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Miami could be underwater within 80 years, but rich people keep buying luxury waterfront homes — and local experts says there's a simple explanation for it

The average elevation of Miami is just six feet above sea level.
The average elevation of Miami is just six feet above sea level. DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images

Miami, one of the most-visited cities in the world, is one of many coastal cities that could be partially underwater and unlivable within 80 years, according to scientists.

Miami and Miami Beach already struggle with serious flooding related to sea-level rise, even when there is no rain, as Business Insider's Kevin Loria previously reported. The flat, low-lying areas are surrounded by rising seas, and the ground underneath is mostly porous limestone, which means water will eventually rise through it.

"Miami as we know it today - there's virtually no scenario under which you can imagine it existing at the end of the century," Jeff Goodell, author of "The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World" told Business Insider in 2018. "It may be some smaller version of Miami that incorporates platform houses and floating structures."

Rising sea levels could make Miami unlivable within 80 years.
Rising sea levels could make Miami unlivable within 80 years. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Estimates vary on the exact degree of sea level rise, but the US National Ocean Service suggests global sea levels could rise by nearly 6 feet by 2100. The average elevation of Miami is 6 feet above sea level, according to CityData.com and NASA.

Read more: Miami is racing against time to keep up with sea-level rise

And that's not to mention the storms, which many scientists agree could become more intense with more rainfall as the result of a warming planet.

Despite the warnings, Miami developers are still rolling out luxury developments right on the water - and wealthy home-buyers are snapping them

But these predictions haven't stopped Miami developers from rolling out luxury developments along the water or wealthy home buyers from snapping up high-end real estate left and right.

More and more high-net-worth individuals and families from high-tax states like New York, New Jersey, California, and Illinois are moving to the Miami area to take advantage of Florida's status as a no-income tax state. And many of them want to be in prime waterfront locations, Dora Puig, a top real estate broker in the area, previously told Business Insider.

Read more: NYC hedge-fund managers and Silicon Valley CEOs are flocking to Miami as 'tax refugees,' and it's sparking record, ultra-luxury real-estate sales in the area

Rich people from high-tax states like New York and California are moving to the Miami area to take advantage of Florida's status as a no-income tax state.
Rich people from high-tax states like New York and California are moving to the Miami area to take advantage of Florida's status as a no-income tax state. cate_89/Shutterstock

Miami real estate agents say today's luxury home buyers aren't considering tomorrow's sea levels

"My clients are not making their home-purchasing decision on what may or may not be 100+ years out," Dina Goldentayer, the executive director of sales at Douglas Elliman in Miami Beach, told Business Insider. "They want to enjoy their wealth now with their families in their homes."

Audrey Ross, the vice president for Compass in South Florida, said her clients never bring up the topic.

"So far, no one has dropped a deal or actually even mentioned this issue to me in my dealings with the luxury home market," she told Business Insider. "I can only remember having it mentioned once to me over the past ten years, as any issue in waterfront property as a concern."

Miami real estate agents say their clients aren't basing home buying decisions on rising sea levels.
Miami real estate agents say their clients aren't basing home buying decisions on rising sea levels. Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Ross said that in the luxury area where she lives, neighbors building new homes simply make their seawalls higher. "I think this issue for a lot of the population is too far in the distance for them to be immediately concerned about changing their luxury lifestyle," she said.

Still, some "eco-conscious" buyers are drawn to buildings like Eighty Seven Park, a luxury condominium complex in Miami Beach, because of its elevation, said Goldentayer, who handles sales for the building.

"This project is located on the most elite position of Miami Beach from a flood elevation point of view - we are the highest," Goldentayer said.

A $68 million penthouse is poised to shatter Florida records.
A $68 million penthouse is poised to shatter Florida records. Eighty Seven Park

But Business Insider's Aria Bendix reported in February that the building, which includes a $68 million penthouse that could shatter real-estate records, is not safe from the area's rising sea levels.

"I'm not sure that [Miami] can adequately plan for 6 feet [of sea level rise]," Hauer, a scientist who published a 2016 study in the journal Nature Climate Change examining the risk of sea-level rise in the continental US, told Bendix. "It's water level as high as I am."

For now, it seems, Miami's luxury real estate market will continue to swell along with the sea levels.

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