Original article published in the Houston Chronicle: “On the Move”
The words “Houston Strong” have been widely displayed across various social media pages following the massive flooding brought on by Hurricane Harvey.
But, they are more than just words. They represent the unwavering spirit of the people of Houston, who worked together during an unprecedented, harrowing time for the city.
Houstonians showed each other, and the world, what it means to be a resilient city that takes care of its own.
People saw compelling live images of neighbors helping neighbors, and strangers helping strangers. That is a true testament of the strength of Houston, and the people who call it home.
So, it was not surprising to see so many people within the real estate and relocation communities rallying together and volunteering to help in any way that they could.
Tim Surratt, a Realtor with Greenwood King Properties, was in Austin when the flooding first began. Unable to immediately return to Houston, he went to an Austin shelter and volunteered with the Red Cross for the next three days.
“It was the most remarkable experience that I have ever had,” explained Surratt. “The Red Cross immediately mobilized people from all over the United States. So, I was working alongside people from St. Louis, Vermont, California and Colorado, who left their families and dropped everything to jump in and volunteer.”
He added, “It really takes a toll on you to see people who have lost everything. There were a lot of touching stories, but to see people helping other people within the shelters was very moving.”
At the same time, Surratt fielded calls from his real estate clients, especially sellers who were concerned because they had water in their houses. He said that they were looking for comfort and advice.
“As a Realtor, my job is to help my clients through the process, and to let them know that it’s going to be OK. So, I told them that we will get through this, and that we will have some hurdles, but that we will jump each one together,” said Surratt.
In a similar vein, moving companies move people, and that’s exactly what Blake Oler, vice president of Oler Relo Group, did in the flooded neighborhoods of Houston.
Oler, along with his brother Bryan, and friends Rolf Scheffler, Jason Holder, and Paul Aguirre, joined the water rescue efforts in Houston. Over a three-day period, Oler and his team rescued over 50 stranded people by boat.
They also used their trucks to evacuate one of their client’s employees from an apartment complex located off of the Eldridge Parkway.
“We received calls, texts and Facebook messages from people all over Houston asking us to come and help them,” explained Oler. “It was unbelievable to see how many boats were out there, and how many people were trying to help in any way that they could.”
Although Oler Relo Group was closed for few days itself, Oler said that it was important to stay in communication with their customers, especially those who were in various stages of a move. So, members of the Oler staff worked remotely to keep customers informed about the situation.
“We have a lot of customers who were moving to Houston, and trying to close on their homes, and now that has all been pushed due to flooding and whatnot. So, staying in touch with customers has been a priority for us, and they have been extremely understanding. We have also heard from our partners from around the country asking what they can do to help,” said Oler.
He added, “It was actually a blessing just to be a part of the rescue efforts. It was also an extremely humbling experience. We drove by homes that belonged to people of all different income levels, and everybody was desperate. So, just the awareness of how much help people actually needed was really touching, and I’m grateful that we were able to help.”
Moving forward, Surratt said that he doesn’t expect for Houston to become a more difficult sell for relocation clients. He said that many cities have the potential for a natural disaster, but that he thinks Houston will learn from this experience and become even better.
“We are a family here, and we always treat each other as family,” said Surratt. “No matter what happens and what is needed in Houston, we are always ready to help each other in a heartbeat. That’s the culture of our city, and it’s easy to sell a culture where people will drop everything to help someone in need.”
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