Kodasema, the Estonian design collective known for its ultra-stylish tiny homes, has created yet another ultra-stylish tiny home. Only this time it floats on water.
The company’s new minimalist design, the Koda Light Float, sits atop of pontoons, allowing it to float at a dock or hitch to a boat. Unlike Koda’s sleek, concrete tiny homes, the Light Float is built from a timber and glass frame that’s clad in a variety of materials including zinc and wood.
Inside, the 277-square-foot tiny home has a spacious living room with tall ceilings, a modern kitchen, a sleeping area, and a bathroom with a shower and toilet. It also comes with an expansive wooden deck that’s asking for lounge chairs.
The minimalist interiors turn the tiny home into a blank canvas—Koda says the Light Float can be used as a houseboat, artists’ studio, harbor cafe, or a “fisherman’s dream boat.”
The floating Koda home, which can be stacked to create a bigger dwelling, has a three-month turnaround time. Price is upon request.
To lure house hunters, sellers of high-end homes are slashing prices by as much as 30 percent. Many metro areas are succumbing to downward pressure from the U.S.-China trade war, uncertainty in Europe, rising interest rates, or a combination of all three. Of course, all real estate is local, so some discounts are better than others. Here’s where policymakers, central bankers, and developers are creating an environment for juicy deals today—or even better bargains tomorrow.
By the numbers: Home values in the city’s prime neighborhoods are 19 percent below their 2014 peak, according to broker Savills Plc.
What happened? Few sellers anywhere have faced such a poisonous economic cocktail as those in the Chelsea, Kensington, and Westminster districts, where tax changes on luxury properties have hit hard. Add in Brexit and an anti-money-laundering crackdown on cash from countries such as Russia and China, and demand for high-end homes has dried up. The discounts were enough to lure hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin to spend £95 million ($122 million) on a mansion near Buckingham Palace in January, a cut of almost 35 percent from the original price.
Act now! A five-bedroom home in the city’s most expensive apartment block, One Hyde Park, has been languishing on the market for two years. The asking price is £50 million, down from £55 million.
By the numbers:Australian home prices have fallen more than 6 percent since their October 2017 peak. The decline in Sydney has been sharper—about 12 percent—making this the worst slump in four decades. Economists have predicted that Australia’s most populous city could see an additional 8 percent drop this year.
What happened? Easy credit caused prices to go crazy, then policymakers stepped in with a series of cooling measures including a restriction on banks from issuing interest-only loans popular with speculators. Regulations designed to deter foreign buyers, such as higher sales taxes, have only made it worse for investors, with many pulling out of the market. Because interest rates are at record lows and the country’s economy is growing modestly, it’s hard to see the window for bargain shopping closing anytime soon.
Act now! This four-bedroom home in Avalon Beach in Sydney’s Northern Beaches district comes with a private jetty, a boathouse, and a koi pond. Listed for A$6.9 million ($5.3 million) in December 2017, it’s now going for A$4.3 million, a 38 percent discount.
By the numbers: Dubai’s residential prices are down about 25 percent since their 2014 peak, according to broker Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.
What happened? If politicians and central bankers are to blame in most other places, overzealous developers in Dubai are responsible for the emirate’s slump. Dubai is planning to erect a record 31,500 homes this year, double the annual demand of the past five years, raising the risk that prices could fall further, according to JLL.
Act now! A typical six-bedroom, 7,000-square-foot Signature Villas home on the artificial archipelago of Palm Jumeriah, among the desert city’s most expensive neighborhoods, costs 20.5 million U.A.E. dirham ($5.6 million), according to Savills. That’s down from 22.75 million dirham in 2014, the broker says, an almost 10 percent discount.
By the numbers: Home prices have been clipped almost 10 percent since August, according to Centaline Property Agency Ltd.’s Centa-City Leading Index. Several forecasts expect another 10 percent fall in 2019, depending on the direction of interest rates, with broker JLL warning in November that prices could plummet by 25 percent in 2019 if the U.S.-China trade war worsens.
What happened? Because of the Hong Kong currency’s ties to the U.S. dollar (it effectively imports American monetary policy), borrowing costs have gone up as the Federal Reserve has hiked rates. Also weighing on prices: an upcoming vacancy tax designed to stop developers from hoarding empty apartments in the hopes that they fetch better prices later. There are signs that investors are already unloading empty units in anticipation.
