The scene is familiar: buildings half-submerged in brown water, trash and debris floating, furtive figures looting stores – and it all took place eight minutes from the home of Jeff Doussan, majority owner of Keller Williams’ New Orleans office.
“I don’t know if my home is underwater,” said Doussan, who fled New Orleans Aug. 28 with his parents, his wife and two of his four children. “I talked to a neighbor Saturday and you need a boat to access my street.” Luckily, he said, his house is raised; “hopefully, none of the boats going by flooded it with their wake.”
Doussan’s office is in Orleans Parish, about 10 minutes from his home. He’s hopeful that it isn’t flooded, but worries that it may have been looted.
While Doussan’s office may have been spared, Keller Williams said eight of its market centers were either destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Katrina, and the company continues to search for 300 of its 728 associates in the Gulf Coast area.
The Austin, Texas-based real estate franchise operation has set up a 24-hour hotline for associates to call, as well as a support page on its Web site. Keller Williams raised more than $1.2 million from its associates for their Gulf Coast colleagues, and has formed a crisis management team to create a long-term assistance campaign.
“Wednesday at first light I get to see my house,” Doussan said Monday, speaking from Houston, Texas, where his wife will be living with their daughter. The couple has rented a Houston townhouse for the next year while his daughter attends elementary school in that town.
Now that his wife and daughter are settled, Doussan said, he is flying back to the Gulf Coast to see his house and, when it becomes possible, his office.
“Believe it or not, a Keller Williams associate in Houston is flying back with me and will pick up my wife’s car and drive it back here (to Houston),” Doussan said. “It’s awesome. The generosity is unexpected and much appreciated.”
All over the country, brokers, agents and others in the industry are rallying to help colleagues in the wake of Katrina. Agents in the Baton Rouge office of Louisiana’s Latter & Blum have taken associates from New Orleans into their homes. The Realtors Relief Foundation, which contributes to state Realtor associations in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi for Hurricane Katrina victims, has taken in more than $3 million.
There are 99 agents in the Keller Williams New Orleans market center, Doussan said, and not all of them have been located.
“Bill Cooper, my team leader, which is what KW calls the manager, is now in Hot Springs, Ark., working out of an attorney’s office. He’s in touch with them (the agents) on a daily basis,” Doussan said.
Keller Williams’ long-term assistance campaign calls for the company’s 480 market centers not affected by the hurricane to “adopt” Gulf Coast-area KW associates to help rebuild their businesses. In some cases, teams of market centers in other states will add Gulf Coast associates to the team to help the associates continue to bring in money, Doussan said.
Transacting business in New Orleans is currently impossible, he said.
“At this time, we can’t do any real estate transactions because real estate transactions require title work and abstract work, which in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes right now is in a holding pattern,” Doussan said.
“I would imagine Jefferson Parish will open up in a week or so. In Orleans Parish, I believe we are some time away. In some of the parishes east of Orleans it will be months and months. There are places that have been completely wiped out – either underwater or blown away,” the majority owner said.
Catherine Cooper, the wife of KW’s New Orleans team leader, extolled the role of the Internet in helping the company cope.
“If you go to JeffParish.net, you can fill out an application and get a PIN number and print out a pass to put on your windshield allowing you to get into New Orleans,” Cooper said. The site has a plethora of information on the post-Katrina situation, including conditions in the various parishes. Cooper said the Net has been invaluable in helping families and coworkers locate each other.
Keller Williams has already put money from its internal fundraising efforts into the hands of 250 displaced associates, the company said, and is continuing its efforts to find the associates it hasn’t yet located.
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