Sandy Drives Older New Jersey Residents to Senior Housing

By Donna Weaver, The Press of Atlantic City | January 2, 2014

Chased by Hurricane Sandy from their waterfront homes, a large number of older residents in Little Egg Harbor Township, N.J., are finding new homes among the township’s five 55-and-older developments.

The migration of the township’s senior residents is driving up home prices there, but residents are finding it’s more affordable to buy new than to raise and rebuild their homes. Some, chastened by the powerful storm, don’t want to have to relive another one.

John Clare, 65, was one of those retirees who decided to move away from the water after Hurricane Sandy destroyed his Iowa Court bayfront home in the Osborn Island section of the township. Clare was in the home with his 24-year-old son, Sean, moving things to the second floor, when the surge hit last year during Hurricane Sandy.

“We went upstairs, and the second floor collapsed into the dark water,” he told The Press of Atlantic City. “I turned around and my son said what the hell was that? I said it’s our bedrooms; they’re gone.”

The surge came through and the walls were knocked by a wall of water. The front of the home had a hole in it. Clare’s bed was suspended in the air among mangled pieces of the home.

For months, Clare said, he tried to cut through the red tape to move into a new home. Eventually, he demolished the house, graded the bayfront lot and sold it. With the help of real estate agent Joe Yglesias, Clare purchased a home in Sunrise Bay, a 55-and-older community, where homes are selling for $140,000 to $200,000.

Clare closed on his new home Sept. 11. He said he feels more comfortable being away from the water now.

“At least this year, we are home together for Christmas. We have a house. I like it a lot where I am. I am stronger than the storm,” Clare said.

Yglesias, of Mezzina Real Estate, said Clare is one of the many seniors who didn’t want to leave Little Egg Habor but were frustrated by the rebuilding process. Moving inland was their only option to stay, he said.

Donna T. Wilson, a real estate agent with Coldwell Bank Riviera, said the storm substantially damaged about 5,000 homes here, sparking an exodus that has driven prices in senior communities up about 20 percent.

“There was a lot of frustration with the seniors, and there was fear. They watch the water like a hawk and watch the storm come. Luckily, many of them were able to demo their homes and walk away,” Wilson said.

Although prices have increased in senior communities such as Harbor Bay, the township continues to have a nice price range that can accommodate all retirees, Yglesias said.

Typically the retirement community of Mystic Shores has been the first choice for retirees and senior citizens because of the price point, he said.

“It’s a good value for your money there in Mystic Shores. Houses range from $125,000 to $140,000,” Yglesias said.

“I think we had the land and sewer available when these communities became popular. Seniors also had the ability to have their boats at their home and do different activities. Also, I believe it had a lot to do with price points,” Yglesias said.

Little Egg Harbor’s retiree and senior citizen population are a dominant demographic and account for 43 percent of the township’s 20,065 residents, according to U.S. Census data.

According to 2010 U.S. Census figures, 4,356 residents were ages 50 to 64, and 4,331 residents were 65 and older.

Those being compelled to move have choices. Besides Mystic Shores, there is Sunrise Bay, Cranberry Creek, Harbor Bay and Sea Oaks that offer homes to the older demographic.

Maria and Santos Garcias did not want to leave Little Egg Harbor after Hurricane Sandy destroyed their home. They tried for months without success to return to their West Dory Drive home in Mystic Island.

The couple learned earlier this year that they would not be able to afford to raise their home to meet the new Federal Emergency Management Agency. They sold their property and moved inland to the Sunrise Bay senior community on Radio Road.

“A lot of these people living on the water didn’t have a mortgage, so they had the money. To be a senior and rebuild on the water, you’re talking elevators to go up 10 or 12 feet.” Wilson said.

Wilson said before Hurricane Sandy, on any given day 25 to 30 homes in the Mystic Shores community were on the market.

Last week, only 15 houses were on the market and active in Mystic Shores, Wilson said. A home recently sold in Mystic Shores for $182,000, a reflection of the growing interest and demand.

“Seniors see these communities as more realistic at their age. There are activities, resources, facilities and a community of fellow seniors. In these communities, they don’t have to watch the water and be fearful,” she said.

Still, not everyone is opting for the planned community, Yglesias said.

“I have seen the trend of seniors moving inland, but I’ve also actually seen some of them restore their houses, too, because the reason they came down here was to live on the water and use their boat to go fishing.”

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