Evacuation or permanent destination?

By Courtney Cox | gargoyle@flagler.edu

Millions evacuated their Florida homes at the thought of what Hurricane Irma might bring, and now a more permanent evacuation could be the result.

Hurricane Irma tormented the Gulf Coast and the Florida Keys after barreling its way through the Caribbean, but even those on Florida’s east coast felt a beating.

St. Augustine, a below-sea-level, coastal town, felt the wrath of the outer bands of Irma which was enough to destroy beach homes, sink boats and bring back the flooding so many homes and business endured not even a year ago with Hurricane Matthew.

With many places flooded and others left with wind damage, real estate in St. Augustine is bound to see some changes.

Although Irene Arriola, realtor and associate GRI at Century 21 Saltwater Property Group, said that it’s the slow season for real estate regardless of the hurricane, and there won’t be a good answer as to what people’s reactions are going to be for at least a couple months she said.

“The whole reaction to last year’s hurricane and this year’s seems very different,” Arriola said. “More people were prepared so there’s less visible outreach.”

As for the damage among the properties she works with, Arriola has found a new question she must toggle with: “What do you do with the properties that have now flooded twice?”

“Do you take the house down? Do you elevate the house? Do you just throw your hands up and say ‘I’m going to sell it just the way it is?’ People are considering what their options are,” Arriola said.

A house sits above a pool of flood water. People are considering elevating their house like this to prevent flood damage, Arriola said.

However, insurance companies will have an effect on what the homeowner’s decision will be, Arriola said. Insurance companies are looking at the reports from last year which could depict if someone’s staying or leaving their St. Augustine home.

“So, the people that got money to do a laundry list of things last year and didn’t do those things and had those things damaged again will not get money,” Arriola said. “I think it takes a disaster for everybody to read their insurance policy for the first time and realize ‘Whoa, I made lots of mistakes here.’”

Arriola said resilience is the key here and homeowners are now trying to figure out how to make their homes resilient.

For Sierra Hoover, a junior at Flagler College and renter of a home located on Riberia Street, resilience was no match for the flooding her apartment underwent.

“We prepped our apartment to the point where it was impossible to get in through the front door because we put so much marine caulk on the inside and outside,” Hoover said.

Hoover said she has lived in the same apartment for the past two years and experienced flooding in both hurricanes.

“In the first hurricane we lost basically everything,” Hoover said. “We had prepped more this time. So, we only lost the couch and chairs.”

Even though the damage was minimal this time to Hoover and her roommate’s things, it was still enough for them to relocate from the downtown area.

“At the rate we’re getting hurricanes, I would say not to live in the downtown area and if you do, avoid the first floor,” Hoover said.

A house located in downtown St. Augustine on the bay front is up for sale. It won’t sell at “pre-storm value” but it will still be worth a pretty penny, Arriola said.

The good news for those interested in buying in the area is that the dollar value of hurricane damaged homes decreases, even if everything is redone. For the seller, even though their homes aren’t going for their pre-storm value, Arriola said they are still selling for more than she would’ve expected.

“The city is resilient and it’s beautiful and I think people will move past this,” Arriola said.

Hoover, originally from Pennsylvania, said that she believes more hurricanes are on the horizon for Florida. She had originally intended on applying to graduate schools in the sunshine state, but now after this experience, she said she’s likely to head back up north.

For Arriola though, St. Augustine has been her home for 27 years and said we are just lucky to have a mayor who believes in climate change and sea level rise.

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