By John Burton
As far as real estate is concerned in these post-Sandy days, it appears to be a waiting game for buyers, sellers and those brokering deals in communities still rebounding.
“People are up in the air,” said James Giannell, president of New Markets Realty in Red Bank, about buying or selling in towns hit by the late October storm – and in other communities that may not have experienced as much destruction.
Giannell referred to the industry’s Multiple Listing Service, which shows since Nov. 1 in Sea Bright – one of the communities hardest hit by the storm – just two homes and two condominiums are under contract. One condo has closed during that time frame. Highlands has 10 properties under contract and has had 13 closings; and Monmouth Beach, surprising to Giannell, has had 24 closings since Nov. 1 and another eight properties are under contract with most being sales of condos.
If not for the storm, the numbers would be considered relatively low for that time frame, given the overall recovering real estate market and continuing low-interest rates, Giannell said.
“We are seeing some panic selling” on the part of homeowners, said Carolynn Ozar-Diakon, owner and broker of Resources Real Estate. “There are sellers out there, selling-wise who do not have the resources to do anything else.”
But for the most part, “potential sellers are taking a wait-and-see attitude to determine what they’re going to do – to redo their homes or sell their house,” Ozar-Diakon said. “It’s a bit of a waiting game.”
Ozar-Diakon, whose Monmouth Beach office was destroyed by the storm and has since been rebuilt, agreed with others who said the delay is largely because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has not yet completed its official flood maps and building elevation requirements for property owners to qualify for federally underwritten flood insurance.
State Department of Environmental Commissioner Bob Martin said this week that FEMA’s Advisory Based Flood Elevation Maps will likely be finalized by late summer. Those standards will “provide consistency and predictability for residents doing rebuilding and protect lives and property” in case of another storm, Martin said.
The commissioner recommended that people wait until that information is released before raising their structures.
Owners are delaying any action because many continue to wait for insurance payments before making any decisions, area Realtors said.
“You really have to wait because FEMA and the insurance companies are going to be the ones to set the rules,” Giannell said.
“For sure they’ll be fewer summer rentals available in the Monmouth/Ocean area,” said Peter Reinhart, director of the Kislak Real Estate Institute at Monmouth University, West Long Branch.
“My feeling is that people who would traditionally be booking their summer rentals are waiting,” he said. Those bookings are down, “because of the uncertainty,” of what the Shore will look like this summer, he said.
“Uncertainty is paralyzing the market,” and could begin to affect prices of home sales, Reinhart said. “It’ll be resolved but certainly not by the summer.
“I think for some people, they won’t have a choice, they’ll have to sell,” Reinhart said.
But prices, by and large continue to remain constant, Ozar-Diakon said. “I’m not seeing a lot of price dipping to sell it fast,” with the exception of some owners who find themselves in a financial bind.
For those looking for a home on the shore as a vacation home or as an investment, now could be a good time to buy, she said.
Ozar-Diakon noted she has been seeing people of means, whose homes were substantially damaged, who have bought another home in the interim while theirs’ is being repaired. “It is creating real opportunities for people fortunate enough to buy another home to live in while they’re deciding what they’re going to do,” she said.
“If you have cash, it’ll be a good opportunity for someone who always wanted a shore home,” Reinhart said. “This could be the time.”
Toni Pecoraro, owner and broker for Century 21 Real Estate Homes of Distinction in Sea Bright said, “Agents are showing, people are looking.”
There hasn’t been much of signing on dotted lines yet, as Sea Bright continues to rebound from the storm, said Pecoraro, who only recently was able to reopen her Ocean Avenue office. “But they’re interested, they drive by,” believing things will become more active on the real estate front when the warm weather gets here.
“Once it’s all cleaned up and it’s the summer, they’ll forget all about the storm,” she said of tourists and potential buyers.
Ozar-Diakon said her office now is seeing a lot of people coming in with questions, wanting to know what the future may hold and what FEMA will require. She said she and her staff have been painstakingly detailing information from FEMA to disseminate to those inquiring.
“Ultimately, people have short memories when it comes to living close to the shore,” and will continue to want to live here, she said.