Some See Opportunity in New Orleans Real Estate

Buyers and sellers are wondering how Hurricane Katrina has affected real estate prices in New Orleans: Some believe property values will go up, but others say property isn't worth what it was before the storm.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Check out craigslist or any real estate Internet site and you will see ads for people selling or wanting to buy real estate in New Orleans. You might assume the city's wrecked real estate is worth nothing anymore. Some think, though, that with so much money pouring in, property values will go up. NPR's Adam Davidson spoke to some hopeful sellers and buyers to find out how the market is doing.

ADAM DAVIDSON reporting:

Carol Loomis(ph) and her family had never been to Atlanta before Katrina, but they evacuated there to stay at a friend's house. Loomis remembers when they decided to stay. It was two days after they enrolled their nine-year-old daughter, Alex(ph), in school.

Mrs. CAROL LOOMIS (Evacuee): That happened after we got her in school and she came home--it was the Friday after the hurricane actually--and she said, `Mom, Dad, I'm on the student council. I decided I really want to get involved.'

DAVIDSON: Loomis and her husband, Patrick(ph) decided that their daughter had enough trauma from the hurricane. They'll just stay in Atlanta. But that means they have to sell their home in New Orleans.

Mrs. LOOMIS: We need the money that we put into the house. Why? Because we don't have a lot of other money.

DAVIDSON: They just bought the place in June for $325,000. Loomis says it's a great house, a century-old shotgun with 19 gorgeous windows. She knows her block wasn't flooded, but she hasn't been back to the city since the storm.

Mrs. LOOMIS: We're still not a hundred percent sure that it's OK. We haven't had anybody give us a visual of our house. I know we've got stinky things in the refrigerator. You know what I'm saying?

DAVIDSON: Loomis is hoping to get what she paid for the house, maybe a few thousand more, but what she wants most, she says, is to get the sale done and start her new life in Atlanta. But that's not how Kurt Bookart(ph) feels. He lives in the same area. He owns three houses, and he's been told they're fine. He's trying to sell them for a lot of money.

Mr. KURT BOOKART (Evacuee): From what I've read, price gouging on real estate is not illegal.

DAVIDSON: Bookart is right. Louisiana law outlaws price gouging on goods and services during a state of emergency, but the State Attorney General's office says the law does not cover real estate. Bookart wants to charge $100,000 or more above what his homes would have fetched a month ago. He figures with all the money pouring into New Orleans, his properties must be worth a lot more. And then there are the out-of-state speculators who are thinking just the opposite. John Olson is a real estate broker in Portland, Oregon.

Mr. JOHN OLSON (Real Estate Broker): Just one guy who is looking to maybe buy one or two destroyed houses, basically.

DAVIDSON: Olson has never been to New Orleans. He doesn't know anything about the city, he says, but here's his theory: Some family's house was destroyed. They're desperate to move on and will sell their land at a big discount. Olson can hold onto it and resell it for a lot more when the city's rebuilt.

Mr. OLSON: People were saying, `Oh, these greedy capitalist, greedy investors are going try to steal your property.' I don't believe it.

DAVIDSON: He says he's hoping to help a family out, and he says no one will sell if they don't want the money. To Olson, there's nothing wrong with speculators from out of state profiting.

Mr. OLSON: This is an incredibly risky investment, and I stand to lose everything, every dime, every penny I put in. Whenever you have a risky investment, the reward is usually higher if it works out.

DAVIDSON: Olson says that people in New Orleans who have enough money will hold on and wait for insurance checks and government payouts before they do anything. Not everyone has that luxury. For now, everything is uncertain and it's difficult to know what any property is really worth. Adam Davidson, NPR News, New Orleans.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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