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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

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WAVELAND - With her long blonde hair, rhinestone-studded sunglasses and electric blue suit, Chari Rapp cuts a striking figure as she cruises the ruined streets of Waveland in a sparkling white Jaguar luxury sedan.

Since Hurricane Katrina gutted her office building, rendered her rental properties uninhabitable and destroyed her listings, the real estate agent has been working out of the trunk of her instantly identifiable car with an unshakable faith that this devastated area will recover, and eventually grow bigger and better than before.

Real estate agent Chari Rapp works out of her Jaguar in Waveland. Click "play" to see some of the area properties up for sale and to hear Rapp talk about rebuilding Hancock County.

But it took the 20-year industry veteran nearly three months to close her first deal since the storm: the sale of a new three-bedroom home in nearby Diamondhead for $135,000 to a couple relocating there -- at least temporarily -- from a badly damaged section of Waveland.

The area’s real estate industry is slowly getting off its knees, with transactions being closed in trailers and sheds and deeds filed in one of the many mobile homes that are expected to serve as county offices for as long as several years.

Hancock County Chancery Clerk Tim Kellar said more than 700 transactions had closed since Sept. 9, when his office opened in temporary headquarters to begin recording warranty deeds – at least those that did not require title searches, which have been available only for the past month. The average rate of 100 deals a week is about one-third the level before the storm.

The very first deal to close was the sale of a 5-acre commercial property in Waveland to the Lowe’s hardware chain, which had the property under contract before the storm and plans to build a warehouse-style home improvement store on the site.

Buyers looking to higher ground

But most of the deals done since the storm have been for acreage north of Waveland and Bay St. Louis, with many buyers looking to build new houses on higher ground, Kellar said.

“A lot of people are real hesitant about buying anything except in the north end” of the county, he said. “So many folks who have lived down here forever, especially people with some age on ‘em, they are just saying, ‘I’m not going to go through it anymore.’”

Rapp agreed, saying most developers, investors and residential buyers so far are looking outside of the “flood plain,” the definition of which has expanded dramatically since Katrina.

For those who do not need immediate occupancy, there are plenty of partly or completely wrecked houses, commercial properties and debris piles to be had in the heavily damaged towns.

As Rapp gave a guided tour of her neighborhood in the Idlewood subdivision of Waveland, where the solid brick homes look almost undamaged from a distance, she stopped at one of her listed properties, a three-bedroom, two-bath house with a painted statue of the Virgin Mary out front.

Inside, the home has been gutted to the studs. Sheetrock has been ripped out from the floor to the four-foot water line, all the appliances are missing and a thick layer of dust covers the bathroom fixtures. Above the water line things are eerily intact, including a gaudy three-dimensional painting of a Spanish dancer, a brass chandelier in the entryway and a complete set of china in the upper cabinets. The house is being offered for $90,000 “as is,” compared to a value of about $130,000 before the storm, according to Rapp.

Daunting obstacles for buyers

Obstacles to buying a totally or partly wrecked home are daunting.

The vast majority of insurance claims are unsettled, making it difficult for would-be sellers to provide the repairs that are demanded by many bank underwriters. The lack of available contractors means it might be six months or a year before salvageable properties will be ready to inhabit.

No building permits are even being issued in the devastated “south of tracks” section of Waveland, and the two towns are only now settling new rules on building elevations. Preliminary federal flood maps published Friday also could play a role in building decisions.

And then there is the obstacle of uncertainty, another legacy of Katrina.

“That house right there – the “for sale” sign has gone up and down at least four times since the storm,” said Rapp. “That just goes to show you how undecided people are.”

For the few relatively undamaged homes available, prices seem to be holding at pre-Katrina levels. A two-bedroom house on Main Street in Bay St. Louis recently sold for about $400,000. A three-bedroom, two-bath craftsman-style house that took only 5 inches of water is on the market for $675,000 and has drawn interest, said agent John Harris of Latter & Blum.

Helene Giles, another agent at the brokerage, is about to close on a 1400-square-foot home in Waveland that was left undamaged by the storm, although it needs new flooring and a bathroom sink. The house, which is going for about $80,000 in a foreclosure sale, was under contract before the storm, but the prospective buyer, who lived in New Orleans, backed out of the deal and left the area.

Giles, 64, whose own house near the beach was destroyed by the hurricane, will be fully compensated through flood insurance and decided to snap up the foreclosed home, knowing it probably will be at least two years before she can rebuild on her former property.

Finding something livable

“The hardest thing is to find something that’s available right now -- that’s not gutted and that doesn’t need total renovation,” she said. “The prices are still the pre-Katrina prices, and maybe even a little bit higher if you can find something available. I don’t know what is going to happen in a couple of months. I think we’re going to see a lot of foreclosures.”

Commercial property also is in play throughout the Bay-Waveland area.

As Rapp drove her Jaguar down the main commercial drag of Highway 90, a small white helicopter swooped low and hovered over the giant shopping center parking lot that serves as the home of the New Waveland Café and Market -- a relief center that has offered thousands of free meals and supplies since the hurricane.

Rapp said it was a prospective buyer who has expressed interest in bulldozing the property and building a new shopping center, probably with a grocery store as the anchor tenant. The asking price is $3 million.

Another commercial property, a pile of wreckage that was once an upscale retail shop on the Bay St. Louis beachfront, is listed as “in contract” with an asking price of $565,000.

Harris said he has had inquiries from investors “all over the country” interested in picking up Bay St. Louis property on the cheap.

'Prices are going up'

“They think the prices have dropped,” he said. “But prices are going up, not going down.”

Harris is a real estate salesman and a promoter, but he is far from the only one who believes the towns will get back on their feet and return to their status as a great place to live, work, retire and enjoy the good life.

“This is a resilient community,” said Rapp, 50, vice president of the county port commission and a mother of two children, including a high school senior. “There is nowhere in the world that I would rather live than Hancock County.”

Like thousands of others in the county, she is living in a federally issued FEMA trailer, even though she probably could afford to rent a house elsewhere in the county while she rebuilds her life.

But if she moved to more comfortable quarters, “How am I going to feel what other people are feeling?” she asks. “How can my parents be in a trailer and me be in a house? I just can’t do it.”

An active member of the Word of Faith Christian Church in Waveland, Rapp expresses a pride that is typical of the area, saying she will rebuild her homes and business without taking on a mortgage -- and probably without much in the way of insurance money.

“This is the first time in the last 20 years that I have not been the helper, and it kills me,” she said. “I’m not a person to ask for help. That is probably the hardest thing for me to do.”

If Rapp does stay and rebuild, there will be a certain symmetry to it. She moved to the area in 1969 at the age of 14 when her father, a building contractor, came from the small town of Jackson, Ala., to help with the rebuilding after Hurricane Camille. The family fell in love with the area and has been here ever since.

“I cried when we left (Alabama), but I wouldn’t say it was more than a month (before) I didn’t want to go back,” she said. “And it looked just like you’re seeing it now.”

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Realtors are useless dregs on the economy - one cannot believe a word they say.

The only thing holding back real estate at all in Waveland is the city of Waveland with its foolish refusal to issue building permits. Such a shame that the mayor and alderman are destroying the fabric of the city.

Useless dregs on the economy? What rock is he living under? Or cactus? Love the Jag, sharp dresser, great smile! You go girl!

There is no doubt of the upside in that area. As a native Californian, I have seen our market in its highest peaks and lowest valleys. If things are being held up by way of doing a master plan, then great do it right. If politics are getting in the way because of dysfunctional government, then get out! I would like to invest in something there where prices are cheap compared to here, but there needs to be a plan of execution.

My opinion on these two statements are as follows: #1) Whoa! You cannot generalize anything on this earth except death and taxes! Maybe a few other things... What a sad thing if you really feel this way!

