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Home sales affected by flood stigma

The floodwater hardly touched Ray and Rose Poisson's mobile home a year ago. But their home's value has been affected anyway, as surely as if the water had filled their living room.

The couple bought the 1990 mobile home in Pineland Park two years ago for $28,500. The flood destroyed their air-conditioning unit outside, but the mobile home itself was not flooded.

Now they want to sell, but Realtor Mike Wells has told them they would be lucky to get more than $20,000 for it. People are leery about buying land in areas that were flooded last year.

"He said it lost a lot of its value in the flood," Mrs. Poisson remembered. "I was so disgusted about it. I said, "Aughhh, what to do now?' "

The Poissons suspect Wells is right. They tried to sell the mobile home themselves but when people found out it was west of U.S. 19 they wouldn't even come look, Mrs. Poisson said.

The couple is not alone. Realtors are saying that values have fallen in areas that were flooded, particularly the Hudson Beach area, because people don't want to buy homes in areas that could be flooded again.

"When they (buyers) find out it is west of (U.S.) 19 they say they aren't interested," said Wells of Re/Max Majestic Realty.

There is an exception. Wells said that property directly on the water still sells for as much as, if not more than, it sold for before the flood. It's the sales prices of non-waterfront property in flood-prone areas that have fallen.

"The property up in the Hudson area is the hardest hit _ from (State Road) 52 north," said Chuck Grey of F. I. Grey and Son realty. "The stuff closer to New Port Richey _ Gulf Harbors _ is still pretty popular."

But in Hudson Beach, the houses that sell, sell for less than before the flood, even if the owners have made them even better than they were because of insurance-funded renovations, he said.

For instance, a house in average to below-average condition that would have sold for $70,000 before the flood would have to be in tip-top condition to fetch that much now, Grey said.

"It's a little bit of a fear," he said.

Wells thinks people are overreacting _ that there's not much chance another big flood will hit the area in their lifetimes.

"I think the people need to look beyond the flood," he said. "The properties, in fact, are just as valuable today as they were before the flood, but not in people's minds they are not."

Frankie Horton, a real estate broker at Green Key Realty, said she has had no trouble selling homes in the Green Key area after the flood. Many are bargain-basement priced by owners who decided to keep their insurance money and sell their unrepaired storm-damaged home.

"In a way it was a boon for young families," Horton said.

In many cases the homes were sold by elderly people who didn't have the strength to go through a remodeling. They were bought by young people who were willing to invest some sweat equity in return for a good deal. Sometimes the homes were even financed by the owners who got better interest rates from the home buyers than they could from other investments.

That's what happened in the case of Tammy and John Rodanhisler. They bought a two-bedroom, two-bath home in Green Key from a woman who had to go to a nursing home after the flood.

She financed the $31,000 sale for the young couple, then they borrowed another $10,000 from a relative to repair the house.

All the flooring and the cabinetry in the kitchen had to be replaced, but the wiring was okay because only 9 inches of water came in.

Without that kind of deal, the couple would have never been able to buy a home. Because Mrs. Rodanhisler is self-employed as the owner of the Village Styling Shop in Tarpon Springs and her husband was unemployed for about a year, banks weren't willing to loan them enough to even consider buying a house.

"We were very disappointed for a long time," she said.

Then her husband found the house they eventually bought. She was skeptical at first, but they decided to take a chance. They moved in last October, and she's relatively happy with her new home, although she is eager to paint the seafoam green and maroon house.

But every time there are coastal flood warnings, she worries and her husband duct-tapes the doors, hoping that would keep out a little water.

They plan to sell the house in four or five years and use the equity to buy a bigger house, she said. But the next house won't be in a flood plain.

"I don't want to be near where it could flood again," she said.