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RealtyTrac® recently 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,” says 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 for 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,” says 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.”

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