Thursday, September 15th, 2005

The Beginnings of A New Orleans Land Grab?

Here’s an astonishing piece from the Los Angeles Times about the rush to buy property in New Orleans, even as the city’s residents are being shipped across the U.S.:

“I thought this storm was the end of the city,” said Arthur Sterbcow, president of New Orleans-based Latter & Blum, one of the biggest real estate brokerages on the Gulf Coast.

“If anyone had told me two weeks ago that I’d be getting the calls and e-mails I’m getting, I would have thought he was ready for the psychiatric ward.”

Messages from those wanting to buy houses — whether intact or flooded — and commercial properties are outrunning those who want to sell by a factor of 20, said Sterbcow, who has set up temporary quarters in his firm’s Baton Rouge office.

“We’re pressing everyone into service just to answer the phones,” he said.

These eager would-be buyers may be drawing their inspiration from Lower Manhattan, which proved a bonanza for those smart enough to buy condos there immediately after the Sept. 11 attack.

Of course, in southern Louisiana, everything is hypothetical for the moment. The storm destroyed many property records and displaced buyers, sellers, agents and title firms, so no deals are actually being done. Insurance companies haven’t started to settle claims yet, much less determine how, or whether, they will insure New Orleans in the future. The city hasn’t even been drained.

But people are thinking ahead, influenced by a single factor: the belief that hundreds of billions of dollars in government aid is going to create a boomtown. The people administering that aid will need somewhere to live, as will those doing the rebuilding. So will employees of companies lured back to the area, and the service people that attend to them.

All this will lead to what Sterbcow delicately calls a “reorientation” of the city.

“Everyone I talked to has said, ‘Let’s start with a clean sheet of paper, fix it and get it right,’ ” he said. “Some of the homes here were only held together by the termites.”

What the owners of the city’s estimated 150,000 flooded houses will get out of “reorientation” is unclear, especially if the houses were in bad shape and uninsured.

Some black New Orleans residents say dourly that they know what’s coming. Melvin Gilbert, a maintenance crew chief in his 60s, stood outside an elegant hotel in the French Quarter this week and recalled how the neighborhood had been gentrified.

He remembered half a century ago when the French Quarter had a substantial number of black residents.

“Then the Caucasians started offering them $10,000 for their homes,” he said. “Well, they only bought the places for $2,000, so they took it and ran.”

The white residents restored the homes, which rose quickly in value. Gilbert said he expected the same dynamic when the floodwaters receded in the heavily black neighborhoods east of downtown.

posted by @ 7:49 am | 1 Comment

One Response to “The Beginnings of A New Orleans Land Grab?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this wonderful piece. I loved reading it very much. I just wanted to let everyone know that my house was damaged and that I’ve been trying to sell it but it has been very hard. We have no money for a broker whick makes it harder. I heard of this service called StrollAway and wanted to see if you could do some research on it and let me know what you think about it.

    Thank you.

    Peace to all.

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