BY MICHAEL STAHL
“It’s been a rule of thumb that business picks up after President’s Day,” Annette Farina, owner of Belle Harbor Realty in the Rockaways, said. “This year it’s booming. It seemed like on March 1st everyone in the neighborhood put his or her house on the market. And they are selling.”
One of the five city’s smallest communities, Belle Harbor stretches east-to-west from Beach 126th Street to Beach 141st Street and across the narrow Rockaway Peninsula from the Atlantic Ocean to Jamaica Bay, representing but a pinky toe on the body of New York City. It is no stranger to tragedy. Dozens of residents died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Two months later, Nov. 12, 2001 brought the area’s most painful tragedy—the crash of Flight 587 in which 265 people perished—and 11 years later residents dealt with the harsh realities of large-scale property damage inflicted by Superstorm Sandy. High-profile homes were rendered uninhabitable, and real estate prices plummeted.
Since then, virtually all of the affected properties of Belle Harbor have been completely rebuilt or fully renovated, and the real estate market is showing incredible signs of recovery.
“It seems like everyone’s forgotten about the hurricane,” Farina said. “Storms like those only happen once a century, so people have to move on.”
She added that property values showed stark improvement last year. Time needed to pass to allow for reconstruction and then price maturation. Farina reports a roughly 40 percent increase in sales price figures between 2014 and this year from out of her office.
“I’m getting calls all the time from people remarking to me that they are noticing the comeback,” she said. “When you really think about it, it’s been a very quick turnaround.”
Robin Shapiro, an agent with 14 years of experience, who has lived in the area for nearly 30 years and owns her own realty company, concurs.
“When things go on the market they get sold right away,” she says of the dizzying work pace over the past few months. “I handled 12 consecutive properties that went into contract within three weeks or less of being up for sale. I even sold one or two in a single day.”
Of course, the most sought-after houses in Belle Harbor are on the south shore’s beach. Oceanfront properties are typically single-family, multiple-bedroom and bathroom homes that currently cost $2 million or more, according to both Farina and Shapiro. However, procuring one of those properties will likely prove quite challenging, ironically and most especially, during the real estate’s “busy season,” which extends through Labor Day.
“The people who buy beachfront property want to live there throughout the summer,” Shapiro pointed out. “When you look out your window and have this view of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s worth it.”
Still, homes just off the beach can be had, and at a relatively fair price. Similar housing located one block north of the water can run 50 percent less than those on the beach. Others in the same neighborhood are priced as low as $550,000—and residents never stand further than four blocks from the south shore.
“We’ve been undervalued for a long time now,” Shapiro said of Belle Harbor and its real estate. “We’re a beach community, 45 minutes from Manhattan. We’re getting ferry service soon; there are low city taxes here when compared to Long Island taxes too. If our beachfront homes were in , they’d cost $10 million.”
With all that said, one worrisome carry-over from Sandy is the prevailing desire on the part of new homeowners in the area for flood insurance. Though Belle Harbor
property values are certainly on the rise, they’re not quite at pre-superstorm levels just yet. Since buyers are working flood insurance prices into their budgets these days, sales figures have stymied a bit.
Houses dominate the property listings in the area, but those eager to get into the market and live by beach can opt for investing in one of the handful of Belle Harbor condominiums or co-ops, and not have to worry about flood insurance quite as much. A couple co-ops currently listed on the north side of the neighborhood are asking $299,000 for a two-bedroom and $248,000 for a one-bedroom.
Then, there’s the summer rental market. According to Farina, homes on what residents call a “beach block”—those located between the north shore and the beach, but not exactly facing the ocean—run between $10,000 and $15,000 for the season between Memorial Day and Labor Day, depending on the number of bedrooms and the type of property.
“It was slow going after the hurricane, but it’s picking up,” Shapiro says of the local market as a whole. She explains that many of Belle Harbor’s homes damaged by the hurricane were bought in cash for as little as $500,000. But after repairs, a sprinkling of favorable interest rates, and a strengthening of the market abroad, the median asking price for homes on the market this year—in a small sample size of 19 properties—is $899,000, according to an report provided by StreetEasy.com exclusively for the Queens Tribune. That figure marks an increase of 20 percent over last year’s number, and a jump of $187,000 since 2013, the first year after Hurricane Sandy.
“We’re not quite back, but we’re on the way,” Shapiro says of the current prices when compared to those prior to the storm. “The market is doing beautiful here. It’s been a crazy run lately.”