Act now! At Mayfair by the Sea 8, a development in the Tai Po neighborhood, apartments are selling for an average of HK$16,000 ($2,039) a square foot, more than 10 percent lower than the price of nearby developments last summer.
By the numbers: In the last quarter of 2018, the median price of Manhattan condos dropped below $1 million for the first time in three years, down 5.8 percent from a year earlier, according to broker Douglas Elliman Real Estate. For the most expensive homes, the market is worse: Sales of Manhattan properties priced at $5 million or more dropped 22 percent last year from 2017, their steepest decline in a decade, according to Stribling & Associates Ltd.
What happened? A postrecession building boom led to a glut of condos. The annual inventory of homes for sale rose 15.4 percent in 2018, according to real estate website StreetEasy. At the same time, federal changes that limit deductions on property and state taxes and mortgages have encouraged people to flee to lower-tax states. More than 8 percent of New York state residents will face higher taxes for 2018, with 29 percent of the highest earners seeing a hike, according to the Tax Policy Center.
Act now! In January, hedge fund manager Steven Cohen slashed the price of his penthouse at One Beacon Court to $45 million, a $70 million cut from its asking price of $115 million in 2013.
By the numbers: Prices in Dublin’s most desirable districts, including the D2 and D4 postal codes, fell 2.8 percent last year, according to broker Knight Frank LLP. That ended five years of price growth following a 56 percent collapse citywide starting in 2008.
What happened? Given how interconnected Ireland’s economy is with the U.K.’s, Brexit wobbliness is at least partly to blame for the falling prices, according to Knight Frank. The weak pound is deterring wealthy U.K. buyers, and limits introduced in 2015 by the Irish Central Bank on the amounts that can be borrowed have also helped cool the market. First-time buyers, for example, now have to put down at least 10 percent of the price.
Act now! A five-bedroom, five-bath Victorian home on Ailesbury Road, one of the most sought-after Dublin avenues, is now listed at €6.5 million ($6.8 million), a 13 percent discount from its 2016 asking price.
By the numbers: Home prices fell 4.5 percent in January from a year earlier, and they’re now 8 percent below their June 2018 peak, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. High-price districts are faring much worse; properties in West Vancouver, which had been attractive to overseas buyers, are down 14 percent from the previous year.
What happened? After prices surged about 63 percent from December 2013 to December 2018—putting owning a home beyond the reach of most locals— Vancouver’s market developed an unhealthy dependency on foreign cash. China’s clampdown on money fleeing the country and local measures in Canada, including a 20 percent foreign-buyers tax, have discouraged the overseas high-rollers. At the same time, the Canadian government’s new tighter mortgage rules have made it even harder for locals to afford homes.
Act now! A five-bedroom house in West Vancouver for sale since December 2017 is now listed for C$6.9 million ($5.1 million) after a C$1 million price cut in November.
By the numbers: Luxury home values in the Turkish city dropped 4.3 percent in the final quarter of 2018 from the previous one, bringing the 12-month decline to 10.4 percent, according to Knight Frank.
What happened? An expanding middle class, readily available mortgage financing, and migration seem to be supporting the market for more affordable homes, but the sharp drop in the value of the lira has decimated the top end. Turkey’s currency is down almost 41 percent against the U.S. dollar in the past two years amid political tensions—with the U.S., within the Middle East, and inside Turkey. Additionally, investors have been spooked by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who lashed out against his central bank, raising concerns about its independence.
Act now! About 60 sought-after mansions on the banks of the Bosphorus—many of them built during the Ottoman Empire—were for sale as of October, according to a survey of brokers by Agence France-Presse. Although listings can be opaque, one modern six-bedroom home is for sale for 55 million lira, which converts to $10.5 million now compared with $14.5 million a year ago.
How Do You Say “Penthouse” in German?*
One city ripe for a future correction: Munich. It saw a 9 percent increase in home prices last year, and they’ve doubled in the past decade. While all of Germany’s big cities have seen rapid price appreciation from the influx of migrants and record-low interest rates, the Bavarian capital has been particularly affected by the global corporations that call it home, such as Siemens, Allianz, and BMW. Gross domestic product growth in Munich has significantly outpaced that of Germany as a whole, and unemployment is at its lowest level in 20 years.
A Miami-Dade neighborhood that relies on septic tanks experiences flooding during the 2016 King Tide. A new report commissioned by the county shows that half of the county’s septic tanks break down yearly, a problem that sea level rise will worsen.
