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Vacation homeowners help fire victims

By Elizabeth Daley

June 29, 2007

The idea came to realtor Larry Sabo when he was trying to find a home for friends who had lost everything they owned in a fire that has destroyed 229 homes so far near South Lake Tahoe: Empty vacation homes!

"The homes are already furnished and set up, so these people can move right in and have stuff," Sabo said in an interview yesterday.

Sabo estimates over 60 percent of homeowners in the South Lake Tahoe area are vacationers, mostly from the San Francisco Bay Area.

He has already managed to get 50 such homeowners to donate or lease their homes to victims of the 3,100-acre fire that prompted over 2,000 evacuations and is 60 percent contained since it began Sunday.

Though the fire has not yet been extinguished, "the smoke's cleared out," Sabo said, "everything's back to what feels like normal."

However, since the fire started, the definition of normal has been revised. "You are kind of on pins and needles trying to see what the wind kicks up, a lot of people running around with stuff in their trucks in case they have to leave," Sabo said.

"There are certain areas that are totally closed off because they have caught people trying to loot, they made four or five arrests. Everyone knows the local police so if you want to go in [to burnt areas], you have to go with an escort."

Just a few years ago, the torched area near South Lake Tahoe used to be home to more full time residents, said Sabo, who has been a realtor in the area for 15 years.

"Within last five years, it's become a vacation area. Five years ago, it was 80 percent owner occupied." Sabo said the median price of homes in the area "went from $125,000 to $425,000 over the last five or 10 years."

While the recent fire may devastate the local community, Sabo said it's very hard to predict what the outcome may be for property values. "We speculate it's actually going to improve the real estate market because there are less homes. However, that may be off-set by Bay Area people who don't want a home in a fire prone area."

Sabo said since the rise in prices, many people who work locally could no longer afford to live in the South Lake Tahoe area. However, since the fire, vacation homeowners are giving back to the community.

"I responded to Larry that we are interested in the possibility renting for long term, possibly a year figuring that's how long people will need," said vacation homeowner Dana Kreitter of Los Altos.

Kreitter said his home is located between two and three miles from where the fire began, at Upper Truckee Road and Seneca Drive in South Lake Tahoe. "There are people there with pretty extreme needs. In our case, our house would be in use for some weekends per year, so it just seemed like a way to help the people that really need it."

Sabo said most residents who lost their homes have home insurance, so while they may not be able to re-furnish a new home, they do have money to pay rent.

The Insurance Information Network of California reported yesterday 217 claims have already been filed for losses as a result of the fire. "We are looking for a bit of generosity here," Sabo said.

Those wishing to donate or lease their furnished vacation homes to fire victims may contact Larry Sabo at larrysabo@realtor.com or call 1800-987-SABO.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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