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2007-10-30 21:41:00

Surviving Natural Disasters in Real Estate

My heart goes out to those in Southern California this week following the raging firestorm that devastated the region recently. Two of my oldest and dearest friends and their families live in the path of this inferno. Both families had to evacuate. As of this writing they have not been allowed back to their homes and it is believed that their homes still stand. 

At times like these people discover what is inside of them. Are they heroes who can lead their communities and their families through times of grief, stress, sorrow and possible loss, or does it bring out the worst in them?

Unfortunately, I experienced all these emotions firsthand in an event three years ago called Hurricane Charlie. We abandoned our home at the very last moment and drove inland to wait out Hurricane Charlie.

When we got to a hotel almost 100 miles inland, the first thing we did was go into the lounge to get a drink and watch the event on television. As we looked up at the screen they showed our home and our business, in the dead center of the eye. At that point I’m was sure I had lost everything I ever worked for.  A nice waterfront home and a business I worked my rear end off to make profitable. 

Around 3 AM I woke my wife up, we had no electricity at the hotel where we we’re staying, the eye had passed over us, and destroyed trees and power poles a 100 miles in land. I told her, "I’m going home. You can stay and I’ll come back for you but I have to get home."

Shortly after 3 AM we passed road block after road block as we traveled home. The police let us through each time with the warning that they weren’t sure if we could even get through. That night I turned my Lexus sedan into a four-wheel drive to get around trees and power poles. Every pole between where we were and our home was gone. We drove into the ditches and mud to get around them. So much for my new Lexus.

My first vision as I came into town was very dramatic. There had to have been several miles of emergency vehicles parked bumper to bumper. Dawn was braking as we continued through town towards our home. It was very surreal. The few people we saw looked like they were in shock; the town was leveled, like an atomic bomb had detonated. The strangest part  of the experience was being unable to indentify our street because all the landmarks were gone.

We were fortunate, even though our home suffered extensive damage; we were able to stay there. Although we had lost most of our windows and had no water and no electricity, we were watertight after putting up plywood. Then the looters arrived - it looked like they had just let out a prison population. Thank God the next day Marshall Law was imposed and we saw troops driving down our streets with machine guns.

Early the next morning I went to my office, a Prudential real estate franchise. The big sign from that office is still famous. Every time you turn on the Weather Channel and watch the tropical update, you have the opportunity to see it get destroyed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t covered by insurance.

The Real Estate Business Goes On

What happened next is something I will never forget.  I walked around the parking lot and building in a state of shock taking in all the damage - the building had no windows, no door, and there was a huge hole in the roof. A local physician drove up. He said to me, "I lost my home and I need a habitable dwelling within 15 minutes of the hospital and I need it today," so I went to work.

Shortly after that another physician drove in the parking lot and said, "I lost my office and you have an office for sale down the road, and I want to buy it today." He refused to leave until I accepted a check with a full price offer. 

So I did over a million dollars in business in the parking lot the day after a major hurricane devastated my town. Then my top REALTOR drove up to get her computer. I told her I wasn’t leaving until the building was secure I then proceeded to put Prudential signs over all the windows until I could get plywood. I spray painted OPEN FOR BUSINESS on the walls, and eventually the plywood I had everywhere as doors and windows. 

Not only did I save my business during this time of crisis, but I learned that real estate never stops. People need a place to live and work and some of those people are very proactive and take immediate steps to find suitable dwellings. So my advice to the REALTORS that have suffered greatly through these fires and other natural disasters is, "Go back to work. It helps to take your mind off of the tragedy you may have suffered and in the end helps you to deal with your own tragedy more effectively."

Times like these bring out the very best and the very worst in people. I had a new receptionist in that office and she worked every day in that office; in the August heat of Florida, with no power, no air conditioning and no water for over two weeks. Needless to say she received several promotions since then. I also had a top producer that came in and informed us he was leaving, wasn’t going to help anyone and really didn’t care. He was working for another company when he came back. 

You will learn how to deal with homes that were pending and have some damage, major damage and are destroyed. You will become a great negotiator, between the buyers, the seller and the insurance companies. You will learn about clause in contracts you’ve never worried about before. You will learn how insurance affects the process. However most of all you will learn how you personally will respond during a time that will test mankind.

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