The REALTORS® Among Harvey’s Heroes

September 1, 2017
Members of the Collin County Association of REALTORS® and the MetroTex Association of REALTORS® line up to deliver carloads of supplies to Houston flood victims.

Real estate professionals across the country are rushing to help victims of Hurricane Harvey pick up the pieces after devastating floods struck the Texas coastline, submerging Houston and other areas in more than 50 inches of water. These practitioners are making temporary housing arrangements for displaced families, offering resources to repair flooded homes, raising funds, and coordinating supplies to be sent to those in need.

Some real estate pros are on the ground in ravaged communities, helping to provide direct assistance to storm victims. Among them are members of the Collin County and MetroTex associations in Texas, who coordinated a large effort to bring emergency supplies to Houston. Other pros have even risked their lives to save stranded homeowners. George Huntoon of eXp Realty in Austin, Texas—which also has offices in Houston—sprung into action when floodwaters started rising. A former Marine, Huntoon navigated the floodwaters in his personal boat for more than five days, rescuing families trapped in flooded homes. He estimates he has taken part in more than 100 water rescues since Harvey slammed into Texas.

The devastation has been a life-altering experience for Huntoon. “It is heartbreaking. I have rescued poor people, rich people, black, white. Most are in clinical shock and are just moving in slow motion. This is a disaster unlike any other. The damage to property is astronomical.” He adds that he’s received several messages from displaced clients who are desperately in need of rentals.

Nicole Lopez, a team leader at Intero Real Estate Services in Houston, and her fiancé, Heath Cummins, volunteered with the Houston Police Department, using a high-water rescue vehicle to bring stranded families to safety. Lopez, who is featured in NAR’s latest Voice for Real Estate video about the recovery efforts, and her colleague, Katie Maxwell, vice president at Intero, also started a Facebook group called Housing After Harvey. The group, which has more than 1,500 members, allows real estate professionals and investors to post reduced-price or rent-free homes for displaced flood victims. Dozens of homes and rooms for rent have already been posted.

Priyanka Johri, broker-owner of Woodlands Eco Realty in The Woodlands, Texas, has offices about 28 miles outside of the flood zone. She was quick to offer up 10 rooms at her real estate office as a place for displaced families and their pets to take shelter. “I offered offices for families with a pet when we heard shelters were not accepting pets,” Johri says. (Many shelters have since begun allowing pets.) She also is housing 40 dogs left behind by storm victims and has given her contact information to Houston animal shelters as a resource in case they reach capacity. 

Johri is already working with insurance companies to help clients who were affected by the floods find temporary housing. As of Aug. 29, they’d placed three families and were in the process of preparing more properties for occupancy. In the coming weeks, she says she’ll be helping families start the process of getting their homes repaired, and she’s already fielding calls from clients who plan to sell their damaged homes as they are. “All of us can do a little bit so someone does not have to do a lot,” Johri says of her volunteering efforts. “I am just doing my part.”

Other real estate professionals posted on social media about their harrowing efforts to save lives in Houston. Ryan Bokros, managing partner at JLA Realty in Humble, Texas, wrote on Facebook of the conditions he faced while rescuing families. “Another long day out ... running the roads of Houston on a boat, trudging through water with oil slicks and gasoline from flooded and abandoned cars, floating ants, sticks, branches, and God knows whatever else beneath that couldn’t be seen through the chest-deep water.

“I practically carried a pregnant woman 300 yards out of an apartment building. I had little children’s fragile arms wrapped around my neck. I tried to comfort bawling teenagers. I pushed a boat loaded with people through a rough current when it was too shallow for the motor to trim down."

Real estate brokerages big and small banded together to collect donations for storm victims. Keller Williams Realty’s charity arm, KW Cares, sent three 18-wheeler trucks to Houston, packed with generators, nonperishable food, diapers, cleaning supplies, wheelbarrows, flashlights, and additional supplies. Keller Williams counts 17 of its market centers and 4,400 of its associates that were in Harvey’s path.

The homes of more than 300 Keller Williams associates have been impacted by the floods, says Darryl Frost, a spokesman for the brokerage. He says they expect that number to rise as the waters recede and the extent of the damage becomes more apparent. As of Aug. 30, KW Cares had issued $150,000 in grant money to cover food, rental cars, and additional expenses for affected agents, and will be assisting in the repair of their homes over the next few weeks.

The Houston Association of REALTORS® recently launched the REALTORS® Helping Houston Texas Facebook page to post the needs of the community. HAR offices were closed for nearly a week. “Houston REALTORS® are standing strong to help those that have suffered immeasurable losses, even though they themselves have suffered,” a post on the page reads.

—Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine