Industry moves quickly to support Maui relief efforts
As the wildfire death toll rises, Keller Williams, eXp and others connect with agents, raise money and even turn an office into an emergency “command center.”
- Dozens in Maui are dead and thousands are without shelter, water, power or phone service.
- KW Cares, eXtend a Hand, Hawai’i Life and Anywhere are among the real estate organizations helping affected agents and their families.
- The word from Maui: “Whatever you can do, we need the help.”
Real estate professionals across the country have jumped into action to help support their colleagues in Maui after devastating wildfires.
The fires have killed nearly 100 people, with the death toll expected to rise. And thousands of survivors are without shelter, water, electricity or phone service.
"These people were left with nothing but the clothes on their back," said Mindy Grubb, vice president of development for KW Cares, the Keller Williams agent relief program.
The company has turned its Kahului office into a command center where people can sleep, take showers and get other emergency assistance. "Our most urgent need at the command center … has been sleeping bags, water, simple foods," Grubb said.
CoreLogic estimates 3,088 homes, primarily in the Lahaina area, were damaged or destroyed in the fires. The total reconstruction costs are estimated at $1.3 billion. President Biden on Friday issued a major disaster declaration for Maui County, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced additional disaster relief measures. Leaders in Hawaii announced a Hawaii Fire Relief Housing program to connect people with spare living space with those in need. The program will remain active indefinitely.
Communications have proven difficult, Grubb said. "A lot of people are having to go to airports just to get a signal to let their families know they are OK."
Keller Williams has 227 agents on the island. Nine of those agents or their family members have lost their homes in the fires, Grubb said.
Emily Fraser, eXp designated managing broker in Haiku on Maui's north side, said at least two eXp agents on the island have lost their homes. "We have six agents who I know for sure are in need," Fraser said. "But I don't know what the need is because communications are down."
Annie Pellegrini, program manager for eXp's eXtend a Hand charity, said making contact with the company's 60 Maui-based agents has been difficult. "We have not heard from all of them yet," she said, adding that the company is doing safety checks on its staff every day.
NAR's Realtors Relief Foundation announced on Monday that it is offering $1.5 million in disaster relief funds to assist with victims' housing payments, "offering tangible aid to those rebuilding their lives," RRF President Mike McGrew said.
Anywhere Real Estate has also launched assistance efforts through its brands and businesses and invites contributions to its Anywhere Disaster Relief Fund.
A wide range of support from real estate charities
Charities like KW Cares and eXtend a Hand can help with grants and assistance in the aftermath of disasters like the wildfires, but the immediate need is simply making sure agents and their families are safe.
"We wired a couple of grants this morning," KW Cares' Grubb said. "To get them a hotel room, food, things like that."
Immediate emergency grants of up to $5,000 are available to Keller Williams agents who qualify. After they have exhausted FEMA and insurance reimbursements, KW associates and immediate family members who still have unmet need can get up to $30,000 in what's called a "life altering" grant, Grubb said.
eXtend a Hand also offers grants and assistance, based on the organization's available funds, Pellegrini said, noting that last year's Hurricane Ian relief had cut deep into their bank accounts.
KW Cares was similarly stretched. "Last year we had to take $2.2 million out of our reserve to help pay for Hurricane Ian," she said. "So donations are our immediate need right now. Those donations will go to immediate relief for our Maui agents."
KW Cares is also urging anyone looking to help to send gift cards or needed items like hygiene supplies, non-perishable food, batteries, pillows, pet supplies or diapers from Amazon to its Kahului market center.
"We placed an order yesterday and it should be arriving Monday or Tuesday. It's deodorant, shampoos, soaps, toothbrushes," Grubb said. "These people have nothing."
Fraser noted that unlike many natural disasters and even other wildfires, the Maui fires sent people fleeing from their homes with virtually no warning or time to grab anything, including purses or wallets. "I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around it," she said. "This can't be real life, right?"
She encouraged people to find a reputable source to get help to affected families. "Whatever you can do," she said. "We need the help."
Beyond financial assistance, Grubb offered a simple request on behalf of everyone in Maui. "Continue to keep them in your prayers."