-- Shannon Sharpe, a real estate agent in New Orleans for the past five years, spends her days trying to deal with her flooded house and searching for customers.
Business has been brisk, but since she returned to the city after Hurricane Katrina, it's all been taking new listings, not selling houses.
"I had six pendings when the hurricane hit," Sharpe said. "They're all gone -- roof gone, flooding, whatever. Not in any condition to sell."
With her commissions blown away by Katrina and new buyers hard to find, Sharpe has been spending her nights working as a hostess in a newly reopened restaurant.
A real estate boom was predicted after Katrina, especially for areas of the city that did not flood. With a smaller supply of structurally sound houses and houses that did not stand in flood waters for weeks, some real estate agents predicted 20 to 30 percent increases and quick sales.
"If anyone can show me data supporting that I'll be very surprised," said Mary Ann Casey, who has operated a Re/Max agency in New Orleans for 24 years. "I think if that happens it will be a long time coming."
The median housing price was $152,600 in the New Orleans metropolitan area during the second quarter of this year -- April through June, according to the National Association of Realtors. New quarterly figures for the period affected by the hurricane have not yet been released. With so many agents displaced, there is a problem even gathering information on sales before Katrina.
"Eventually we'll probably see prices raise a bit," said Sylvia Roy, a broker with Prudential Gardner Realtors Inc.'s Uptown office. "But right now there is a lot more supply than demand. Once people start coming back that will change."
The question is, how many people will be coming back?
September was a record-setting month for his company, said Arthur Sterbcow, president of Latter & Blum, which has offices statewide. Those sales were in areas near New Orleans, not in the city itself, and many of them were fueled by families moving from the city.
"The houses that went the fastest were the ones that were vacant and people could move in right away," Sterbcow said. "Orleans Parish sales were flat as a pancake."
Although portions of the city have reopened to residents, more than 100,000 who evacuated have not returned. Colleges and universities are closed and the students and staffs scattered. Many schools are shut down, and parents have moved elsewhere to enroll children.
Speculators are locking up some property, planning to close when the agencies that provide title and tax information are again functioning.
Judy Ruch, an agent for Latter & Blum, had no trouble working out a deal for a house in the area near Lake Pontchartrain that was heavily flooded. The house, which would have gone for $270,000 before Katrina, was sold for the price of the 50-foot-wide lot.
"It was a couple from Metairie who always wanted to live in Lake View but couldn't afford it," Ruch said. "It's still a desirable area for many people despite the flood. They will take a chance on it now because it's such a bargain."
Ruch has also listed a 1,000-square-foot house in the flooded area that would have been $213,000 for $109,000, a house that would have been $300,000 for $149,000, and an almost new two-story that was $329,000 for $169,000.
"Everywhere had at least eight feet of water, some places more," Ruch said. "That's basically the price of the land. Less than the price of the land. Before Katrina, builders hoped to get a 50-foot lot for under $200,000."
Hurricanes have historically had short-term effects on home prices, according to Walter Molony of the National Association of Realtors. Florida has had repeated hurricanes, but the median prices in the state are up 20 percent or more compared with 2004. New Orleans can't count on that happening, however.
"That's apples and oranges," Molony said. "We have never had a disaster to compare with a whole metro area so gravely affected. No one knows yet how this will impact prices."
Sterbcow believes there will be a strong negative psychological effect of seeing pictures of flooded homes for weeks, especially when that was coupled with a second hurricane, Rita, hitting so quickly after Katrina and sparking new flooding.
"The key to property value in New Orleans is in the hands of the U.S. Congress," Sterbcow said. "Until Congress okays the money to build the levees to withstand Category 5 hurricanes, there will always be a question about properties here. Even those that escaped flooding can only claim luck. Next time their levee could be the one to go."
Real estate agents face many problems beyond a ready market. Like Sharpe, who had 12 feet of water in her house during the post-Katrina flooding, many of them lost their homes. Sharpe, who had an office in her house, also lost records, business cards and flyers, even the "for sale" signs she puts on new listings.
In addition, home sales could not be completed because the mortgage and conveyance departments, which were located in the Orleans Parish civil District Courthouse basement, were flooded.
The mildewed records were shipped to Boston to be restored. They were returned last week, a step that will help home sales to close since title research can be provided to mortgage companies.
Tax records are still unavailable, Casey said, which also prevents sales. Another problem is insurance. Few companies are writing new policies, said Louisiana Insurance Commissioner James Robert Wooley. The number of agents that are displaced by the storm is one reason. Another is worry over fraud.
"There have been cases in other areas of people doing a cosmetic renovation, selling it and the buyer then making a claim," Wooley said. "I think companies want to be sure that isn't happening."