Staten Island, beyond Sandy
Low-lying areas struggle to recover, but hilltop neighborhoods see a real estate rebound
It’s a tale of two markets right now on Staten Island, where Superstorm Sandy ravaged waterfront communities but left other areas with little more than downed trees. So while low-lying areas are still suffering, the overall real estate market on the island is experiencing a remarkable turnaround — especially its posh hilltop neighborhoods, brokers said.
“We are having a fantastic year — the best we’ve had in six or seven years,” said Frank DiTommaso, a principal at Coldwell Banker DiTommaso Realty in New Dorp.
The median sale price of a Staten Island home in June was $413,500, jumping 8.8 percent from $380,000 in the same month of last year, according to the Staten Island Board of Realtors (SIBOR). The average sale price for the same period grew 7.2 percent, to $432,702. And the number of closings island-wide is up 28.2 percent year-to-date, according to SIBOR, while inventory is shrinking: There were 2,451 active listings at the end of June, down 29.5 percent from 3,426 at the same time last year.
That’s a significant improvement from the dark days of the real estate downturn, when prices across Staten Island dropped by some 20 percent and the island saw more than 330 foreclosures, according to data from Coldwell Banker DiTommaso.
SIBOR president Traci Cangiano said the island is experiencing “almost a complete turnaround,” and attributed the improvement to low interest rates and pent-up demand.
In the areas untouched by Sandy, she said, “we put homes on the market, and within days, sometimes hours, there are multiple offers. We are even seeing bidding wars.”
By contrast, the real estate market is at a virtual standstill in communities hit hard by the storm, such as Midland Beach, South Beach, New Dorp Beach, Oakwood Beach, Great Kills and Tottenville. In those areas, some 600 residential buildings were destroyed or demolished because of storm damage, according to data from the city. And many homeowners are waiting for revised building codes before repairing or rebuilding their houses, a process that could take years. In the meantime, few homeowners in these areas are willing to buy, sell or renovate for risk of having to rebuild to code later, or face punishing fines.
“Until the new elevations [as described by building codes] are set in stone, people are skeptical about buying down there,” DiTommaso said.
Adding insult to injury, flood insurance rates in these areas are expected to balloon. In June, the Federal Emergency Management Agency released new flood maps that show the number of Staten Island buildings in the so-called Special Flood Hazard Area has jumped to 11,200 from 8,000 in 2007, the Advance reported. When FEMA formally adopts these maps, likely sometime in 2015, they will determine flood insurance rates. Staten Island is a patchwork of distinct communities. Now, below is a closer look at how different areas are faring post-Sandy.
The North Shore, site of the Staten Island Ferry terminal, includes the neighborhoods of St. George, New Brighton and Stapleton. These hilltop areas, featuring classic Victorians and many of the island’s grand, older homes, had wind damage but no water damage.
The area is also the site of much of the island’s planned new development. For example, construction started in June at Stapleton’s former Homeport Navy base, where Hoboken-based Ironstate Development is building 400 rental units and 25,000 square feet of street-level shopping, with additional apartments and retail space to come.
In St. George, Brooklyn-based BFC Partners is developing the 200-store Empire Outlet Mall. There will also be a 625-foot Ferris wheel, the world’s highest. Lighthouse Point, developed by Queens-based Triangle Equities, will include underground shops, a 164-room hotel, a new esplanade and 96 residential units.
This fall, a converted warehouse at 130 Bay Street Landing called the Accolade will hit the market with 100 waterfront condos priced from $300,000 to $1.1 million, according to Angela Ferrara, executive vice president at the Marketing Directors, which is marketing the building. The developer, Manhattan-based Meadow Partners, is also just finishing up sales at the Pointe, a condo project that originally hit the market five years ago, then stalled during the recession. Only one of 57 new waterfront units remains at the Pointe, Ferrara said.
The average asking price in St. George was $366,744 in mid-July; the median price was $345,000, according to SIBOR. The average asking price in Stapleton was $311,460 and the median price was $259,900.
Staten Island’s geography is dominated by a spine of hills that run from St. George to the center of the island. These hills — Todt, Emerson, Lighthouse, Grymes and Ward — boast the island’s most sprawling and expensive houses. In this area, where storm damage was limited to lost trees, SIBOR figures show that the number of closings is up by 25 percent year-to-date. And in the second quarter, the median sale price of a home in Todt Hill was $1.23 million, according to SIBOR. That’s up from $1.2 million in the second quarter of last year.
One factor working in the area’s favor is that many buyers once interested in the waterfront are now seeking higher ground, said Connie Profaci, principal of Connie Profaci Realty in New Dorp.
Eltingville and Annadale
These South Shore neighborhoods, where many older single-family detached and semi-detached homes sit on small parcels, saw some storm damage in low-lying areas. But overall, the area is enjoying a brisk real estate trade: Eltingville and Annadale are part of a sampling that collectively saw a 36 percent uptick from last year in closed sales, according to SIBOR.
The median price in Eltingville was $534,999 in June. That’s up from $390,000 a year prior (a few higher-priced sales may account for the big price swing). In Annadale, the median was $489,000, up from $468,000 last year.
At the southernmost tip of Staten Island lies
Tottenville, an area with quiet, tree-lined streets. The housing stock here is a mix of new construction and historic homes dating to when the area was a thriving port.
Tottenville, surrounded on two sides by water, was badly flooded by Sandy. Currently, there are 99 houses on the market, an unusually high number for the area — most likely because nothing is moving, brokers said. Still, in the second quarter, the median sale price of a home in the area was $665,000, up from $422,000 in the same period of 2012.
Oakwood Beach and New Dorp Beach
Among the areas hardest hit by Sandy was Oakwood Beach, a tiny community crammed with small houses, many originally summer bungalows. All but a few of the 184 property owners are taking buyouts from the state, which plans to demolish the houses closest to the shoreline because they have been deemed at high risk of flooding again. In Oakwood Beach and adjacent New Dorp Beach, 10 houses are on the market — more than double last year’s four closings. July’s average asking price was $339,980, brokers said.
Much of Midland Beach was practically swept away by Sandy, and many residents remain homeless. Portions of the boardwalk reopened in time for Memorial Day, in what locals called a sign of confidence, and repairs will continue through the summer. According to Profaci, rebuilding is practically a given. “We are an island and will always have the allure of the water,” she said.
The market, though, has suffered mightily because of the storm. In the second quarter of last year, the median sale price was $330,000; this year, that plummeted to $125,000. Thirty-four homes are on the market, but many need repairs. Others are so badly damaged that they are being marketed as tear-downs.
Mid-Island neighborhoods are tree-shaded, dotted with parks, and are home to an attractive mix of old and new housing stock of all types that are in no danger of hurricane flooding. In Westerleigh, there are 56 houses on the market, and the median closed price in June was $472,450. Nearby in Clove Lake, the median sale price was $576,950. In adjacent Sunset Hill, noted for its gracious older homes and quiet side streets, the median sale price was $609,000 in June, up from $453,000 in the same period of last year.