By Caitlin Herrington

The Journal

SENECA — Homeownership is valuable to Realtors, and a nationwide fund to help cover mortgage payments in the wake of disaster has been granted to Oconee and Pickens counties.

Local residents can get help via a $150,000 grant secured by the Western Upstate Association of Realtors to help with mortgage payments in the wake of the EF3 tornado that tore through Seneca last month. (File)

The Western Upstate Association of Realtors secured $150,000 to be given out in $1,000 grant increments for local homeowners whose primary residences were damaged by the April 13 tornado that struck the area. Any household impacted in the Federal Emergency Management Agency-declared disaster area is eligible to apply for mortgage relief.

“Basically, the idea is an unforeseen disaster should not jeopardize your ability to maintain homeownership,” local Realtor Reah Smith said. “When you have a bunch of expenses piling up from tree damage, trying to pay deductibles and maybe paying rent somewhere else while your home is being repaired, it’s just a relief to have at least one month’s mortgage taken care of.”

Application assistance takes place from 1-5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday at Lake Keowee Real Estate in Seneca, but Realtors are available outside those hours for those who can’t stop by.

“We’ll come to them — even to their house or place of work if need be,” Smith said. “We’ll do that. We just wanted a centralized place that people could come to for help.”

The office at 896 N. Walnut St. is a relatively central location, she said, and on the Clemson Area Transit bus line for those without transportation. Applications can also be mailed.

Applicants need to provide proof of residency via a photo ID or other government-issued document, along with evidence of the mortgage on the property with a statement or payment coupon. Those who are renting other properties may be eligible for rent relief and should bring lease agreements or rent statements.

Proof of damage from the tornado must also be submitted via photos, insurance claims reports, contractor estimates or settlement proceeds.

“We can make copies at the office if need be, but it’d be best to bring copies of the documents,” Smith said. “There’s a fairly quick turnaround. We want that $150,000 to make it in (these counties). We want to spend every dime of it, so if they can’t come to us, we’ll come to them.”

If the money isn’t spent in Oconee or Pickens counties, it goes back into the National Association of Realtors’ Relief Foundation to assist homeowners in other disaster areas. The grants were available to South Carolina homeowners after the 2015 floods in the Midlands and are frequently given after hurricanes hit the Lowcountry.

“This foundation is set up to provide specifically mortgage relief when there’s a disaster anywhere in the United States,” Smith said. “It’s there when we need it for things like this. We’ve never had to use it here in this area, so it’s exciting to be able to make use of it.”

Realtors across the country are constantly donating to the fund, she said, with costs like an entry fee for a 5K she ran in Boston during a conference weekend going into the pot.

“The South Carolina Association of Realtors made a $5,000 donation to Salvation Army just right off the bat when this first happened, but it was my goal to go for bigger dollars,” Smith said. “Realtors have deep pockets, because we’re a large membership base — there are 1.3 million Realtors in the United States — so we’ve all been contributing over the years to this fund.”

While Western Upstate Association president Peggy Hill worked on the application for the grant, Smith said she’s serving in a boots-on-the-ground capacity to spread the word to area homeowners.

“(Seneca administrator) Scott Moulder gave us a list of people who need relief through the city, which saved time and energy getting the word out,” Smith said, adding Realtors will be in hard-hit neighborhoods talking to residents about the grants.

Receiving other aid from the Red Cross or FEMA doesn’t disqualify homeowners from the Realtors Relief Foundation grants, though those who have paid off their homes need to seek other options.

The grants are given on a first-come, first-served basis, and applications must be submitted by June 30.

“I was so thrilled to get that big of a budget amount for our area,” Smith said. “Just simple math, this should affect 150 households, but a lot of people’s mortgage is less than $1,000, so we’ll actually more than likely be helping more people than that 150. My goal is to use every bit of it.”

To request an application or get more information, call (864) 224-7941 or email

[email protected]

[email protected] | (864) 973-6686

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