Last summer, a real estate broker in the Rockaways named Lisa Jackson sold an oceanfront home on Beach 146th Street for $5.1 million. It had five bedrooms and seven bathrooms, and was one of the most expensive private homes ever sold in Queens. But today, three months after Hurricane Sandy tore and spat its way through the region, Ms. Jackson’s roster of properties includes a much grimmer set.
The charred remains of homes destroyed during Hurricane Sandy abut some of Ms. Jackson’s real estate offerings.
She has the charred stump of a home that burned to the ground the night of the storm; she has a house with a gaping hole in its facade, staring out at the chilly sea; and she has had two oceanfront lots standing bare because their houses were ripped apart, or washed away by the water entirely.
The buying and selling of homes in the Rockaways slammed to a halt right after Hurricane Sandy, but a few homes and plots of land are on the market today. And while under more normal circumstances, properties put up for sale are buffed and polished to their highest possible shine, many of the most badly damaged homes are being offered to buyers more or less as the hurricane left them.
“It’s sad to see houses like this, and it’s also much harder to show,” Ms. Jackson said, standing in a thicket of bare beams inside a gutted bungalow. “There are some houses where I have to climb over beams to get inside because the front door — we can’t get it open.
“People ask me, ‘Should I fix my house and then put it up?’ But I don’t know if the value will be there. So I say let’s put it up as is, and let’s see what happens.”
One such experiment is 135 Beach 142nd Street, a house of pale yellow brick built right on the ocean, which is listed for $3 million. It has spectacular open views of the water, which can still take your breath away — but most of the walls on the side of the house that faces the water have been torn off, leaving a jagged, gaping hole. A few pieces of furniture and what is left of the floorboards are visible from the beach. Lonely dishes stand near the kitchen sink, and broken glass crunches underfoot.
“Believe it or not, anyone who buys this is getting a very good deal,” Ms. Jackson said. “Even if they took down the house and rebuilt, they’d have a prime oceanfront location….”
“I feel funny saying that right now,” she said. “ ‘Prime oceanfront location.’ ”
Ms. Jackson said she had received two offers on that crumpled home, both in the low $2 million range. If this had been put on the market in good condition this past summer, she said, she would have asked $4 million to $4.5 million.
Jonathan Miller, president of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel, said it was too soon to tell where home values in the Rockaways would head in the long term, in part because if yet another hundred-year storm hit soon, the market would be deeply rattled. In the short term, higher costs of living from increased insurance premiums and stricter building standards seem a certainty, and the look of the place, he added, is a problem.
“Remember, you’re marketing to people, and this damage is really in your face,” he said. “Even if you don’t believe there’s going to be a storm like this again, the visual presentation is unsettling.”
One particularly eerie property for sale is on a street lined with rows of giant green trash bins, but with no houses on a long stretch of the block. They all burned down the night of the storm. Today, they are shallow mounds of blackened debris, or just holes in the ground. Ms. Jackson’s listing, 415 Beach 130th Street in Belle Harbor, is little more than front steps and a lonely screen door along the side. Nearby, a tree on the sidewalk is still strung with jack-o’-lantern Halloween lights.
And yet the property is under contract, Ms. Jackson said, being bought by someone who lives on the street.
Indeed, most of the buyers Ms. Jackson has found since the storm (the company she owns, Rockaway Properties, has closed on three deals and has about a half-dozen properties in contract, she said) are people who already live in the area. It seems that the memory of the perfect beach day before the storm makes them more willing to risk owning a property that took a beating, or even one that was destroyed.
Brian Elgart, for example, bought a plot of oceanfront land on Beach 140th Street that was all but completely washed away by the sea.
“It’s right next to my house,” Mr. Elgart, who is a landlord and an accountant, said of the plot. “If it wasn’t, there’s no way.”
Mr. Elgart bought his own oceanfront home on Beach 139th Street for $3.2 million in 2011, and he was already in contract to buy the place next door when the storm ripped it away. His own house, he said, was also badly damaged by the hurricane, and since an extensive rebuilding process lay ahead for him in any case, he and his family decided to buy the lot next door and expand into it.
They paid $1.5 million, which according to the seller, Martin J. Ain, who had owned the house for 40 years, was more than $1 million less than the original contract price. But Mr. Ain said it was a loss he and his wife, Ingrid, were willing to accept.
“Whether you believe in global warming or not, you can look at the statistics,” Mr. Ain said.
After Tropical Storm Irene, he went on, “my wife and I said, ‘We’ve had good years here, and we’re ready to go.’ ”