BEACH HAVEN WEST, N.J. - The full consequences of Hurricane Sandy will be played out in a thousand personal decisions, and for families like the Wosceks, owners of a tiny yellow bungalow on a lagoon, that meant one thing:
For Sale. As Is. (Wrecked by Sandy.)
And just like that, things will never be as they were for the Wosceks, undisturbed through 39 years, six boats, 40 weekends a year in Beach Haven West, kids crabbing off the dock.
"Ugh, you have no idea," said Steven Woscek, 61, of Phillipsburg, N.J., whose getaway house at 35 Nancy Dr. now commands a Sandy-deflated asking price of $174,900. His late mother bought the house in 1974.
"I'm not happy about having to sell this thing," said Woscek, a retired telephone lineman. "I can't take that money out of the IRA to put into this house. I don't work anymore. Anyone my age is just thinking the same way. You just bail out."
Regretfully relinquished Sandy-damaged homes - some, like Woscek's, with floors still coated with mud from the storm - can be seen by the scores in places like Beach Haven West, where blocks of tiny, Shore-themed homes on a maze of lagoons just over the bridge from Long Beach Island have been in families for generations, often with no mortgage or insurance.
It can also be seen at the other end of the economic spectrum, as in the case of 7 Point Dr., the summer home of Ronald and Louise Tuchman of River Vale, N.J., since 1985. The house, like others at the precarious southern tip of Longport, sustained significant wind, wave, and water damage.
It is now on the market - "as is" - for $4.29 million.
The right time
"As is" on Point Drive, where six more houses are being rebuilt, and four Dumpsters line the street, means front windows broken, decking destroyed, first floors down to the studs, and clapboards shredded. But what a view. (Comparable undamaged houses in Longport are asking $6 million.)
Louise Tuchman said it made sense to let buyers come in and put their own stamp on the rebuilding. With her children and grandchildren grown, the time to sell seemed right. "We've had over a quarter of a century of living in that house," she said. "We've had some wonderful memories. I think that's a good choice for us, and a prospective buyer. We're not kids anymore."
The Tuchmans, who bought the land for $400,000, are the exception. For the most part, says Jerome DiPentino of Premier Properties in Longport, rebuilding is an easy option for the "well-insured [and] well-heeled."
"Generally, beachfront people are fixing and moving forward," he said. "Some of the smaller homes on the bayside of Margate and Longport are choosing to sell. Most of the value is in the ground, so it pays for them to just sell. There is not what I would call a mass exit."
Curtis Lee, a real estate broker with Prudential Zack Shore Properties in Manahawkin, says asking prices dropped from $230,000 to $250,000 pre-Sandy to $150,000 to $175,000 in Beach Haven West, a community of 4,000 waterfront houses, which had already seen a push of buyers tearing down the 1960s-era bungalows for bigger houses. Since the storm, 44 have sold; 163 are for sale.
"A lot of people, they've held these properties for years," he said. "It's the uncertainty. They're worried about what their taxes will be, what their flood insurance will be. This has been a blue-collar, middle-income community. You're going to see, in the next couple of years, all these houses will be rebuilt and replaced, and values are going to go up."
FEMA regulations say that if renovations are more than 50 percent of the value of the house, then the houses must be in compliance with new flood maps and most likely elevated on pilings. The new maps are still not finalized. In some cases rebuilding becomes too costly, as second-home owners are ineligible for FEMA grants.
"For a summer getaway, it's an opportunity," said real estate agent Kim Wojcik, who has already closed on a half dozen "as is" properties in flooded bay front Little Egg Harbor, where, as in areas of Margate and Ventnor Heights, more primary homeowners are opting to jump ship.
"It's not a good situation for the seller. They are displaced [and] don't want to wait six or eight months" to get back in their houses.
Stacy Janzer, whose Manahawkin construction company is building about a dozen $300,000 houses in Beach Haven West, says she counsels people with damaged houses to demolish and hang on if they can afford the taxes.
"We're losing those people that were barely able to afford it but did it for the family time, or the older ones who just can't deal," she said. "Everybody putting up new homes makes your sand more valuable."
The choices have been painful.
"It's a hard one," said Marian Myers, who put the two-story house on Judy Drive that her grandparents bought in 1956 up for sale (asking price: $249,000). Fully insured, no previous claims, they got a settlement of $100,000, not enough to rebuild, let alone raise the house on pilings. "Trying to make an informed decision with the information we're getting is really hard."
It hurts to sell, she said of the place where the cousins swam in the lagoon, the extended family gathered at the long table on the "killer porch," and they shared weekends, spring through fall, starting every April. "If we were rich, we'd fix it," Myers said.
For people already on the fence, the storm accelerated the inevitable.
Fran Bennett, whose 87-year-old sister, now in a nursing home, owned a house on North Melbourne Avenue in Ventnor, where the south side of the street flooded but not the north. He said the storm left them with no choice.
"I had been taking care of the house with no intention of selling," he said. "We had talked about renting it. Then the storm hit. I started cleaning the place out, and then I had to make a decision.
"A lot of our memories of family were in there," he said. "But she was also practical about it."
The house sold quickly for $150,000 as someone's second home, said real estate agent Dan Stecher of Marketplace Realty, adding that the 100-year-old home might have commanded an additional $25,000 undamaged. "It needed modernization to begin with," he said. "I don't think there was all that huge of a discount."
Realtors are quick to rebut the notion that there are steals to be had. Prices have been creeping up since an initial bottoming-out. The value has always been the land. "You're not going to come in here and steal them for $35,000," Wojcik said.
In Beach Haven West, Joan Romano, 80, had already decided to sell the Gregg Drive house she had owned for 43 years - another charming yellow bungalow on a lagoon - but had been turning down offers. She won't do that anymore.
"We could have sold it like five years ago for $425,000," Romano, of Livingston, N.J., said. "We didn't want to sell it. Last summer I had somebody, but my husband wanted more money. Right after that we had the storm. I cried, too, but I have to get rid of it."