By Holly Dutton
A year after Hurricane Sandy battered the barrier islands off the coast of Long Island, one beach community is finding its way back to normal.
Sandy, the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history — second only to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — caused $42 billion worth of damage in New York State.
Long Beach is a town of about 33,000 on the south shore of Long Island, a 45-minute train ride from Manhattan on the Long Island Rail Road.
Superstorm Sandy caused more than $200 million in damage to city property when it hit the town a year ago.
“I’ve seen hurricanes come and go, but never anything like Sandy,” said Joyce Coletti, a Douglas Elliman agent and Long Beach resident for more than 35 years.
Between 20 and 30 percent of residents remain displaced, said Coletti. And this summer’s tourism took a big hit, with many homes destroyed or damaged.
While many businesses have come back, several have not. The town’s hospital has not re-opened since the storm, and a theater and a New York Sports Club in the center of the town are still shut.
However, there have been positive steps forward.
“In the beginning, people were running away,” said Coletti of the time immediately after the storm. “They couldn’t get out of here fast enough. But guess what?
They’re coming back.” Last week, the city opened its two-mile long, $44 million brand-new boardwalk after its previous incarnation was destroyed in the storm.
“I think the city did a phenomenal job of cleaning up,” said Coletti. “We’re almost back to normal, but not quite yet.”
Home prices have gone down quite a bit, but sales are up. In the 15-years Coletti has been with Elliman in Long Beach, this year is her best yet in terms of units sold.
Many older couples have moved away after their homes were damaged, after being faced with the overwhelming task of rebuilding and raising their homes higher off the ground.
In the aftermath of the storm, FEMA estimated that more than 860 of Long Beach’s 9,500 homes were “substantially damaged.”
Owners of those homes were given two options by the city buildings commissioner: raise their homes to an elevation determined by FEMA flood maps, or remove them from the flood plain altogether.
“I’m seeing a lot of baby boomers coming here and also selling their homes and moving into condos,” said Coletti. “They’re coming to Long Beach to size down and they don’t want houses.”
She added that some young couples are moving to the area and snapping up bungalows, specifically in the west end area.
Coletti noted that Long Beach, while being a small community of four square miles, also has a big city feel to it. “Because Long Beach is a city, it’s city living,” she said. “And a lot of people like that.”
On a week-day visit to the quaint town, nearly every street had some type of construction underway. Many homes have been deserted, with the owners deciding to leave rather than rebuild.
“They’re at discount prices right now,” Coletti said of homes in the beach town. “If you’re going to buy, come now.” Median sales prices have dropped 21 percent year over year, from $380,000 in October 2012 to $300,000 currently, while average price per square foot, at $215, is down 54 percent year over year, according to data from real estate website Trulia.com.
As of last week, there were 208 single-family homes on the market in Long Beach, starting at $199,000 and going up to $3.3 million, according to Coletti.
There were 101 co-ops listed, from $99,000 to $549,000, and 75 condos on the market starting at $175,000 and going up to $2.9 million. Since the hurricane, 143 homes have sold, around 90 of them having suffered storm damage of some sort. The rest were damaged but repaired and then sold.
Since Sandy, the lowest sale was $65,000 and the highest sale price has been $1.375 million.
“Stores are coming back, people are starting to rent commercial properties, and buyers are coming in droves trying to get a piece of Sandy homes,” said Coletti.
She estimates there are around 50 properties going for under $300,000 while the rest are $300,000 and up.
“Our market is absolutely positively coming back,” she said. “We’re renting like crazy. People want to rent before they buy. They want to see what the area is like.
As soon as we put something on the market, it rents in, like, five days, if you price it correctly. If you overprice, you’re not selling or renting.”
But in spite of all the hardship the town has endured over the past year, the community has undoubtedy grown stronger..
“It’s unbelievable how the city got us back together,” said Coletti. “The community united. Now people look at each other and we all smile at each other. Everybody used to be very angry. We not only lost our homes, we had to put on boxing gloves to get money from insurance companies.”