Shore Agents Report Brisk Summer Rentals

Though summer 2013 was plagued with the ghost of Sandy and soggy weather, realtors down the shore expect this season to be booming.

A property available for rent on the bay in Mantoloking.
Photo courtesy of Shawn Clayton

Kevin Kelly had no trouble this spring renting his 10-year-old four-bedroom, three-bathroom house a half block from the beach in Holgate for the month of August, despite being located in a town that suffered some of the greatest damage from Superstorm Sandy. Likewise, Patty Finch, easily rented her 1924 four-bedroom oceanfront home in South Mantoloking for the entire summer, though half the houses in her Sandy-battered block at one time bore large red Xs, indicating they were slated for condemnation.

As a summer vacation destination, it appears the Jersey Shore is back. At least according to realtors, rental agents and homeowners up and down the coast who—with a few exceptions—are reporting brisk business this year, particular in the last six weeks, once the last signs of winter finally disappeared and people began planning their vacations.

“It’s going to be a banner summer,” predicts Brad Vogdes, a broker with Atlantis Realty whose Wildwood-area rental business is up 30 percent over last year. “Those who didn’t come last year have decided to come back.”

This is a welcome relief after last summer’s soft season, when would-be renters were hesitant to book their Shore vacations, uncertain if their favorite beach destinations would be open for business.

“There were a lot of misperceptions of how our community had responded and how much it had recovered last summer,” says Paul Ward, of Ward Realty in Point Pleasant Beach, whose business was off 40 percent last summer. “A lot of our repeat rental customers left in 2013. But we had a lot of day-trippers who saw that things were okay. So now they’re back to rent this year.”

Even Shore towns at the southern end of the state, relatively unscathed by Sandy, saw a big downturn in business last year. Predictions that those who normally vacationed in the northern Shore towns would shift their attention to destinations such as Ocean City, Avalon or the Wildwoods never came to pass.

“We didn’t really have damage other than high water, but I think people just lumped us into the rest of the Shore that got so banged up,” says Michael Monihan, owner/broker of Monihan Realty in Ocean City. This spring, on the other hand, rental activity for the summer has been up 10 to 15 percent compared to last year, and many of the prime weeks are already booked solid, according to Monihan.

For some who are bound for the Shore this summer, it’s simply a matter of being eager to return to a long-standing tradition.

“I think a lot of people are saying ‘I want to go back to the Shore. Get my feet back in the sand again,’” says Deb Smith, a broker with Exit Jersey Shore Realty in Monmouth County.

Throughout the spring, many Shore towns were putting the finishing touches on new boardwalks and beachside pavilions as they prepared for the anticipated summer crowds. A handful of other destinations were still hurting.

Seaside Heights and Seaside Park had begun to recover from Sandy’s wallop when they were struck again last September by a boardwalk fire that destroyed some 50 businesses and all of Seaside Park’s FunTown Pier Amusement Park. The section of destroyed boardwalk owned by Seaside Heights has been replaced, but work on the majority of the boardwalk has been slow going as private owners negotiate with the towns over cost and design issues. Meanwhile, Seaside Park’s borough administrator announced plans to host events like a beer fest, outdoor movies and a carnival to keep tourists coming to his town that abuts Island Beach State Park.

On the same barrier island, towns like Lavallette and Ortley Beach are still feeling the impact of Sandy, 19 months after that superstorm struck.

“We’re still very much post Sandy,” says Pam Maguire, a resident of Lavallette and a realtor with Diane Turton Realtors there. “Last year, we had a lot of tear downs and rubble. This year, we have a lot of construction, putting up pilings and road infrastructure.”

With new gas lines, sewer lines, drainage systems and roadways being laid along the length of Route 35, getting around on the barrier island has been a challenge. For several months, Route 35 was reduced down to a single shared lane for travelers going north and south. On May 1, the road was opened up to one lane in each direction. Work on the infrastructure project is supposed to end before the summer crowds hit the area.

