Alabama real estate claims information hard to come by


MOBILE, Ala. – More than two months after $15 million was set aside for Alabama real estate agents and brokers damaged by the oil spill, information about what has happened to the money is hard to come by.

Nick Wilmott, president of the Baldwin County Association of Realtors, said that his members have had both good and bad experiences with the process.

“Feedback is coming in all shapes and sizes,” Wilmott said. “I’ve had members who have been very pleased, who didn’t expect to get as much as they did. And then I’ve had members who thought they deserved a claim and got denied.”

Real estate agents along the coast reported immediate financial harm when the spill erupted in April, with some saying that they had sales contracts canceled because of the oil.

Shortly after Ken Feinberg took over the spill compensation program from BP PLC on Aug. 23, he earmarked $60 million for Realtors in Gulf Coast states. So far, he reports giving out $34.5 million of that, with $16 million going to Florida and $15 million to Alabama.

Mississippi received $1.5 million for real estate-related oil spill claims. But several calls made to Mississippi Association of Realtors Chief Executive Officer Beth Hansen went unanswered this week.

Realtors can receive as much as $18,000 each in Alabama, and $12,000 each in Florida to make up for losses in income caused by the spill, according to officials.

In Florida, $5.1 million has been distributed to 725 claimants, said Marla Martin, a spokeswoman for Florida Realtors. She said that 55 claimants had been denied, most because they had no record of a real estate income before the spill.

The Press-Register made several calls over a three-week period to the Alabama Association of Realtors about the claims process. The calls were referred to Executive Vice President Danny Cooper, who did not respond.

Keith Kelley, president of the Alabama Association of Realtors, told a Press-Register reporter on Sept. 30 that he would send an e-mail with claims data. The e-mail never arrived, and Kelley has not responded to multiple messages left with an assistant.

State real estate associations hired the National Catastrophe Adjusters Group, an Indianapolis-based company, to handle the claims. The company’s president, Jim Pearl, has not returned several messages left by the Press-Register on both his office and cell phones over the past week.

Wilmott said he learned Monday that $2.6 million in real estate claims had been approved to be paid this week in Mobile and Baldwin counties, but he did not know how much money has been paid out in total.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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