By Holly Dutton
In one of the New York areas hardest-hit by Hurricane Sandy, one broker is helping residents find their way back home again.
Robin Shapiro has lived in the Rockaways for nearly 30 years, raising her children there and, eventually, starting her own real estate firm, Shapiro Realty.
After Hurricane Sandy devastated many beach communities along the coast, Shapiro said the real estate market in the Rockaways was “virtually dead” for a month, partially due to the fact that there was no electricity for a week.
But shortly after that, her phone started ringing again.
“People were looking to buy homes in the Rockaways,” said Shapiro. “I was surprised; I thought it would take more time.”
And it wasn’t just sales that began to pick up. The rental market in the community exploded after the storm, with many families in need of temporary housing who also wanted to be close to their homes to keep an eye on them while they rebuilt.
Shapiro’s own home sustained flooding and sewage backup in the basement, which had to be gutted “just like everyone else,” she said. Luckily, her home is raised, so there was no additional damage.
“We had so many volunteers, it was amazing,” said Shapiro of the overwhelming response and relief efforts after the storm. “It was heartwarming. There were a couple organizations formed to help people who can’t afford to rebuild themselves.”
In March, the Wall Street Journal reported that New York State will provide $494 million for single-family homeowners for whom current Federal Emergency Management Agency funds or insurance money is not enough to rebuild or repair their homes.
This is in addition to Mayor Bloomberg’s Rapid Repairs program that launched in March, which Shapiro said was “very helpful” in the Rockaways.
And despite the state also offering $171 million in buyouts for homeowners who wish to leave the Sandy-ravaged area, Shapiro has seen most of her neighbors stay.
“Every single person on 130th Street is rebuilding and coming back to the Rockaways,” she said, adding that there was only one family that left the neighborhood.
“It’s really very, very busy now,” she said. At the beginning of April, Shapiro had a dozen homes in contract or just closed.
She strongly disputes recent reports that home prices in the area affected by the storm, including the Rockaways, are down 30 percent, saying the number is closer to 10 percent.
“It will come back,” she said of prices. “We’re rebuilding beaches, sea walls — everyone’s very positive.”
Real estate is a family affair for Shapiro — her husband and all three of her children are also licensed real estate agents who work together.
When Shapiro started her business 10 years ago, she was the first broker in the area who had a website. Nowadays, she’s one of the largest advertisers in local newspaper The Wave, and is active on real estate websites like Zillow and Trulia.
Having lived in the neighborhood so long, Shapiro has a solid network of relationships that have served to help her business.
“You meet a lot of people,” she said of raising a family in the community. “I have a good group of friends. It’s a pretty small, tight-knit community. A lot is still word of mouth.”
The neighborhood is so tight-knit in fact, that when Shapiro tells locals she’s been there 27 years, they call her a “newcomer.”
In perhaps a bit of silver lining, with all the publicity from the storm, Shapiro has found that people have not only come to check out the neighborhood that they weren’t familiar with pre-Sandy, they’re buying, too.
“We get a lot of people who live in Marine Park who want to come to the Rockaways because Marine Park is congested,” she said of the community 10 minutes away. “A lot of people are coming from Bay Ridge, a lot of people who found out about the neighborhood from the storm. We’re increasing the flow of people.”
Young families from Brooklyn neighborhoods like Red Hook and Williamsburg that came to the Rockaways to help in relief efforts “fell in love” with the area and subsequently purchased homes, said Shapiro.
“The feeling that it’s such a special place has encouraged people to want to move here,” said Shapiro.
“I would never consider living anywhere else.”