“A lot of people have come down to rent, but they’re just a little bit leery. They want to know they’ll be able to drive to where they want to go, that their kids will be able to cross the street safely,” says Maguire. Her business is still off by 50 percent from what it was before the storm.

Plans are also underway to bury a new $40 million, four-mile long steel sea wall beneath the sand to protect beach properties in Mantoloking and Brick from future storms, but this project is not expected to begin until after the summer season. Beyond the major public projects, there’s also a great deal of private redevelopment going on up and down the Shore.

If 2013 gave us the summer of confusion, 2014 is bound to be the summer of construction.

After many months of wrangling with the government and insurance companies, homeowners are busily restoring damaged or destroyed properties, or raising their homes to adapt to new government floodplain standards. The Lavallette Business Association recently adopted the slogan “Please Pardon Our Dust,” asking visitors to be patient with the rebuilding process. Even the most optimistic realtors acknowledge that the increased building activity could impact one’s vacation this summer.

“There’s a lot of construction all around. It’s going to be hard to miss,” says Jim Kelley, the vacation rental manager for the Van Dyk Group in Beach Haven. “Hopefully it’s not going to be right next door. The last thing we want is for someone to not enjoy their vacation.”

With most towns allowing contractors to work all day during the week and half days on Saturday, Sean Clayton, owner/broker of Clayton and Clayton Realtors in Bay Head, says vacationers “may only have Sunday for that full day of peace and relaxation at the Shore.”

The trailer park that once stood across the street from Kelly’s house in Holgate is no longer there, an absence that Kelly called “kind of eerie.” Patty Finch has also seen her neighborhood transformed, though she is looking forward to moving on to the next phase.

“As sad as it is to see empty lots, at least there are very few destruction sites left. We’re no longer looking at piles of twigs that were once a house,” says Finch, whose oceanfront home suffered less damage than most of her Mantoloking neighbors thanks to a high sand dune in front of her house.

Despite having spent several thousand dollars on repairs, Finch, who has been coming to her Mantoloking house since she was a child, says she had not raised her summer rental rate of $6,400 a week in the last two years.

“I felt that people who were kind enough to come last year, and again this year, were showing good faith to come to the Jersey Shore and to the barrier islands and I was grateful,” she says.

Elsewhere, rates have increased slightly, both because demand is outpacing supply in some areas, and because homeowners who undertook major renovations after the storm are looking to recoup some of their investment.

Though the harsh winter took a toll on walk-in customers on Long Beach Island, Joan Ely of Island Realty says many of her customers were shopping on the Internet, “willing to take a chance on something sight unseen.” As a result, there’s little inventory left between late July and late August, she says, even with weekly rents as high as $25,000 for an oceanfront house in Loveladies, or $14,000 for an oceanfront property in Surf City. Further south on the island, weekly rentals are also creeping up, according to Jim Kelley, who says a three- to four-bedroom oceanfront house in Beach Haven goes for $6,500 to $8,500 in high season, while one within walking distance of the beach rents for $3,500 to $4,500. In Belmar, where seasonal rentals are more common, a three- to four-bedroom house within walking distance of the beach can bring in $25,000 for the season, Smith says.

For the most part, people are hoping to put Sandy behind them. “There was a stretch there when I couldn’t meet with a customer who didn’t mention Hurricane Sandy,” says Kelley. “Now, I can’t think of the last time I talked about it.”

Towns are trying to move on as well. Ocean City’s 2013 slogan “Ready for Your Stay” put a more subtle, and perhaps more positive spin on the statewide slogan “Stronger than the Storm,” while still responding to those skeptics who doubt the Shore’s recovery. This summer, the town that hosts baby, dog and hermit crab beauty pageants on the boardwalk is returning to a deep-seated appeal with its latest campaign: “More than a vacation. It’s a tradition.” That’s a message the whole Jersey Shore is hoping to capitalize on this summer.

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