Redfin adds air-quality scores to home listings

After a year of record-breaking air pollution from wildfire smoke, real estate brokerage Redfin has begun publishing air quality data in its home listings. Now, buyers can see how many days a year on average a particular area will experience poor air quality, and whether that number is projected to increase over time.

Redfin launched the new feature this week. Users can find it in the “climate” tab above the listing, along with information about other environmental risks, such as fire, heat, drought and storms, which Redfin has included in its listings since 2021. As with information about schools, walkability and pricing history, the company says that understanding a property’s climate risks is essential for home buyers looking to make an educated decision, especially as those risks intensify. While poor air quality isn’t always as visible a threat as wildfires or hurricanes, the effects can accumulate over time and harm a person’s health.

“Seeing all the data helps people quantify the risk when deciding if they’re going to live in one county or another county,” said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin. “What’s probably going to happen over time is that [poor air quality] is just another type of weather that people either can adapt to, or they say it’s not worth it” and move to a different region. Recent studies have shown that wildfire smoke has had a significant impact on air quality, slowing or even reversing improvements made since the passage of the Clean Air Act.

According to an analysis by Redfin, people are indeed moving out of areas with a higher risk of unclean air. The company studied U.S. Census Bureau data and air quality risk scores, finding that from 2021 to 2022, 1.2 million more people moved out of areas where at least one out of every 10 properties is at major, severe or extreme risk of poor air quality. That’s more than double the number of people who left those areas during the two previous years.

Crucially, though, these high-risk places, such as Pierce County in Washington state and San Bernardino and Fresno counties in California, are largely clustered on the west coast, where housing costs continue to soar. The study notes that the majority of those decamping for other regions are motivated by affordability, not air quality woes.

And they aren’t necessarily moving to parts of the country with better environmental prospects. Places such as Las Vegas, Orlando and Tampa are among the most popular destinations for people relocating because of affordability. While they offer a cheaper cost of living, they also face heightened climate risks, including severe heat, extreme winds, hurricanes and flooding, according to Redfin.

To determine the air quality risk of a given neighborhood, Redfin relies on First Street, a climate risk data firm that analyzes the number of poor air quality days expected in the current year and three decades into the future. It assigns each home one of six ratings, ranging from minimal to extreme.

Fairweather said there is reason to believe the new air quality data could influence buyer decisions. Before the company began including flood information in 2021, it ran a controlled experiment involving 17.5 million users. Half of them were able to see property-specific flood-risk scores, and the other half did not have access to that information. “In this experiment, people did use that flood information, and they ended up making offers on homes with half as much risk” as the homes they had previously been viewing, she said.

“We know that people do use this information,” Fairweather said. “They are using it on some level to decide between one home or another.”

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