By Fabian Sandler
Normally each month, a business is featured in this article. The people behind the business are introduced to the reader. This month is different.
The measure of character is not what one does when times are good, but what one does when times are not. Character was certainly measured last month as Hurricane Harvey rumbled through the region.
David Otis owns Texas Shoreline Properties in Atascocita. He has been in the real estate business for twenty-seven years and knows the area well.
“I moved out here in 1976 with my family,” David begins. “I’ve lived on or around Lake Houston for forty-one years now. During this ordeal, they talk about historic rainfall. We were getting everybody’s houses ready in preparation for the hurricane, moving stuff upstairs, getting stuff out of the way. We were trying to judge what this thing was going to do because we didn’t know. Our thinking was that there was no way the water could come up another two feet. Well, it came up five feet. It obviously caught a lot of us way off guard.”
David relates that when the water kept rising, he and his friends put their foundation’s duck boat into the water. “It was high-water rescue time,” he relates. “We started plucking people out of their houses. We did some rescues at Old River Road, which is down by the San Jacinto River. That was on the twenty-ninth. We plucked one of my high school buddies, Jesse Hill, out of his house, took his whole family out, but left his dad there. High-water rescues are a high stress environment.
“Then the major flooding came,” David continues. “From 1994 level to the level now – October 1994 is the high-water mark that was used – it was almost five feet over. It’s mind-boggling.”
When faced with adversity, many people step up. “Even though there was tragedy, I couldn’t imagine a better place to live, because of the way we all helped out,” David attests. “There are four things we can count on, J.J. Watt, H.E.B., Mattress Mac and a redneck with a boat,” David deadpans.
In helping his friends, David relates that they ended up pulling his best friend, Butch Sharp and Dawn Sharp, out of the morass. They raised everything in the house that they could up on paint cans, feeling that the items would be high enough to remain dry. “Guess what. The water was two feet over that when we plucked them from the house, and it went up another two feet after that. It was bizarre.”
The broker says he had four close friends and family members whose homes were under water. That does not count the several other families in their inner circle that had water damage. “The good thing about it is that we had enough resources, friends and family, that we subdivided the resources – people – and got it taken care of. By the third or fourth day of the demo stage, ripping sheetrock out, there were people driving by, dropping off bottled water and pizza.
“There are countless stories of how kids stepped up,” he adds rather proudly. “My kid, Nolan, who’s thirteen; Theo Marules, Ty Herring, Kailani Golden, young kids stepped up. Nolan, Ty and Kailani were with us, and they worked their tails off. It was amazing to see how they clicked into a help mode. The only reason they left the job sites is because we got to worrying about them, because it was very unhealthy; the water was tainted – it just wasn’t a healthy environment.
David tells the story of Theo Marules and his girlfriend. They were on their way to help a local church and stopped to buy some sandwiches and water for the long day at a store on 1960 at 5:30 in the morning, despite the curfew. A police officer asked them what they were doing out at that hour. Theo explained that they were shopping and where they were going. The police officer bought all the food for Theo and thanked them for stepping up.
The Atascocita High School Bass Fishing Team also turned out to help rebuild the vegetation habitat that David and his assistants have diligently built up over the years.
“More than numerous occasions, I would drive down Atascocita Shores Drive and there were people setting up a hot dog stand. Free hotdog, free water. We would be covered in sheetrock and we would stink. You look at that and you think, ‘Man, how cool is that!’ It’s just phenomenal. The community support was everywhere!”
David tends to look at the positive aspect of circumstances. “Dan Huberty, our state representative, and Dave Martin, our city councilman for Kingwood, did a lot for us. Through the devastation, the flooding, property values have everybody concerned, the message from all this is how this community is still the best place to live, hands down. The way the community responded and how we responded as a neighborhood, I’m telling you, it’s been one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.”
As a real estate broker, David says he has answered countless real estate questions. “People ask, ‘Do I take my insurance money and fix it up and sell?’ ‘Where’s the bottom?’ “Where’s the real estate market going to be?’” David shakes his head. “We don’t know where the market’s going to be. We don’t know how many people are going to walk on their houses, how many were lucky enough to have insurance will rebuild and stay.
“Here’s a scenario. If your house is worth $300,000, and you owe $280,000 and you had five feet of water in it, what’s that house worth now? Well over 100,000 homes had water in Harris County and only fifteen to twenty percent had flood insurance. What does that do to property values?” he asks rhetorically.
David admits that living in a waterfront community does come with its own risks. Owners assume the risk of flooding, but when flooding does occur, especially on a massive scale that Hurricane Harvey wrought, it is hard to predict how that will affect property values.
“Although we have a lot of questions about the negatives of real estate, I think the positives of living in a great area overweigh that. The quality of life that you get having this life is worth the assumed risk.”
David states that if flood insurance is no longer offered for a property, the owner has a choice to make. “They’ll either live there with no flood insurance, or they’ll make you take a buyout or you can do a voluntary buyout.”
He states that people have 60 days from the date of declaration of the disaster area to file for assistance from FEMA.
“If you know anyone who had flood damage, you can go through FEMA, but the loans are offered through SBA. It’s a loan, you have to pay it back, but they’ll give you up to $200,000 for your primary residence and $40,000 for personal property. It’s a rehab loan. They’ll amortize it for 30 years at 1.75%
“FHA just rolled out a program,” David continues. “FHA rolled out 100% financing program that if your home was damaged by flood water, you can get a 100% FHA loan for a secondary home and they do not count your flood damaged home against your debt to income ratio. You get to buy a new house and live in it for a year or two and then once your other house is fixed up, you can either keep it or sell it.”
David hopes that people who are considering selling or pulling up stakes should reconsider. “Weigh your options and stay,” he asserts.
Hurricane Harvey may have ruined or damaged people’s properties, but it did not diminish the resolve of neighbors helping neighbors in times of crisis. The spirit of community lives on.