REALTYTRAC RANKS U.S. COUNTY HOUSING MARKETS BASED ON PREVALENCE OF MAN-MADE ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS

Hazards Include Air Quality, Superfunds, Brownfields, Polluters, Drug Labs;
Lowest Prevalence in Oregon, Minnesota, Upstate New York, Washington;
Highest Prevalence in parts of St. Louis, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Northern New Jersey, Denver;

IRVINE, Calif. – Sept. 23, 2014 — RealtyTrac® (www.realtytrac.com), the nation’s leading source for comprehensive housing data, today released its first-ever report ranking all U.S. counties based on the prevalence of man-made environmental hazards.

The report evaluates five man-made environmental hazards tracked by RealtyTrac subsidiary Homefacts (www.homefacts.com) in all 3,143 U.S. counties: percentage of bad air quality days, along with the number of superfund sites, brownfield sites, polluters, and former drug labs per square mile. An aggregate score based on these five factors was created for each county, with a higher score representing a higher prevalence of man-made environmental hazards (see full methodology below).

The report also includes real estate trends — median home values, one-year, five-year and 10-year home price appreciation — along with unemployment rates and median household incomes in each county housing market.

“Somewhat surprisingly, short-term home price appreciation over the past year and five years is stronger in the 50 housing markets with the highest prevalence of man-made hazards,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “However, the 50 housing markets with the lowest prevalence of man-made hazards have higher median home values and much stronger long-term home price appreciation over the last 10 years along with lower unemployment rates and slightly higher median incomes.

“Not so surprising is that the most hazard-prevalent housing markets are much more populated than the least hazard-prevalent housing markets,” Blomquist continued. “However, this report demonstrates that prospective homebuyers don’t have to sacrifice potential environmental safety concerns to buy in a market with ample jobs that are relatively well-paying — and where home prices have steadily appreciated over the long term.

“It’s also important to keep in mind that not all of these environmental hazards are created equal, ranging widely in scope and severity,” Blomquist added. “While individuals and institutions should certainly take this hazard data into account when making real estate decisions about a specific property or market, they should dig into the details of each local hazard to make the most informed decision.”

50 Counties with Highest Hazard Prevalence
Among the 578 U.S. counties with a population of at least 100,000, those with the highest prevalence of man-made environmental hazards were Saint Louis City, Philadelphia County, Baltimore City, Hudson County, N.J., and Denver County, Colo.

These counties had an average population of 894,312. On average these counties had 9.48 percent of days annually considered bad air quality days by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), compared to an average 5.43 percent bad air quality days for all counties nationwide.

These counties had an average of 0.48 superfund sites on the national priority list per square mile and an average of 1.18 other environmental hazards per square mile. For all counties nationwide there were an average of 0.03 superfund sites on the national priority list per square mile and an average of 0.09 other environmental hazards per square mile.

The average median home price in these markets was $197,946 in July compared to a national median home price of $191,000. Median home prices increased an average of 7.4 percent from a year ago, were up an average of 17.4 percent from five years ago, and were up an average of 6.8 percent from 10 years ago.

The average unemployment rate in these markets in June 2014 was 7.5 percent, well above the national unemployment rate of 6.1 percent. The average estimated median household income in 2014 for these counties was $48,811, below the estimated median household income nationwide of $52,912.

50 Counties with Lowest Hazard Prevalence
Among the 578 U.S. counties with a population of at least 100,000, those with the lowest prevalence of man-made environmental hazards were Deschutes County, Ore. (Bend metro area), Saint Louis County, Minn. (Duluth metro area), Saint Lawrence County, N.Y. (Ogdensburg-Massena, area just south of Montreal, Canada), Skagit County, Wash. (Mount Vernon-Anacortes metro area north of Seattle), and Snohomish County, Wash., (Seattle metro).

“Living in Washington offers a lot of benefits. We’re fortunate to be surrounded by an abundance of natural beauty punctuated by low pollution levels and clean air,” said OB Jacobi, president of Windermere Real Estate, covering the Seattle, Wash. market.  “The areas within Washington with the least human-made hazards had less than a tenth of a percent of bad air quality days compared to a national average of 5.43 percent of days with bad air quality. Local housing markets have benefited from this healthy landscape, reporting an average 10-year home price appreciation that is nearly 28 percent.”

