scorecardWealthy buyers are flocking to Florida to rebuild mansions where modest homes were destroyed by hurricanes
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Wealthy buyers are flocking to Florida to rebuild mansions where modest homes were destroyed by hurricanes

Erin Snodgrass   

Wealthy buyers are flocking to Florida to rebuild mansions where modest homes were destroyed by hurricanes
LifeThelife3 min read
  • Wealthy investors are pushing out Florida residents after hurricane damage, Bloomberg reported.
  • Rich buyers have the funds to rebuild mansions that are more likely to survive future storms.

Affluent buyers are reaping the benefits of Hurricane Ian's destruction in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, as middle-class homeowners are pushed out of the small beach town in favor of wealthy purchasers who can foot the increasingly expensive bill of living in a climate vulnerable place, according to a Bloomberg report.

The Estero Island town in the southwest of Florida was hit hard when Ian made landfall in September 2022. The storm killed 21 people and washed away a third of the homes and businesses located on the skinny sand strip that makes up Fort Myers Beach, many of which were modest, middle-class homes.

Hurricane Ian's destruction paved the way for a new class of buyers who have found fertile ground to build big mansions in the empty lots that once housed humble homes on stilts, offering a possible glimpse into what could become the new normal for coastal communities amid climate change, according to Bloomberg.

In the 10 months following Hurricane Ian, 649 homes were sold in the town — 167 of which were damaged in the storm; 20 of those wrecked homes sold for $1 million or more, the outlet reported, citing data from Attom Data Solutions and the Town of Fort Myers Beach.

Many older Florida homes that are damaged in hurricanes end up having to be demolished entirely because of local building codes that are meant to protect taxpayer dollars from rebuilding the same structures time and time again, according to the outlet.

"This looks like a good short-term solution because it doesn't involve the government spending a lot of money," A.R. Siders, a professor at the University of Delaware's Disaster Research Center, told Bloomberg. "In the long-term, it opens up a can of worms."

Most builders in Fort Myers Beach charge more than $500 a square foot to build, which means even modest homes in the area can skyrocket beyond $1 million, according to the outlet.

Many middle-class homeowners just can't afford to rebuild entirely after a disaster. The wealthy, on the other hand, typically have the funds to build durable fortresses and dependable mansions that have a better chance of weathering future storms.

Rich buyers are also in a better position to handle skyrocketing home insurance prices in the state brought on by more intense hurricanes. Insurance rates in the state have tripled in recent years, and the ultra-rich could soon be paying five-to-six-figure policies, Bloomberg previously reported.

There are a limited number of government grants available for rebuilding after a storm, but these too favor the wealthy, who have the time and money to make repairs while waiting for reimbursement, Bloomberg reported.

Candy Rahn, 69, told the outlet she and her husband were forced out of Fort Myers after Ian when her uninsured cottage was destroyed. She said they couldn't afford to rebuild according to local codes, so they ended up selling their lot to an investor for $500,000.

She and her husband have since bought a house nearby the airport, 45 minutes away.

"I can't take the sadness away," Rahn told the outlet. "It was my dream. I walked on the beach every day."

The wealthy companies and people who swoop in to buy up empty lots in Fort Myers Beach are in some ways helping disaster survivors by padding their pockets with thousands of dollars. But that aid comes at the expense of their homes.

"In the long run, it will help move people out of harm's way because the market is responding to where the risks are," Jesse Keenan, a professor of sustainable real estate at Tulane University in New Orleans told Bloomberg.

"The downside is the beach becomes less and less accessible to average people."