Terror Aftermath: Helping Victims at Home

November 1, 2001

Victoria Terri-Cote will never forget the day everything changed.

The residential sales associate with the Corcoran Group in New York City had just seen her 14-year-old daughter onto the school bus, just a block from the World Trade Center, and was admiring the warm weather and starched blue skies.

It was the morning of Sept. 11, and the high-end condo specialist had seven transactions, ranging in price from $450,000 to $1.1 million, ready to close in the next few weeks. But as Terri-Cote ran through the details of those deals in her mind, she heard something that sounded like a sonic boom. In a flash, the deals became as irrelevant as a piece of paper that drifted across the sidewalk in front of her.

The blast and subsequent terrorist attacks turned the World Trade Center towers into a pile of rubble and ripped open half the western side of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. What has arisen out of the ashes, however, is a testament to the spirit of the country—and the real estate community. The day after the attacks, NAR launched its REALTORS®Housing Relief Fund with a $1 million donation and a call for contributions to help families of victims avoid falling behind on their mortgage or rent payments. Families and households of those killed at the sites and on the four hijacked planes are eligible. As of Oct. 1, the fund had nearly $4.5 million in contributions pledged, and more than $200,000 had already been disbursed.

“None of the families should have to suffer the trauma of losing their homes as a result of the terrorist attack,” NAR President Richard Mendenhall said when the fund was established.

State associations around the country have given generously, as have many real estate companies and individual members. Fannie Mae kicked in $1 million, and eCommissions, a commission-advance provider, pledged 5 percent of its daily revenue to the fund.

In the affected areas, REALTORS® also gave their time and expertise to help people get on with their lives. In New York, for example, many practitioners said they’d work without compensation to help displaced persons find new housing and displaced companies new office space. The Real Estate Board of New York, many of whose members are also, REALTORS®, issued a call for practitioners and landlords to waive commissions and keep rents stable, even though the office and residential markets were facing severe space shortage.

“The effort speaks well of the way everyone in New York came together on this,” says Cornelia Netter, vice president of the Manhattan Association of REALTORS®, which had launched just six months earlier as a spin-off from the Bronx-Manhattan Association of REALTORS®. Netter is president of Netter Real Estate, Greenwich Village.

The short-term challenges for practitioners, both residential and commercial, are daunting. Close to 20 million square feet of office space, about 5 percent of the city’s inventory, was lost in the attacks. About 15 million square feet of that was buried in the World Trade Center rubble; the rest was destroyed when other buildings, including the smaller buildings that make up the World Trade Center complex, either collapsed or were rendered unusable.

But the long-term impact is hard to discern, say practitioners. In New York the office vacancy rate, at about 4 percent, was one of the tightest in the country. There was about 14 million square feet of vacant space at the time of the attack, but practitioners have said that much of it isn’t suitable for tenants from the financial district, particularly larger tenants.

Still, the displaced are moving on. The Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, which had offices in Building 7 of the World Trade Center complex, moved to temporary offices in Jersey City, N.J., just across the Hudson River. The space isn’t large enough to hold its entire staff, so many people are working from home. That’s the kind of temporarily acceptable arrangement many companies are looking at.

“What does it all mean for the long term? We can’t know, but the overwhelming mood here is one of staying put,” says David Michonski, cips, president of the Manhattan Association of REALTORS®. Michonski is CEO of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy.

One person who’s staying put is the chief investor in the World Trade Center, Larry Silverstein. From the moment of the buildings’ collapse, he talked about rebuilding. Real estate professionals in the area are mixed on whether most tenants would return to the buildings, or, for that matter, stay in any high-profile skyscraper that would make a good terrorist target.

Residential practitioners say few people who are temporarily relocated outside New York City will remain outside for long. “New Yorkers who lived here through the 1970s when New York was at its worst with financial problems, crime, and garbage now see the city at its best,” says Michonski. “Those people aren’t rushing to sell.”

