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‘We Are One Family’: Real Estate Community Bands Together for Harvey Relief

With Hurricane Harvey rescue efforts underway in Southeast Texas, REALTORS® from all corners of the country are stepping up to provide relief.

The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) is encouraging its members to donate to the REALTORS® Relief Foundation (RRF), which provides housing assistance for disaster victims.

“There will be many families in the Greater Houston area who need our help,” said NAR President Bill Brown in a statement. “It will take time to know the full impact of Hurricane Harvey, but we know the devastation will be widespread and that our support will be necessary.”

“This may require our REALTOR® family’s largest effort since Hurricane Katrina—or even 9/11,” wrote Martin Edwards, president of the RRF, in an internal memo to NAR directors and staff. “Hopefully, REALTORS® across America will heed the call to donate without precedent, as the on-the-ground membership in Texas will be stretched beyond belief.”

Indeed real estate brokerages directly in and surrounding the path of the storm as well as from around the country are extending support. Local brokerages including Coldwell Banker D’Ann Harper, REALTORS®, ERA Colonial Real Estate and Latter & Blum, Inc. REALTORS® shared some of their experiences.

Many affiliates of D’Ann Harper steered their boats toward Houston to help rescue stranded residents, says President Leesa Harper Rispoli, and the company is working to transport much-needed supplies, as well.

“Our company is working with the Red Cross and pet/animal shelters for donations,” Harper Rispoli says. “We have had several agents team together and take their boats to Houston to assist in the water rescue. We also have had many offices and agents come together to take supplies to the Port Aransas and Rockport area.

“This catastrophic event has affected not only our agents and families, but several of our sister companies along the coast,” says Harper Rispoli. “Our great franchisor of Coldwell Banker has pledged to match donated funds for our sister companies to rebuild. It is great to be surrounded by support and giving hearts. We believe we are one family…together!”

ERA Colonial launched a fundraiser for the Houston Food Bank, with the goal of raising $7,700—a cause, and sum, near and dear to CEO Tom DeWine’s heart.

“The Houston Food Bank is such a local and longstanding group, and I wanted to make sure we focused on something that was very local,” DeWine says. “We set a relatively modest goal—I picked a zip code that I had lived in when I was in Houston in the late ’90s, and when I knew that a lot of flooding was occurring [there], I set the first four numbers of that zip code, 7700, as the goal.”

ERA Colonial has achieved approximately 38 percent of its goal (at press time), and will match up to 50 percent of donations, with net proceeds going to the Houston Food Bank. The fundraiser is open now through the next two weeks on YouCaring.

The company is also lending a hand through an upcoming philanthropic event, its 19th Annual Fish Fry and 5K Fun Run Walk, which will welcome roughly 100 displaced residents relocating to the Fort Hood/Killeen area. The Fish Fry is held each year in honor of ERA Colonial agent Pat Patton; the 5K Fun Run supports the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), the corporate charity of ERA Real Estate. The event is taking place Saturday, Sept. 2 at Harker Heights Community Park.

“It’s going to cost about an additional $1,000 in materials, but ERA Colonial Real Estate is committed to sharing that cost with another partner in the Fish Fry,” says DeWine, who has family in Houston. “I’m extremely grateful [to be] raising money for MDA, but also to be able to help feed these people coming to a community they don’t know. We have been touched by this as a company through our agents and staff…it’s been very personal for us.”

In terms of damage, Harvey is second only to Hurricane Katrina—a sobering reminder for New Orleans-based Latter & Blum President Rick Haase, who, as chairman of the Board of Trustees for United Way of Southeast Louisiana, is observing the destruction firsthand. Over 1,800 Latter & Blum agents are in the Greater Houston area.

“There’s a real good chance the [financial] damage estimates will reach, if not surpass, the Katrina levels,” says Haase, who pinpoints them presently at $75 billion. “The steps after a storm like this: rescue, response and recovery. The first step is trying to assess, the second step is making sure immediate needs are taken care of—food, water and shelter—and, then, it’s about helping during the long road of navigating FEMA, what to watch out for with contractors, etc. It’s all-hands-on-deck to educate our agents so that they, in turn, can educate their clients.”

The company is currently collecting contributions (tax-deductible, through United Way) from its 3,300 agents, and will make its own “substantial” donation, Haase says. (Checks should be made payable to “Latter & Blum Harvey Relief” and sent to: Latter & Blum Home Office, Attention: Denise Linscombe, 430 Notre Dame St., New Orleans, LA 70130.)

Several members of the industry at the franchise level are also reaching out in support. Keller Williams Realty, through its KW Cares non-profit organization, has three semi-trailer trucks packed with generators, non-perishable food and other supplies standing by near its headquarters, with U-Haul trucks from its Market Centers across the nation en route (at press time). Teams on Wednesday were busy preparing a warehouse in Houston for the supplies, which are expected to arrive on Friday.

KW Cares has distributed $150,000 in “emergency relief funds,” says Darryl Frost, spokesperson for Keller Williams, to agents that have been impacted. “There has been a huge outpouring of support,” Frost says. “The really cool part is that neighbors are stepping in to help neighbors, since police and local responders have been taxed. KW Cares is here to help all our agents with homes that have been affected by this storm.”

RE/MAX, which has 2,500 affiliates and 110 offices in the trajectory of the storm, is donating $500,000 to the American Red Cross, and establishing an “online hub” with information for victims.

“RE/MAX is concerned first and foremost for the safety and wellbeing of Texas communities affected by Hurricane Harvey including more than 2,500 RE/MAX associates and their families in nearly 110 offices in the Texas Gulf Coast that have been directly impacted by this storm,” says Adam Contos, co-CEO of RE/MAX. “We are working to ensure that our agents and their families are safe and that moving forward their needs and the needs of Texans are met swiftly.

“To do so, we’re creating an online hub with information and resources for anyone affected, including help and support from surrounding RE/MAX offices,” Contos says. “We are one community of REALTORS® supporting each other. In addition, RE/MAX, LLC is donating $50,000 to the American Red Cross to aid relief efforts in the days, weeks and months to come and we’ll continue to look for ways to support those in need.”

Realogy, which includes brands Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, Century 21 Real Estate, Coldwell Banker, ERA Real Estate and Sotheby’s International Realty, has set up a fundraising page for the American Red Cross through The Realogy Charitable Foundation. The goal, which hit $200,000 on Wednesday, is now up to $500,000.

Suzanne De Vita is RISMedia’s online news editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at sdevita@rismedia.com.

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