PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSEY JANIES

Rebuilding
with
Resilience

When natural disasters strike, REALTORS® — members of the National Association of REALTORS® — are on the front lines in their communities, bringing comfort to families that suffer loss and using their real estate expertise to help residents rebound and move forward.

Nothing can prepare homeowners for the emotional shock of having their home destroyed in a natural disaster . Cherished heirlooms are ruined. Memories are washed away. And the profound sense of comfort home provides — physically and emotionally — is shattered.

30
Record number of named storms
in the 2020 Atlantic hurricane
season (source: US News)
10m+
Acres in the U.S. destroyed by
wildfires in 2020, a record
(source: NOAA)
22
Disasters in 2020 that caused
at least $1 billion in damages
in the U.S. (source: NOAA)
PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSEY JANIES

Unfortunately, many experts believe that natural disasters are not only becoming more severe1; they’re happening more often. One study found that around the world, climate disasters have been increasing since the 1960s, including a 35 percent increase since the 1990s.2 In 2020 alone, the U.S. experienced a record-breaking 22 weather or climate disasters that each resulted in at least $1 billion in damages.3

Despite those profound challenges, the resiliency communities display in the face of natural disasters is remarkable. Neighbors find ways to support each other, rebuild, and plan for the future, and REALTORS® — members of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) — are often on the front lines of those local recovery efforts. They’re not only among the first to distribute essential relief funds; they provide emotional and practical support for months or years after, even when the news crews have gone and it may seem like the rest of the world has moved on.

Not all real estate agents are REALTORS®. Only agents who belong to the National Association of REALTORS® and adhere to its code of ethics can call themselves a REALTOR®. REALTORS® have a commitment to the communities they serve.

“REALTORS® are at the center of the community. They’re the ones coaching little league teams. They’re the ones leading their homeowner’s associations. They’re connected to everything,” said Norman Morris, CEO of Louisiana REALTORS®, a membership association for over 11,000 REALTORS® in Louisiana. “So after a natural disaster, our members are in a key position to provide advice, help, and support to those affected — often all while their own homes have been severely damaged or destroyed.”

17k
Families helped by the REALTORS® Relief Foundation (source: NAR)

Here are three remarkable stories of how REALTORS® and REALTOR® associations — in conjunction with the REALTORS® Relief Foundation, a charitable organization from NAR that provides housing-related assistance after disasters — have helped communities and homeowners around the United States recover from natural disasters and establish a more secure future for themselves and their families.

Select a Story

PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSEY JANIES

Louisiana

Financial support, hands-on help and camaraderie after a devastating 2020 hurricane season

Hurricanes are a fact of life in Louisiana, and the 2020 storm season was a relentless one. Five named hurricanes made landfall in the state, including Laura and Delta, which walloped residents roughly six weeks apart.

1m
residents without power after
Hurricane Laura
220k
residents without drinking
water after Hurricane Laura
$1.2b
in insured losses from
Hurricane Delta damages
PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSEY JANIES
PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSEY JANIES
PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSEY JANIES

“When someone is in the middle of trying to secure their roof or get their furniture out to a place where they can try to restore it, and here comes another storm 43 days later, it makes it so much harder,” said Morris, who is a lifelong Louisianan and has been with the Louisiana REALTORS® association for over 20 years. “It prolongs the pain, the misery, and the devastation that individuals have to go through.”

And that devastation was profound. Hurricane Laura left more than 1 million residents without power and more than 220,000 without drinking water. Hurricane Delta caused up to $1.2 billion in insured losses from wind damage and storm surge. In both storms, local residents died.

The REALTORS® Relief Foundation — founded by the National Association of REALTORS® in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — supplied much-needed financial support in those storms’ aftermath.

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PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSEY JANIES
PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSEY JANIES
PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSEY JANIES
PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSEY JANIES
PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSEY JANIES
Click to expand
$33m
in disaster relief provided by the REALTORS® Relief Foundation over 20 years

The foundation has provided more than $33 million in disaster relief over the past 20 years, and every single dollar donated to RRF goes to victims of disasters to cover short-term housing expenses. In addition, local residents were able to apply to the state association and use Louisiana REALTORS® Relief Fund dollars to help cover everything from diapers to emergency home repairs.

$33m
in disaster relief provided by the REALTORS® Relief Foundation over 20 years

Both the national and state relief funds are built around speed, so Louisiana homeowners and renters were able to get checks within a matter of days, not weeks. With no power or internet, many REALTORS® hand-delivered applications to local community members and often submitted the applications on their behalf. Later, they hand-delivered the relief checks.