#2) Building Permits are absoulutely necessary. Times like these can be desperate and people are trying to get to the end through a means. We might be tempted to cut a corner or two... Desperation can lead us all into temptation, but do your best to not cut that corner. Integrity is sometimes all you may have left in this world. I sure hope mine will measure up if I ever have to stand on it... It's not been perfect, that's for sure. Have mercy on us all dear Lord!

I say "Airborne!" to Loyd in Scottsdale. "Real Estate" is one of this country's greatest rackets. Hire a blond twinkie or a smiling mustache-boy so he can work for himself and all you get is what I call the "10,000 dollar car ride" ... what they expect to be paid for driving you to see a house. Except the last 3 times I bought a house, the cheap Twink wanted me to meet her there because "she was busy that day".

These people are out of their minds!

i really liked the statement about the "flood plain" property, i wonder how many people are actually going to rebuild in a "flood plain". as a person living pretty far away from places that have a natural cycle of destruction, im getting rather tired of everything in my life getting more expensive "gas food insurance etc. the list is endless" because people keep rebuilding in these areas.
enough already...if "you" want to live there, "you" pay for it....im tired of helping and absorbing the cost of those who like to live in high risk areas...

No tey aren't they assit people who don't want to do it alone. Do it yourself next time...

Maybe they haven't heard the news, the market is going down, not up. 565K for a 3 bedroom house? HA HA HA HA HA. Thanks for the laugh

All realtors are useless as much as all comments are intelligent ie; yours.

Real Estate agents are like military commanders; they never met a war or disaster that didn't like! Can't believe either one.

Many factors right now influence "why should I buy" or "why should I sell". The lack of timely insurance payouts is killing progress. The lack of contractors is slowing progress. Oh, and building permits would be nice too! Who wants to buy a stake of land if they can't do anything with it for months or years!

a real estate mogul with a jaguar parked in front of a mobile home in a trailer park --- Is this an oxymoron or just a weird juxtiposition. I believe this woman has a good heart and i do not ridicule her efforts for her home town but the vision created by a jag/trailer simple blow my mind !!

I would be a bit more diplomatic then Lloyd of Arizona, but yes the Realtors are trying to artifically drive up the market and the real estate prices. Realtors are paid on commission!
The City is doing the correct thing in limiting the building permits and enlarging the flood zone. Something that should have been done in the first place.
If you really want the true story on the market talk to a reputable certified real estate appraiser, not some overdressed, under qualified person driving around in a jaguar!!

I live in Upstate NY and I can't for the life of me believe that any one would even contemplate building or rebuilding below sea level.

ohmigod...she can afford to live in a house, but she wants to feel what the other people are feeling! Well...I tell you what we are feeling....we're COLD...our camper is leaking propane, so we can't use the heat or hot water. Yesterday the refrigerator stopped working, and last night I spent part of the night mopping up the water leaking from it onto the tiny bit of floor we have. Bathroom? We're not hooked up to sewer, so I fashioned a usable toilet...I line the toilet bowl with a heavy duty garbage bag, and after we "go"...I cart the bag out to the garbage can.
My daughter, who is autistic is slowly losing her mind...she bites herself and screams off and on all day and parts of the night. We tried to take her to the Hope Theatre last night (where, thank goodness, they gave out free blankets!) but had to leave in the middle of the movie because she started having one of her "spells". I came back to the camper, and wrapped her in her blanket and wound up rocking her for 4 hours in the middle of the night while she screamed/cried/tried to bite herself(The rest of the night was spent mopping the water up, remember?). This morning, my daughter in law spent several hours trying to locate a psychiatrist or some kind of help for her..the ONLY and earliest appt is in MARCH...like we are going to last that long. Um, let's see...oh yeah, it rained last night, and our dirty laundry, which is in a basket under the canopy, got soaking wet. The pile is so large because, even tho I wash the stuff in a rubbermaid tub, and rinse it out in an ice chest...there's no point...the weather is too damp for the stuff to dry. Oh yeah...and my wheelchair bound husband is in a nursing home/rehab center over an hour away from here..because we can't get him into the tiny camper we're in. My daughter misses him horribly.
So now...do you get the picture of how people are feeling??? We are not alone..there are many many people having such massive problems that they just don't know what crisis to deal with at any given time. You get one problem solved, and I promise you..within hours another one pops up.
For someone to deliberately choose to "feel what people are feeling" makes me want to throw up. The last thing anyone here wants to hear about is someone who is role playing...while driving around in a Jaguar and "confiding to the world", that she is able to rebuild her home and business without having to take out a pesky mortgage. I'm genuinely happy that you are coming out of this so well..but please don't insult those who haven't.
And as for all you armchair disaster experts out there...you just cannot possibly conceive of what people are dealing with...we are NOT sleeping til noon then going to get our free meal at the Waveland Cafe...hell, we couldn't go there if we wanted to...we lost our only car in the storm. As it is, my daughter and I walked several miles to the office to sign the right of entry form and walked back home again...we're all tending to a plethora of details that have been thrust upon us.
Please, please quit judging us on the basis of people like the one in this article!

