Last fall, Peter Van Sciver watched Hurricane Sandy's waves destroy both his home and business. The south-Jersey bred realtor lost it all.
"We are the oldest real estate office at the Jersey Shore," says Van Sciver of his family-owned agency. "I felt sorry for myself for awhile, but not anymore. I feel energetic and positive after coming out of the gauntlet."
Van Sciver's attitude reflects the perseverance and renewal taking place throughout the New Jersey Shore region. A week before Memorial Day weekend, which is when tourists and residents start flocking to the beaches, energy is running high on the rebuilding efforts.
Prince Harry of Wales and Gov. Chris Christie toured the damage Tuesday, costing an estimated $37 billion, and while significant reconstruction is underway, there is still a great amount of work to be done.
"Business has been damaged severely, but everyone wants to own a place at the Jersey Shore," he says. "It's like the stock market crash in 2008-- if you stay in the market, you will lose some money, but the prices are coming back up. I am extremely positive about what our business will do."
Rebuildng and Repairing
Many of the homes damaged in Ocean County, including Bayhead and Mantoloking, were relatively high-end, says realtor George D'Amico of D'Amico and McConnell Realtors. While some were year-round residences, many properties were second homes, he says, suggesting the owners can afford to fix the damage in many cases.
"In Belmar and Manasquan, a lot of the homes are being refurbished and renovated rather than demolished and built new," he says. "Some had to be demolished though because it wasn't worth rebuilding them."
In terms of units being sold and under contract, D'Amico says his agency is on-par with last year's numbers, and in some cases even ahead of schedule. The average home prices in Sea Girt and Spring Lake, which saw less damage, are around $1.6 and $1.7 million.
Northern parts of the shore community in Spring Lake and Sea Girt have seen prices go up for two reasons, according to Van Sciver says. Both areas sustained minimal damage from Sandy, making the location seem 'safer' for buyers and renters, and the demand for rentals is higher due to unavailability of properties in shore hotpots like Manasquan and Point Pleasant.
Homes that are selling at the shore have likely been renovated and rehabilitated, says Eric Pearl, realtor at Diane Turton Realty. Pearl covers Rumson, the Atlantic Highlands and the Bay Shore areas in the Garden State, with both high-end and moderately-priced homes. On the high end, his home sell for around $1.5 million and more moderately around $450,000.
"The houses that are selling post- Sandy have all kinds of questions and pieces to them," he says. "Some of them weren't damaged, while others have been raised and lifted. Some sellers are selling in an as-is condition, while other owners don't have the inclination to do any renovation."
High-end owners in particular are taking a 'wait-and-see' attitude, according to Pearl for the government’s final delineation numbers for flood zones and where homes need to be raised off the ground. Pearl says these should be released in August, however there is a period of public comment afterwards before any final decisions are made.
"If the government says they have to raise their home 14 feet off the ground, or their flood insurance is going to be $28,000 a year, they may just sell," he says. "But the problem is that people who are trying to sell now don't have those answers for the new buyers, who are skeptical and wary."
The Rental Market's Shift
The traditionally rock-solid summer rental market has also changed significantly after the storm, realtors say, not necessarily in terms of property demand, but in location for tourists.
Due to major damage to many of the rentals in Manasquan, Point Pleasant and Bayhead, vacationers will be heading more north to the Spring Lake area this season, which has seen a bump, D'Amico says.
"This has given rise to greater rentals in Monmouth County," he says. "In Mantoloking, a lot of those rentals just won't be happening."
Overall though, the storm damage hasn't stopped shore mainstays from booking their summer seasons this year, he says. The numbers are solid and on par with last year's.
Open for Business
D'Amico is president of the Greater Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce and says the chamber is making a public relations outreach push to let tourists know that despite the damage and devastation, this summer it is widely business as usual.
"In a lot of cases, we are as good as new," he says. "It's the great shore that everyone knows and loves-- we're still here."
The communities are all so intertwined, so even if some areas are still rebuilding, others will pick up the slack when it comes to tourism, he adds.
"No town stands on its own, If you vacation in Spring Lake for the summer, you will probably go to Asbury Park for dinner during the week. The Belmar boardwalks were gone after Sandy, but will be ready for Memorial Day Weekend. The towns have done tremendous work."
Pearl echoes D'Amico's optimism, and says the real estate market will also return in time.
"It's just too valuable, and too beautiful a place to live," he says. "It will be available who are willing to take a chance on a future storm event, or who are affluent enough not to worry about that risk."
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