More than two years after Superstorm Sandy pounded its shores — pummeling stately beach homes and bleak housing projects alike — Rockaway Beach, Queens, and its seven miles of oceanfront is seeing a real estate resurgence.
Yet this time it’s being led not by day-tripping hipsters from Williamsburg, but affluent Brooklyn and Manhattan residents on the hunt for vacation and weekend homes in a sandy retreat just a short subway ride away. And this new influx, local real estate agents say, has helped increase prices of the best homes by nearly 20 percent since Hurricane Sandy.
“Its amazing what’s transpired in just the past few years,” says Kelly Neinast, a broker with Corcoran Real Estate. Raised in the area, she says the parade of New Yorkers landing in the Rockaways for second homes is growing. “You saw sort of a trickle of this last year, but now it’s a constant part of the real estate market.”
The migration of real estate money from the boroughs comes a few years after stars from the worlds of art and fashion such as MoMA’s Klaus Besienbach and singer Patti Smith began buying weekend properties in the area.
But it also comes amid an explosion in home prices in popular vacation retreats such as Fire Island, the Hamptons and the Jersey Shore. Skyrocketing price tags in those locations are helping second home sales in the Rockaways, says Claudet Braddy, a broker with Fillmore Real Estate who just had a listing for $695,000 go into contract. “Buyers see the higher price tags in other places and realize they can get much more for their money in the Rockaways.”
The real estate rise in the Rockaways is also being fuelled, in part, by developers eagerly marketing condos as summer vacation homes for young professionals. The newer developments include the kinds of amenities many city dwellers have become accustomed to such as sprawling rooftop decks, swimming pools and fitness centers.
“Many of the buyers come out here from Manhattan so they want to be at the beach, but don’t want to give up amenities they’re used to,” says Svetlana Odinyayev, a broker at Keller Williams NYC. She had a condo listing near the beach go into contract after two weeks on the market. “A Manhattan couple who fell in love the location,” she says.
Crude oil broker Chris Salmonese recently signed a contract to buy a two-bedroom apartment for $525,000 at Ocean Walk Condominium II, a beach-side complex at 182 Beach 125th St. After living and working in Manhattan the past few years, he says when it came time to buy a beach house he wanted something closer to the city.
“My life and work are here so it just made sense,” the 30-year-old says. The two-bedroom apartment, measuring about 1,660 square feet, includes two full bathrooms, terrace and stainless steel kitchen. “It’s rare to get this kind of ocean living so close to Manhattan,” Salmonese says.
The influx of new buyers come as Rockaway home prices continue to rise.
The average sales price of a home reached $390,535 in the first quarter, down 7 percent from the same 2014 period, but a rise of 17.7 percent from the first quarter of 2013, according to real estate appraisal firm Miller Samuel. Last year’s price dip is largely attributed to a lack of inventory as many properties were still recovering from the effects of Superstorm Sandy, real estate observers say.
And developer interest in the neighborhood is growing. JDS Development Group, the firm behind glossy Manhattan projects such as Walker Tower, is building a new 60-unit project between Beach Fifth and Beach Sixth streets in Rockaway Beach. The roughly 130,000-square-foot development will be completed late next year.
“As a rare beachside neighborhood in New York City, Rockaway possesses a unique and rich history,” says Tom Alaimo, managing director at JDS Development Group. “And as the neighborhood undergoes a renaissance we believe we can positively contribute to that growth.”
“The fact that you have a Manhattan developer now coming to the Rockaways says a lot about just how this market is growing,” says Julissa Velez, a broker at Douglas Elliman. She’s currently listing a $1.59 million condo at 151 Beach 96th St. that includes three glass-railed balconies, a wet bar and a state-of-the-art home theater system. “The crush of young people that began arriving a few years ago sparked interests that has just grown.”
Though Far Rockaway dates back more than a century, the sandy peninsula has become a magnet for young, artsy types over the last few years, with many migrating from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. They followed a swell of surfers who began populating the area more than a decade ago, drawn by its cheap rents and barren, underpopulated beaches.
The rising popularity among younger people spawned a restaurant boom, with trendy new eateries popping up every summer. Babycakes, Veggie Island, and Caracas are some of the hot spots at the epicenter of a growing food scene in the Rockaways. They now nestle among a cadre of artisanal-minded vendors along the beach serving up tofu tacos and watermelon juice to a growing assortment of artists, surfers, and musicians.
“Rockaway has gone far beyond trendy,” says restaurateur David Selig. In 2008, he opened Rockaway Taco, the legendary (and temporarily shuttered) taco stand with block-long lines at Beach 96th Street (it will reopen next summer). In July, and located just across the street, he launches The Palms, a summer-long pop-up venue that includes eateries, an art gallery and live music. “This area is now a reliable and bankable business environment.”