Real estate agents work to find housing for those displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

People in Houston are trying to recover their homes and lives in the wake of deadly Hurricane Harvey. Other states in the U.S. are bracing for yet another powerful storm, Hurricane Irma, currently ripping through the Caribbean as it makes its way toward Florida, threatening more lives and property.

Real estate agents are among those scrambling to find help and answers.

Making a way through Hurricane Harvey

While there’s a lot of uncertainty about how long the recovery of life and property will take, one thing is certain, according to Houston-based REALTOR® Nicole Lopez,  team leader of The PR Group.

“The real estate market has changed significantly,” Lopez said. “Instead of traditional buyers and sellers, we have a dire need for short-term leases.”

The devastation is almost unimaginable.

“We are a city with four times the population of Manhattan, and roughly the size of Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, that has drowned over the last five days,” Lopez said.

Still, there’s no doubt in the experienced REALTOR’S® mind that the area’s real estate industry will survive, but it will take a shift in mindset and a lot of working together.

“Houston Association of REALTORS® is an organization of 36,000 REALTORS®. Many have banded together and are helping other agents rebuild and locate their loved ones,” Lopez said.

As a nationally recognized REALTOR® Under 30, Lopez once wrote in REALTOR® magazine that her favorite thing about the profession was the fact that she assists so many people with their “American dream.” Today, she’s helping people who have lost their American dream to find temporary shelter.

“We are a city with four times the population of Manhattan, and roughly the size of Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, that has drowned over the last five days.”

“As of [Wednesday, August 30, 2017], there are an estimated 50,000 residents displaced. There wasn’t one area of town that was completely spared. Less than six miles from me, homes were flooded to the rooftops,” Lopez said. “Things here are changing daily. Areas not affected by floodwaters are at risk today due to water being let out of reservoirs. Everyone has to stay vigilant.”

Lopez was one of the lucky ones. Her home was spared from the storm’s fury. To help others less fortunate, she and another Houston REALTOR® Katie Maxwell started Housing after Harvey, a Facebook group for homeowners, management companies, real estate agents and apartment communities willing to help those who need housing in the aftermath. More than 2,000 members were signed up as of early September.

“Katie started this because we saw the eventual need for short-term rentals happening,” Lopez said. “With the numbers displaced in the tens of thousands, people need places to live during their rebuild process. We have agents here locally, statewide and across the U.S. participating in the group.”

Ways to help

Real estate agents and others can help in many ways, according to Lopez, including by donating money to the Red Cross or by sending care packages to their affiliate brokerages in or near Houston.

“In our office we have at least 10 agents who have been displaced thus far,” she said. “I would assume many are in the same situation. Restaurant gift cards, basics (like toiletries, sheets, and towels), box fans, etc., are all appreciated.”

Lopez said that while Housing after Harvey is purely for agents, investors and homeowners posting rentals and matchmaking, if appraisers and inspectors want to give insight on mold remediation, FEMA, etc., she’s sure it would be greatly appreciated.

“Things here are changing daily. Areas not affected by floodwaters are at risk today due to water being let out of reservoirs. Everyone has to stay vigilant.”

One such posting on the Facebook page explains what local apartment tenants, managers and owners should know. With as many as 120,000 apartment units damaged by the storm, one of the messages to tenants in the article is: “Rent is still due and late fees may apply.”

Lopez recommended that anyone who has a home that is not habitable should go immediately to disasterassistance.gov and apply.

“They will approve a hotel stay for 30 days within a few hours,” Lopez said. “I have also personally seen many friends and family offering free rooms on Airbnb.”

“Houston Strong”

Lessons about how to recover after a natural disaster will continue to become apparent. For now, Lopez said, she has learned about the spirit of the real estate industry.

“I have learned that REALTORS®, brokerages, vendors, affiliates and associations will band together to help whoever, whenever,” she said. “There is no way possible to prepare for an 800-year flood. We are “Houston strong,” and we are proud to serve the real estate industry.”

Help is available

An important resource for people whose homes have been lost or damaged during major disasters is the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) 203(h) Disaster Relief Program. It offers a zero-down loan program for those in presidentially declared major disaster areas to rebuild or buy anew.

The Houston Association of REALTORS® created “Realtors Helping Houston Texas” on the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Realtorshelpinghoustontexas/. It aims to coordinate relief efforts, such as drop-off points for incoming items from REALTOR® associations across the country, as well as to coordinate local efforts once the storm waters recede, according to the Facebook page.

The Women’s Council of REALTORS® is participating in the REALTORS® Relief Foundation, where 100% of proceeds go to housing needs of those affected by natural disasters.