Miami-Dade has tens of thousands of septic tanks, and a new report reveals most are already malfunctioning — the smelly and unhealthy evidence of which often ends up in people’s yards and homes. It’s a billion-dollar problem that climate change is making worse.
As sea level rise encroaches on South Florida, the Miami-Dade County study shows that thousands more residents may be at risk — and soon. By 2040, 64 percent of county septic tanks (more than 67,000) could have issues every year, affecting not only the people who rely on them for sewage treatment, but the region’s water supply and the health of anyone who wades through floodwaters.
“That’s a huge deal for a developed country in 2019 to have half of the septic tanks not functioning for part of the year,” said Miami Waterkeeper Executive Director Rachel Silverstein. “That is not acceptable.”
Septic tanks require a layer of dirt underneath to do the final filtration work and return the liquid waste back to the aquifer. Older rules required one foot of soil, but newer regulations call for double that. In South Florida, there’s not that much dirt between the homes above ground and the water below.
“All those regulations were based on the premise the elevation of groundwater was going to be stable over time, which we now know is not correct,” said Doug Yoder, deputy director of Miami-Dade County’s Water and Sewer Department. “Now we find ourselves in a situation where we know sea level has risen and continues to rise.”
A graphic explaining the relationship between groundwater levels and the effectiveness of a septic tank. A new report commissioned by Miami-Dade County shows that half of the county’s septic tanks break down yearly, a problem that sea level rise will worsen.
Sea level rise is pushing the groundwater even higher, eating up precious space and leaving the once dry dirt soggy. Waste water doesn’t filter like it’s supposed to in soggy soil. In some cases, it comes back out, turning a front yard into a poopy swamp.
High tides or heavy rains can push feces-filled water elsewhere, including King Tide floodwaters — as pointed out in a 2016 study from Florida International University and NOAA — or possibly the region’s drinking supply.
Neighbors on a Coconut Grove street worked with a landscape architect to come up with a list of ideas for how to keep their flooded neighborhood dry in the face of sea level rise. Now the city will decide what gets built and how it’s paid for.
In total, there are about 108,000 properties within the county that still use septic, about 105,000 of which are residential. The vast majority (more than 65,000) of the septic systems are in unincorporated Miami-Dade.
Miami Gardens, North Miami Beach, Palmetto Bay and Pinecrest have the most of any city, at about 5,000 each.
Some of those cities will see hundreds more septic tanks experiencing yearly failures within the decade, like North Miami Beach, which has 2,780 homes with septic tanks with periodic issues now. By 2030, that is expected to jump to 3,751.
The report did not forecast past 2040, when the region is expecting around 15 inches of sea rise, a number that is predicted to creep exponentially upward over the decades.
More than half of Miami-Dade County’s 105,000 residential septic tanks have annual issues. A new report commissioned by the county shows that half of the county’s septic tanks break down yearly, a problem that sea level rise will worsen.Miami-Dade County
“The best response is sewer extension, but obviously that infrastructure takes quite a bit of planning and time,” said Katherine Hageman, the county’s resilience program manager.
“And money,” County Chief Resilience Officer James Murley added.
Ripping out every septic tank and laying down new pipes to connect the homes to the county’s sewer system won’t be cheap. The latest estimate put the price tag at $3.3 billion.
“Who has that?” said Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, who called for the study. “We need to act as fast as possible. We need to get as much assistance as we can from the federal government, from the state.”
That $3.3 billion price tag doesn’t cover commercial properties, an estimated $230 million cost, Yoder said. The county’s current general obligation bond includes $126 million to extend sewer services to businesses. Yoder said the plans are in the design phase.
For now, anyone who wants to connect their property to the county’s sewer system has to pay out of pocket. The report cites the average price as $15,000, but Yoder estimated that in septic-reliant areas like Pinecrest, it could cost around $50,000 per home to tap into the sewer system.
That’s cash most residents don’t have on hand, Haggman said, which is why the county is exploring other ways to help residents out.
“We have options, but I think that’s a good area for more conversation,” she said.
Besides borrowing more money with another bond, the report pointed out the county’s best options would be continuing to collect the per-home fee or establishing special taxing districts and spreading the cost into a neighborhood.
Silverstein said the findings raise significant concerns about impacts from septic tanks not just in 20 years, but now.
