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Report: Hurricane Florence Puts More Than $33B In Commercial Property At Risk

Satellite image of Hurricane Florence

Hurricane Florence is assured to cause a significant amount of property damage, but a new report has estimated that the financial loss could be truly staggering.

Analyzing properties along the coasts of North and South Carolina, CoStar has found $33.5B worth of commercial real estate in danger of a direct impact from Florence in a report released Friday. The number is based purely on property value, and does not factor in the money that could be lost from the interruption of businesses housed within the properties. CoStar gathered its data when Florence was still a strengthening Category 3 hurricane, though the storm had weakened to a Category 1 hurricane by the time it made landfall Friday.

If all those properties studied incur significant damage, Florence would easily be a more devastating storm than Hurricane Hugo was in 1989. Hugo caused property damage equal to $20.5B in today's dollars. Hugo was a Category 4 hurricane when it made landfall. While Florence hit Friday morning as a Category 1, its large radius and huge amount of water picked up from the Atlantic Ocean as a result will likely cause more rainfall and could create unprecedented flooding.

Single-family homes will likely experience more damage than commercial real estate, according to CoStar. Nearly 759,000 homes sit inside the projected range of storm surges in the Carolinas and Virginia, with a reconstruction value of over $170B. But anxieties surrounding Florence's impact on real estate go far beyond mere property damage.

In the projected damage radius, 1,383 commercial-backed securities loans have been underwritten since 2011, with a value of $20B, according to Morgan Stanley research obtained by CoStar. Multifamily loans from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae for properties within 25 miles of the coastline total $10.4B.

Commercial properties suffer substantial loss of income in the aftermath of hurricanes, whether due to damage rendering them uninhabitable or loss of people or infrastructure in the area to support those businesses. Large numbers of landlords unable to pay off their loans would send shock waves through the industry, potentially nationwide.

The three REITs with the most commercial property in the area, according to CoStar, are Realty Income Corp., VEREIT and National Retail Properties, each of which derives around 5% of its rental revenue from those properties.