In the past few weeks, there has been a barrage of natural disasters across the country, destroying billions of dollars in residential real estate, literally from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters. The calamities have derailed thousands of people’s real estate journeys and left thousands more without power or shelter. When storms and wildfires strike, however, real estate pros step it up for their clients.
Though missing major population centers, Hurricane Laura was a Category 4 hurricane that caused substantial damage in both Texas and Louisiana. CoreLogic reported that wind and storm surge losses for residential and commercial properties are estimated to be between $8 billion and $12 billion. The property data and analysis company also found that the two most impacted counties—Beaumont, Texas, and Lake Charles, La.— are both above the national average for mortgage delinquencies, putting them even further at risk for a long-term real estate downturn in the region.
Gulf Coast real estate expert Budge Huskey—a top 25 RISMedia 2020 Power Broker whose brokerage, Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, is based in Florida—has guided his 40-office team through hurricanes of all shapes and sizes.
“Each storm is different,” Huskey says. “When you get into Categories 3, 4 or 5, all bets are off. You simply don’t know what can happen.”
When it comes to massive devastation, the real estate impact is often widespread, affecting all members and aspects of the industry from the insurance claims adjusters and contractors who are scrambling to rebuild to the supply chains for materials and government bureaucracies that are being strained by the sudden demand. All of this complexity requires that real estate professionals engage with their clients and guide them through the stressful aftermath.
“It’s necessary to understand the impact and understand hurricane and windstorm insurance,” Huskey says. “It’s about guiding customers to homes where the potential risk is lower.”
He adds that such solutions are not easy to come by because coastal flood maps are not always accurate, Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) guidelines are not always applicable and mortgage requirements may change.
“Agents need to understand and sift through the data and bring context and accuracy to it,” Huskey says.
The insurance issues that overwhelm homeowners—and any potential buyers within a region afflicted by a natural disaster—can be downright scary in their own right. Ronnie Trubeck, a veteran agent with Century 21 in Scotts Valley, Calif., was recently evacuated from her home during the latest series of wildfires in Northern California. She stresses that in perilous times like these, clients need the counsel of the best and brightest real estate agents, and within every brokerage, those insights will come from the more experienced team members.
“Could you imagine going through this with an agent who’s just starting out? They don’t know what they don’t know,” Trubeck said while checking into a hotel crowded with firefighters from throughout the state. “For anybody who’s had damages, the row to hoe is difficult. There are all the environmental hurdles and lending requirements. These people can’t get new insurance until the fire is 100-percent contained and then 10 days after that. Plus, our debris removal and rebuilding (efforts) can be super-problematic due to our septic systems.”
Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties have had 84,640 acres burned since the wildfire started on Aug. 16. As of Aug. 30, it was only 35 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It is one of dozens of massive wildfires currently blazing in California and Colorado.
Still, Trubeck remains confident in the real estate market for her region because of low interest rates, and the pandemic has driven many homeowners from large employment centers, such as San Jose, to safer and more affordable areas like the hills of Santa Cruz County.
“A lot of people are working from home and the market has been ripping in the mountains,” Trubeck says. “One of our offices is under lockdown. The other one was opened yesterday (Aug. 27) and has agents writing offers.”
Meanwhile, in the heartland, Rick Blackwell of Realty ONE Group Impact in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has been working around the clock since a derecho—a severe cluster of thunderstorms reaching winds over 100 mph—blew through his swath of the state last week and destroyed neighborhoods all the way north to Chicago.
“So many different areas have been damaged. This is just affecting many, many people,” Blackwell says. “I have five properties in the process of selling, listing or purchasing. Two are buyers, and there’s no way we’ll close on time. One may back out because of the damage, and the other is delayed until October.”
He said there are a lot of financing delays because the region has been declared a federal disaster zone, and lenders are requiring those emergency funds to be in hand before closing. Blackwell, an industry veteran, has been spending his time connecting clients to contractors and inspectors who he knows and working closely with his younger team members who haven’t had the time to build a long Rolodex of relationships.
“We just have to communicate all of the time. By the very nature of the business, it’s our responsibility to keep our clients informed. We inform them of the options they have with their home,” Blackwell says, adding that tragedies like this are also about communities coming together and lending a helping hand.
“I have cleaned two properties,” Blackwell says. “I’m 65 but I can get out there. I can clear it out. I can get people down there to clear it out and let them know I’m here to help them.”
Andrew King is a contributing editor to RISMedia.