Just over nine years ago, Team Belshaw needed to find somewhere to live. I’d been told by my employer at the time that, for various reasons, our dream of moving to Gozo couldn’t go ahead. But we still wanted to sell our house. So we moved from a four-bedroom detached house into a two-bedroom terrace in Morpeth.
It all worked out well. We ended up buying the house and converting the loft. I had a home office as the garage, separate to the house, was already converted for that purpose. Our neighbours have proved been amazing. Being so close to the centre of town and their schools it’s been a lovely place to raise our kids.
However, it’s never been our long-term plan to stay put; we’ve always been looking for somewhere else. The pandemic and then our son’s GCSE exams put off the sale of our house, but this year we finally put it on the market. Two weeks later we accepted an offer. On the same day, we had an offer accepted on a house which backs onto a river.
Now, anyone who knows Morpeth knows that it flooded quite spectacularly in 2008 and then again in 2012. The Environment Agency has spent a lot of money on various flood defences including an underground reservoir and even the building of reasonably-attractive walls in the gardens of potentially-affected properties. In fact, they did such a good job that the risk of flooding from the river is negligible for the foreseeable future.
Today, though, we pulled out of the purchase of the riverside house. Why? We commissioned a more detailed flood report after someone had set alarm bells ringing about the impact of climate change. To cut a long story short, the property is at high risk of surface water flooding, and (in our opinion) the Environment Agency’s river flood defences potentially exacerbate that risk.
The reason I wanted to note this, other than it being a significant event in my life, is to share what I’ve learned about cumulative risk. I also wanted to note how helpful ChatGPT 4 was at summarising and making calculations based on the report. It was quite technical in places and, while data is good, we needed to extract meaning.
At the end of the day, humans should make decisions. But having a very quick and technically-proficient assistant to pull out and interpret data is extraordinarily useful.
I used the AskYourPDF plugin for ChatGPT, beginning by asking it specifically to explain “in the simplest language possible” the risk from surface water flooding. I then asked if we were planning to live there for 20 years whether it would be a sensible purchase. While it wouldn’t make a specific recommendation, its responses erred on the side of caution.
Going further, I asked about the impact of climate change on the property, to which it responded about things we’d already considered (increased rainfall, urbanisation), and things we hadn’t (sea level rise, decreased snowfall). This gave us further pause for thought.
The next day, already thinking that this wouldn’t be a wise investment, I asked ChatGPT to “come up with a range of 5 personas and explain how they would approach a purchasing decision for this property.” I specifically asked it to include the notion of “risk appetite” as part of this. The results were interesting. I followed up by enquiring “If these personas talked to one another and had to make one decision based on their discussion, what would be that decision?” Somewhat predictably, the personas consensus view was not to go ahead with the purchase.
The next step was to use it to calculate cumulative risk, which we’d realised hadn’t been specified in the report. It’s been a while since I did this kind of Maths, and doing it manually is somewhat confusing to my brain. So I asked ChatGPT:
So a probability greater than a coin toss that, based on the current situation, the garden would be flooded. And this wasn’t taking into account other factors that weren’t covered by the data in the report.
The final step was to think about the risk of surface water flooding being so bad that it potentially enters the house. This was mentioned in the report as the ‘low-risk scenario’ of between 0.1% and 1% that up to 0.6m of water would be adjacent to the dwelling
So, even without the uncertainty of climate change, if we take the middle of the upper and lower bounds of cumulative risk, there’s a 1 in 10 chance that there will be up to 60cm of flood water adjacent to the property? No thanks.
Having pulled out of the purchase, this morning I’ve been to register our details with a bunch of estate agents for rentals. The chances are we’ll have to bide our time to get the exact house we want. That will be annoying, but not too much of a hardship. Especially as the next house we buy we’ll probably be staying in for a while.
Photo modified from an original CC BY SA johndal