Total existing-home sales, released by the National Association of Realtors, increased 1.9% from October to a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.32 million in November. Despite the monthly rise, sales decreased 7.0% from a year ago in November, the biggest drop since May 2011, indicating the housing market continued to sputter due to the rising mortgage rate and tight inventory. Total existing-home sales include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops.
Meanwhile, the first-time buyer share slightly rose to 33% from 31% last month and 29% a year ago. The November inventory decreased to 1.74 million units from 1.85 million units in October, but was up from 1.67 million units compared to a year ago. At the current sales rate, the November unsold inventory represents a 3.9-month supply, down from a 4.3-month supply last month and up from a 3.5-month supply a year ago.
Homes stayed on the market for 42 days in November, up from 36 days in October and 40 days a year ago. In November, 43% of homes sold were on the market for less than a month.
The November all-cash sales share was 21%, down from 22% a year ago.
The November median sales price of $257,700 was up 4.2% from a year ago, representing the 81th consecutive month of year-over-year increases. The November median condominium/co-op price of $236,400 was down 1.3% from a year ago.
Regionally, while existing-home sales grew 5.5% in the Midwest, 7.2% in the Northeast, 2.3% in the South, sales in the West fell 6.3% in November compared to the previous month. Sales in the West recorded its second lowest reading since December 2010. Year-over-year, sales declined in all four regions, ranging from 2.6% in the Northeast to 15.4% in the West.
The NAR described the two consecutive months of increases is a positive sign for the market. Though builder confidence in December fell to its lowest value since May 2015 due to the rising housing affordabilityconcerns, builder sentiment remains in positive territory.
County used reserves to pay retroactive salary increases
S&P cuts Westchester rating to AA+ and it could go lower
New York’s Westchester County, home to the wealthy suburbs of Scarsdale and Bronxville, lost its AAA grade from S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings after drawing down its cash reserves to cover retroactive raises given to government employees.
The county, which borders New York City to the north, had its grade cut one level by both companies Tuesday to AA+. S&P said there’s a one-in-three chance that it will downgrade the county’s bonds again in the next two years as the government contends with budget shortfalls, given how “narrow” its reserves were at the end of the 2017 fiscal year.
The downgrades came ahead of the county’s planned auction of $200 million of general-obligation bonds on Thursday.
“We remain concerned over the county’s ability to sustainably align revenue and expenditures and rebuild reserves to a level consistent with that of similarly rated or higher-rated peers,” said S&P analyst Nora Wittstruck.
Westchester’s general fund balance could fall to less than 4 percent of spending at the close of fiscal 2018, about half the level of reserves the county had previously maintained, S&P said.
The new federal limit on deductions for state and local taxes and mortgage interest could further strain the county’s budget. That cap could make it harder for residents who pay the the highest property taxes in the U.S. to sell their homes, while others could challenge their real-estate tax assessments, potentially weakening Westchester’s biggest source of income.
The average property-tax bill in the county last year was $17,179, the highest in the the U.S., according to a report by Attom Data Solutions. The federal tax law changes set a $10,000 limit on deductions for state and local levies and capped the mortgage-interest deduction to loans of $750,000.
There are some signs that high property taxes and the federal shift are having an impact.
The median price of single family homes in the county dipped to $675,000 in the third-quarter of 2018, a 3.6 percent decline from the previous quarter, according to an October 11 report by Miller Samuel Inc. and and Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Luxury homes prices fell even more, with a 6.4 percent decline to $2.1 million.
Westchester is New York’s third-wealthiest county by median family income, after Nassau and Putnam and has the second-highest per-capita income after Manhattan.
The county’s new executive, George Latimer, has proposed selling parking lots in White Plains to plug a $22 million hole in his 2019 spending plan, according to the Journal News.
If the parking lot sale falls through, the county would have to cut spending, raise property taxes above the planned 2 percent increase or tap reserves again. The county’s $1.94 billion proposed budget includes $453 million in sales-tax revenue, 5 percent more than the year end-estimate of fiscal 2018, based on the expectation that the state will allow collections on Internet purchases.
“We believe the revenue forecast assumes a couple of significant risks,” Wittstruck said.
In a statement, Latimer said the downgrades weren’t a surprise.
“As we have said these past few months, the county is in serious financial stress,” Latimer said. “Regardless of the many steps we are taking to improve our footing, these problems were not created overnight and they will not be solved overnight.”
