Michael Bowers, a Realtor in Sarasota, Fla., has seven homes under contract that are scheduled to close within days. Normally that would be cause for celebration. But today, it’s cause for worry. Hurricane Charley is bearing down on the western coast of Florida, with Sarasota and other communities potentially in its path.
“I have some real high-end listings,” Bowers said today, including a $3 million home on the bay. “I’m (thinking), ‘Oh no, here we go.’ There’s a lot of concern. It’s a nervous time. I’m just hoping there is no damage to any of them,” he said.
Bowers, who has lived in the Sarasota area for 12 years, isn’t sitting still. He went to Boca Raton and set up a personal “command center” away from the storm’s center. “We’re one of the few people you can get a hold of,” he said. Bowers has already contacted a work crew that will conduct any necessary repairs to the listed homes in the wake of the massive storm. “We’ll be available to help all of our sellers afterward.”
He has boarded up his own home in the Sarasota area and shut down the office, preparing for the worst. “This is the first time I’ve ever picked up and ran out,” he said. He said he has been intently watching the Weather Channel with his relatives to monitor the storm’s approach.
The Florida home market has been booming, and Bowers said there are probably 100 homes in the Sarasota area that were scheduled to close over the next week or so. The hurricane is a reminder about the importance of securing hurricane insurance as early as possible in the home-buying process, Bowers said.
“If someone is buying real estate between June and November (in Florida), the first thing they should do is to go out and get their insurance. If you’re going to live within 20 miles of the coast, you’ve got to have some kind of hurricane insurance,” Bowers said. Insurance rates for homeowners are likely to spike dramatically following Charley, he added, while he expects the overall housing market to rebound quickly following the storm.
Bowers said he has received calls from his clients who are worried about their homes, and he is glad to be there for them during this worrisome time. “Just to have somebody to talk to – it makes a world of difference.”
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters are predicting that the center of the hurricane will make its landfall in the area of Charlotte Harbor later this afternoon. Charlotte Harbor is between Sarasota and Ft. Myers. The hurricane is then expected to lose force as it travels north from the Southeast to the Northeast. Researchers recorded winds of up to 125 miles per hour as the storm approached the coast.
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Alma Alexander, president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors, said the association’s office closed yesterday to allow staff members to make preparations for the storm and be with their families.
Alexander, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential in Tampa, said there was an orientation planned today for the nearly 150 new members to the area association, though that was moved back to next week. “No meeting is as important as your life,” she said.
The association’s service center is perhaps most vulnerable to a severe storm, Alexander said, and it was “somewhat of a sigh of relief” to hear that the hurricane, which was at first expected to hit the Tampa area with full force, had shifted. As a precaution, office staff made an electronic backup of important data in case there is a power outage.
But the good news that Tampa may avoid the brunt of the storm is bad news for the other communities in the area of landfall, she said. Tampa is not totally in the clear, she said, with wind gusts expecting to reach up to 80 mph in the area. “The biggest thing we’re concerned about is tornadoes and power failure,” as the hurricanes can conjure a breeding ground for tornadoes.
“The Realtor community is very faithful to people who are in need in our industry – to our peers,” she said, recalling “a groundswell of financial and physical support from members” when Hurricane Andrew struck Florida in 1992.
Unbelievably, Alexander said an agent made an appointment to visit one of her listed homes this morning, and the home was in an evacuation area.
A Florida Association of Realtors annual conference planned next week in Orlando, Fla., is still scheduled, hurricane or no, Alexander said.
Henry Purcell, a Realtor in Tampa, said that he is waiting out the storm in his office. “Our office is on a little hill. It’s quite a bit elevated. We don’t anticipate any water at all,” Purcell said. David Phethean, also a Tampa Realtor, said he has had a few calls from clients today. “My absentee owners have definitely called and wished me luck,” he said.
And Mary G. Lozano, a Tampa Realtor who was out buying plywood this morning in case there is a need to board up the windows, said she is wondering what impact the hurricane will have on properties that she is representing – which include a waterfront condominium. “I did have a conversation with one of my sellers who lives outside of the area. He was vacationing and didn’t know we were having a hurricane,” she said.
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