ORLANDO – (Realty News Report) – After natural catastrophes such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires, real estate analysts and insurance companies tally up the billions in damage, but their cold numbers don’t take into account the toll on human beings.
“During Hurricane Harvey in August, Houston endured 50 inches of rain,” said Ralph Bivins, editor of Realty News Report and a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE). “300,000 cars were destroyed; 180,000 houses were hit with some degree of damage — 100,000 really hit hard. Some people still can’t get back into their house. But we don’t really talk enough about the hurt that is still going on long after the hurricane passed through.”
Bivins spoke at a NAREE panel discussion during the NAHB’s International Builders Show in Orlando. The NAREE panel, moderated by Michelle Jarboe, NAREE Board Chair and a journalist at Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, the panel – which discussed Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria — included Bivins, Palm Beach Post reporter Jeff Ostrowski, Managing Editor Catie Dixon of Bisnow commercial real estate news; and John McManus, editorial and digital content director for the residential group at Hanley Wood.
Bivins noted that a tremendous amount of real estate-related wealth evaporated almost overnight after Hurricane Harvey. “A friend of mine just moved up and bought a $500,000 home,” Bivins told the audience. “His home was a major source of his wealth. It flooded and he said, ‘my equity disappeared.’ That $500,000 house is now worth $250,000! How people are going to deal with situations like that is not going to be an easy thing.”
McManus of Washington, D. C. based publisher Hanley Wood said: “Who will be made whole? What will be covered? It is complicated. It’s the same kinds of issues with the wildfires out west, and other climatic events that occur. It will play out over several years. It takes time for households to learn, whether or not they are covered by insurance and how much they are covered, if at all. Some cases from Super Storm Sandy, which occurred in 2012, are being settled now.”
Dixon, who is based in Houston, said she was fortunate that her home was not flooded. “I did not lose my home but others did,” she said. “Maybe there is some survivor guilt there . . . people asking themselves, ‘should I have done more.’ Why was my house spared?”
Houston is resilient and will recover, she added. “It’s hard to keep Houston, or Miami, down,” she added. “There will be shifts in submarkets, but those markets eventually will recover. In Houston, we’re seeing a big boom in multifamily and that has pushed the multifamily sector ahead.”
Ostrowski of the Palm Beach Post noted that he has experienced between six and eight hurricanes and each storm is different. “During one hurricane, there was no milk because the milk companies dumped their milk before the hurricane,” Ostrowski explained. “After another one, there was no ice because the companies were concentrating on getting water out. During a third hurricane, all the gas stations had gas but couldn’t pump it because there was no electricity. After that, the Florida legislature passed a law that big gas station needed to have generators. This year they had the generators, but sold all the gas before the storm.”
The reconstruction work in the areas hit by Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma – Houston, Miami and Puerto Rico — will exacerbate the shortage in skilled workers felt in the U. S. home building industry now, McManus said. “Workers will migrate to the places where there are better opportunities,” said McManus. “They will walk off sites in any number of locations and go to where there is greater compensation. It’s not all negative. I think builders may use advanced techniques in construction, so there could be some positive result from all that.”
In the future, Bivins expects potential homebuyers will more carefully check out the location of their homes – particularly to see if the house is in a flood plain or near a levee. “In Houston, some consumers didn’t know their house was behind this levee,” recalls Bivins. “During Harvey, the U.S. Army Corps released the water from the levee without enough notice. One day the people thought they were OK and the next day – WHAM! They woke up to two feet of water in their house!”
Bivins added he was impressed and proud that all of Houston came together during one of the worst storms in the city’s history.
“People were stranded and in danger,” continued Bivins. “They were stuck in their attics and couldn’t get out. So we had this great thing: People of all backgrounds coming together. We had the Cajun Navy with their fishing boats and people with high pickup trucks who may even been called ‘deplorable’ recently. They came forward when residents needed them. They risked their own lives getting boats and helping people of all colors and religions. It made me proud, those good people coming forward. America needs more unity and it was certainly demonstrated in Houston during Hurricane Harvey.”