Faced with the prospect that there might not be much of a city to return to, some displaced New Orleans residents are already shopping for new homes.
"People are buying houses sight unseen here," said Shelley Minor, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Baton Rouge. "There is a buying frenzy."
Some companies that once had offices in New Orleans have decided to make Baton Rouge a de facto headquarters until they decide whether it will ever be feasible to move back to New Orleans. Minor, for example, just landed the job of finding homes for the 150 displaced employees at the financial advisory firm where her husband works.
Arthur Sterbcow, president of realty company Latter & Blum Inc., said he had heard stories of people shopping this week for homes in Baton Rouge wearing shorts, still muddy from narrow escapes from the flooding. The rental properties are already taken, he said, by workers who have come to help fix the problems in New Orleans.
"We're selling houses hand over fist," he said. "We can't get enough inventory."
Hank Saurage IV, owner of Saurage Realtors, said that the demand has pushed up prices 3 to 10 percent in some cases and that some buyers are making cash offers to make their offers seem more attractive to sellers.
"There are 1,900 Realtors in the greater Baton Rouge area, and I don't think there's a one not working to find homes for multiple families," he said.
A week ago there were between 3,400 and 3,700 homes listed for sale in the area, he said. By the end of next week, he figures, there will be around only 500 still available -- ones that are either "extremely overpriced or uninhabitable."
In Lafayette, La., 135 miles west of New Orleans, Re/Max associate broker Jane Ortego described a similarly hectic scene.
"As of yesterday, everything has been rented out," she said. "Now people are turning to buying because there is nothing left to rent."
Ortego has sold three homes to refugees from New Orleans this week and says she's working as quickly as she can to find homes for others. She still has to meet with four new clients who left messages on her voice mail overnight.
Ortego's office is getting 200 calls an hour for people looking for rental property. Some buyers in the market there are offering more money for a home if the current owners are willing to move out early -- but those owners typically are not able to move out early because there is nowhere for them to go, she said.
More than 200 miles northwest of New Orleans in Alexandria, La., Elaine Fuqua Setliff, owner of Louisiana Lagniappe Realty, said the displaced people who are able to buy homes this week are typically retired, with a pension or dividend income. It is harder for other displaced New Orleans residents, camped out in churches and parking lots around town, who no longer have jobs and thus are frequently unable to get loan approvals.
The National Association of Realtors, based in Washington, said it was too early to say how the exodus from New Orleans will alter the real estate market in the South.
NAR spokesman Steve Cook said the organization has been busy taking inventories of properties that could be used to shelter more refugees from the storm. They are looking to convert warehouses and other commercial spaces to residential use if necessary. Having explored the available space in Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas, the organization is starting to look for space in Florida.
Rick Brinkman, senior vice president of branch operations at Harry Norman Realtors in Atlanta, said that his firm has not seen an impact there but that he expects to see one in the coming months.
"I think there absolutely will be a ripple effect; we're one of the closest job markets" to New Orleans, he said. "I don't know when it'll hit. It's going to be interesting."