In an effort to cheer herself up on one solitary Christmas Eve when her kids were with their father, Houston Association of Realtors’ chair Cindy Hamann, who then was newly divorced, went shopping for stocking stuffers at Walmart. Instantly inspired by a pile of blankets and some screw top bottles of wine, she knew exactly what would lift her spirits.
Since then, Hamann drops off a blanket and a bottle of wine to a number of random and very thankful homeless people in downtown Houston every Christmas Eve.
She’s being doing this for 12 years now, and the number of blankets and bottles of wine has gone up over time, settling currently at 50 of each.
“People will say, ‘I remember you from last year,'” Hamann said. They often ask for a bottle and blanket for their friend too; they look after each other, she says, and it will be no different this year.
It’s been “a really rough year” for the city, says Hamann. Press reports have estimated that over 100,000 homes were affected by Hurricane Harvey, so she’s ready to spread a little holiday cheer, wine and warmth.
Realtors like Hamann are doing wonderful deeds all over the country this holiday season, but for those in real estate who suffered through the hurricanes or wildfires this year, projects meant for giving back this holiday season are being executed on a larger scale than normal.
The indie Houston broker who has become head of relief hub
One of Hamann’s H.A.R. members, independent brokerage owner Bill Baldwin of Boulevard Realty, had his life turned upside down during Harvey. Now, in addition to running his own real estate firm, he is co-coordinator of Houston Relief Hub, the City of Houston’s relief service for North America.
In his role, the extremely well-connected Baldwin puts calls out on social media when new supplies arrive. Just the other day his message was: “I have 4,000 pillows,” and in less than two hours he had requests for 10,000.
“I know a lot of people, so I can piece together logistics,” said Baldwin, the member of several city committees, including the Mayoral transition team. He also has useful contacts in the restaurant business and various city departments, and friends donate warehouse space to him when necessary.
The need continues in Houston: 10,000 residents are using a hotel (or other temporary accommodation) voucher for living, but Baldwin estimates an additional 50,000 to 100,000 remain displaced without enough funds to return home.
“Their needs are not going to go away at Thanksgiving or at Christmas,” said the broker, who admits to being moved to tears every now and then.
Meanwhile, the real estate business is thriving in his inner Houston market untouched by the floods. His agents, who are also volunteering, talk about how proud they are of him, and his community relationships are only getting stronger, he said.
California brokerage provides ideas, contacts and hope to Santa Rosa
Being a real estate agent with a good network can make you the perfect person to help a community recover and start anew.
In collaboration with a Californian home builder, Pacific Union’s Jeff Schween and others have begun the herculean task of rebuilding a portion of the 5,100 homes destroyed in October by wildfires in Santa Rosa, California. Their aim is to help bring on the redevelopment of 2,400 of the more custom-built homes in the areas of Fountaingrove, Skyfarm and Quietwater.
Along with Kevin Skiles, a seasoned custom home builder from Urban Building Workshop, Schween and his group have coordinated a program building custom homes in a scaleable “synchronized” effort to “bring efficiency to the timing” and shrink the cost of building the homes for each individual owner.
Schween and his group have organized three workshops so far (all of which have been booked solid) for people to learn about the process.
“We are seeing clients relieved and now excited about the future,” said Schween. “We have brought hope back into the equation while creating a dynamic solution to each unique set of problems.”
“Personally I don’t think I have ever been able to be so helpful at any other point in my 27 years of helping clients buy and sell real estate,” said the top producer who, with his wife Tracey, is hosting a big Christmas dinner at his house for several clients and their families. Other agents at his brokerage will be doing the same.
“This will be such an emotional season,” Schween said. “Relationships will be what it’s about, and hope.”
Florida readies for the peak season, though homes still in disarray
For those in the Florida Keys hit hard by Hurricane Irma in September, the race is on to help the displaced rebuild as the region hits peak tourist season and all the temporary accommodations they fled to post-Irma, disappear.
Communities in Big Pine Key and the lower Keys are particularly in need of help.
Jimmy Lane, owner of Key West-based Century 21 Schwartz Realty, has been going to Big Pine Key with his wife on Fridays to work in the community.
The Lanes and some friends cooked up 60 Thanksgiving turkey and ham dinners for local families. “We were up at 6 a.m., going all day long,” he said.
They delivered the meals to The Avenues, a workforce housing neighborhood where restaurant and resort workers for Key West live.
“They are either camping in their homes or have tents on the property and are just starting to come online with electrical. The next step will be getting some walls in their homes and kitchens,” he said.
“I’m sure we’ll be doing it at Christmas [too]. We are just taking things day by day.”