Houston ... we have a problem. Google Maps has outed us as a city that floods. Anyone using it on their phone can now browse our neighborhoods to see who got flooded and who stayed flooded. For Houstonians continuing to suffer even today, facing a months-to-years long recovery after Harvey, this is more bad news because it may result in, or perpetuate, lower home values. Simply put: Prospective buyers who see these maps may run the other way rather than risk it. Demand could become lower in these areas leading motivated sellers to reduce their prices.
This is no criticism of Google and their mapping software because their updates are based on scheduled updates by an unbiased eye in the sky (low orbit satellite). According to most tech sites I've found, Google updates these views once every 1-3 years and it just so happened to catch us at a most inopportune time.
Here are several other, "unfair" things: Neighborhoods which experienced short-term flooding, but saw it subside after a day or two, were largely missed by the Google satellite update. They look high and dry. The only, "tell" in some, is the trash which is piled high along the sidewalks. Drywall, couches, mattresses and furniture make up these walls of debris. It's so extensive in places like Meyerland, you can see the refuse from space. In other areas like Hall Road off Beamer in southeast Houston, the satellite-update at time of this blog's publishing apparently, "missed" the neighborhood and as a result, things look totally normal despite the huge mounds of garbage still present today.
Understandably, some wish to unload their homes after they finally get it back to normal. They're sick of the constant flooding threat. We certainly saw that in some of the Spring Creek and Cypress Creek area neighborhoods after the last round of flooding, before Harvey. Many of those homes seemed to be on the market at deep discount. Now that thousands of homes are displayed, underwater, for the world to see on Google -- from the subdivisions of Bear Creek, to Lakes of Eldridge, to Cinco Ranch and the neighborhoods below the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs, even along parts of Clear Creek -- it may not be so easy to sell them at any price.
It should be said that legally, home owners must disclose if their home has ever flooded (or even if their property has flooded, while their actual house stayed dry). While that's defeating enough to have to do, words are less influencing to a buyer's decision than seeing an actual image of the inundated neighborhood. It arguably gives the impression that the water is still that high.
KHOU 11 has featured realtors on our News at 4 p.m. who've speculated that once people "forget" about the floods, depressed home values in submerged areas will return to their pre-Harvey prices. (At least one realtor with that opinion was a victim of flooding himself, so I wonder if that fact influenced his statement.) Others suggest that home values will actually go up for houses which stayed dry, or at least will help them sell faster, due to increased demand for high ground.
How do you check your neighborhood? Just open the Google Maps app on your phone and enable the satellite layer. (As of this posting the 'desktop' version has not updated and still shows the dry, pre-flood view.)