Okla. Real Estate: Priced To Sell, Includes Storm Shelter

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After last week's deadly tornado in Moore, Okla,, hundreds of homes were damaged. Maurice Smith is optimistic about the future in Moore. So much so, he is planning to build a new home and sell the old one without an agent. And he expects it will be snapped up quickly. The reason? Displaced residents are looking for homes, and his has a storm shelter.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency - FEMA - says it has now approved over $3 million in direct assistance to people whose homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed by last week's tornado in Moore, Okla. And there are other indications that life in the city is beginning to pick up and move on. All over Moore, there are signs advertising the services of insurance companies, trash-hauling companies and roofing businesses. But it was one sign in particular, just a few blocks from the disaster zone, that caught the attention of NPR's Hansi Lo Wang.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: If location is everything in real estate, then you might think Maurice Smith has a problem on his hands. Not long before the tornado hit, he posted a Craigslist ad online and stuck a for-sale-by-owner sign in front of his house in Moore, Okla.

MAURICE SMITH: It's four-bedroom, two newly renovated baths with ceramic tile - oh, excuse me, porcelain tile; I did the work myself.

WANG: And he's asking for $155,000.

SMITH: It's a good price. It's a fair price. So, you know, we'll definitely get it.

WANG: I guess outsiders might think people wouldn't want to buy a home here now. But it sounds like you think you've got better prospects. You've got two calls already, you said?

SMITH: I received two calls today. You definitely got better prospects. This is Oklahoma. If I learned anything about these folks, they're very resilient. They're going to pick up.

WANG: There's a lot of that going on in Moore right now. Just five minutes away from Smith's home, last week's tornado ripped trees bare down to stubs, crumpled cars and decimated homes. Yellow tufts of fiberglass insulation - once sandwiched in the walls of houses no longer there - were blown across town. They landed on lawns and coated roofs in Smith's neighborhood.

SMITH: I've been rinsing off the shingles all morning, and I've still got another two days worth of rinsing off on the shingles to get all the debris, as you can see around.

WANG: Ten years ago, Smith and his family moved here from Germany. They bought a house, then another - just down the block. They live in one and rent out the other. Smith really believes Moore is a good market for real estate.

SMITH: We love the price of homes. We love the price of just the overall economy here. The people are great. Everywhere you go, you're going to have some sort of Mother Nature, you know, catastrophe just lurking. And so, Oklahoma, it just so happens to be tornadoes.

WANG: Smith wants me to see another feature of his home.

SMITH: It's probably going to be an echo in here, so sorry about that.

WANG: He ducks his head and walks down steel steps until he's seven feet below the ground. He's showing me his storm shelter. This is where he, his wife and two children - plus some neighbors - waited out last week's tornado.

SMITH: We can squeeze, sardine-wise, 15-20 people in here.

WANG: This is smaller than I expected, but this is my first storm shelter.

SMITH: OK. After you go see the other storm shelters then come back and see me. And you'll be like, oh, he's got a big one.

WANG: A big one that's now not just a safety precaution but also a possible clincher that can seal the deal with someone looking to buy a home in Moore just blocks away from the rubble the tornado left behind. Smith says after he sells this house, he's planning to build a new one on 10 acres he bought in another part of town. He's not sure when he and his family will make the move. But one thing they have decided is they're not leaving Moore. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, Moore, Oklahoma.


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