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Ivan Turned Gulf Coast Real Estate Upside Down


In 2004, the country was in the middle of the so-called housing bubble. Prices were rising all across the country. Here in northwest Florida, it was a bit more subdued.

Lynn Peters, the President of the Pensacola Association of Realtors says that the inventory of available houses in the Pensacola region was selling nicely in the months before Hurricane Ivan. As 2004 began there were over 21 hundred properties for sale in the market. By August, that was down to under 17 hundred.

So houses were selling, and the median price was about 118 thousand. Peters also said there were plenty of places available for renters with affordable rents, pointing out that with the large military presence in the region rental properties were always in demand.

That all changed on the morning of September 16. When Hurricane Ivan hit the Gulf Coast a lot of people suddenly became homeless. Greg Strader, the Executive Director of BRACE, the Be Ready Alliance Coordinating for Emergencies tells us that in the days after Ivan 6,000 homes were destroyed, 12,000 had major damage and 105,000 households ere affected in some way by the storm. He also pointed out that 4,300 businesses closed for the last time because of Ivan.

And as with everything else, that's when everything changed in the real estate market. Lynn Peters recalls having to call clients to make sure homes that were listed for sale still existed. Peters also recalled that's when "the market shifted", meaning prices started to explode. The number of available homes for sale dwindled by thousands in the weeks and months after the storm. And if you were looking for a rental you were pretty much out of luck. People were going up to houses for sale and offering to rent them from the owners, who could pretty much name their price. There were multiple offers and bidding wars on some homes. Peters said realtors in the region had to work hard to keep the market stable and professional.

Peters says that places that were renting for 1000 dollars a month jumped to 15 hundred or more in the weeks after Ivan. And even at those prices there were waiting lists of families looking for places to rent. As the weeks and months went by, things began to ease just a bit...but the waiting list for families looking for rentals in the Pensacola market wasn't retired until the following January.

It took quite some time for prices and supply to settle down. The following year, Hurricanes Dennis and Katrina but more strain on the availability of construction materials and labor. At that time a lot of unlicensed contractors arrived from out of state to take advantage of the situation.

So here we are, ten years after Hurricane Ivan. What does the real estate market look like here on the Gulf Coast? Lynn Peters says the situation after the storm really didn't do much to lessen the impact of the housing crisis on 2008. But like the rest of the country, things have slowly returned to normal. She says the future for the region looks good, with a steady number of buyers and sellers and prices have stabilized.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.