Agents get different view of real estate in Texas

The first thing Jason Moore noticed when he arrived in Katy, Texas was the smell of mold and sewer.

“When you start walking up to the house you start smelling it,” he said.

Moore was part of a team from Laura Gillott Keller Williams realty in Lebanon that flew to Texas to help homeowners affected by Hurricane Harvey. The team – consisting of Moore, Laura Gillott, Steve Pyle and Lori Hill – was only a handful of thousands of Keller Williams agents from across the country who spent several days volunteering down there.

While Pyle was bussed to an area more devastated by the hurricane, Gillott, Moore and Hill went to Katy, a suburb of Houston, to help a homeowner whose residence was ruined by floods. They were given rubber gloves and masks, required equipment for a toxic job.

When one thinks of floodwaters, they just think “water,” but in reality, by the time the water reaches some locations, it has pulled in sewer and toxic waste from pipes and roads, Moore said.

“All that stuff mixes, and by the time it gets to your house it’s a brown sludge, oil-filled type of slime,” he said.

The heat and humidity only made it worse, Moore noted.

The homeowner, a woman who lived with her autistic son and golden retriever, had already started the process of tearing down the damaged parts of her home, but had barely made a dent in two weeks’ time, Gillott said.

A busload of about 60 volunteers from Keller Williams, including the Gillott team, comprised a sort of flood themselves as they entered her property and completed the project in one day.

“The first day we did what’s called de-mucking the house,” Moore said. “Literally, it’s going into somebody’s house and gutting it down to the studs; emptying out furniture, sheetrock, everything down to the studs.”

Even personal possessions had to be thrown out because the toxic waters made them unredeemable, he said.

“We literally were carrying this gal’s life down the driveway and throwing it in a big pile at the end of the driveway,” he said.

By the time they were finished, everything from the lower level was torn down and removed, leaving only the studs of the house. It will take six to 12 months for the wood to dry before the homeowner can rebuild, Gillott said.

However, she was one of the lucky ones because the top level of her house was mostly untouched by the waters, so her family will continue to live there while they wait to rebuild, she said.

Much of the town ran business as usual, Gillott said.

“Katy, Texas was only affected along the vines of the canals and things they had for water overflow,” she explained.

Even still, the Keller Williams team was surprised to see just how high the waters rose and how much damage they caused.

“[The homeowner] went to bed thinking she was totally fine because there’s a huge ravine by the side of her house, and she was in a 500-year floodplain, so it should never flood,” Moore said. “But she woke up to water up to the second level of her home.”

When the floodwaters receded, she was left with a rotting house and a swimming pool filled with sludge and fish.

As Gillott shoved armfuls of sopping wet clothing into trash bags, she wondered whether any of it might be redeemable with a bit of cleaning, so she asked the homeowner about it.

“At that point, she was kind of emotional because there’s the wedding dress, the graduation gowns, all the mementos she’s kept over the years,” Gillott said. “She took a couple tassels and some things, and kind of got teary-eyed and turned around and said, ‘Just throw the rest away. I’ve gotta go right now; this is too much.’”

However, despite seeing her possessions reduced to trash, she was in good spirits and was very grateful for the help, Gillott said.

On their second day in Texas, the team helped sort and distribute donations out of a church location.

At any given time, big trucks or personal cars might drop off literally tons of donations from all over the U.S., Moore said. Families affected by Hurricane Harvey stopped by the donation center to pick up what they needed.

It sounds like an easy task, but the volunteers at the donation center broke down in tears when they saw a busload of Keller Williams agents offer a hand, Moore said. By that time, the media had turned its attention toward the hurricane in Florida, so donations and volunteer help also shifted east and dwindled in Texas.

The timing worked well for Keller Williams and the state, though. Real estate agents from across the country were already prepared to fly to Texas for an annual training convention in Austin, so instead of holding the “Mega Agent” convention, Keller Williams turned it into a volunteer event.

“It worked well because they already had the people coming in and they just rerouted us,” Gillott said. “Instead of doing Mega Agent, they called it ‘Mega Relief’ and they bused us over to the areas that were affected.”