The personal impact of Hurricane Harvey on Texas REALTORS®, their families, and friends and clients can’t be distilled into a number or report. It’s passed, word-by-word, through text messages sent while rain came down, phone conversations once service is restored, emails when connection is found, and tearful retellings in the weeks and months after.
Each story can alternatively add context, elicit sympathy, and impress. The retellings say something about the scope of the storm but also how we’re coping, moving on, and looking ahead. The Texas REALTORS® telling their stories here represent just two of many, but their experiences likely echo those of others, adding to a collective sense of where we stand after Hurricane Harvey.
We had to have someone come get us in a big pickup truck to take us to my daughter’s house, which never floods. They took us within two blocks of the home then they couldn’t go any farther. My grandsons had to come back with a boat and pick us up.
At that time, the water was halfway up my daughter’s driveway. The next morning, water was at the porch and rising fast. We had to take a boat to where other people with trucks could take us to a place to stay.
Our pets were with us and we went to the elementary school to spend the night. At daylight the next morning, water was up to the parking lot.
Three helicopters landed in the parking lot. They had been doing other rescues and saw the water rising. The seats in the helicopter had to be rearranged to fit everyone. We couldn’t bring a change of clothes. Our granddaughter, who was just turning 2, only had a diaper bag.
We got across the river to Beaumont where there was no flooding, but the water system had failed so shelters were closed to new people. A friend picked us up and we stayed a night with them. In the meantime, my daughter’s father-in-law drove 10 hours from Austin to get us. We got to Austin with nothing but the clothes on our back.
Everybody was reaching out to everybody else. You see people’s true characters. People in Austin bought shoes for my grandsons. They had been out trying to save people in boats. Their shoes had been wet for a week. We didn’t have a car seat for my granddaughter. Someone gave us an extra car seat.
It was hard not knowing what my house looked like. When we got back to our house, the water only got into part of it. Any other time I would’ve been devastated. Now, it looks minimal. The whole town is like a bomb went off. Streets and streets of destruction. Piles of what everybody owns.
It’s scary to be told you have to leave everything. From the helicopter, I looked out not knowing what was going to happen. I could barely see rooftops in neighborhoods that just don’t flood.
I was reaching out to clients the whole time, checking on the ones I thought might have been in areas that flooded. It felt so good that past clients checked on me.
Your first question to people is did the water get anything? One of my clients lost her house and her husband. He was ill and died after the evacuation. You just sit and hug them and cry with them. It’s all you can do. There’s nothing you can say that makes it better. You’re trying to help them start their life over.
Some people can afford to move now, but it’s going to come in droves when insurance starts coming in. They’re including us in the conversation to advise them on whether to rebuild or walk away. That’s a hard call. You’re standing there looking at their life in a pile on the side of the road. It’s put a whole new perspective on everything I do.
I’ve been meeting with appraisers and inspectors. How do I tell clients a value and be fair to both sides? I’m trying to figure out the best way to answer these people’s questions.
We have a classification in the MLS called ‘flooded and Harvey gutted.’ There’s people I know of where it’s not worth fixing their home. They just have to walk away. It’s going to impact our market for years. Do we know if anybody is ever going to want to live in some of these places again? We’ll wait and see. In my small community, very few people aren’t coming back.
Thank God it’s over. We’re all together. We’re happy. We’re healthy. We get to start over.
Jeanette Winfrey, of Vidor, agent with American Real Estate in Beaumont
On August 15, my real estate and life partner, Jamie, was in a bicycling accident sustaining head trauma, a concussion, and a broken left arm in three places. Her surgery was August 25, the day it started raining. The hospital was being evacuated and we were among the last five people to leave the building that evening. We made it home safely, but by Monday morning, we could see water starting to come in on the south side of our house. I was still having to lift Jamie out of bed. We were rescued by boat Monday afternoon with our two dogs, cat, and parrot.
We went back Wednesday in a high truck and barely got through the door before smelling the old water. I built that house in 1998 and never had water come in. We were able to pull the carpet in the three rooms that had water damage and got two industrial dehumidifiers.
A flooring guy came. He only did a third of the job, put down the wrong floor, and glued a glueless product. Then he disappeared. I paid him half upfront. He won’t answer his phone or texts. I’m frustrated and have been working on finding another flooring company that can remove the finished part and start over.
On the business side, all of my listings stayed dry. I try to put things in perspective. One of my classmates from the 2014 Texas REALTORS® Leadership Program lost her vehicle and house.
Another suffered a considerable amount of damage to her home. We’ve been living in half of our house since August 30.
We’ve had nightmares with medical insurance issues for Jamie, and trying to get her physical therapy approved. I’m doing everything for our business and home. Work was already stressful and busy before her bicycling accident. The accident and hurricane compounded the stress.
It all feels really daunting at times. I’m usually the one offering to help. It’s been difficult to be the one reaching out for help.
A lot of times I feel like I’m putting out the worst fire all the time. I feel like I don’t close a lot of circles. I feel like I skip around a lot, and have a hard time concentrating. I try to write lists and prioritize them. Luckily, referrals are still coming in, even though it’s somewhat slow. I’m trying to be responsive to them, but it’s hard sometimes. My memory has been really poor, I guess from the amount of stress over the last two months. It’s like I’ve been in “The Twilight Zone.” It’s shock, I guess. That’s usually not me. I’m typically laser-focused 90% of the time. I’m trying to balance getting things done. But I’m stuck at the point I am until the floors are finished and the rooms can be put back together. It’s kind of a mini-vacation to come to the office. I can work here and I don’t have to look at all that mess.
I didn’t have Internet access for around 10 days. As soon as the Internet came back and I could get into my CRM, I sent out a blast to past clients. Things have been a bit quiet. I say everyone was in Harvey shock, dealing with their own issues and helping others.
My brokerage sent out an email about available counseling resources. I typically don’t allow myself to do those things as long as there are client issues in front of me. I take care of clients before I take care of myself. People have told me that I need to take some time out, but maybe I’m hard-headed.
If I could put the house back together … if I could get that done that would be amazing … I could deal with things better.
I’m hoping there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I hope I can start 2018 with all of this behind me.
Melody Barlow, of Cypress, broker associate at Realty ONE Group Lone Star in Houston
Editor’s note: In January 2018, we caught up with Jeanette Winfrey of Vidor and Melody Barlow of Cypress to see what’s happened since the immediate aftermath of the storm. Winfrey now keeps a pair of old shoes in her car for showing homes gutted by the storm and looks forward to when she can throw them away. Repairs on her own home were slated to start after the holidays. “Slowly, it’s sinking in what we have been through, and I’m trying to help others in my town with their recovery,” she says. Barlow’s house is back together after working through issues getting flood damage repaired. “Although we’ve gotten used to having the bed in the middle of the living room!” she says. The biggest struggle now, Barlow says, is the after effects of the bicycle accident suffered by her partner, Jamie. Jamie has been diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), which is a chronic pain condition. Barlow says they welcome any insights from others suffering from CRPS.