Memorial Day is still more than 130 days away, but rental properties along the southern New Jersey shore are already in demand.

"We are very busy," said Don Cabrera, of Cabrera Realty in Wildwood Crest.

Cabrera said January, which is usually a time when would-be vacationers start planning their trips to the shore, is seeing increased activity as those who might normally head to resorts in the northern end of the state look elsewhere.

According to the Governor's Office, Hurricane Sandy cost the state $36.9 billion, leaving many homes and businesses damaged or destroyed.

As of the close of business Jan. 15, the U.S. Small Business Administration had approved 3,550 disaster loans in New Jersey for a total of $251 million. Of those, 3,304 home disaster loans have been approved for a total of $225 million. The rest were 246 business disaster loans totaling $26 million.

The image of the Jet Star roller coaster sitting in the water off Seaside Heights has become a symbol of the struggle the state's shore resorts face, but places such as the Wildwoods suffered little if any damage.

"We're getting a tremendous amount of responses on our mobile apps. People are asking a lot of questions. It's unbelievable the amount of requests. A lot are from North Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Vermont. All within four to six hours driving time away," Cabrera said.

Cabrera said the number of inquiries into rental properties at his agency is up 40 percent to 50 percent over last year, while the number of bookings is up 30 percent.

The difference between the Wildwoods and many northern resorts is the size of rental properties.

"Up there, there are a lot of four- or five-bedrooms, but not here. So they might rent two places here," he said.

Cabrera said that while demand is high, he is encouraging his rental owners to maintain steady prices rather than trying to raise rates.

"We advised owners not to take advantage of the situation. We don't want to gouge. We want people to come back," he said.

Average rental rates in the Wildwoods are about $2,400 to $2,800 a week for a three-bedroom unit.

Farther north in Ocean City, Philip McCaffrey, co-owner and broker at Grace Realty, said rentals are going well, about the same if not better than last year.

"We had people call from the Philadelphia area asking how things are down here," McCaffrey said of the need to inform visitors that Cape May County will be ready for the 2013 season. "We assure them things are fine with the beach and the Boardwalk."

While Ocean City did suffer more storm damage than the Wildwoods, much of it was confined to the lower levels of modern beach homes, built at elevations of 10 feet, usually garages and cabana rooms.

"All the ones I've seen have been worked on," McCaffrey said.

The supply of rentals remains steady and prices in the city mirror previous years.

A three-bedroom, two-bath unit two blocks from the beach will go for about $2,500 a week, while larger properties and those closer to the beach can bring anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 a week.

McCaffrey, like Cabrera, such many of his rental customers first see their properties online, but many still visit the shore on weekends to see the units before they rent.

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:

609-463-6716