Quake-rattled Los Angeles residents who are considering a move away from the Southland have found plenty of options in the classifieds these days, as hundreds of real estate advertisements beckon them with the lure of solid ground.
"Nashville, Tennessee: No fault! All shaken up and ready to move?" began one home-sale ad in a local newspaper. "Missouri: Earthquake free!" boasted another. And an ad out of New Mexico opened with the question: "When is enough enough?"
Classified ads like these for out-of-state homes have soared to record levels at large and small publications throughout Los Angeles in the weeks following the 6.8 magnitude earthquake.
"It's incredible," said Sandy Walsh, The Times' assistant division manager for national classifieds. "Almost the day after the quake we were inundated with calls and faxes. . . . It just went wild. We've had an all-time high in ads within the last three weeks."
The number of out-of-state ads published in The Times more than tripled on the first Sunday after the quake to almost 700. The paper published an average of nearly 1,800 ads after that, with the highest count at more than 1,850.
Many of those who placed the ads wanted to include earthquake wording, but Times' advertising policy does not permit negative references to this area. Still, Walsh said, faraway customers continued to swamp the paper's phone and fax lines with classified ad requests, and not just for the real estate columns.
"We've had a lot more businesses and farms for sale," Walsh said. "Even our help wanted ads have increased."
At the Los Angeles Daily News, long-distance property ads climbed significantly after Jan. 17. "The number of classified ads placed in the out-of-state and out-of-area categories . . . doubled during the weeks following the earthquake," said Lynne T. Jewell, spokesperson for the San Fernando Valley-based daily newspaper.
And ads at the LA Village View have expanded the weekly tabloid's out-of-state property section from about a page before the quake to as many as 2 1/2 pages in its most recent editions, said publisher James Sogg.
"They certainly are thinking that it's a good time for them to advertise property," Sogg said of the brokers and homeowners placing the ads. "Their perception is that people are eager to move out."
It's too early to tell whether that will happen, said those familiar with the industry.
"We have had about a 60% to 70% increase in outgoing referrals and many are homeowners who have serious damage," said Kendall Rojas, vice president and director of relocation for Fred Sands Realtors. "The interesting thing is, this always happens after an earthquake and a majority of them never make the move."
Teresa Howe, director of relocation services for Jon Douglas Co., agreed: "Certainly the pace has picked up, but I don't know how serious a lot of these people are. It may just be an initial reaction to the earthquake."
Howe said since the quake, she too has received calls from a number of hopeful out-of-state property sellers who are convinced that Angelenos are poised to flee the region.
"I did get a call from a guy yesterday from Winnsboro, S.C., who sells plantations," Howe said. "He was just convinced one of our clients wanted to come to South Carolina and buy a plantation."
Melinda Barrington, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Nashville, is among those who've placed earthquake-specific ads in L.A.-area publications. Barrington specializes in wooing California buyers to Tennessee.
So far she's received between 15 and 20 inquiries compared to one or two before the quake.
Most of the prospective buyers who've responded have told her they're tired of the city and its recent spate of bad luck including the riots, the fires and the earthquakes.
"They're asking questions about home prices, the four seasons that we have here and if any other Californians are thinking of moving here, which they are," she said.
Barrington, who left Los Angeles in 1992 after living here for four years, said she empathizes with the callers. "The last three months I was in L.A. there were several earthquakes that really scared me," she said.
But those considering a hasty exit from California should be forewarned: There are hundreds of faults outside the Golden State.
In fact, the greatest earthquakes ever recorded in the continental U.S. happened on the New Madrid fault, which extends 120 miles from Arkansas, northeast through Missouri to Illinois.
Between Dec. 16, 1811, and Feb. 7, 1812, four great earthquakes measuring greater than 8 in intensity ravaged the region. The temblors were so powerful they changed the Mississippi River's path, formed lakes and rang church bells as far away as Boston and New York.
And while the likelihood of more huge quakes happening on the New Madrid fault in the next few centuries is considered small, a moderate, yet potentially damaging temblor is quite possible, said Margaret Hopper, a geophysicist with the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo.