For Houston's homeowners, tough decisions on whether to rebuild

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Harvey victims return home
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Harvey victims return home
Erlind Trigo and her niece Miriam weep as they look at family photographs which they salvaged from their home in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, U.S. September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
A man disposes of drywall while salvaging through belongings from his family home in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, U.S. September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
George Diaz disposes of furniture while salvaging through belongings from his family home in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, U.S. September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Mariah Castillo watches her mother Roxanne Castillo kiss her mother Dolores Hedger, 68, while salvaging through their family home in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, U.S. September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Chairs are seen drying outside of a pentecostal church where local residents prepare for Sunday service after tropical storm Harvey in east Houston, Texas, U.S., September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Bible and hymn books that were damaged by tropical storm Harvey are seen outside a Baptist church in Dickinson, Texas, U.S., September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
A volunteer helps clean up the damage from a Lutheran church in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey in Dickinson, Texas, U.S., September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
A volunteer helps clean up the damage from a Lutheran church in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey in Dickinson, Texas, U.S., September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
A home insurance inspector conducts an assessment of damages on the roof of a house after tropical storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, U.S., September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Melissa Ramirez (C) struggles against the current flowing down a flooded street helped by Edward Ramirez (L) and Cody Collinsworth as she tried to return to her home for the first time since Harvey floodwaters arrived in Houston, Texas, U.S. September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Nancy McBride collects items from her flooded kitchen as she returned to her home for the first time since Harvey floodwaters arrived in Houston, Texas September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Nancy McBride's half eaten supper still sits on the table since she evacuated in haste before Harvey floodwaters arrived in Houston, Texas, U.S. September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Nancy McBride's cat looks out from an air hole punched in a tub after the cat was found in her garage when McBride came home for the first time since Harvey floodwaters arrived in Houston, Texas September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Patrice Laporte measures how much of the Harvey floodwaters have gone down at his house in Houston, Texas September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
The high water mark is visible on a house surrounded Harvey floodwaters in Houston, Texas September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A girl carries toys she collected from a trash pile of Hurricane Harvey flood damage in southwestern Houston, Texas, U.S. September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
People sort through belongings found in Hurricane Harvey flood damage in Houston, Texas, U.S. September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A volunteer from Texas A&M University helps to clean up flood damage in the house of an alumnus in southwestern Houston, Texas September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Shirts are see drying outside of a trailer house damaged by tropical storm Harvey in East Houston, Texas, U.S. September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
People sort through belongings found in Hurricane Harvey flood damage in Houston, Texas, U.S. September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Rogelio Salina takes as break as he helps a neighbor to clean a house damaged by Tropical Storm Harvey in East Houston, Texas, U.S. September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
A man tears out Hurricane Harvey flood damage from a home in southwestern Houston, Texas, U.S. September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Vince Ware moves his sofas onto the sidewalk from his house which was left flooded from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, U.S. September 3, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Daniel Vasquez removes a damaged carpet after Tropical Storm Harvey flooded his home in east Houston, Texas, U.S. September 3, 2017. Vasquez and his family, originally from El Salvador, spent six days at the shelter after being airlifted by rescue helicopter. Vasquez, a truck driver who supports a family of five, did not hold flood insurance. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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HOUSTON, Sept 5 (Reuters) - It took just hours for Tropical Storm Harvey's floodwaters to destroy hand-hewn cabinets and wood floors that Chad Wilson spent more than 18 months to build and install in his Houston home.

Wilson's first thought after the waters receded and he girded himself for a Herculean cleanup is one echoing across the storm-weary Texas coast: should he rebuild?

With most of the home, which had never before flooded, now gutted, Wilson says he will only remain if he can raise its level above the ground by up to six feet (two meters).

"We will not live in this house at this elevation again," said Wilson, who teaches at the University of Houston. "It was too traumatizing."

More than 203,000 Texas homes were damaged or destroyed by Harvey, which dumped as much as 52 inches (132 cm) of rain across the region and killed as many as 60, according to authorities.

Some of those homes are still flooded. Two area reservoirs will for at least another 10 days release water into an overflowing drainage system to relieve pressure. That has some advising homeowners to demolish their homes, rather than repair them.

"If flooding in some homes persists for weeks, the likelihood of saving them diminishes rapidly," said Ron Witte, a professor of architecture at Houston's Rice University.

For those homes that will be restored, owners face what are expected to be shortages of materials and equipment, a scenario that plagued Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"I guarantee you there's going to be a shortage of Sheetrock in Houston during the next three months," said Roger Cooner, a Houston-based architect. "There are tens of thousands of homes that need Sheetrock torn out and replaced."

 

REAL ESTATE

Finding a place to stay also will be tougher. Houston's real estate market is expected to tighten because of Harvey's onslaught, exacerbating the plight of storm victims seeking shelter.

Before the storm, the city had 70,000 vacant apartment units. Some of those were damaged, but many likely will be rented quickly, said Jeff Hall of the Houston Apartment Association, which represents landlords.

"It's going to be really tight now," Hall said.

For the city's home sales, which were already soft because of a two-year oil price downturn, Harvey adds yet another kink. Some "For Sale" signs on properties around the city are already bedazzled with notices to entice prospective buyers: "Did Not Flood."

"Home sales are probably going to have a stigma for a while until we have things cleaned up," said Jennifer Fuller, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Memorial.

"I would advise anyone with water in their home to keep all documents related to remediation and take pictures so they can put the future buyer at ease about what was done."

It's not clear, though, if there'll be much of a demand for homes that were waterlogged.

"I don't know that I would want to own a house that has been sitting in water for more than a day or two," said David Stone, owner of Texas Fine Homes, a residential home builder in Houston.

After Melinda Loshak's one-story home in the city's Meyerland neighborhood flooded two years ago, she and her husband renovated it and put it on the market.

With no prospective buyers, they leased it, only to see it flood again last week.

"It doesn't make any sense to repair this house if it's just going to flood again," she said. (Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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