“When you hand someone who is facing that kind of devastation a check for whatever amount it is — it could be $25, it could be a mortgage payment, or it could be anything in between — and you see their expression, it’s amazing,” said Morris. “You know you’re really helping them.”

PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSEY JANIES

But REALTORS® in Louisiana did more to help their community than handing out checks. They used their local expertise to offer the kind of help that lasts long after the storms have ended — and the last news truck has packed up and moved onto another story.

PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSEY JANIES
PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSEY JANIES

For months, REALTORS® got their hands dirty, helping neighbors and clients secure damaged roofs and remove debris piles several feet tall. They made sure the Louisiana REALTORS® webpage listed the most up-to-date disaster resource information, so people could easily apply for federal aid and connect with various agencies and organizations. Some REALTORS® even assisted clients by personally accompanying them when they met with insurance adjusters to make sure they understood their policies and were getting the repairs they needed, providing both practical expertise and a sense of support. A group also handed out gift cards and hosted a jambalaya cookout where residents could come get a hot meal.

“REALTORS® would get together and go help other people that needed help cleaning up yards or help cutting trees blocking driveways,” recalled REALTOR® Tony Cornner, a real estate agent and REALTOR® from Lake Charles, La., and 2021 secretary and treasurer of Louisiana REALTORS®.

Indeed, NAR members have a passion for giving back, and prove their commitment to the communities in which they live and work, by volunteering at more than twice 4 the rate of the general population. And after a crisis, they don’t wait for others to take action. They come together to help their communities and its residents recover.

PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSEY JANIES
PHOTO CREDIT: Colin Mullane, REALTOR®

Oregon

Empathy and education after the Almeda wildfire

When the massive Almeda fire roared to life in September 2020, Colin Mullane, a real estate agent and REALTOR® in the Rogue Valley region in southwestern Oregon, was in the midst of selling his home and closing on another. The fire — which ultimately destroyed more than 2,300 structures5 — missed both houses by just two blocks.

PHOTO CREDIT: Colin Mullane, REALTOR®
PHOTO CREDIT: Colin Mullane, REALTOR®

“I’ve never, ever experienced anything like it, and I hope I never do again,” said Mullane, who was awarded REALTOR® of the Year in 2017 by the Oregon Association of REALTORS®. The temperature was in the high 90s, it hadn’t rained, and the wind gusts exceeded 50 mph.

“We’ve all seen TV coverage of disasters, of wildfires, hurricanes, flooding,” said Mullane, who at one point was on the phone with his mother-in-law as she frantically evacuated children from the daycare she runs with just minutes to spare. “It’s not the same as being there. The fear is… it’s really hard to explain.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Colin Mullane, REALTOR®
PHOTO CREDIT: Colin Mullane, REALTOR®

While the day of the fire itself was horrific, the next day was in many ways harder. Mullane returned to a home with no electricity or running water. He sat for about 30 minutes, feeling utterly helpless. Then he decided he had to do something.

PHOTO CREDIT: Colin Mullane, REALTOR®

“I got on my bike and rode through the neighborhood. I literally texted clients and friends and said, ‘Do you want to know what happened to your place? I’m in town,’” he said. “I had one client that said, ‘We don’t want to know. Don’t tell us. We’re not ready for the news.’ So I didn’t tell them.”

As he drove through the destruction, he was struck by how fire is “the most undiscriminating thing” he’d ever encountered. Five or six homes would be burned to the ground, with one standing among them untouched for no apparent reason.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Colin Mullane, REALTOR®
PHOTO CREDIT: Colin Mullane, REALTOR®
PHOTO CREDIT: Colin Mullane, REALTOR®
PHOTO CREDIT: Colin Mullane, REALTOR®
PHOTO CREDIT: Colin Mullane, REALTOR®
Click to expand
100
disaster recoveries funded by the REALTORS® Relief Foundation

Mullane wasn’t the only REALTOR® to kick into action. According to Jenny Pakula, CEO at the Oregon Association of REALTORS®, the REALTORS® Relief Foundation and her state association were able to quickly help close to 400 local families.

“We gave out about $400,000 — $200,000 from the REALTORS® Relief Foundation and $200,000 from the Oregon REALTORS® HOME Foundation. The state foundation provided gift cards and all kinds of things,” Pakula said. “It’s the immediacy that is so great.”

100
disaster recoveries funded by the REALTORS® Relief Foundation

As in Louisiana, REALTORS® in Oregon provided hands-on, grassroots help.

