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Florence's first wave has potential to cause $5 billion in property damage

Diana Olick

As Hurricane Florence barrels through the Carolinas , billions of dollars in real estate are at risk of damage or destruction.

An estimated 250,000 homes in North Carolina will likely be affected initially by storm surge and wind, with the bulk of the damage in that state. Across North and South Carolina, Florence could cause $3 billion to $5 billion in insured property losses from wind and storm surge, according to CoreLogic. This does not include inland flooding that could be even costlier and more destructive.

The storm, while large, is not expected to be as destructive to property as Hurricane Irma was last year. That storm, which impacted five states from Florida through the Carolinas, caused $42 billion to $65 billion in insured and uninsured losses for both residential and commercial properties, according to CoreLogic estimates a few weeks after the storm.

Florence came ashore as a Category 1 hurricane, the lowest of the storm rankings, but water has historically caused more property damage than wind. Florence is an especially slow-moving storm, dumping an extremely high volume of water.

"While wind can commonly be the cause of broken windows and damaged roofs, flood water from storm surge and precipitation can enter a home or business and saturate flooring, walls and furnishings on the ground level or lower levels of the structure," said Tom Jeffery, senior hazard scientist at CoreLogic. "In combination with the water is usually mud and various debris that either enters the structure or, in the case of large debris, can batter a residence to cause structural damage."


On the commercial side, more than 6,000 REIT-owned commercial properties lie in Hurricane Florence's path, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Single-tenant retail REITs own the most properties in the storm's projected path, with Realty Income Corp. at the top of the list. It owns 740 properties in the affected areas. As of the end of June, 5.1 percent of its rental revenue came from properties in the Carolinas.

VEREIT Inc. and National Retail Properties Inc. also have significant exposure with 545 and 479 properties, respectively. Those properties represent approximately 5 percent of each company's rental revenue.

The two major single-family rental REITs have significant assets in the path of hurricane Florence as well. American Homes 4 Rent (NYSE: AMH) owns the most homes across the two states, with 9,767 properties, representing 19.6 percent of the company's total property count. The company was hit hard by hurricane Harvey in Houston but mobilized assets from nearby states early, both personnel and equipment, to help in the recovery.

Invitation homes (NYSE: INVH) owns approximately 5,000 homes in the Carolinas, or 6.1 percent of the company's housing portfolio. While Invitation is the largest single-family rental REIT, it is largely focused on major markets in the west and in Florida.

A smaller REIT, Front Yard Residential Corp. (NYSE: RESI) owns 939 rental properties in the path of the storm, which make up 7.9 percent of its portfolio.