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Brokers help Sandy victims find new homes in time for the holidays

Matt Rosenstein (pictured) and Nick Kurczewski’s ground-floor apartment near the South Street Seaport was severely flooded during Hurricane Sandy.

Matt Rosenstein and Nick Kurczewski were in love with their neighborhood near the South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan.

On the night of Oct. 29, a 1,000-mile wide hurricane tried to change that.

“It was unreal,” recalled Kurczewski. “The wind and rain started, it was wet and windy, and then a wall of water rolled in.”

Residents for three years in a ground floor apartment on Front Street, the happy couple “knew everyone” and had built strong ties with the community.

They were looking forward to tying the knot in early December.

The couple had headed for higher ground prior to the storm, staying with a friend nearby on Water Street. As the storm raged, the water level rose rapidly, foot by foot.

Kurczewski remembers watching in disbelief as mannequins from the Abercrombie & Fitch retail store across the street floated by, bobbing around in the flood waters after the doors to the store burst open.

The two bounced from friend to friend for a week or two following the hurricane, all in all staying in six different places before finding a short-term rental on 58th Street, between 5th and 6th avenues.

When they went back to survey the damage, they waded through knee deep water in their water-ravaged apartment.

“I just had to know how bad it was,” he said. “We went back the next morning and discovered six to seven feet of water had turned our apartment into a toxic soup.”

Their sofa was upended on a dresser and an overturned coffee table, the bedroom wall had blown down and kitchen items had somehow settled in the bedroom.

A water line was visible around the walls of the apartment.

Though devastated, the neighborhood stood together.

“The community came together fantastically,” said Kurczewski. “Unfortunately, our management company did not.”

The couple’s management company initially told them they wanted to rebuild and get them back in their apartment within 30-45 days.

Two weeks later, they changed their tune and said they were terminating their lease and would be turning their apartment into retail space.

They were given 72 hours to decide if they were going to leave, or take a similar fourth floor walk-up in the same building for $800 more than their previous rent.

Instead, the couple chose to stay in a short-term rental and look for a new place in the Seaport.

Bridget A. Schuy

Bridget Schuy, a broker with BOND and a good friend of the couple’s, lives nearby in the neighborhood.

“I had just cooked them dinner on Saturday night,” she said.

After learning of their frustration with trying to find a broker, Schuy said she asked Kurczewski if she could send him some listings.

“I went to work immediately,” she said. “I felt like, if I can’t help my friends, who can I help?”

Schuy knew the couple wanted to stay in the neighborhood they loved and had become such a part of, but since the area took such a beating from Sandy, it was tough to even look at any places.

“It was a task,” she said. “The listing brokers did not want to show me the apartment because the neighborhood was so trashed. Several brokers I worked with in the Seaport just stopped showing completely.”

However, she worked hard and was able to find the couple a new home at 275 Water Street.

“We decided we wanted to move back to the Seaport. We didn’t want to be in the city if it wasn’t our neighborhood,” said Kurczewski. “For better or worse, this is our home.”

They were even able to stick with their original wedding date, moving into their new apartment just hours before getting hitched on Dec. 8.

“I give kudos to Bridget for making a happy ending out of all of this,” said Kurczewski. “It has been quite a few weeks, it’s been six weeks now, it seems like months.”

For others still looking for permanent homes after losing their apartments due to Sandy, the most recent numbers show rental market prices have eased, but vacancy has declined sharply.

In the weeks following the hurricane, rental activity dropped 69.8 percent in Lower Manhattan zip codes hit hardest by Sandy, compared to the same period a year ago, according to Jonathan Miller, president of appraisal firm Miller Samuel.

According to a market report published Dec. 12 by Miller, in Manhattan, the median rental price remained almost unchanged in November from the prior month and rose 1.4% higher than prior year levels to $3,195.

Average rental prices grew 5.4% from the same period last year, while rental price per square foot fell 2.3%.

The Manhattan vacancy rate fell to 1.59% from 2.32% from the same time last year.

Aash Jethra, a broker with Citi Habitats, helped a client re-locate to midtown east after her FiDi apartment building, 2 Gold Street, was rendered uninhabitable following the storm.

“She was quite stressed out,” he said. “She lived on the fourteenth floor, and she couldn’t get up there early on after the hurricane.”

The parking garage under the building had been severely flooded, and once the water receded, oil from waterlogged cars seeped up through the elevator shafts of the building.

“The smell was very strong,” he said. “All her clothes smelled. There was just this freezing cold, dark apartment.”
Jethra had to move quickly.

By gaging what kind of apartment was the right fit for her, he was able to find a rental on 53rd and 2nd in record time.

“We signed a lease at 9 o’clock at night,” said Jethra.

Since Sandy, short-term and “Sandy-friendly” listings have popped up on real estate sites, said Jethra.

“It’s on people’s minds in the brokerage community,” he said. “People are aware the market has shifted because of it, and so some people act.”

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