AgentBrokerage

Real estate brokerages house agents, clients displaced by wildfires

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In times of disaster, real estate offices can turn into second homes for agents and their clients by providing them with a place to rest their head, take a breath and plan for the next step.

It happened in hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico and Houston, and last week was no exception during the devastating wildfires that have so far killed at least 40 people and destroyed 5,700 structures in Northern California.

Of the 27 agents who work at Pacific Union International’s Santa Rosa firm, five lost their homes, and the office has become a haven for the displaced. The space has been used for a bit of respite while some slept there on air mattresses (pictured above). Save the lack of showers, it transforms well into temporary housing, with restaurants and the YMCA nearby.

This Tuesday, Oct. 17, a team of top legal insurance specialists will gather at Pacific Union’s regional headquarters in the same Santa Rosa office to talk to the company’s clients and agents and advise them on the home insurance claim process.

Meanwhile in the small town of Sebastopol, 10 miles from Santa Rosa, brokerages made their offices available to fellow homeless agents and others from around the North Bay area.

The Coldwell Banker Sebastopol location has been taking donations of gently used clothing and toys for colleagues, said office manager Kimiko Ages. Their office is one of four Coldwell Banker franchises in the North San Francisco Bay Area. Eight Coldwell Banker agents in this network have lost their homes while 50 were displaced, according to Ages.

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Ages’ advice to anyone wanting to help the community is to send gift cards. “They need money to help get through this time until the insurance kicks in,” she said.

Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate in the area was also doing all it could by keeping its offices open and available.

“We are there for anybody that has lost homes or offices, who needs Wi-Fi, desk space, coffee, donuts, anything we can do to help those families who have been displaced,” said Randy Coffman, president of the BHGRE Wine Country Group.

Coffman and his business partner Gerrett Snedaker were placing an ad in local newspapers inviting people to use the facilities at their offices. The ad was in place of the usual one advertising properties.

Snedaker said his Sonoma town office of 35 agents is working with clients who were in the middle of escrow or had planned to list their home before it was destroyed. Among the staff there, one member’s home burned down while another with a new baby had to evacuate.

“We are dealing more with the human aspect than the real estate but that’s our business,” Snedaker said. “We’ve let the agents know we are here and our systems are up and running if they need to come.”

Terra Firma Global Partners’ president Bill Facendini, whose company has eight locations throughout the North Bay, was trying to be proactive by sending out debriefings every day to his staff.

He has associates staying in offices and clients spending chunks of time there.

“At the Santa Rosa office, we’ve had one family use the location multiple times since they were evacuated several times over the last week,” he said.

Offices are a calming place, too, where people can try to “get their sea legs” and feel a little more secure for a brief time, he said.

Pacific Union agent Jeff Schween doesn’t think a virtual office would do the job in this kind of situation. “You couldn’t provide solace without an office,” he said. “You have to have brick-and-mortar where people can come, who need a plan.”

The California Association of Realtors (C.A.R.) also said it stands ready to assist Realtors who have been impacted by these wildfires through its Disaster Relief Fund, and Realtor family members can apply for grants from the fund by calling Sharlena Bernard at (213) 739-8297 or emailing sharlenab@car.org.

Email Gill South.