Strength from the Ashes

Jun 25, 2018 1:00:27 PM

On the night of October 8, 2017, Chuck Stark looked up at the sky above his home in Santa Rosa, California, and noticed it was smoky and a little pink. But, he reasoned, this wasn’t anything atypical considering the wildfires burning miles away. So Stark went to bed. Then, at nearly 2 a.m., he awoke to his dog, Skipper, jumping on his chest and licking his eyelids. When Stark sat up in bed, his phone announced, Wildfire in your area, evacuate immediately.

IMG_0252Stark got Skipper in the car. As they were driving away, the fire roared up the hill behind his house, as loud as a jet engine. They eventually arrived at his daughter’s house, where Stark sat on the couch for hours, watching news footage of his community burning to the ground. He describes the destruction of the Northern California wildfires, which destroyed almost 5,000 homes and killed 44 people, as “beyond comprehension.” His house was completely gone with nothing left to salvage.

“We wouldn’t be having this conversation if it wasn’t for the dog,” Stark says. “I was sound asleep, and both of us would have perished.” His wife, who passed away just about a month before the fire, had brought Skipper home from the animal shelter in 2011.

Within days, Stark called friend and Keller Williams agent Trish McCall to start the process of finding a new roof to put over his head. McCall was also dealing with the fire’s aftermath, personally and professionally. On the same night that Stark’s home burned down, her neighborhood had been surrounded by smoke and a fiery glow. She and her family were able to evacuate to safety, but her home and office suffered fire and smoke damage. She credits her son, Tim McCall, a team leader at the Keller Williams Napa Valley market center, for the rescue of her home and neighborhood. Thanks to his efforts, she was able to quickly set up a temporary office and worked around the clock to find available homes.

“I had 12 listings on the market,” McCall says, “and within five days, all of them were in contract. So we went, ‘Oh my goodness, we need to get people in houses.’”

Stark says McCall got the ball rolling, knowing it would be a challenge. After initially looking at a few fixer-upper bungalows, where Stark could live while rebuilding, he decided to look for a new home. But with him being in shock and without his wife’s help, McCall’s role took on even more meaning.

“The strength and the joy of my life has always been relationships,” Stark says. “That’s why I picked Trish. I knew her, we go to church together, I trusted her. It was simple as that: coming up out of the ashes and trying to find the positive things – and we all focused and encouraged each other.”

Once McCall and Stark found a house that he knew was “it,” they met at a local Starbucks and strategized to put in an offer waiving all contingencies. McCall says they were writing aggressive offers because the fire had added 5,000 homes to the area’s existing shortage of about 30,000 houses. “It was a war zone,” she recalls. “And the property was a good investment in and of itself.” The assertive plan worked: Stark got the home despite multiple offers and before prices skyrocketed even more. Less than a month had passed since the fire.

Stark is very pleased with the choice he made – and the home he found – with McCall and her team. “I now have an anchor,” he says. “It’s an anchor emotionally, even when the house is empty. At the time I moved in, I had a bed, a chair, and a table. I lived like that for two or three months and I was perfectly happy.”

For McCall, the entire experience made her grateful to be part of the Keller Williams family. In addition to serving the community, her fellow REALTORS® Andrew Ryan and Mauro Vazquez stayed at her home with her son for three days, keeping spot fires out.

“Watching what my team did reminded me why we do what we do and that we’re more than just a real estate team,” McCall says. “They cared about helping people get what they needed, whether that was food or a rental. It was just about helping people.”

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