From the Record:
Even before you open the door, you smell the mildew inside the white-brick house in Lincoln Park, a block from the Pompton River. Two feet of water sloshed into the first floor after Hurricane Irene hit, coating the furniture with dried river mud and destroying the floors and walls.
Before the flood, the house was for sale, with an asking price of $269,000, down from $309,000. Now it’s off the market, and its future is unclear.
“It’s really not salable at this point,” says listing agent Tina Dobsa of Re/Max Legends in Wayne.
The house is a stark illustration of the plight of many homeowners in North Jersey flood zones who want to sell. The problem for them is that buyers may prove just as unwilling to face the thought of flooding. When a few years pass between floods, buyers are more willing to accept the risk in exchange for a price that’s typically 10 percent to 25 percent below that of similar homes on dry ground.
But after repeated floods over the past two years, “there’s not enough time to forget,” says Pat Lowe, a Coldwell Banker agent in Wayne. As a result, values in flood zones have plummeted in a housing market that’s already weak.
“People are really going to take a hit on this,” says Jennifer Barone, an agent with LeConte Realty in Hasbrouck Heights.
“Nobody’s going to buy a house in a flood zone,” Dobsa says. “What kind of value would you put on it?”
“The only thing sellers can do is lower the price,” says Dan Weixeldorfer, broker at Re/Max Legends in Mahwah. “You can’t move the house and you can’t erase the stigma. There’s a value for everything; if the price is low enough, people are willing to take the risk.”
Sal Poliandro, a Re/Max agent in Saddle River, says the only calls he’s gotten on flood properties in Passaic County are from investors, often offering less than $100,000.
And since the hurricane, buyers are on the alert for any hint of flood problems, real estate agents say.
“The first question everyone asks is if the owners got water,” says Angele Ekert, a Coldwell Banker agent in Ridgewood. “I showed a home where the sellers had recently painted and paneled the basement. The agent assured us there was no water during the hurricane, but my buyer is certain they are hiding something.”
Appraiser Michael Keough of Pompton Lakes says homes in the area sold for more than $300,000 at the market peak.
What properties in the flood zone will actually sell for — and how long it will take — is still a question, Keough says.
He says some homeowners are so devastated and disgusted by the repeated floods that they are simply walking away, allowing the lenders to take the properties.
Kathy Brown, who lives on Lincoln Avenue next to the house that exploded, also says several of her neighbors say they won’t return to their flood-damaged homes.
Elizabeth Briseno says that when she and her boyfriend bought their Pompton Lakes home in December 2008, they were told they needed flood insurance but that there hadn’t been a claim in decades. But they’ve been flooded twice this year — in March and after Hurricane Irene. More than $20,000 worth of their belongings were destroyed, Briseno says.
Making matters worse, both are out of work and unable to pay the mortgage.
They are attempting to sell the house as a short sale, asking $150,000 — less than half of what they paid three years ago. Even at $150,000, they’ve gotten no offers, says Poliandro, their agent.
“The flooding has changed the real estate market,” Briseno says. “There’s no one buying here now.”