, and in a way, I have to emotionally detach from it because I’ve owned it since ’97, lovingly refurbished it, have spent so much time, energy, money and heartache trying to recover from three flood episodes that in a way I’m spent with it. In another way, you know, I’m both awash with emotion at the same time seeing the damage from the flooding, recognizing there’s really not any other way but to move on.”

“I hate to say I’m spent with it. I put so much into trying to come back from this last one, which was such a hard hit. The other two were just dress rehearsals.”

Elizabeth Boineau

On how her neighbors’ homes fared after repeated flooding

“Well, on either side of me is an elevated and newer home — one roughly 10 years old that it sold in 17 days for $1.1 million; on the other side of me [is] a brand new house. And that’s part of the reason I was hit so badly was a development on either side of me. The neighbors across the street, three of four [homes] are [built] to the ground. They are all very concerned, trying to decide if they better get out while they can. Will they have the money to elevate their homes? The smaller homes are outnumbered and seemed to be the ones that took the most damage.”

On her dashed hopes to sell her home for $1.3 million 

“I’ve had people approach me about doing a joint venture and to stay in some degree of ownership. In fact, FEMA, ICC, the grant monies for elevation only go to the homeowner. Same for demolition, but for the elevation aspect, it’s eight to 10 months before you’d see your money. So I would have had to remain a homeowner had I wanted to benefit from that $30,000 grant from FEMA, but I wasn’t sure I could stay emotionally tied to it for as long as it might take, even if it meant significant financial return. I hate to say I’m spent with it. I put so much into trying to come back from this last one, which was such a hard hit. The other two were just dress rehearsals. So I am renting a little place next to or close to downtown. I hope to buy if my sale goes through, but it’s nothing like what I was in. It’s a condominium where I have a number of friends, and I’m on the second floor.”

On changes the city should make to protect property values

“It definitely comes as a shock to me, and I do feel like we’ve been too slow to respond. And in my case, it did take that last one really big hit for me to become more vocal. It’s visible, and it’s real. There has been a discussion amongst our legislature about tapping the accommodations tax. Tourism is a major income producer for our state. At the same time, the flooding can scare a lot of people away whether it’s homeowners or tourists. And even when rain comes now, I have a certain sudden anxiety that wells up in my body. ‘Oh my God, how much rain? Oh my, is it a new moon? Is it the full moon? How many inches?’ “

On how the flooding has changed her life 

“We’ve just really been through a lot, and I have to say that first one you could not leave the house, your possessions floating down the street. Ever since then, life made a shift. And it’s not just torrential rain. We get sunny day flooding in Charleston, too. We’re that low, the sea has risen that high, and on a full moon or a new moon time of the calendar you may not be able to get from one side of town to the other. Our city can be, certain sections of it, can be underwater even with no rain. Our legislators seem to be divided about whether or not to apply some of the accommodations tax money to finding flooding fixes, and maybe someone from Greenville doesn’t exactly support offsetting flooding in Charleston, South Carolina. I can see that, but hopefully we can look at ways to come together.”

This segment aired on August 31, 2018.

Link to WBUR and listen to the full interview here

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