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Daily Real Estate News  |  September 6, 2005  |   New Orleans REALTORŪ Makes a Difference Like many Americans who watched initial news coverage of Hurricane Katrina, Vikki Morvant thought New Orleans had dodged a bullet. But as hours went by and the situation in the New Orleans area worsened, she began to realize the scope of devastation that was occurring. Morvant, co-owner of Keller Williams Realty in Mandeville, La., a suburb north of New Orleans, fled her home on the Saturday before the hurricane, traveling to Houston to stay with her son. But seeing the images and hearing the stories of what was happening in her hometown, she couldn’t simply sit back and watch. “I felt so much despair,” Morvant says. “Then some ideas starting popping into my head.” Using a network of New Orleans neighborhood Web sites she developed over the past several years as part of her e-marketing strategy, Morvant has helped reconnect friends, family, and colleagues who lost one another during the hurricane. Her efforts have been noticed by Keller Williams International, which will fly her to the corporate headquarters in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday so she can coordinate hurricane relief efforts on behalf of KW Cares, a nonprofit organization that provides emergency assistance to Keller Williams real estate professionals. One of her main jobs will be locating missing practitioners. Community Web Sites Become Lifeline At the core of Morvant’s efforts are the 60 community Web sites she developed for subdivisions around her Mandeville market area—subdivisions that were hit hard by the hurricane. Each Web site includes private message boards for neighbors, in addition to news and information about her services. Morvant is using the sites—all accessible from the banner site
  •—and a lengthy database of e-mail addresses to help neighbors and colleagues find one another. Morvant kicked off her effort last Monday, as news about New Orleans became more grave. She distributed group e-mail messages asking people to post comments about their whereabouts on her message boards. Before long, other Mandeville residents were finding the community Web sites on their own. Because of the high traffic and many outside links to the sites, people who typed in the name of their subdivision on a search engine would see Morvant’s sites at the top of their results list, she says. “The volume of e-mail started increasing very rapidly,” she says. “By Tuesday, we had more than 6,000 visitors to the site, and e-mail was just pouring in.” Morvant and her daughter, Rachel Morvant, also a Keller Williams sales associate in Mandeville, spent the night responding to desperate e-mail messages and using the Internet to try to locate missing real estate practitioners. On Wednesday—after just two hours of sleep—the two went in search of a local Keller Williams office where they could access another computer. “We had only one computer, and we knew we had to work twice as hard,” Morvant says. “The service coordinator [at Houston Memorial, Keller Williams Realty] set us up with everything … a desk, computers, voicemail, copy machines.” At that point, Morvant got a call from Mo Anderson, CEO of Keller Williams Realty International, who asked for her much-needed assistance at KW Cares. Morvant plans to travel to Austin on Tuesday to help the organization locate missing salespeople and distribute grant funds to people in need. She says she'll stay as long as she’s needed. Before going to Austin, however, Morvant headed back to Mandeville this weekend. Her goals: to check on her home and others in the community and to help with the cleanup. She brought a truckload of supplies to clean up the heavily wooded area where she lives—supplies such as chainsaws to clear fallen trees and fuel to power the saws. Unlike other parts of the New Orleans metro area, Mandeville experienced mostly tree damage rather than flooding. Struggle Only Beginning for Real Estate Practitioners “There are a million-and-a-half people who have been devastated,” Morvant says. “But for those in real estate sales, it will take even longer to recover. We can’t go back in a month to our 9-to-5 jobs. We have skills that suddenly have no demand in our areas. You can’t sell a house when all the houses are flattened.” Real estate practitioners in other regions of the country have made generous offers to provide housing and support to salespeople from New Orleans. Morvant says the most amazing offer she’s personally heard so far came from the Keller Williams office in Phoenix. “The message was, ‘Any agent who wants to begin a new life can do it right now,’” she says. The office offered to pay for a plane ticket to Phoenix, meet the person at the airport, and find the person a place to live and work while he or she earned an Arizona real estate license. “We’re so grateful for all the help that has come from REALTORSŪ so far,” she says, noting that the Knoxville Area Association of REALTORSŪ in Tennessee and the Florida Association of REALTORSŪ have offered generous support to displaced REALTORSŪ. “We’ve been overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and genuine offers of help.” —By Kelly Quigley for REALTORŪ Magazine Online

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