Zillow’s stock plunged as much as 20% late Tuesday after the company warnedthat revenue this quarter would fall short of Wall Street expectations, exacerbating investor concerns about the prospects of online real-estate startups like Zillow and Redfin as the U.S. housing market is starting to slow down.
The news caused Zillow’s stock to fall as low as $32.40 a share in after-hours trading, or 20% below its official closing price of $41.04 a share. Redfin, another online real-estate company, fell as much as 6.5% in aftermarket trading.
After nearly a decade of recovery and slow growth, the U.S. housing market has been heading into a slowdown in 2018. Not only are mortgage rates rising, but housing prices have been climbing about twice as fast as average incomes. Sales of new homes as well as previously owned homes have been slowing from a year ago. Tax reform enacted late last year has also reduced tax incentives to buy homes.
Those trends have hurt the stock performance of Zillow and Redfin alike. At its low point late Tuesday, Zillow was down 51% from its 52-week high, while Redfin was down 53% from its high point in the past year.
Zillow started out as an online real-estate listings service that, once successful, began to seek out new business models. Like Redfin, it moved into buying and selling homes. In May, Zillow’s stock plunged on news that it would start buying and quickly flipping homes for resale. In August, its stock plunged on again on news it was buying an online-mortgage lender, Mortgage Lenders of America. Both represent traditionally risky markets that Zillow believed would pay off in the long term.
“Zillow Group is undergoing a period of transformational innovation,” Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff said in the company’s earnings release. “We believe that these changes will have positive long-term effects for consumers, our industry partners and our business. It will take time for advertisers to adapt to these changes, but we are confident that they set us up for long-term growth.”
During that expansion, however, Zillow and Redfin have had to face dual headwinds in rising interest rates, which can deter home purchases, and in slowing home purchases.
While Zillow’s move into adjacent markets may hold some long-term promise, investors are concerned about their short-term outlook. “Zillow was in fantastic shape just six months ago,” CNBC’s Jim Cramer said last month. “We loved their attempts to corner the real estate advertising market. Then they decided to move into a totally new, totally risky business at what may be the worst possible time, and the stock has since cratered.”
New research by Freddie Mac Multifamily finds a large and growing segment of renters continue to believe renting is a more affordable option than owning, even as many of those same renters are feeling the squeeze of rising housing costs. The latest “Profile of Today’s Renter” reveals that all generations of renters continue to perceive renting as the more affordable housing choice and remain satisfied with their current situation.
According to the survey pdf, 78 percent of renters believe renting is more affordable than owning – up a stunning 11 points from just six months ago in February 2018. This is the case even as the majority of renters (66 percent) reported difficulty affording their rent at some point over the past two years. The survey found nearly 9 in 10 renters employed in the essential workforce, such as healthcare and education, had significant difficulty affording the rent over the past two years.
Affordability of Renting
While perceptions of affordability over owning increased by 11 points to 78 percent among all renters, the survey found this was evident across generations. In fact, millennials (up 14 points to 75 percent), Generation Xers (up 11 points to 70 percent) and baby boomers (up eight points to 81 percent) all saw marked increases in the perception that renting is more affordable than owning.
Rising Cost of Renting
The survey also indicates that a significant number or renters – 66 percent – reported having trouble affording their monthly rent in the last two years – significantly more than the 43 percent of homeowners who experienced similar difficulties. More than half of renters say these changes affected spending on food, utilities and other essentials (51 percent) – as well as savings (50 percent) and nonessential items (64 percent). For renters living in rural areas, the impacts were particularly stark, with 77 percent spending less on essential items versus 59 percent in urban and suburban areas. While a majority of renters across generations reported these difficulties, older millennials (aged 28-37) reported the greatest hardship, with 79 percent reporting trouble affording rent over the past two years.
As noted earlier, renters employed in the essential workforce – such as the healthcare and education sectors – had significant additional difficulty affording rent, with a staggering 88 percent reporting hardship affording rent over the past two years. This is compared with 65 percent of all other workforce renters and 61 percent of homeowners in the essential workforce. Approximately half (48 percent) of renters working in essential jobs believe it is difficult to find housing that is affordable close to where they work – compared to 39 percent of homeowners in the essential workforce.
