When, not if: how do San Franciscans live with the threat of the next quake?


Publication:
Date: 
March 27, 2014
Many tech firms have opened up in SoMa, a 'liquefaction' zone where a tremor could turn the soil to liquid

The earthquake question comes up in two out of every three transactions that Eileen Bermingham handles. Demand for San Francisco property has hit new heights in recent years, forcing buyers to offer far above the asking price – and things don’t appear to be slowing, even in the usually sluggish early months of the year. “It’s been particularly hectic,” confirms Bermingham, an agent with Zephyr Real Estate, which sells houses all over the city.

But the earthquake question is always in the background.

Bermingham gets specific requests from clients for newer homes built under more stringent building codes, houses that have been retrofitted for earthquakes, or specific neighbourhoods that pose less risk. Many parts of the city are built on landfill, and maps highlight large swathes that are at risk of ‘liquefaction’ – the soil literally turning from solid to liquid – in the event of a large earthquake.

“A lot of it comes down to being at least knowledgeable about what you’re getting into,” Bermingham says of investing in the city. “You don’t want to find out later that you’re on a liquefaction zone.”