‘We Will Rebuild, and Many People Will Come Again’

September 19, 2018

Jerry Pinkas, broker-owner of Jerry Pinkas Real Estate Experts in Myrtle Beach, S.C., has temporarily postponed all sales meetings at his office, asking his agents instead to “pull out our chainsaws to do whatever we can for the community.” Pinkas’s team, like others in the area, is turning its attention to helping residents across North Carolina and South Carolina begin a long recovery after Hurricane Florence. Real estate professionals are helping to clear debris from roads and assist affected homeowners in the storm’s wake.

Pinkas himself evacuated with his family to Orlando, Fla., before Florence reached the Eastern seaboard last Friday, bringing devastating flooding and killing at least 35. With his father on dialysis, making emergency plans was even more difficult for Pinkas. Now, having returned to his South Carolina home, Pinkas, a 2018 REALTOR® Volunteering Works honoree, is turning his focus to helping clients and colleagues sort through the rubble of their lives in the hurricane’s aftermath. “Since we are in a second-home and resort area, many clients have concerns about the condition of their properties, and we have been able to communicate with them about any damages or flooding issues,” he says.

A KW Cares team helps clean a property that was flooded by Hurricane Florence.

© KW Cares/Keller Williams Realty

A KW Cares team helps clean a property that was flooded by Hurricane Florence.

Just as important is to evaluate the storm’s long-term impact on his business, which Pinkas realizes will be very different over the next few weeks. “Our real estate business has been disrupted and will be affected for months,” he says. “We were one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the nation [before the storm], and any news of a hurricane will surely slow growth. Most of the time, when people are looking to move to or invest in an area, they do a lot of research. Of course, an event like this may persuade some not to make the move. But we will rebuild, and many people will come again to enjoy our beautiful beaches, low taxes, and excellent resort lifestyle.”

Real estate professionals both near and far have been among the first responders, pouring in emergency supplies and funding and using their business connections to secure temporary housing for storm victims. The National Association of REALTORS® also has asked members to donate to the REALTORS® Relief Foundation, which gives 100 percent of the funds it receives to victims of natural disasters.

The extent of damage caused by Florence is only now beginning to come to light, and some affected areas remain cut off to recovery aid due to flooding that has made roads impassable.

REALTOR® Associations Mobilize

NC REALTORS®, the state association in North Carolina, is reaching out to its 44,000 members to check on their safety after the storm but doesn’t yet know how many were affected. Thousands of residents remain without power, making it difficult for the association to communicate with members. “Many areas across the state are not out of the woods yet, as active flooding is expected to continue through the week,” NC REALTORS® President Amy Hedgecock says in a video posted to the association’s website. “Some homes are uninhabitable. The situation is dire.”

KW Cares teams remove sheetrock in a damaged home in North Carolina.

© KW Cares/Keller Williams Realty

KW Cares teams remove sheetrock in a damaged home in North Carolina.

About 30 to 40 inches of rain has fallen over some areas, and rising rivers are cresting to new records threatening more destruction. The winds and storm surge from Hurricane Florence are estimated to have caused $1.7 billion to $4.6 billion in insured losses along the Southeast coast, according to data from Verisk Analytics Inc.

NC REALTORS® started delivering truckloads of supplies on Tuesday to affected areas and coordinating distribution centers at local board offices. Additionally, the association created a database of homes and apartments temporarily available to rent to displaced storm victims. “The NC REALTORS® staff, members, and local associations who have escaped the worst of Florence are working feverishly to mobilize funding, resources, and volunteers for communities hardest hit,” Hedgecock said in a video to members. The association’s executive committee approved $20,000 in emergency funds for initial recovery efforts.

The South Carolina REALTORS® association also has rushed to provide its members with support, canceling its annual state conference, which was supposed to be held in Myrtle Beach last week, with no plans to reschedule in order to focus on cleanup efforts.

A ‘Glimmer of Hope’

Meanwhile, brokerages such as Keller Williams Realty are stepping in to supplement larger recovery efforts. As of Tuesday morning, KW Cares, the charity arm of Keller Williams, has helped 26 agents whose homes were damaged by acute flooding in New Bern, N.C. KW Cares also plans to send a relief team to help a Keller Williams brokerage in Morsel, N.C., that reported extensive flooding and damage to its office. About 100 Keller Williams sales associates who evacuated have yet to return to their homes in Wilmington, N.C., one of the hardest-hit areas. There, entire neighborhoods reportedly were completely submerged in floodwaters, and thousands of road closures prevented homeowners from accessing their properties.

KW Cares set up a command post in New Bern early last week and drove three of its 18-wheeler trucks to the area, filled with power generators, gas cans, food, water, diapers, and cleaning supplies. This week, 74 volunteers—mostly real estate agents and their families and friends—showed up to the command post, offering to help in cleanup efforts. “The biggest thing we can do is not just about the physical possessions or generators we bring but when we can put our arms around someone else, tell them it’s going to be all right, and get them working again with a glimmer of hope,” says Tom Freireich, head of operations for the KW Disaster Relief Team.

Response teams first work to address the immediate needs of victims—food, water, and essential supplies—and then set out to help clean up homes and brokerages. They have crews that clean mud and waste from homes, pulling down sheetrock and stripping properties to the studs as quickly as possible. “It can save insurance companies and our agents a lot of money if we can get to it before mold sets in,” Freireich says. KW Cares also provides emergency grants to victims; two pregnant agents were able to evacuate their homes and deliver their children safely thanks to the grants.

“At first, after a disaster, the sky may seem like it’s falling, but then we’re able to get [agents] engaged and back in business,” Freireich says. “All of a sudden, they’re able to then help people in their community. We’ve had amazing results for offices that have been through these total devastations but have come out seeing even bigger growth after. This is all part of the healing process.”

—Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine