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Residents near Ohio train derailment find it nearly impossible to sell their home


The train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, has been terrible for the local real estate market. Potential buyers say they're worried about about the toxic aftermath. Oliver Morrison from member station WESA reports.

OLIVER MORRISON, BYLINE: Patrick and Ruth Souders spent much of their savings - a hundred thousand dollars - on their dream home six years ago, and they're proud of showing off the work they've done to it since.

PATRICK SOUDERS: The upstairs and downstairs bath, remodeled the laundry room, put a new wood floor in.

MORRISON: The home has a massive barn where Ruth's daughter, Haylee, can practice riding horses.


MORRISON: It's paid off. Haylee won the all-around cowgirl prize this year. Now the Souders' dream house is anything but. They sent their daughter away to live elsewhere. And these days, they're worried about chemical contamination. They can see the site of the train derailment from their porch. And when the accident occurred, Patrick Souders was one of the residents that didn't leave home.

SOUDERS: This is the culmination of all my life's efforts. Everything I have in the world is here. This is it - the family, the animals, the house.

MORRISON: There are about 2,000 homes in this small, rural town. Before the derailment, big, older houses in East Palestine generally sold for less than $200,000. Newer ones on the outskirts cost more than twice as much. Realtor Holly Ritchie says these days, buyers have lost interest.

HOLLY RITCHIE: Three homes that were supposed to close within the two weeks after the derailment, they just didn't buy it.

MORRISON: There's huge concern about the environmental impact of the derailment. Norfolk Southern and government agencies say official samples of the air and water in East Palestine show that it's safe. Now the train company is in the process of cleaning up the area and says the work may cause alarming odors and will last one or two more months. It's offered to pay for residents to live elsewhere while the work continues.

That's not comforting to Jennifer Yonker and her husband. Her husband had a health emergency and now has trouble walking up and down the stairs in their home. They put their home on the market six weeks before the derailment. While they had several interested families come look at the home before the accident, there's been nothing since. Jennifer says the only help Norfolk Southern offered her early on was a $1,000 inconvenience check.

JENNIFER YONKER: One gentleman at Norfolk Southern told me that I needed to take that money because it was a lot of money and it could really help me out. And I said, sir, what I really need is for you to write me a check for 169,900, which is what I had my house listed for prior to the derailment. But you're not going to do that.

MORRISON: The long-term impact on home values could persist, according to Jesse Saginor, a professor at Florida Atlantic University. He studies contamination's impact on real estate and says the stigma of the derailment will likely remain, regardless of what is actually found on properties.

JESSE SAGINOR: Some markets might rebound much faster if you have a lot of population growth and people need places to live. In rural areas, that rebound might not be as quick because there's not necessarily a huge demand for real estate.

MORRISON: And that can be extremely frustrating for residents like Melissa and Ryan Henry, who were in the process of getting a divorce and trying to sell their home. Their realtor says their four-bedroom home could have gone for its full list price of $150,000. Melissa says the one offer they've received since the derailment is insulting.

MELISSA HENRY: We are literally stuck in this house, and it's not even that it's just stuck with him. I'm stuck in this contaminated, infested, chemical-bound house, and we're sick and we've never been this sick. And I'm just - I want out.

MORRISON: Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw would not commit to compensating families for any loss of property values during a Senate committee hearing on the derailment. Lawyers say homeowners could ultimately be compensated through a class-action lawsuit. In the meantime, many East Palestine residents don't know what to do with their homes.

For NPR News, I'm Oliver Morrison in East Palestine.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOONCAKE'S "NOVOROSSIYSK 1968") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Oliver Morrison