9/30/2005

Post-Katrina Real Estate Rush Hits Gulf - Yahoo! News

The ethnic cleansing of New Orleans continues... -- law

BILOXI, Miss. - Rubble piles bear "For Sale" signs. Homes without roofs are being sold as-is. Placards announcing "We Buy Houses, Cash!," are posted on corners throughout middle-class neighborhoods.

The Mississippi coast, racked by Hurricane Katrina, is caught up in a real estate rush, as speculators and those looking to replace their own wrecked homes pinpoint broken and battered waterfront neighborhoods. In the weeks since the hurricane, prices of many homes — even damaged properties — have jumped 10 to 20 percent.

But what Katrina spared, the real estate rush now imperils. The arrival of speculators threatens what's left of bungalow neighborhoods that are among the Gulf's oldest communities, close-knit places of modest means where casino workers, fishermen and their families could still afford to live near the water.

Many, underinsured and with few alternatives, see no choice but to sell.

"It's the oldest part of Biloxi, full of old families. This was a place they could still afford to come to and settle," said Bill Stallworth, a city council member who represents much of the area. "Now that's being taken away."

It doesn't take much for a property owner in those neighborhoods to attract prospective buyers. A call to a real estate agent fetches bidders the same day. A for-sale sign in the yard is almost as good. In some neighborhoods, owners can wait for unsolicited offers from people who show up at their doorstep.

Kim Weatherly, a 50-year-old casino worker who lives in Biloxi's Point Cadet community, is watching it all with a heavy heart. The neighborhood is potentially the city's most valuable piece of property, sitting on a peninsula that juts into the Gulf of Mexico that's a center for casino gambling.

Many of the tiny bungalows in the casino shadows have stood for generations. The neighborhood was snug, with the houses close to each other and to the streets. Many had views of the coastal skies from their front steps and the waterfront was just a short walk away.

"People with young kids, they're going to get out of town and let their kids grow up somewhere," said Weatherly, who helps run a neighborhood food bank between shifts cleaning up casino wreckage. "Old folks, they're going to retire, forget about rebuilding. That's it. I'm retiring. Give me my money."

Those without flood insurance may have even fewer options and buyer Dan Triplett expects many will sell quickly. Triplett, owner of Gulf Coast House Buyers, buys and sells property and has been particularly busy since the storm.

He'll buy storm damaged property or nearly vacant lots for next to nothing. While real estate brokers find top-dollar buyers, Triplett makes cash deals or pays off mortgages in exchange for land.

I deal with the other part of the spectrum of the market: people who don't necessarily care to get full price but they need to sell quickly," said Triplett, who said most of his post-Katrina business has come from retirees and those who lost their jobs.

In the coming months, as severance pay runs out for casino workers, Triplett expects a "mass exodus" of people looking to sell quickly and leave.

Post-Katrina Real Estate Rush Hits Gulf - Yahoo! News

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