One of the few booming niches in the shore economy is raising houses in areas subject to flooding.
The boom is epitomized by Baumgardner House Lifting, an Egg Harbor Township company started last year with the seemingly ambitious goal of raising two homes a week. Now, it’s gearing up to do four times that level of business.
Andrew Baumgardner, of Somers Point, dropped out of college last year to start the business. His company quickly lined up general contractors who needed houses lifted and qualified for the state Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation, or RREM, program.
“We’re lifting houses, either damaged in the storm (Hurricane Sandy) or for homeowners who can’t afford flood insurance or who are preemptively lifting their homes so they don’t face flood insurance increases,” Baumgardner said. “Since we were accepted into the RREM program and have relationships with contractors on the Jersey Shore, we’re now projecting we’ll do 405 houses a year in 2015 and 2016.”
The program, which stopped accepting applications as of Aug. 1 last year, will provide grants of as much as $150,000 to about 7,000 homeowners in the next two years, with another 5,000 on a waiting list, he said.
Eligible homeowners must have suffered either a verified loss of $8,000 or more, or have had more than a foot of water in their first floor.
The state said the grants, funded by $600 million from the federal government, will be calculated based on the cost of home repairs and the amounts owners already have received from other sources, such as insurance, FEMA, SBA and nonprofit organizations.
The company has opened a northern office in Monmouth County and recently has made four additions to its management team: Colin Schmitt, chief operating officer; Andrew Salerno III and Tom Butkus, division and project managers; and Samantha Danaher, office manager. It also is hiring workers.
“I’m looking for hardworking individuals. We hire local Jersey guys,” Baumgardner said.
Like many overnight successes, Baumgardner House Lifting in some important ways was decades in the making.
The Baumgardner family has been in regional construction for more than 30 years. Baumgardner’s father, George, started Baumgardner Construction Co., a union general contracting business that has worked on large projects such as Atlantic City Convention Center and Boardwalk Hall. “One of the latest jobs was the transformation of Trump Marina to Golden Nugget,” Andrew Baumgardner said.
His mother, Lynn Baumgardner, owns Guthrie Glass & Mirror, a union glazing contractor serving the Delaware Valley.
“I worked for my dad and mom for years, mostly summers,” he said.
Houses that are candidates for lifting have also been accruing for years, at least the 50 years before Sandy that saw no storm with anything like its destructive force.
Andrew Baumgardner said that in New Jersey alone, 350,000 houses sustained some type of water damage from Sandy. “All of those plus others will face dramatic flood insurance increases if they don’t raise them,” he said.
Baumgardner House Lifting only uses hydraulic unified jacking systems to raise homes, a method so reliable and steady that pictures and mirrors can be left on the walls during the process, he said. It has three of the expensive systems.
The state almost required house lifters to use unified hydraulic jacking, but the governor felt added regulations might slow down the restoration process, he said.
Another thing to look for in a house-lifting contractor is rigger’s insurance, he said. “If they don’t have that, then they’re not insured when the house is in the air.”
All houses can be lifted regardless of their size or composition, Baumgardner said. It’s just a matter of using bigger steel beams beneath them and more jacks.
“The real expertise lies with the crew foreman and his ability to lay out the steel to catch all of the load to the house and make sure it’s all lifting evenly,” he said. If need be, joists can be reinforced or a temporary wall can strengthen the house.
Size is the biggest factor in the cost, affecting both the lifting and the building of the new foundation. He said an average home costs $60,000 to $70,000.
The savings from lifting a home can be substantial. He said one Beach Haven homeowner is saving $5,000 per year on flood insurance.
Baumgardner said he intends to work just within New Jersey for the next 10 years, since it will take at least that long to handle the large volume of work to be done.
He also has another job to do, one required by his business mentors.
“I had to guarantee my parents that I would finish my college degree when they OK’d this venture,” he said.
He was two years into a business management degree track at James Madison University. Now, he thinks an accounting degree “would be extremely beneficial.”
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