Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
Higher Tides Realty helps anxious 1-percenters scope the waterfront property of the future.
Jake CollinsNikolas Gregory, the man
According to Pew, 30 percent of U.S. citizens say they are very concerned that climate change will personally harm them during their lifetime. That’s not much anxiety relative to that of other countries, but it’s enough for someone to make a profit.
In all-American fashion, Higher Tides Realty wants to help homeowners and seekers maximize property values based on climate change projections. The young New York City agency takes a realistic—nay, bright-eyed—approach to humanity’s greatest threat. To quote its promotional video: “We are here to help you benefit from the most significant environmental change since the Ice Age.”
“This is bad, but there’s also this ridiculous opportunity”
Higher Tides points clients to properties that may be “under-appreciated” now, but that will grow in value as local effects of climate change occur. The clearest example: Sea-level rise will open up new waterfront property. Never mind that thousands of homes might be submerged just beyond your front deck—this is your chance.
“Look, we understand that global warming is this terrible thing,” says Higher Tides founder and managing real estate agent Jake Collins. “But our company’s reaction is saying, ‘No, we can cope with this in a financially stable way. This is bad, but there’s also this ridiculous opportunity.’”
For buyers who aren’t attached to their hometowns, Collins’ standard recommendation is to consider settling in Seattle or Portland, where scientists project less extreme heat and water shortages, and where bluffs rise so steeply from the ocean that sea-level rise isn’t as much of a concern compared to other coastal U.S. cities. But wait, what about that massive earthquake primed to destroy the Pacific Northwest?
“It’s a crapshoot,” Collins says. “If you want to be a total recluse, Alaska is even better.”
“I don’t want people to come back in 10 years and have them say their place is unlivable, and it’s our fault”
Most clients want to find the best place to buy, wherever they already are. With that in mind, Higher Tides helps them analyze the important factors: What kind of infrastructure will exist in 50 years? Will their desired climate still be there? Will neighbors have migrated due to sea-level rise or drought?
Such consultations, which can last for months, run between $4,000-$15,000, depending on the size and requirements of a client’s family. (Currently, Rising Tides is only a consultancy; it does not yet broker properties.)
But there are so many unknowns with regard to the timing of climate change’s effects. How does Higher Tides deal with that?
“Our goal is to give a safest-bet opportunity,” says Collins. “Maybe we could do three scenarios. But I don’t want people to come back in 10 years and have them say their place is unlivable and it’s our fault.”
“We would be advising to get off the island”
Some clients have lots of demands on top of avoiding global catastrophe. One New York family wanted “a three-car garage, a good school system, to be close to the water, to live in a high rise in an upper-class neighborhood—basically they just wanted all the trappings of upper-class Manhattanites”—which was tough, Collins says, since he strongly advises people to “get off the island.” With respect to sea-level rise, Brooklyn is safer bet. And “people want to live there anyways.”
Collins admits that Higher Tides’ services sound a bit spoof-like. But he says that people are finally beginning to recognize how real climate change is, which legitimizes his business model. Why shouldn’t worried 1-percenters have a trusted agent to turn to?
“Ten years ago, if I had created Higher Tides, no one would have come to me at all,” he says. “Now we have a few clients. We’re rolling.”
So Higher Tides is profiting from a human-induced phenomenon that will displace and starve millions, and drown communities worldwide. Still, Collins says he is rooting for the planet; he even encourages clients to live greener. It’s just that he sees climate change as unavoidable, regardless of whatever actions humans now take.
“If COP21 succeeds, that’s all for the better,” he says. “I don’t feel like it will hurt our business model.”