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Sandy casts a pall over Realtor gathering at Shore

ATLANTIC CITY - Five weeks after Hurricane Sandy scored a direct hit on the Ocean County shoreline, Linda Stefanik says Seaside Park still has "no electric, gas, or sewer, and no promise of repopulation until Dec. 31."

ATLANTIC CITY - Five weeks after Hurricane Sandy scored a direct hit on the Ocean County shoreline, Linda Stefanik says Seaside Park still has "no electric, gas, or sewer, and no promise of repopulation until Dec. 31."

Most of all, the veteran real estate broker is tired of hearing the stretch of Shore from Point Pleasant south to Seaside Park described as "ground zero."

"It's a little overused," says Stefanik, who is also chairman of the New Jersey Real Estate Commission.

Stefanik was in Atlantic City last week for "Triple Play," an annual convention that draws Realtors from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York.

This year's event should have been something of a celebration, because record-low interest rates, looser mortgage credit, and an apparent bottom to price declines have been keeping agents and brokers busier than in the last six years.

But Sandy's continuing effects weighed on the proceedings, especially when attendees were greeted by a sign on the Convention Center directing them to Room 311, where the Federal Emergency Management Agency was taking applications.

The New Jersey Association of Realtors "invited FEMA here to assist our members personally and the people they deal with in their business," said Christina J. Banasiak of Manalapan, a Monmouth County broker and the association's president-elect.

It is just one of the things the group is doing to help meet the housing needs of residents displaced by Sandy, she said.

One is creating a databank of properties available for short-term rental, in a joint effort with FEMA and the state Housing Resource Center, Banasiak said.

So far, 100 evacuees have been placed in such rentals.

The group also pushed to get age-restricted communities to temporarily allow evacuees to use unoccupied units while houses are being repaired or rebuilt, association chief executive officer Jarrod Grasso said.

Normal business continues to be disrupted for brokers and agents.

Allan H. "Dutch" Dechert, a broker in Avalon, has applied for a loan from the Small Business Administration to help repair his offices, which were damaged by two feet of water pouring in from the bay.

Though Avalon did not sustain the kind of devastation other Shore communities did, many houses and businesses were damaged.

"You see evidence of this every morning between 8 and 9, when trucks and cars carrying contractors, electricians, plumbers, and materials are in line on the causeway into Avalon," Dechert said. "This time of year, you have some of this but not on this scale."

Agents and brokers said the only thing good about Sandy was that it hit when everything was closed for the season.

"That doesn't mean that restaurants and gift shops weren't flooded," Dechert said. "They, too, have to dig out from this."

Though reconstruction costs will give a needed boost to the lagging construction industry, "Sandy's economic impact has been staggering, especially to New Jersey's $38 billion-a-year tourism industry," Banasiak said.

Stefanik, of Gertrude M. Stefanik Inc., said only homeowners and contractors with permits were allowed into Seaside Park and only from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., when a curfew goes into effect.

"We handle a substantial seasonal rental business, and we have no idea of how each property's amenities were impacted by the wind and flooding," she said, adding that 15 buildings in Seaside Park were being demolished.

Fortunately, all of the listings are available on the Internet, and the time for looking will be postponed this year from December to January, said Stefanik, whose building, which is also home to her elderly father, was damaged.

"He and my sister had to be rescued," she said. "He said he had lived there since 1945 and never had to evacuate."

Dechert said he already was receiving e-mail inquiries for rentals once the "winds died down and we got the server up and running."

What seemed to cause the greatest distress to Realtors and residents in general was "the lack of communication" during the storm and its aftermath, as Stefanik put it.

"With all of the devices we now have, when the power went out, we lost the Internet and couldn't recharge our phones," she said.

"I survived on my antique Sony Walkman," Stefanik said, "listening to music and looking out into the darkness."