A consistent number of renters – 63 percent – continue to express their satisfaction with their rental experience. In fact, 58 percent of renters believe that renting is a good choice for them now and do not have plans to buy a home at this time – up from 54 percent in February. Over the last three years there has been a gradual increase in the number of renters who are not interested in buying. This quarter shows a small increase in this trend, with 23 percent of renters reporting they have no interest in buying a home – up from 20 percent in February. In addition, 42 percent of baby boomers have expressed no interest in owning a home.
A total of 66 percent of renters plan to continue renting for their next residence – up 11 points from February. Consistent with this view, fewer renters (41 percent) believe buying a home will be equally or more affordable in the next 12 months – down from 46 percent in February.
Freddie Mac’s custom renter research is based on a survey conducted online between August 13-15 among 4,040 adults aged 18 and over, including 1,059 renters, by Harris Poll, on behalf of Freddie Mac, via its QuickQuery omnibus product. The previous survey was conducted between January 30-February 1, 2018 among 4,115 adults and 1,209 renters using the same methodology.
Westchester residents, many trying to avoid the hefty tax bill that 2018 promises, are finding themselves in an unforgiving buyers’ market.
In Scarsdale alone, prices dipped 5 percent in the first six months of 2018, while Mamaroneck saw a 13 percent drop, according to Bloomberg. The number of homes selling in the county fell 18 percent in the second quarter of 2018, with those asking between $1.5 million to $3 million faring the worst.
The major push factor for sellers to plow ahead despite plummeting prices is the GOP’s new tax law which slapped a $10,000 cap on state and local property tax deductions, which means homeowners in areas like Westchester, where property taxes can run up to $50,0000, are feeling a serious crunch.
As a result, the number of homes for sale in Westchester has been increasing: in late June, inventory was up 5 percent compared to last year and, for homes priced between $2-2.5 million, listings were up 26 percent.
Buyers are feeling no sympathy for homeowners who bet on turning a neat profit when they decided to sell off their prestige address. Compass broker Angela Retelny says her clients tell her “‘Look, I’m not going to spend more than $35,000 in taxes.’ … Houses are just being dismissed, even though they’re superior homes, and they have to be reduced — because their taxes are just way too high for the price range.”
With buyers taking a hard line, sellers are being forced to bend, according to her. There are “dramatic price reductions every single day — every hour, pretty much,” she told Bloomberg.
Yorktown Heights property attorney Matthew Roach recalled one client who sold his home of 25 years immediately after the GOP’s tax law was passed. His home had property taxes over $50,000 and he was planning to move to Brooklyn, pay $10,000 in rent and never buy another home.
Hurricane Sandy, possibly the most publicized weather event in memory, has dissipated. But remodelers whose businesses lay in its path are likely to recall it for a long time to come. Their experience may also prove instructive: Sandy, climate scientists point out, likely offers a foretaste of things to come, as severe storms, tornadoes, and other freakish weather events begin to occur more often.
Many remodelers in Sandy’s path responded to the storm rather than just locking their doors and waiting for the maelstrom to pass like other businesses did. “We want to be the only company [homeowners] think of when they need to call a remodeler,” says Matt LeFaivre, president of LeFaivre Construction, in Taneytown, Md.
Here are some lessons passed on by owners of those companies:
1) Secure the jobs you’re currently working on: A crew from LeFaivre Construction spent six hours closing up an open wall adjacent to the location of the stick-built sunroom it was about to build. Some companies postponed jobs about to start. Dutchess Building Specialists, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., postponed removing a roof that was set to come off prior to building a two-story addition, its president Brian Altmann says, and brought in three extra people to get a shingle roofing job wrapped up the Friday before the storm hit.
2) Safeguard buildings and their contents: Obvious measures include covering windows with plywood against glass-shattering debris. But what about rising water? If it’s at all a possibility, clear floors. The foot of seawater that entered Pardini Construction, a mile and a half from the beach in Long Branch, N.J., would have caused far more destruction had electronics and files not been removed, according to sales manager David Brown. And don’t forget data. In addition to regularly backing up computer files, Matt LeFaivre made two separate copies of hard drive contents and stored these at off-site locations.
3) Take care of your own: In the days before Sandy struck and devastated Long Island, Alure Home Improvement held an “emergency response meeting” to, in the words of its president Sal Ferro, determine “how we support clients, family, friends, and employees immediately after.” Make employees your first concern. If their homes are damaged or they are concerned about damage, they probably, in any case, won’t be part of your emergency response effort for clients. Have a plan and make everyone part of it. Episcopo Brothers, in Summit, N.J., “let everyone know they had to be available for the next two weeks,” says co-owner Joe Episcopo.
