Washington, Illinois November 2013
Four months after an unseasonal EF4
twister destroyed 1,000 homes and four major apartment buildings, killing two people last November, the central Illinois town of
Washington (population 15,000) is starting to stabilize.
Mark Helmuth, broker-owner of WRC, REALTORS®, Inc., says
February felt closer to normal in the business sense, coming o;
a buying and renting frenzy in the weeks following the tornado.
On a typical day, WRC takes two or three calls looking for
rentals. That spiked to 40 to 50 at the end of November.
Because the majority of Washington’s housing stock is owner-occupied, the few rentals that were left were snatched up just
days after the tornado. Home owners who were una;ected by
the tornado were calling Helmuth’s brokerage to o;er up a spare
room or basement to displaced victims.
The Peoria Area Association of REALTORS® connected with
one of its members who had developed a rental property website, netrent.com, accessible only to REALTORS®. The member
opened the site to any landlord, and it quickly became the central location for post-storm rentals. But the demand still couldn’t
be met; many residents ended up moving to neighboring towns
or are still staying with friends and family, Helmuth says.
In addition to helping people find housing, REALTORS® are
helping replace household items. With a portion of the $60,000
in contributions that PAAR has received from the REALTORS®
Relief Foundation and others, the group has distributed mat-tresses, sheets, pots and pans, clothes, and care packages.
As in Joplin, home purchases spiked after the twister, as
people with financial means sought to buy right away. With only
the clothes on their back, some of Helmuth’s clients were buying
sight unseen. “We had more cash transactions in December
than I’ve had in 20 years,” he says.
”Inventory stands at half its normal level. Tornado-stricken
lots that go on the market are selling in the same week,” he says.
“There’s a demand. If home owners decided to buy another
home and put their lot for sale, there are people who want to
build here and be a part of the community.”
Dallas Hancock, CEO of PAAR, says she expects a lot of
movement this spring when people try once again to find hous-
ing that better meets their needs.
“I think people rushed to find somewhere to live. Now many
find it’s too expensive or di;cult to commute, or they took
something that was only temporary,” she says. “But this is a
very strong and tight-knit community. People here are going to
do what they have to do.“
Although Helmuth’s brokerage was untouched, three of his
10 sales associates and sta; members lost homes in the storm
that also hit two nearby communities. In all, 13 REALTORS® lost
their homes, including WRC agent Marc Wells. Wells filmed the
twister’s destruction of his home in a terrifying three-and-a-half
minute video that went viral on You Tube, garnering more than 1. 5
million views by early March. Because he owns about 30 rental
properties, Wells was able to move his family and in-laws into two
of the homes quickly, but the storm’s ferocity remains fresh in
his mind. “After hearing that sound and experiencing that torna-
do, I can understand why some people get PTSD,” says Wells.