“NAR members are uniquely qualified to identify members in the community to reach out and say, ‘What’s the need in your neighborhood? Do you have running water? Do we need to get Porta-Potties into your neighborhood?’ Things like that,” said Mullane. REALTORS® distributed free pet food and turned real estate offices into “shops” where anyone who needed it could get free packaged food items, bottled water, and clothes. Brokerage offices also invited community members to use their WiFi and called their mortgage companies for them — anything they could to help their neighbors begin to sift through the destruction.

PHOTO CREDIT: Patricia Davidson
PHOTO CREDIT: Patricia Davidson

Nearly a year later, the Ashland area is still recovering.

PHOTO CREDIT: Patricia Davidson
PHOTO CREDIT: Patricia Davidson

Some 700 families are still living in hotel rooms, Mullane noted with obvious pain and frustration. That’s why the REALTOR® organization is collaborating with the city of Ashland to distribute information about fire safety measures, like replacing bark mulch with noncombustible materials.

“This partnership seeks to create education pieces real estate professionals can share with their clients about wildfire risk, how to assess their property for fire risk, what materials are fire resistant, and how you create a defensible space around your home,” Pakula said. “Our members have done so many things to help educate people in the community when they’re purchasing homes in areas impacted by the wildfire.”

That kind of education is always powerful, but it’s especially meaningful when it comes from local experts who’ve lived through similar events — and whose community roots run deep.

“My lens is different now,” said Mullane, who knows of 11 fellow members who lost their homes in the Almeda fire. “I’m always willing to share [my perspective] with clients.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Patricia Davidson
PHOTO CREDIT: Patricia Davidson

North Dakota

Fighting for a flood-free future

Floods are a regular occurrence along North Dakota’s rivers, particularly in the spring — but they’re getting worse. According to the Environmental Protection Agency6, flood magnitudes in the state have been increasing since the 1920s in the Red River watershed.

PHOTO CREDIT: JENNIFER DARLING

“Flooding here is slow,” said Mary Scherling, formerly a real estate professional and currently County Commissioner in Cass County, who lost her own family home to a flood in 1997. “It’s not like flash flooding you have in some other areas in the country where all of a sudden, you have to go. But it’s very, very stressful. There is usually time, if you’re in your home, to get to higher ground and be safe — but you need to plan ahead.”

Greg Larson, a Bismarck, N.D., real estate agent and REALTOR®, empathizes with neighbors and clients who’ve lost their homes to flooding. Larson’s home was devastated in a record-breaking 2011 flood of the Missouri River.

“All through that flood, we were told, ‘You don’t have to worry. You don’t have to worry. And then all of a sudden it was: ‘Yes, you have to worry. Get out,’” recalled Larson. “You just go kind of numb. There’s nothing you can do immediately to stop a flood. You just have to watch it happen. So there’s a real feeling of helplessness.”

That feeling of helplessness was mitigated, somewhat, by the check he received from the REALTORS® Relief Foundation within a week of the flooding.

“Within 10 days of being flooded out of our house, we got our check,” said Larson. “It was 92 days before we got help from anybody else, any other government agency or from the flood insurance folks.”

For both Scherling and Larson, the personal experience of losing their homes has inspired them to push for big-picture solutions to help fight future flood devastation.

It’s not just about selling houses, it’s about making sure that people have safe shelter where they can build memories and not be forced to leave.
Mary Scherling, County Commissioner in Cass County, N.D. and former real estate professional.

Larson’s loss galvanized him to join the Water Resource District for Burleigh Country, where Bismarck sits. That board was able to push for the building of a protective levee surrounding the capital city. He was also Chair of the National Association of REALTORS® Disaster Task Force, where he helped work with the National Flood Insurance Program and FEMA to make their programs more cost-effective and responsive to people’s needs.

Scherling is part of a group of local leaders pursuing permanent flood protection for the Fargo metro area. Because North Dakota continues to face the threat of flooding every spring, the state is now undertaking an ambitious multi-billion-dollar plan to carry flood waters safely around the Fargo area during times of extreme flooding. The legislative effort to create permanent flood protection will protect homeowners from damage.

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PHOTO CREDIT: JENNIFER DARLING
PHOTO CREDIT: JENNIFER DARLING
Photo Credit: Jill Ockhardt Blaufuss
Photo Credit: Jill Ockhardt Blaufuss
Photo Credit: Jill Ockhardt Blaufuss
Click to expand

“It’s really good news now that we have permanent flood protection in the works. And so I think that gives potential homeowners and current homeowners some real relief,” said Scherling. “For this project, real estate professionals in the area were really supportive and spoke publicly at hearings on behalf of the project.”

“REALTORS® in North Dakota have never stepped away from being actively engaged in their community,” she added. “It’s not just about selling houses, it’s about making sure that people have safe shelter where they can build memories and not be forced to leave.”