Homeowners leave Bonita Springs neighborhood flooded by Hurricane Irma

Homeowners struck by a week-long flood are selling their houses, and people are buying.

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Hurricane Irma, which brought the most destructive flooding in recent memory to Bonita Springs, has driven property owners away from their homes in one riverside neighborhood.

A little more than 200 houses fill the short streets at the northeast corner of Bonita Beach Road and Imperial Parkway. Since Irma, 22 homes have been sold in the Quinn Street neighborhood, with another 10 on the market. Since 2008, on average 18 homes have been sold in the same area each year.

Homeowners in the neighborhood endured Irma’s massive single-day rains of 10 inches or more. The Imperial River spilled over its banks, pushing dirty water onto the streets and into scores of homes. Fishing boats trawled the roads for days, helping people retrieve irreplaceable items from houses flooded with 3 feet of water.

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Now some homeowners who survived the flood are selling their houses to avoid reliving the disaster, real estate agent Beth Brown said.

“People said, ‘I’m not going to wait around until it happens again,’ ” Brown said.

Some homeowners aren’t concerned about price, worried instead about getting out of the area. One-third of property owners lost money on their sales, some more than $100,000 in a neighborhood where homes have an average appraised value of $135,000.

Only two years since 2008 have had higher numbers of property sales in the neighborhood than after Irma. They were both directly related to the housing crash and weren’t normal years in the market, real estate agent Pete Ferraro said.

In 2010, investors were buying cheap foreclosures, driving sales up, Ferraro said. By 2015, banks lent money for home purchases more freely, opening up sales of houses once again.

While some people still are scrambling to get out of the flood-prone neighborhood, others are just as willing to buy a home in the area, Ferraro said. He has a house for sale along Quinn Street.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of interest,” Ferraro said. “People absolutely love how it was remodeled. (The house) was absolutely gutted and redone.”

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Most houses on the market in the neighborhood are listed as fully remodeled. Floodwaters filled homes with mold. Five feet of fungus climbed drywall, covered cabinets and permeated furniture. Mountains of debris stood at the ends of driveways for weeks after the storm as people dismantled their homes.

The renovated homes are priced low — very low, said Brown, the real estate agent.

“This price point is hard to find anywhere else around here,” she said. “It’s affordable.”

One of the limiting factors for first-time homebuyers in the area is flood insurance. The Federal Emergency Management Agency requires flood protection for any property owner paying a mortgage on a home in the neighborhood.

Yearly premiums vary house to house based on elevation, said Peter Craig, of Craig Family Insurance. Any homes built since 1984 have to be at least 12 feet above sea level in the Quinn Street neighborhood.

“It could be a couple grand a year (for insurance) for a flood that comes once in a hundred years,” Craig said. “It’s very expensive.”

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While FEMA flood insurance costs are set by the federal government and don't directly account for floods, private insurance has skyrocketed, property investor Edward Flynn said. He recently sold a house in the area after the disaster changed the market.

"The cheapest flood insurance I got was $2,600 a year," Flynn said. "That's double what it should be. With homeowner's insurance, it costs more than $5,000 a year to insure a small house."

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Flynn owned the property for a year before selling. An idea of long-term renting was dashed in favor of a flip. The house spent four months on the market, despite a fully renovated interior and one of the cheapest prices in the area.

"Where can you find a place in Naples cheaper than $200,000 that's not a dump?" he said.

Flynn is getting out of the neighborhood, but Richard Shaffner is staying put. He built several houses in the flood-prone area, and he plans on building more.

“We’re happy with the prices, and we’re making a profit,” Shaffner said.

His houses are built on small walls to raise them high above the required elevation. None of his buildings or construction sites was flooded during the storms — music to a buyer’s ears, Shaffner said.

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While many people in the neighborhood are families, some investors are swooping in to purchase property in the hopes that flooding reduction projects will occur in the near future, Ferraro said.

“Some people don’t want to deal with (the flooding), while others are looking for value,” he said. “Who knows what FEMA will do. They may decide to buy people out. There’s still a chance for value.”

One such project could turn a flood-prone area into a real estate paradise, real estate agent Ferraro said, and those investors are hoping to hit the jackpot.

 

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