The 50 counties with the lowest prevalence of man-made environmental hazards had an average population of 212,040. On average these counties had 0.46 percent of days annually considered bad air quality days by the EPA, compared to an average of 5.43 percent bad air quality days for all counties nationwide.

These counties had an average of 0.03 superfund sites on the national priority list per square mile, equal to the national average, and an average of 0.06 other environmental hazards per square mile compared to an average of 0.09 other environmental hazards per square mile for all counties nationwide.

The average median home price in these markets was $212,638 in July compared to a national median home price of $191,000. Median home prices increased an average of 2.0 percent from a year ago, were up an average of 6.3 percent from five years ago, and were up an average of 16.0 percent from 10 years ago.

The average unemployment rate in these markets in June 2014 was 5.6 percent, below the national unemployment rate of 6.1 percent. The average estimated median household income in 2014 for these counties was $55,850, above the estimated median household income nationwide of $52,912.

Report methodology
Each county’s man-made environmental hazards score is based on combination of air quality, superfunds on the National Priorities List set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other environmental hazards.

Other environmental hazards account for 60 percent of the total score and include superfunds not on the National Priorities List, brownfields, former drug labs, and polluters. Data for number of superfunds, number of brownfields, and number of polluters came from the EPA. Superfund data is reported quarterly while data on number of brownfields and number of polluters is reported annually. Former drug lab data came from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and is reported quarterly. Data on the number of storage tanks comes from various sources and is reported quarterly. For this report we calculated the sum of the number of these items by square mile of each county. These five items accounted for 80 percent of the score.

Superfunds that made the National Priorities List were given a much higher weighted score. These superfunds accounted for 20 percent of the score.

The remaining 20 percent of the score was derived from air quality per county. Air quality scores are reported by the EPA annually. This percentage is based upon the average percentage of good days without significant traces of Carbon Monoxide, Fine Particles, Particulate Matter, Nitrogen Dioxide, Ozone, or Sulfur Dioxide in the air. Air quality scores are reported on from historical data from 2008 to 2014. For this report air quality score is derived by 20 times the % of bad air quality days (or 1- % of good air quality days). The higher the score the worse the air quality.

For most states median home sales prices were used for July 2004, July 2009, July 2013, and July 2014 in order to calculate home appreciation percentages. For non-disclosure states and other states without sufficient sales price data from sales deeds median list prices were used instead of median sales prices. Annual median household income data came from the U.S. Census Bureau for 2000 to 2012. Annual median household income for 2013 to 2014 was estimated based upon 2000 to 2012 numbers and then adjusted for current market conditions. For the rankings only counties with a population of 100,000 or more were considered. Unemployment data was from the Department of Labor Statistics.

Definitions
Air Quality: This percentage is derived upon the average percentage of days without significant traces of Carbon Monoxide, Fine Particles, Particulate Matter, Nitrogen Dioxide, Ozone, or Sulfur Dioxide in the air as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency. For more details, visit http://www.epa.gov/airquality/cleanair.html.

Superfund Site: Superfund is the name given to the environmental program established to address abandoned hazardous waste sites. It allows the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up such sites and to compel responsible parties to perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-lead cleanups. For more details visit http://www.epa.gov/superfund/about.htm

Superfund on National Priorities List: is the list of national priorities among the known releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants throughout the United States and its territories. The NPL is intended primarily to guide the EPA in determining which sites warrant further investigation. For more details, visit http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/.

Brownfield Site: With certain legal exclusions and additions, the term “brownfield site” means real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. For more details, visit http://epa.gov/brownfields/index.html.

Polluters: Data from the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) Program that requires certain industrial facilities that manufacture or process more than 25,000 pounds of a TRI-listed chemical or otherwise uses more than 10,000 pounds of a listed chemical in a given year to report that to the Environmental Protection Agency. For more details, visit http://www2.epa.gov/toxics-release-inventory-tri-program.

Former Drug Labs: locations where law enforcement agencies reported to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that they found chemicals or other items that indicated the presence of either clandestine drug laboratories or dumpsites. For more details visit http://www.justice.gov/dea/clan-lab/clan-lab.shtml.

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