BATON ROUGE, La. (CNN) -
New Orleans families uprooted by Hurricane Katrina have triggered a rush on real estate in nearby Baton Rouge, causing a sudden surge in home prices as people realize they will not be quickly returning home, according to an informal sampling of real estate experts and the city's mayor.
"This caught us all by surprise," said Judy Burkett, president of the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors.
Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden told CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer that he has been "hearing stories of people bringing cash in and saying 'I don't care what it cost, let me have the house.'"
"Buyers started the bidding war," Burkett said, with prices rising between 20 and 30 percent in the last week.
Burkett said the surge began Aug. 30, the day after the storm hit, with corporations snapping up rental properties as they prepared to
relocate their offices from New Orleans, which is 70 miles away.
While the first home shoppers were able to lock in contracts at pre-storm prices, by the end of the first week after the hurricane, much of the inventory of homes for sale was gone, she said.
Sellers soon began calling agents to list their homes for sale to take advantage of the hot real estate market, Burkett said.
Mayor Holden said he was worried about price gouging as property owners decide to take advantage of the new demand.
"I would just hope that we would not choose to prey upon people unnecessarily," Holden said. "And I would say that the majority of the people here are not doing that."
"There is no joy in this," Burkett said. She said her agents are working 14-hour days to help people find homes near where their children have already been re-enrolled in schools.
"It's exhausting," she said.
Burkett said families are handling the crisis well, but many are "feeling desperate."
A large contingent of professionals is relocating to Baton Rouge, but many of those shopping for homes were left unemployed by Katrina, she said.
Some lenders are offering mortgages to people with good credit scores and no job if they can put five percent down on a purchase, she said.
Baton Rouge's real estate boom is across the board for all types of housing, Burkett said.
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