4) Decide what services to offer and prioritize requests: In areas slammed by Sandy, homeowners contacting remodeling companies were mostly seeking repair of damaged exteriors, especially roofs. That ranged from “a few calls” at Dutchess Building Specialists to hundreds a day at companies in New Jersey and on Long Island. When Hurricane Isabel hit the Virginia coast in 2003, Criner Remodeling owner Robert Criner found himself so swamped with calls that he at first limited commitments to past customers, then past customers within 10 miles of the company’s offices, then to past customers within 5 miles of the company’s offices. Criner says he quickly realized he “can’t solve everybody’s problems.”
5) Reach out before, during, and after the storm: Gehman Custom Remodeling, in Harleysville, Pa., sent an email blast immediately following Hurricane Sandy, alerting its list that the company was available for repair work. Owner Dennis Gehman says that for taking care of its customers, “we gained a few more.” But if he had to do it again, “we’d do an email blast a day or two before” the storm letting people know “that our phones are on and we’ll respond as long as it’s safe to be out.”
6) Set up clear lines of communication: If land lines to your office go down, how will customers reach you? Episcopo & Sons posted owner and employee cell phone numbers on a landing page. But if your phone system and office staff aren’t set up for it and too many calls come in at the same time, you’ll lose some. Joe Percario, owner of Percario General Contractor, in Roselle, N.J., estimates he received at least 350 calls via cell phone during the first day of Sandy. If he was going to do it again, Percario says, he’d hire an answering service to forward all calls as text messages or email, to ensure that all calls are responded to and that contact information is captured.
7) Prepare to be without fuel and power: In New Jersey and parts of New York, gas stations had no power and fuel trucks were delayed. Episcopo & Sons managed the problem by purchasing 300 gallons of gas and 200 gallons of diesel before Sandy hit. Meanwhile, many companies struggled to work around partial or total power failure. Percario says that if he knew he was going to go through a Sandy-type storm again he’d equip his office with an industrial generator similar to the Honda 9,000-watt industrial generator (price $5,400) he used at home.
8) Stock the equipment and material you’ll need for the work you’ll do:Alure’s Ferro says that his ideas about how to manage an emergency situation evolved “from the day before Sandy to the day after to today.” Among other things, he says, his company would have more remediation equipment on hand. List the products you need, including tarps, chain saws, water pumps, fans, and dehumidifiers. You can lease some of these, but it’s good to get your name in at the company where you lease equipment well before the demand really starts.
9) Know the experts to call: A tree hits a roof and the homeowner calls a day later wanting you to replace the shattered rafters and rebuild walls and floors. But you can’t get started before removing the tree. Tree removal specialists do that. (No, they don’t have to be licensed.) Relationships with such local service providers are essential. LeFaivre Construction, for instance, typically refers clients to one of two local tree removal companies. If clients call and get no response, president Matt LeFaivre calls the tree companies personally.
10) Assess whether you’re set up to handle insurance work: Flooded basements, smashed roofs, yards strewn with downed trees … How will you bill for the repair work you do? Criner says that he opted to submit an estimate with a fixed price rather than billing hourly. He advises that homeowners need to be aware that their insurance may not cover the total cost of all work. With major damage repairs, you’ll probably be dealing with insurance adjusters. It’s a good idea to get someone on your staff trained in how to do that — and expect clients for repair or storm damage work to be in a somewhat different frame of mind than clients for a new kitchen.
Tom Brokaw and 43 South Bedford Road (Credit: Getty Images and Ginnel Real Estate)
Newscaster Tom Brokaw’s 56-acre estate in Pound Ridge, N.Y., has hit the market, asking $6.3 million.
The family compound, which sits on the edge of a private lake, includes a 4,000-square-foot main house, plus a pool house and caretaker’s cottage. The NBC legend bought the estate at 43 South Bedford Road his wife, Meredith Auld, for around $4.25 million in 1998, according to property records.
43 South Bedford Road (Credit: Ginnel Real Estate)
Located about 50 miles north of Manhattan, the property has ample hiking trails and a swimming pool that’s steps from the lake. The compound also includes two fully-approved subdivisions that could accommodate two additional houses.