Practitioners do expect condo prices to soften in the short term as buyers take a wait-and-see attitude, but they expect prices to firm back up in a few months.

A similar market outlook was found in Arlington, Va., the inner suburban area across the Potomac River from Washington that’s home to the Pentagon.

“It’s business as usual, still very much a seller’s market,” says Mary Hurlbut, a 14-year veteran sales associate with Weichert, REALTORS®, who works the residential areas closest to the Pentagon.

“I was working with three customers at the time of the attacks, two chiefs of staff for members of Congress, and an executive with a communications agency,” she says. “They called immediately afterward to tell me they were still looking. These people are on the frontlines of the federal government, and they’re dedicated to this area,” she says.

Efforts around the country have shown that REALTORS® are dedicated to keeping their communities strong in the midst of terror. “This kind of thing brings out the most altruistic and resilient side of people,” says Terri-Cote.

Major donors

Hundreds of REALTOR® organizations and individual REALTORS® have stepped forward with contributions to the REALTORS® Housing Relief Fund, which NAR launched the day after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. NAR committed an initial $1 million contribution; some of the other top pledges are

  • $1 million Fannie Mae
  • $466,000 Weichert, REALTORS® (total from salespeople, staff, and corporate)
  • $100,000 each Illinois Association of REALTORS®, New Jersey Association of REALTORS®, New York State Association of REALTORS®
  • $88,000 Maine Association of REALTORS®
  • $75,000 Georgia Association of REALTORS®
  • $50,000 each Council of Residential Specialists, Long Island Board of REALTORS®, Texas Association of REALTORS®
  • $40,000 Connecticut Association of REALTORS®
  • $31,000 Arizona Association of REALTORS®
  • $25,000 each California Association of REALTORS®, District of Columbia Association of REALTORS®, Maryland Association of REALTORS®, Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®
  • $20,000 Indiana Association of REALTORS®
  • $11,000 Portland Metro Association of REALTORS®
  • $10,500 Fox & Roach Charities, Devon, Pa.

Source: REALTORS® Magazine and NAR Information Central

‘Proud to be a part of NAR’

REALTORS® reacted with high praise to NAR’s Sept. 12 announcement that it was starting a REALTORS® Housing Relief Fund for survivors of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Farah McCard of Weichert, REALTORS®, Fairfax, Va., wrote to NAR President Richard A. Mendenhall on Sept. 18: “I’m very proud to be a part of NAR. It makes me feel great to see that we already have donated $1 million dollars to help pay mortgage and rental costs for families devastated by the terrorist attacks.

“My husband was very lucky. He had left the Pentagon 10 minutes before the plane crashed into the E-ring next to the D-ring, where he works daily. Our hearts go out to those innocent Americans who didn’t have a chance. Our prayers are with those innocent Americans who lost their loved ones.”

After the attacks, McCard gathered aid phone numbers, including the number for the REALTORS® Housing Relief Fund, and created a flyer to pass out to friends and others in her market.

“I’m deeply touched by the way we’re handling our grief,” she said, “uniting to help one another in any form we can.”

Lenders offer relief to homeowners left behind

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac launched their own assistance programs for victims of the terrorist attacks, asking lenders to show special forbearance for victims’ families.

In a Sept. 13 letter to mortgage lenders, HUD Secretary Mel Martinez declared a 90-day moratorium on the foreclosure of an FHA-insured single-family mortgage held by survivors. In addition, HUD recommended that lenders waive all late charges and suspend reporting of delinquencies, beginning with the September 2001 payment.

In addition, both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac directed lenders to hold off on reporting foreclosures and delinquencies and implemented disaster relief provisions to help affected borrowers. Under the provisions, lenders can suspend or reduce mortgage payments or create longer loan payback plans.

Fannie Mae has pledged $10 million to provide continued relief for victims and their families, including a $1 million contribution to the REALTORS® Housing Relief Fund.

Robert Freedman

Robert Freedman is the former director of multimedia communications at NAR.

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