RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Hurricane Sandy may have been the worst storm to hit New Jersey in a century, but now with rebuilding under way, even the memory of the terrible damage done hasn't stopped people from being eager to buy property at the shore. New Jersey Public Radio's Scott Gurian reports.
SCOTT GURIAN, BYLINE: For years, Helene Petito has lived about a block from the beach in Long Branch, New Jersey, where she says an occasional hurricane or nor'easter was simply a part of life. But even for her, Sandy was an unusual, monster storm. Her condo made it through without any damage, and now she's looking to move, though she's not heading inland. She'd like to upgrade to a building with more amenities, and wants to stay right along the water.
HELENE PETITO: I don't have any qualms about living at the shore. I like looking at the ocean from my window. You know, it's calming, it soothing, and sometimes it's wild. And if I go somewhere, I'm looking, well, where's the ocean? I have to see it.
GURIAN: She's spent several months looking at places with her realtor. Today she finally sees something she really likes. It's on one of the upper floors of a popular high rise in Monmouth Beach. Though most of the neighborhood was flooded during the storm, Petito is captivated the moment she walks in...
PETITO: Oh, my.
GURIAN: ...and sees the gorgeous view overlooking the town, with the waves crashing against the shore off in the distance.
PETITO: I mean, how could you not want that? How could you not want that?
GURIAN: Petito is one of many homebuyers not deterred by Sandy.
JOHN MEECHAN: The idea of living at the Jersey Shore, a storm isn't going to take that away.
GURIAN: Meechan is general sales manager at Diane Turton Realtors, which has 16 offices along this section of coast. He says business came to a standstill in the weeks after the storm, but then quickly picked back up.
MEECHAN: It took about 45 days for transactions to start again. And we saw a good mix of buyers that needed to buy, homeowners that were displaced that needed to go into rentals, and investors flooded the market.
GURIAN: Meechan says everything, including flooded homes and vacant lots where houses once stood, is now selling. And they're getting a lot of attention, so prices are inching upwards. Meanwhile, damaged properties have been discounted, bringing many buyers off the sidelines. Though Sandy is still fresh in people's minds, real estate along the Jersey Shore is being snapped up at an incredible pace.
MEECHAN: We have an inventory issue. We have buyers that are actually - they're involved in multiple bid situations now, which is something we haven't seen in a long time.
GURIAN: While it may sound counterintuitive that buyers would stream into the market after an event as destructive as Sandy, it's actually a common occurrence after natural disasters of this sort. Dr. Eli Beracha is an assistant professor of real estate and finance at the University of Wyoming.
A few years ago, he co-authored a study looking at the long-term impacts of Katrina and five other hurricanes between 2004 and 2005. In each case, he found a temporary dip in local home sales, followed by the market quickly bouncing back.
DR. ELI BERACHA: In the year after those three or four slow months, we see that actually those areas that got hit by a hurricane, actually outperforming - compared to other areas surrounding that - in terms of prices and number of transactions.
GURIAN: But a full recovery could be a bit more difficult this time. New FEMA flood maps will force many residents along the coast to spend tens of thousands of dollars to raise their homes and flood insurance premiums are on the rise. That could all have the effect of making beachfront properties seem less attractive to many homeowners and ultimately make the Jersey Shore a much more expensive place to live. For NPR News, I'm Scott Gurian.
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