Are building permits going to get easier to obtain? I'm a builder/realtor in San Diego and I would relocate if the process was pro development. After all people want homes and the city needs tax revenues.

I agree with Geralyn, I feel there are much bigger issues at hand. I believe the realtor is acting only in her best interests. There are many more people out there that need help, real help!!

I feel it should never be rebuilt, it is below sea level, that says enough for me.

I really feel sorry for an individual that has to work out of the back of a Jaguar, some sacrifice.

My heart goes out to all of the people whom are suffering from the storms of their life times!But to build in an area that is subject to such danger an proptery loss is just nut`s we all suffer from these storms localy you suffer more,no two ways about it,but thoes who live in these area need to get out are country has no more money to pay for the rebuilding any longer we are wasting good monney on old ideas that have proven to fail time an again it`s time to wake up an move on the past history in the gulf tells the story no two ways about it! sorry.

I agree with Jon Bennett. These people should know by now what the risks are of living in an area like this. If they want to assume those risks, that is their choice, but please don't ask me to pay for their choices in the form of higher insurance rates, higher taxes, etc.

The "flood plain" is not below sea level. Most houses were below present flood level because they existed for decades before there was a "flood plain." The government has generated to non-functional; people want to build as safely as possible with new construction but you cannot get any type of permit. I have studied hurricanes and construction standards for them for 35+ years; nothing except commercial condominium towers with parking garages underneath will withstand a Katrina; yet we know that no storm this strong has hit in likely at least 300 years and the surge/rogue wave combination was unique and topped by 160+ mph winds. Land values will go up as they have elsewhere; the only question is will Bay-Waveland be a condominium forest like S. Florida or a mixed use community as before. I realize a lot of people from away from this area do not understand the reality of how to construct for "normal hurricanes" but I don't know how to engineer for "mega-earthquakes" either although building mechanism failures are related for both. Also, blizzards and tornados hit Michigan the last time I watched the weather channel.

"Waveland?" Waveland where. I presume it's in New Orleans, but it would be helpful if MSNBC would include the State WITH the city.

As an experienced investor, who recently became a realtor in our area, I feel that there is perception problem with Rapp. Realtors DO perfom a needed service for many people, but I do feel it's a bit "insensitive" with her driving in the shiny Jag while touring the destroyed areas. Look, she earned her money over the 20 years of work in the area, but she could have "toned it down a bit" in my opinion. Like it or not there IS a class warfare society in this country, like "all realtors are crooks" etc etc. And if ANYONE has some semblance of success or make good money, the perception in the media or public eye, is that they are greedy crooks, NOT someone who worked to achieve something with blood sweat and tears. Ms Rapp is earning her living helpinng folks in the area, but perhaps toning down the "trappings of success" would be a little more sensitive to her sellers and buyers.

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