Observed impacts of climate change on housing markets may once have been confined to areas known for extreme weather. But as Australian summers get hotter and longer, the challenges of climate change are manifesting in the property market in previously unexpected and specific ways. 

Rising temperatures are proving a disruptive force to town planning, creating affordability pressures and increasing insurance costs.

Cooling Western Sydney has become a major planning focus

Western Sydney is undergoing unprecedented development and transformation, reflecting the vast size and population growth of the region.

However, Western Sydney is also getting hotter. Data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology shows the mean of maximum daily temperatures each month is rising. 

The dataset below shows this across summer months from data collected at the Penrith Lakes weather station. 

Of the 24 years covered in this back series, a majority of temperatures at the 95th percentile or higher are concentrated in the past 6 years. 

 
Climate projections reported by the Australia institute projected that by 2030, Penrith could see 22 days of the year where temperatures surpass 35˚C. Meanwhile, the eastern suburbs of Sydney are expected to remain relatively cool, with just 7 of these days projected in Coogee. 

Reducing thermal discomfort is an increasing focus for urban planners. Water technologies, tree canopy and the use of cool materials are demonstrably effective.

But some of these heat management methods don’t mix well with the development in Western Sydney. 

The construction of the Western Sydney airport for example, will require some level of mitigation for bird and bat strike, including limiting the amount of trees within a certain radius of the airport. 

These complexities increase the challenge that rising temperatures place on the ambitious developments for Western Sydney.

Tasmania is becoming a climate refuge

Tasmanian dwelling market growth has been the best in the country when considering annualised capital gains in the past 5 years, providing 6.6% in capital returns each year. 

While there are many reasons for the high growth, including increased tourism, a Launceston City Deal and growth coming off a relatively low base, climate change could be another driver.  

Research in 2019 led by Nick Osbaldiston at James Cook University in Cairns, found climate and environment as the top reasons for those who had migrated, or considered migration, to Tasmania. Of 329 survey respondents, over 225 acknowledged climate and weather as a motivation for migrating to the state. 

While interstate migration has added demand to the dwelling market, it has also eroded housing affordability. 

Hobart had the worst rental affordability, and the third highest value to income ratio, of the capital city markets at September 2019. 

As the mainland heats up, climate refuge areas such as Tasmania could be increasingly dominated by those with higher means, crowding out those on lower incomes who are often employed in local essential service industries. 

Insurance premiums may be slowing growth in high risk areas, particularly for units

Insurance premiums can be an exorbitant cost for home owners in areas at risk of flood, fire and severe storms. Climate change increases the severity and frequency of extreme weather events, meaning more Australians could be hit with rising insurance premiums in severe weather prone areas.

In North Queensland, insurance premiums rose over 260% between 2003 and 2013, compared with an increase of under 40% in CPI. While North Queensland has long been prone to cyclones and high rainfall, this was exacerbated by cyclone Yasi in 2011.

Following the cyclone, annual value declines in the Cairns house market bottomed out at -8.2%, while unit growth rates bottomed out at -14.3%. Since then, unit stock has underperformed with an average annual growth rate of -0.8% through to February 2020.

This may at least partially be because building insurance is mandatory for units, but not houses. Insurance premiums for strata title properties in particular have risen significantly in the wake of Cyclone Yasi, as insurers built up capital requirements post natural disaster.

Recent, devastating bushfires across Australia have demonstrated the impact of climate change in creating more extreme, high-frequency weather events. While the full impact on regional economies and housing market activity is yet to be seen, higher insurance premiums could weaken demand in regional Australia, particularly the strata title segment. 

Looking forward, the challenges related to global warming for the housing market are likely to become more mainstream and impact demand for housing more broadly. Regions that offer insulation from worsening weather events or higher temperatures could see demand rising, placing upwards pressure on prices and crowding out low income earners. This kind of climate inequality will warrant responses from policy makers, planners and the housing industry.