20 REALTOR® MARCH/APRIL 2014 REALTORMAG.REALTOR.ORG
makeshift office in her living room, forwarded her business line
to a new cell phone, and used her personal savings to keep her
business going amid the chaos.
Not many real estate professionals would have had an
adequate emergency fund for such a disaster. Lanier did. When
the tornado hit, the 17-year veteran broker says she needed
$10,000 just to replace computer equipment and office supplies for her 14-agent office. (She received a $1,500 computer
grant from the Missouri Association’s REALTORS® Relief
Foundation). “If you’re going to have to lease a new location, that
could cost you $6,000 to $8,000 for a deposit and first month’s
rent,” she says. To be safe, she recommends keeping $20,000
in liquid savings, an amount that would obviously vary depending on your location and the size of your business.
Dealing with Loss
The financial cushion didn’t remedy the psychological toll on
Lanier. “You’re emotionally trying to deal with the tornado
yourself, and you hear the story of every client you work with,”
she says. “A lot of us had to seek counseling because we felt
very much like disaster workers. I may have lost a business, but
people lost a lot more, so my loss is kind of trivial in the scheme
of things. ”
The effect of the tornado was felt throughout the REALTOR®
community in Joplin—43 practitioners lost their homes and
80 lost vehicles, five lost their offices, four lost immediate
family members, and one, Donald Lansaw with Charles Burt,
REALTORS®, lost his life.
The Ozark Gateway Association of REALTORS®, which was
without power for three days after the storm, had a printed
membership list. So the staff, using their only working form of
communication, started texting members and kept it up until
they’d accounted for all 399 members. They also created a
needs list: who needed a ride, who needed prescriptions, who
needed dialysis. A group of REALTORS® and staff volunteers
took care of those requests, says CEO Kim Cox.
Cox says every broker and REALTOR® association should
keep a printed or cloud-based list of emergency contacts.
In addition to including everyone within your company, keep
information on the local home builders association, Habitat for
Humanity, Salvation Army, city housing authority, major places
of worship, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and
the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Joplin benefitted from the generosity of the REALTOR®
community, with donations pouring in through the Missouri
REALTORS® Relief Foundation and other associations around
the country. More than $91,000 was donated, of which $73,000
went directly to the 43 members who lost their homes, Cox says.
The remaining $18,000 was put into a separate fund to
be used over time for members’ needs. There’s still about
$8,000 available that members can access with an application
through the Community Foundation of Southwest Missouri.
As for helping the wider community, OGAR received seven
semi-truck loads of material donations and turned its offices
into a distribution center for anyone in need. More than 2,000
Joplin residents obtained cleaning supplies, clothes, tools,
tarps, buckets, and bins to salvage items.
After getting through the crisis, Joplin REALTORS® faced
the tough task of getting back to business. OGAR worked with
the local MLS to make changes to listing forms in order to note
whether a property was “in the zone” of the tornado damage.
Lanier was able to borrow a conference room at a local Edward
Jones investment brokerage until she managed to reopen her
office eight months later, in January 2012. And while one might
expect that the storm would have immediately leveled real
estate sales, the opposite was true. Those who had lost their
homes sought to put a new roof over their heads as soon as
possible, Lanier says. Home sales burst wide open in neighborhoods that were undamaged. In June 2011, 417 residential units
were sold in Joplin with a median price of $105,000, compared
to 187 units with an $86,000 median price sold during the prior
June, according to OGAR.
But six months after the tornado, business slowed. Houses priced at $200,000 and under, even with a little damage,
were being scooped up, Cox says, but high-end homes in the
$700,000 range weren’t moving. Some victims who had not yet
purchased were waiting for new builds or for homes to go on the
market. Those who couldn’t find housing stayed in one of 500
temporary trailers set up by FEMA. The last trailer was removed
By June 2013, Joplin sales were back to pre-tornado levels:
218 total residential units sold that month at a median price of
$101,750. But prices have since slipped again; 161 homes were
sold in February with a median price of $79,000. “Now we are
seeing people trying to sell what they bought right after the
tornado and not getting what they paid in 2011,” Lanier says.
The Slow Comeback
In Joplin many retail shops and restaurants have returned,
especially along the city’s bustling Range Line Road. Of six
schools destroyed, three have been rebuilt, and construction
of a new high school is expected to be complete by next year.