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Commercial properties increasingly vulnerable to climate risks



Commercial real estate owners, developers and investors face growing challenges in managing California wildfires and other climate risks, even if many have yet to see market changes in insurance availability and costs, according to industry observers.

As the number and intensity of severe weather-related events increases, the risks associated with climate change can have financial impacts for real estate, according to a report published Feb. 12 by real estate management firm Heitman and the Urban Land Institute.

"It is an urgent and complex challenge which must be addressed, but for which the industry does not have a clear strategy," the report said. When some real estate players invest in areas with potential climate risks, it has been found that insurance premiums have gone up or availability has contracted in markets affected by extreme weather, the majority have not seen a significant impact on insurance premiums or coverage, said the report

“The impact is still low for now. "We have no insurance premiums going up massively or buildings not being insurable," said Lisette van Doorn, CEO of ULI Europe based in London

"But we see owners realizing that it won't take long," said Ms. van Doorn

As a result, real estate investors and investment managers are exploring new approaches to better price climate risk into their future investment strategies, she said.

"What they are doing is really trying to understand their exposures in their existing portfolios by doing a lot of mapping exercises, using big data, ”said Ms. van Doorn. They are also looking to develop new tools to include climate risk in their due diligence, she said.

Estimates of the 201

8 California wildfires are increasing, the insurance market is very different, say industry experts.

In the excess and surplus lines market, rates for commercial property in brushed areas in California are starting to harden, but not as drastically as for personal lines, said Rich Gobler, corporate vice president and managing director at Burns & Wilcox in San Francisco.

"Commercial property, prices are no longer dropping, they are firming or going up in the higher brush areas in the higher protection classes," said Mr. Gobler

In contrast, the excess and surplus lines of the personal lines market is seeing rates increase from 20% to 100%, said Tom Carvalho, underwriting manager for personal insurance with Burns & Wilcox in San Francisco.

"It's become what we would call a hard market, ”said Mr. Carvalho.

While the commercial property market has been flat, buyers have seen prices start up or rise in the past couple of years, according to Eric Schake, real estate & hospitality leader, corporate risk and broking, Willis Towers Watson PLC.

"It's a function of if you've had losses and how the portfolio is exposed, if it's exposed to California earthquake or has California wildfire losses or wind exposure," said Mr. Schake

When it comes to risk mitigation for real estate owners and developers, carriers typically want to see a certain distance from the buildings to the brush, he said. as susceptible to four, while others are looking into the potential benefits of having water cannons on the properties, said Mr. Schake

In terms of managing the risk of wildfire, the idea of ​​creating a defensive space around building is as important for commercial property owners as it is for homeowners, according to Daniel Gorham, research engineer at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety in Richburg, South Carolina.

"The idea is that you have some management of that space, whether it's vegetation management and landscaping that reduces the potential for high intensity fire and severe exposure," said Mr. Gorham

While there are many examples of parking lots being called defensible space, there may be combustible items in these areas that could trigger fires, Mr. Gorham said. "A parking lot near a commercial building might have parked 15 feet to 20 feet away from the building. It is possible to have a severe fire exposure, ”he said.

That's why defensible space must be coupled with hardening the building structure and using noncombustible building materials and construction techniques that make it wildfire resistant, said Mr . Gorham

"Up to this point, the assumption might have been that commercial is not vulnerable to wildfire exposure, but I think we are learning that it is, and I think that will lead to reconsideration and potential changes in the building code requirements not just for residential, but potentially also for commercial, ”said Mr. Gorham.


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