The idea came to Neil Cohen as the real estate agent talked to some of his clients not long after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey in October.
“They told me they didn’t get any water — they were high and dry,” said Cohen, of ReMax Platinum Properties in Margate. “I said, ‘High and dry? Well, let me get a sign in front of your house to say that.’”
So now Cohen has added those words, and another promise — “No storm damage” — to his standard name-and-phone-number signs in front of several homes he is trying to sell for owners in his hometown, Ventnor. He said that explicit message has been popular with both sellers and potential buyers since he started putting it in large type and in public.
“Especially near the bay, people are worried about flooding. They’re worried about flood insurance. They’re worried about everything that’s in the news every day now,” Cohen said.
So if he can ease those concerns in a few words, it only makes sense to him to do it.
But Cohen is just putting on his signs what many real estate people are saying in other ways, because they are words that many buyers want to hear.
“Within five seconds, they’re asking, ‘Was there any storm damage? Yes or no?’” said Noreen Callahan, of Prudential Zack Shore Properties on Long Beach Island.
Callahan hasn’t put the high-and-dry promise in writing on her signs, but she said the storm status is part of many property descriptions she writes these days. Still, she added that not every buyer wants to hear the pledge that the home made it through the storm unscathed.
“I have one buyer coming down — he only wants storm-damaged houses,” Callahan said. “You have all kinds of buyers coming out now. Interest rates are low and they think the time is now, whether the house is damaged or not damaged.”
Ginger O’Neill, of Argus Real Estate in Ventnor, also hasn’t tried specific signs in front of homes that didn’t suffer in Sandy. But she makes that clear in her Multiple Listing Service descriptions and in her ads for sellers.
“HIGH & DRY!” her listing for one Margate home starts.
“No ‘Sandy’ damage here!” O’Neill also wrote in an ad for a Ventnor property.
She said that in the weeks right after the storm — when evidence of hurricane damage was piled up in mounds of trash all over Absecon Island — a house’s storm status was the first thing on every potential buyer’s mind.
But O’Neill has been surprised lately to not even hear the question sometimes. She figures that close to 25 percent of buyers never ask about Sandy — until she brings it up.
“The ones who are informed say, ‘Did they get any damage?’ But some, if they come from out of town, aren’t even asking,” she said. “I make sure to inform them of what’s going on, because that’s my job.”
Michael Monihan, of Monihan Realty in Ocean City, said he hasn’t seen any high-and-dry or similar signs around his hometown — and he covers a lot of miles there. But property damage, or the lack of it, shows up in many MLS descriptions, and if not, it comes up quickly in talks about the property, he added.
“Nobody wants to spend as much time as you need to spend now on a deal, only to lose it at the last hour because of flood-insurance quotes,” Monihan said.
So he’s not sure how useful an explicit sign would be, although “I guess it can’t hurt,” said Monihan, who has been in real estate for 40-plus years. “But anybody with a brain is going to have a home inspector now to check out whatever place they buy.”
He and other agents did see one small favor that Sandy did for the local real estate business.
“When the storm hit, that’s the normal time of year when the market slows down anyway,” Monihan said. “In November and December, people are thinking about Christmas parties and the holidays. They’re not at the shore looking for houses.”
Farther south, in Sea Isle City, Drew Fasy, of NJ Realty Inc., has another reason why he hasn’t considered his own high-and-dry signs.
“That’s an early conversation (in a deal), and obviously people are aware of it,” he said. But Fasy estimates that probably 80 percent of Sea Isle properties have been redeveloped since the 1970s, when federal flood-insurance rate maps made developers put new homes on piling and banned ground-floor living space.
“So flooding is really only an issue with older single-family homes or older duplexes,” he said, adding that the Sea Isle market has mainly “switched to second homeowners, as opposed to investors. By and large, it’s baby boomers who are looking for newer properties. We don’t have a lot of people interested in buying a 50-year-old, three-bedroom, one-bath rancher anymore.”
And the standard duplexes built since the ’70s didn’t have any flooding troubles in Sandy, Fasy added.
“I’m all about disclosure,” he said. “But if it’s not an issue, I don’t want it to be an issue.”
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