Marcia Purnell, of Monticello, is still living in a FEMA trailer in her backyard while her house, which took on four feet of water during the Louisiana Flood of 2016, is being restored. (Photo by Collin Ritchie)
Concerns people would sell their flood-ravaged homes to bargain-hunting investors didn’t materialize as homeowners chose to stand their soggy ground.
When 15 inches of water flooded Renee Patton’s Denham Springs home last August, the thought of packing up her family’s life, selling the house and moving on didn’t cross her mind.
It was their home after all, where they’ve lived for the past decade. The Pattons, like most of their neighbors in Plantation Estates, weren’t ready to leave. Although the entire subdivision flooded, Patton estimates more than 85% of homeowners have stayed and rebuilt. The Pattons were able to move back in February. Others are still working on restoring their homes, but few have given up and moved away.
“We knew we weren’t going anywhere,” Patton says. “The majority of people who live here have the same mindset as us that, ‘Hey, this is home.’”
One year after the historic Louisiana Flood of 2016, the resurrection of neighborhoods like Plantation Estates in Denham Springs comes as a sigh of relief to an area that was hit hardest. Flooded communities in Ascension and East Baton Rouge parishes are also showing signs of revival as more homeowners rebuild and move back.
The trend has allayed initial fears of a mass exodus after the flood. The widespread damage drew concerns early on about flood victims fleeing communities in droves, selling their homes as-is, and out-of-state investors coming in and buying up properties—inevitably changing the makeup of local communities.
“At first, I didn’t understand. Why not sell and go? What I understood later was, it’s their home. There’s an emotional tie.”
—Barry Crawford, owner, Crawford Real Estate Group
For the most part, however, that didn’t happen. No doubt, as-is home sales spiked after the flood—attracting the attention of investors—but many homeowners chose to stay and rebuild. Consequently, the volume of as-is houses on the market wasn’t as high as expected.
“With the number of homes damaged, we thought we would see more home sales,” says Andrew Bayard, a Keller Williams agent. “Damage reports had a crazy amount of homes, but we never saw this insane amount on the market. Had we, then we might have had out-of-state investors come in.”
Bayard has dealt with about 17 investors since the flood, and the vast majority were local. Most investors are rebuilding damaged homes and holding them as rental properties or selling them to new owners.
Another concern after the flood was whether impacted neighborhoods would hold property value. In most cases, Bayard says, they have. Values have even gone up in some areas. So homeowners who decided to leave were able to sell quickly, while those who stayed have taken the opportunity to renovate and update homes.
“One year later, it probably worked out as well as it could have,” Bayard says, considering how disastrous the aftermath could have been.
“More people stayed and rebuilt, and the community has come back stronger,” adds Darren James, broker and owner of Darren James Real Estate Experts.
The outcome, realtors say, speaks to the resiliency of people in the Capital Region. But other factors led many homeowners to stay put. Those with flood insurance, for instance, had the financial ability to rebuild. Parish agencies also did what they could to encourage restoration efforts, such as loosening elevation requirements for flooded homes that might have otherwise deterred owners from rebuilding.
“I have not dealt with any homes required to be elevated since the flood,” James says. “I haven’t seen elevation requirements mandated in any parish at this point.”
Barry Crawford of Crawford Real Estate says he heard rumblings about outside investors coming in after the flood, but never experienced it because more people stayed than expected. As they rebuild their neighborhoods, property values are going up and inventory is short, he says, so the housing market is hot.
“In my opinion, it’s elevating everything,” Crawford says. “I’m glad people stayed and are taking care of their homes. At first, I didn’t understand. Why not sell and go? What I understood later was, it’s their home. There’s an emotional tie.”
The Patton family had a few incentives to rebuild: They had flood insurance and did not need to elevate their home, which was already built one foot above elevation requirements, so the water wasn’t as high in their house as others.
But even people who received more severe damage and did not have flood insurance, like Marcia Purnell in Monticello, found a way back home. Purnell, 53, is living in a FEMA trailer in her backyard while her house, which took on four feet of water, is being restored.
“I felt I could get the house in better shape than it was before the flood by renovating because it’s 40 years old,” she says. “I knew I wouldn’t get my money’s worth if I bought something new. It was better to do what I could to renovate.”
Nearly everyone flooded in her Monticello neighborhood, but people are slowly coming back. Purnell says some homeowners have been waiting on insurance money, while other are waiting on contractors. There were concerns about having to elevate homes, but Purnell didn’t have to and neither did her neighbors, even those in flood zones.
The neighborhood will get back to its old self, Purnell says, even though the flood took a dramatic toll there. The water rose so quickly on that August day one year ago that Purnell, who cannot swim, had to be rescued by airboat. It was traumatic, but Purnell won’t waste time feeling sorry for herself—she has too much work to do, and she believes it’s all for the better.
“I felt in my spirit I was going to come out better on other side,” she says. “I knew it would be better when it was over. And it has. But it wasn’t through a lack of blood, sweat and tears.”