In the wake of one tragic event after another—some caused by one man, some caused by man in general–we all may be tempted to throw our hands in the air and give up on humanity. Our leaders seem to want to focus on moving backwards, while we as a species need desperately to move forward and focus on solutions for our future. On the world stage, we retreat from global policy shifts to try to slow down or reverse climate change, and domestically we contemplate allowing silencers and armor-piercing bullet sales in the wake of one violent mass shooting after another.
Despite these desperate times, there is a movement, and perhaps a majority of us, that still have a positive outlook for the future. Out of every tragedy, there emerge heroes willing to risk their lives to help others, and communities strengthening to help its weakest members. We may not always see it in the news, but these movements happen. I saw it myself in Houston two weeks ago.
Every year, our brokerage, the largest in the world now, gets together in Austin, Texas for a week of education, collaboration and business development. Normally, it is a predictable mix of daylong classes, networking events and silly evenings spent watching dueling pianos, followed by a hazy flight home with a tired brain and body.
This year, the event was scheduled for Sept. 11-15, just two weeks after the largest hurricane and flood event the country has ever seen: Hurricane Harvey. With floodwaters over 6-feet high in thousands of homes in Houston, the storm claimed dozens of lives and left hundreds of thousands homeless. It also destroyed the largest financial investment many residents had ever made, and many of those investments were not protected by insurance of any kind.
In the wake of such a catastrophe, our brokerage could not just sit idly by and follow the same pattern of a typical conference week, especially since the conference itself was so close to the devastation. As a result, our large group shifted focus from education to relief. With only about 13 days to plan, the original events were cancelled, buses were booked and supplies were ordered to allow the 10,000 original attendees to change roles to disaster assistant volunteers.
We boarded buses from Austin starting at 7 each morning for several days in a row. As we got closer to Houston, the remains of the devastation Harvey caused became more common: flooded fields, muddy bushes and trees, signs and debris littering the road. But then, as we pulled into what was previously a typical middle-class housing development, the evidence became overwhelming: lines of piles of debris littering front yards of every single house as crews worked to remove the things of peoples’ lives from their homes. One house was completely burned out, with nothing left standing but the brick walls that made up its perimeter. Perhaps it burned during the flood with no one and nothing to help put it out but the floodwaters that rose around it. It was like entering a war zone.
We were provided meals from businesses that chipped in for the effort, and given gloves, shovels, pry-bars, goggles and wheelbarrows bought with our own registration fees. And we spent each day there cutting out the drywall, insulation and debris, sopping wet with floodwaters, up to the water line that was above taller than many of the volunteers. “De-mucking” the houses, as it is called, was laborious, dirty and smelly work. But the volunteers gathered together, all in red shirts and working in concert.
Despite the destruction Harvey wrought, and the work we did to further dismantle these homes, we had high spirits, knowing our work was a force for good. We weren’t the only ones working, nor the only volunteers, but that only made us feel better. Our business is real estate. Our clients are like these homeowners. And while these homeowners weren’t our clients, we knew how closely our businesses, and our lives, were tied to these people’s.
One homeowner came to see her property for the first time since being evacuated by boat to higher ground. She seemed numb and almost emotionless, but we could tell her own flood of emotion was about to burst forth. We hugged her and apologized for her loss. Hopefully that made it better for her, just a little bit.
Transforming lives through real estate is our local brokerage’s mission statement. We didn’t fix the problems those people experienced in Houston, but hopefully we helped as a small force for good. Thinking of all the people coming together to help, from across the country, made me have a little more faith in humanity. I would hope that, regardless of political affiliation, events like these can help us come together as a country, and as a world united for positive change. Normally I feel that I help my clients transform their own lives through real estate, but in this instance I think real estate helped to transform my own.
David Bediz is a 13-year veteran Realtor and a leader in the community, serving on the Board of Directors for both DCAR and GCAAR, the two local Realtor associations. His top-producing team was named 2015 Best of Gay DC Real Estate Group by the Washington Blade, and has been nominated for the award again this year. He can be reached at 202-642-1616 or bediz.com.