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Monday, September 01, 2014
Southwest Louisiana ,
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Sasol's Voluntary Property Purchase Program begins Monday

Last Modified: Saturday, August 10, 2013 5:34 PM

By Frank DiCesare / American Press

It’s been three weeks since Sasol unveiled its Voluntary Property Purchase Program to Mossville and Brentwood residents. Now the program is set to begin.

Monday morning, Community Interaction Consulting, the Buckhead, Ga.-based firm in charge of managing the program, will begin community meetings with area residents at the former Mossville Elementary School. CIC representatives will explain Sasol’s program in depth and schedule individual meetings with residents to see if they qualify for the program.

John C. Mitchell, president of CIC, described Sasol’s proposal as “very generous and comprehensive.” He encouraged residents to speak with a CIC counselor to learn about the program.

“There are always rumors in any of these projects that we put together,” Mitchell said. “And they are rumors that are not true. Residents’ best source of information is the information center. We encourage them to call us. If they picked up on a rumor and they want it verified, we’re the people they should verify the information through, not their next-door neighbor.”

Under the program, Sasol will buy properties from owners in Mossville and Brentwood who want to participate in the program and have a free and clear title on their homes. Sasol’s purchase price will include money for relocation and a premium for travel costs. Michael Hayes, Sasol’s public affairs manager for U.S. megaprojects, said the final price offered to residents will amount to more than fair market value.

He said Sasol wants to help Mossville and Brentwood residents move so that others do not take advantage of them.

“Many of these people have never moved before,” he said. “We want them living in a place where they are happy and have a soft landing. We’re about to intrude on their existence. Helping them move is just the right thing to do.”

Mitchell said interested residents must register with a CIC counselor to confirm their status as a homeowner or renter. Counselors will then give residents a book that provides an in-depth look at Sasol’s program. Residents will also receive a list of nearly 40 home appraisers taken from the Louisiana Real Estate Commission’s website.

Residents can choose three appraisers from CIC’s list. CIC has verified that each listed appraiser is in practice. If a resident finds a Louisiana-licensed appraiser that is not on the list, but is local and full time, Mitchell said, CIC will use that appraiser. He said CIC will pay for all property appraisals.

Sasol’s offer will be based on the average appraised price for each home presented to the company for purchase. The average appraised price, Mitchell said, will be based on the two highest appraisals residents receive on their property.

CIC officials will get the first two appraisals from each resident. If the amounts come back within 10 percentage points of each other, an average of the two will be taken to calculate Sasol’s property price offer. If the difference in the appraisals is greater than 10 percentage points, CIC will order a third appraisal and average the two highest amounts, Mitchell said.

The program has a minimum appraised price, but Mitchell said he would not divulge the amount prior to CIC’s initial meetings with residents this week.

“If the average appraised price comes in below the minimum, we will start at the minimum and they get a percentage of the average appraised price,” he said.

Once Sasol’s offer is made, residents can either accept or reject it. Since all of Sasol’s offers will be made on a non-negotiable basis, rejected offers will be considered terminated.

Mitchell said Sasol’s new program is different from other home purchase programs it has offered in the past. In previous programs, he said, Sasol negotiated with homeowners; offers were not based on an appraised price.

Mitchell said the program will run Aug. 12-Dec. 12. Residents who register for the program within the first two months will receive a sign-on bonus, he said. Mitchell, however, would not divulge amount. He said the program’s website — www.sasolvppp.com — is expected to be online Monday and will provide visitors with a comprehensive overview of the program.

The program also has a home-finding feature. As soon as Sasol’s offer is made, CIC will ask residents for their permission to set them up with a local real estate company with brokers who have been trained in the program.

“We will be using local real estate firms that have indicated to us that they are willing to invest time and energy in understanding our program,” Mitchell said. “They will make sure that our program participants don’t make a commitment on a new house that they really can’t afford. We are responsible for helping these people find alternative housing. We take that very seriously.”

Renters are also eligible to receive assistance through the program. Mitchell said renters who sign up for the program will get help from CIC in their search for a new home.

He said that once residents accept Sasol’s offer they will have “a considerable length of time to close the sale.”

“We want residents to shop the offer,” he said. “After we’ve given them an offer we want them to go to a real estate company and see what they can find for the amount we give them.”

Registering for the program commits residents to nothing. Rather, Mitchell said, it commits CIC to having the property appraised and giving residents an offer to purchase.

Residents also have the option to get quotes from outside real estate agents.

Monique Harden, co-director and attorney for Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, a New Orleans-based law firm that is representing Mossville residents, said Sasol’s offer sounded “promising” to her but that “the devil will be in the details.”

“We need to make sure that it is a plan that meets residents’ needs and that it is not something that Sasol dictates,” she said. “I’m in support of having the residents’ needs met around relocation. But for those residents who may opt out, who may not want relocation, I want to know what kinds of things they would like to see with respect to community improvement.”

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