I had only been an agent for a couple of years when some friends of mine, Sarah and Gregg, decided to leave Algiers, on the West Bank of New Orleans, and move to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Gregg had just received his teaching license and a job offer with a school near his extended family that would allow him to work in his chosen field and subject. Although they owned their home, they had never actually been a "home buyer" since the property was inherited from Gregg's parents. They were dream sellers, doing almost everything asked of them during the marketing of their home, after the inspections and getting ready for the closing. Priced right, their house sold in about 2 weeks and they moved on to start a new chapter of their lives with their 2 daughters in Mississippi. I checked in from time to time and they were really happy there, close to the water, close to their family, loving their jobs and life. A happy ending.
August 29, 2005 is a date burned into the collective memories of anyone living in southeast Louisiana or along the Mississippi coast. When Hurricane Katrina blew through, she blew away more than just homes. She took lives and forever altered the face of this region of the country. Even now, 2 years later, the effects are dramatic and long lasting. So when Sarah and Gregg called me in late 2005 and said they wanted to move back to the New Orleans area, I was stunned, shocked, surprised, you name it. Didn't they know that people were moving out of the city not into it? Didn't they know that so much of the housing stock was severely damaged? What were they thinking? In not so subtle words, I asked just that.
The house they were living in in Mississippi was severely damaged as well. They searched their souls and decided that if they were going to rebuild it would be at home...surrounded by the culture, the music, the food and the diversity that are all a part of the New Orleans landscape. What I heard warmed my heart..."we want to be a part of the rebuilding". Here is a young, professional couple who could get jobs anywhere, take their daughters wherever they desired. But they decided that the best they could offer to this city that they love was to come home and do their part towards the rebuilding and restoration.
Sarah and Gregg decided not to return to the West Bank, although that had previously been home for them. They decided instead to relocate to the Mid City area, finding a raised basement home that had been undergoing renovations prior to the "storm" as we all call it here. There was no kitchen at all, the roof leaked and broken windows were allowing rain to blow into the house. We knew nothing was up to code and there was even a red bedroom with a horned devil painted on the wall! The backyard was completely overgrown and was lined by a sagging, falling down brick fence along the back property line. The porch was warped and the attic stairs didn't actually reach the floor to allow anyone access. We were pretty sure there were squatters in the basement area at some time. But they had a vision and the desire to see it through.
Buying a flooded, damaged home brings its own set of challenges. First, we had to find a lender willing to do a rehab and permanent loan all in one. Then, a reliable contractor that would not only bid the job but would provide documentation to the lender and actually show up to do the work. We hit some road bumps along the way, but they finally got to closing in July, 2006. One of the first things Sarah did was have the house blessed after painting over the devil! I would periodically follow up with them, asking about the progress and the move in date kept getting pushed back time after time.
As we all do, I got busy and didn't call for awhile. Then, a couple of weekends ago, I found myself in their neighborhood. The cars were there, so I popped in. What a transformation! Refinished floors, a fabulous kitchen, closets where none were before, windows repaired and an updated bathroom. A volunteer church group spent several days helping to clean out the backyard and they discovered a brick patio and walkway under the rubble and weeds. The porch has been rebuilt and painted and gives them a place to sit at the end of the day and watch the world go by. It is by no means finished (is any house?), but it is a great home for this family.
Gregg is teaching in the local school system. Sarah is working for a large hospital. The girls are enrolled in area schools. They walk to the nearby park to play soccer and hang out with friends. They have met most of their neighbors, some still living in FEMA trailers and some finished with their repairs. There are still houses on the street that need to be bulldozed. There are still a few that look like no one has been there for the last two years. But it is their neighborhood and they are fiercely proud of it. Both say that it is the best move they could have made. They have reconnected with the city in a way that only someone who is from New Orleans, left New Orleans and then returned to New Orleans can do.
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? Well, Sarah and Gregg do...and that's why they are back. Welcome home.