‘We Are One Family’: Real Estate Community Bands Together for Harvey Relief

With Hurricane Harvey rescue efforts underway in Southeast Texas, REALTORS® from all corners of the country are stepping up to provide relief.

The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) is encouraging its members to donate to the REALTORS® Relief Foundation (RRF), which provides housing assistance for disaster victims.

“There will be many families in the Greater Houston area who need our help,” said NAR President Bill Brown in a statement. “It will take time to know the full impact of Hurricane Harvey, but we know the devastation will be widespread and that our support will be necessary.”

“This may require our REALTOR® family’s largest effort since Hurricane Katrina—or even 9/11,” wrote Martin Edwards, president of the RRF, in an internal memo to NAR directors and staff. “Hopefully, REALTORS® across America will heed the call to donate without precedent, as the on-the-ground membership in Texas will be stretched beyond belief.”

“We were in a fish bowl for a few days until we could communicate to agents and see offices,” says Mike Huff, broker/owner of Houston-based Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Anderson Properties. “We fared better than most, but had our issues. Almost half of our offices are in the Houston/Austin area—all were affected.”

Of the 20 Anderson Properties offices impacted, one was completely lost, three were water-logged and six sustained minor damage, Huff says. Thirty-six Anderson Properties agents have been displaced, and at least a dozen agents are in shelters. Five agents’ homes have been totally lost.

“Our agents in the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and Arkansas have already started raising money for our staff and agents in the affected areas,” says Huff. “We have had three offices open to take in donations for displaced residents in the Greater Houston market.”

“Right now, 30 percent of [Houston] has gone underwater and none of it is localized into one location,” says Shari Mattern, director of Marketing & Communications at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Gary Greene Realtors®, also in Houston. “Areas that never flooded before have flooded, which is what’s so incredible. West Houston has been hard hit and these areas never flooded before. When a hurricane comes in, our instinct is that the coast will get the brunt of it, but in this case, it was the inverse. The coast fared better than inland. We had the Coast Guard doing high water rescue in the city of Houston. It was just surreal.”

Gary Greene has converted offices that are still operational to “volunteer centers,” and many without homes are seeking help finding alternative housing, says Owner Marilyn Eiland.

“Our offices that are still up and running are being used as volunteer centers, because our business model is to be in the community, and we’re very much embedded in the different communities and neighborhoods,” Eiland says. “We have 23 offices where these people live, so our clients and community members know where we are and where they can find us for help. Volunteers are gathering to collect things and give them out. Our REALTORS® know these neighborhoods so well, so we’re really able to help. We’ve already started getting a huge amount of inquiries about leased properties for those looking to live somewhere while they rebuild.”

“Houston will recover, but it will take a while,” says Owner Mark Woodruff. “In the meantime, the real story is all the people pulling together to help each other pull things out of their houses. With all the bad you hear, there is a lot of good. People are helping neighbors and more importantly, helping strangers. That’s encouraging. On the other side of it, it’s going to take a while to fight our way back.”

Numerous real estate brokerages directly in and surrounding the path of the storm, as well as from around the nation, have extended support.

Many affiliates of local brokerage Coldwell Banker D’Ann Harper REALTORS® steered their boats toward Houston to help rescue stranded residents, says President Leesa Harper Rispoli, and the company is working to transport much-needed supplies.

“Our company is working with the Red Cross and pet/animal shelters for donations,” Harper Rispoli says. “We have had several agents team together and take their boats to Houston to assist in the water rescue. We also have had many offices and agents come together to take supplies to the Port Aransas and Rockport area.

“This catastrophic event has affected not only our agents and families, but several of our sister companies along the coast,” says Harper Rispoli. “Our great franchisor of Coldwell Banker has pledged to match donated funds for our sister companies to rebuild. It is great to be surrounded by support and giving hearts. We believe we are one family…together!”

Affiliates of Coldwell Banker United, REALTORS®, which serves the Greater Austin and Houston marketplaces, are also playing a role in relief efforts, working to ensure the safety of both their clients and the community.

