Thursday, September 08, 2005

Recovering from Katrina

A couple of thoughts about New Orleans in the wake of Katrina.

Thinking ahead to any eventual attempt to rebuild, it seems clear that people won't be allowed in until it's safe to walk the streets. Unfortunately, the rescuers are currently going house-to-house checking for survivors and the dead, and that means they're having to bust down doors and break windows in order to get in. That's going to make officials even more leery of allowing people back into the city, unless they can ensure that unattended property will be safe. With the survivors scattered across several states, it's going to be very hard to coordinate the return to any neighborhood.

Many people undoubtedly want very much to get just one trip back to their old house to recover keepsakes and valuables. Even houses that were flooded to the eaves will have a few valuable or sentimental items that could be salvaged, cleaned up, and treasured or sold. But officials can't let them back until the evacuation is complete, the water is drained, and the buildings are secured again. What are they going to do, schedule individual trips with each of the 400,000 ex-residents to visit their home and try to salvage a little? Even if anyone wanted to try to plan such a thing, there's no way to get in touch with all those who fled, and no obvious contact for the refugees who want to find out what the plan will be.

I don't have a solution, just ruminating on another aspect of this huge tragedy.

One more thing: I've been getting into real estate investment over the last year or so. It seems obvious that many property owners in New Orleans would have decided not to move back, and many of htem are desperately short of cash. And there are always speculators in the world who can afford to take a flyer on property that is currently undervalued, and might become more valuable later. But it seems likely that anyone who offers to buy property in New Orleans for its current worth will be lambasted for taking advantage of the disaster. But the owners are desperate to sell, and the property's value is truly unknown and unknowable at this point. Perhaps the thing that will dampen speculation, and slow down the transactions until things are clearer (to the detriment of those desparate to get access to any value remaining in their property) is that the real estate industry, and the property transfer offices at the county level won't be prepared to handle the transactions until things dry out.

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