Fancy a life on the edge? We look at coastal erosion

A stunning property with beautiful sea views can often command a matching stunning price tag, but coastal erosion and rising sea levels mean some properties are increasingly getting closer to the sea. That dream home could become more of a nightmare, if the home owner doesn’t take some precautionary measures.

As coastal erosion takes its inevitable toll, there are significant risks for owners of coastal properties and prospective home buyers.

It is estimated that over the next 80 years around two million properties will be at risk of flooding – but a further 625,000 properties are deemed at risk of damage or even collapse into the sea, due to environmental change and coastal erosion.

Around 3,000 properties have already been ‘lost at sea’ since 1900 and a further 6,000 properties may follow in the next 25 years.

Of course, the reason these homes have a sea view in the first place is because of coastal erosion. It’s even the reason we have white cliffs at Dover, rather than grass-green ones.

Coastal erosion is unpredictable and inconsistent, and home buyers can be falsely led to believe a property is not at risk if nothing has happened for many years. However, the stability of a cliff for the last several years should never be relied upon as a tool for predicting how ‘safe’ a property purchase might be in the future. Coastal erosion can perhaps be slowed down, but it certainly can’t be stopped and will happen eventually, perhaps during the next strong storm.

Installing or maintaining sea defences would perhaps be an expensive option, but may not even be allowed under planning and environmental controls.

Insurances are unlikely to cover damage caused by coastal erosion, or may contain exclusions that make it difficult to claim. For instance, it may be difficult to determine whether damage has been caused by coastal erosion, storms or a landslide.

Insurers of a home at Hemsby in Norfolk recently refused to pay out when the seafront property was damaged by storms. Over the course of just two days, the storm caused six metres of sand to be removed from between the property and the sea. The damage to the property was deemed to have been the result of erosion, which was not covered in the policy.

There are financial support schemes in place to support home owners in areas of high flood risk, including Flood Re. However, home owners can find themselves with significant financial costs if environmental issues cause their property to damage other property, such as a building or even garden debris falling over a cliff edge.

Coastal erosion would not normally be covered by home insurance but personal liability could well run up enormous costs and the home owner may even be required to finance the cost of stabilising the cliff edge, or even retrieving and removing any material from their property that has collapsed over the cliff.

At purchase, a Chartered Surveyor can assist by providing a professional opinion on the likelihood or severity of coastal erosion affecting the property and what measures should be taken to protect the home owner in terms of property value, insurability and future saleability.