“Texans are amazingly resilient, and that has certainly proven to be the case through this seemingly never-ending storm,” says Helen Edwards, president of Coldwell Banker United. “My experience is that it is heartwarming to see the level of comfort, care and assistance that strangers are providing to each other. The fact that this is an ever-changing event due to the unprecedented amount of rain that has saturated the grounds and compromised levees has made it more and more difficult to ‘get our arms around’ it. Typically, we know a storm is coming, it does and then it dissipates. This one obviously did not.

“Real estate agents are local,” Edwards says. “Being local is exactly what makes us best able to assist our communities in locating existing housing options for those in need because we know the inventory. Our agents are all calling their past clients to check in. In times like these, every action matters. Agents get that.”

Local brokerage ERA Colonial Real Estate launched a fundraiser for the Houston Food Bank, with the goal of raising $7,700—a cause, and sum, near and dear to CEO Tom DeWine’s heart.

“The Houston Food Bank is such a local and longstanding group, and I wanted to make sure we focused on something that was very local,” DeWine says. “We set a relatively modest goal—I picked a zip code that I had lived in when I was in Houston in the late ’90s, and when I knew that a lot of flooding was occurring [there], I set the first four numbers of that zip code, 7700, as the goal.”

ERA Colonial has achieved approximately 38 percent of its goal (at press time), and will match up to 50 percent of donations, with net proceeds going to the Houston Food Bank. The fundraiser is open now through the next two weeks on YouCaring.

The company is also lending a hand through an upcoming philanthropic event, its 19th Annual Fish Fry and 5K Fun Run Walk, which will welcome roughly 100 displaced residents relocating to the Fort Hood/Killeen area. The Fish Fry is held each year in honor of ERA Colonial agent Pat Patton; the 5K Fun Run supports the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), the corporate charity of ERA Real Estate. The event is taking place Saturday, Sept. 2 at Harker Heights Community Park.

“It’s going to cost about an additional $1,000 in materials, but ERA Colonial Real Estate is committed to sharing that cost with another partner in the Fish Fry,” says DeWine, who has family in Houston. “I’m extremely grateful [to be] raising money for MDA, but also to be able to help feed these people coming to a community they don’t know. We have been touched by this as a company through our agents and staff…it’s been very personal for us.”

Brokerages in states far removed from the storm are answering the call, as well.

“Our South Carolina office [Sellstate Group Realty] is working closely with their local Board to fill up supply trucks that are being sent down to Texas,” says Michael Darmanin, COO of Sellstate Realty Systems. “Our Nebraska office [Sellstate Performance Realty] has a contact in Houston whose house is in good shape who has set up an Amazon page where people can buy off the list and have items sent directly to them. From there, they are supplying out relief efforts.”

In terms of damage, Harvey is second only to Hurricane Katrina—a sobering reminder for New Orleans-based Latter & Blum President Rick Haase, who, as chairman of the Board of Trustees for United Way of Southeast Louisiana, is observing the destruction firsthand. Over 1,800 Latter & Blum agents are in the Greater Houston area.

“There’s a real good chance the [financial] damage estimates will reach, if not surpass, the Katrina levels,” says Haase, who pinpoints them presently at $75 billion. “The steps after a storm are like this: rescue, response and recovery. The first step is trying to assess, the second step is making sure immediate needs are taken care of—food, water and shelter—and, then, it’s about helping during the long road of navigating FEMA, what to watch out for with contractors, etc. It’s all-hands-on-deck to educate our agents so that they, in turn, can educate their clients.”

The company is currently collecting contributions (tax-deductible, through United Way) from its 3,300 agents, and will make its own “substantial” donation, Haase says. (Checks should be made payable to “Latter & Blum Harvey Relief” and sent to: Latter & Blum Home Office, Attention: Denise Linscombe, 430 Notre Dame St., New Orleans, LA 70130.)

Other brokerages that bore the brunt of Katrina are also doing their part. Chip Gardner, vice president of Operations & Special Initiatives at New Orleans-based GARDNER, REALTORS®, has taken up the task of transporting supplies personally.

“Our hearts ache for the residents of Houston because we’ve been there, and we know that hospitable friends and neighbors are usually the ones to help pick up the pieces,” says Gardner. “Real estate professionals can make a huge impact because they know the neighborhoods and have the connections. Providing supplies is one way to help, but real estate professionals can also offer professional counsel and encouragement as thousands in the Houston area prepare to rebuild stronger communities than before.”

The company is accepting donations at 24 of its locations through Friday, Sept. 1 through its Gardner Love Foundation.

Several members of the industry at the association and franchise level have reached out in support. Keller Williams Realty, through its KW Cares non-profit organization, has three semi-trailer trucks packed with generators, non-perishable food and other supplies standing by near its headquarters, with U-Haul trucks from its Market Centers across the nation en route (at press time). Teams on Wednesday were busy preparing a warehouse in Houston for the supplies, which are expected to arrive on Friday.

KW Cares has distributed $150,000 in “emergency relief funds,” says Darryl Frost, spokesperson for Keller Williams, to agents that have been impacted. “There has been a huge outpouring of support,” Frost says. “The really cool part is that neighbors are stepping in to help neighbors, since police and local responders have been taxed. KW Cares is here to help all our agents with homes that have been affected by this storm.”

RE/MAX, which has 2,500 affiliates and 110 offices in the trajectory of the storm, is donating $50,000 to the Red Cross, and establishing an “online hub” with information for victims.

“RE/MAX is concerned first and foremost for the safety and wellbeing of Texas communities affected by Hurricane Harvey, including more than 2,500 RE/MAX associates and their families in nearly 110 offices in the Texas Gulf Coast that have been directly impacted by this storm,” says Adam Contos, co-CEO of RE/MAX. “We are working to ensure that our agents and their families are safe, and that moving forward their needs and the needs of Texans are met swiftly.

“To do so, we’re creating an online hub with information and resources for anyone affected, including help and support from surrounding RE/MAX offices,” Contos says. “We are one community of REALTORS® supporting each other. In addition, RE/MAX, LLC is donating $50,000 to the American Red Cross to aid relief efforts in the days, weeks and months to come, and we’ll continue to look for ways to support those in need.”

Several RE/MAX offices are gathering supplies for Fort Worth-based RE/MAX Trinity, which will be transporting them to victims. The effort is being spearheaded by Trinity’s Mike Casey, who has teamed with Storm Warriors in the initiative. (Video)

Members of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP), which has a chapter in Houston, have been encouraged to donate to the Red Cross.

“We have been in touch with our members in Texas, specifically Houston,” says Jordan Grant, spokesperson for NAHREP. “Fortunately, none of them have suffered any major trauma or damage to their assets, and we are blessed to know that they’re all safe. We have been in contact with them extensively and are offering to help however we can, but, really, they’re the ones who are helping and volunteering around the community, which can only be attributed to who they are, not the organization.”

Realogy, which includes brands Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, Century 21 Real Estate, Coldwell Banker, ERA Real Estate and Sotheby’s International Realty, has set up a fundraising page for the Red Cross through The Realogy Charitable Foundation. The goal, which hit $200,000 on Wednesday, is now up to $500,000 (at press time).

“Working for a Realogy company through this storm has been amazing,” says Edwards of Coldwell Banker United. “The level of support that we have received from virtually every level at Realogy gives us confidence to move through the stages to put our lives back together!”

REALTORS® can help Hurricane Harvey victims through the REALTORS® Relief Foundation.

This story has been updated with comments and information from Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Anderson Properties, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Gary Greene, Realtors®, Coldwell Banker United, REALTORS®, GARDNER, REALTORS®, the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP), RE/MAX Trinity and Sellstate Realty Systems.

Stay tuned to RISMedia for more developments.

Maria Patterson and Zoe Eisenberg contributed to this report.

Suzanne De Vita is RISMedia’s online news editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at sdevita@rismedia.com.

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