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No one can deny that Hurricane Sandy has been a learning curve as well as a severe weather event for NYC.
This week, instead of taking a reader question, we asked members of our expert panel to offer up some insights and suggestions that could smooth the way now or help New York prepare for next time.
Shirley Hackel, real estate broker, Warburg Realty:
For sure, superstorm Sandy will impact NYC real estate values seriously. Those properties in Zone A which were affected most with heavy salt water flooding will rebuild their damaged structures, but the consequences of extreme weather events—which scientists say will continue—are far reaching.
We know that some buyers will think twice about living in harm’s way. We’re told that lenders are requiring costly flood insurance for buildings in flood zones, and they are requiring second inspections for properties in these zones with loans waiting to clear for closing. Damages will have to be cured before lenders will fund these loans.
While New Yorkers are passionate about their particular neighborhoods, there’s bound to be some renegotiating for some properties currently in contract as well as price reductions on some current listings to compensate for uncertainty. In sharp contrast, demand will remain strong for properties in Upper East and Upper West Side neighborhoods which were largely unaffected by the storm.
Gil Bloom, urban entomologist, Standard Pest Management
Probably the first recommendation would be to get things dry, as moisture produces good breeding conditions for a number of pests particularly several types of small flies and especially when mixed with assorted organic or food debris.
Once the water is gone check for open sewer caps which may have been opened by water pressure as this may provide access for both rodents and American roaches [often referred to as "waterbugs"]. In fact, as a result of the storm we can expect to see an increase in both these pests moving around freely in the city, unless the weather turns cold, in which case we will find them heading inside.
If you have experienced any water damage be sure the area is dry before installing sheet rock or new floor covering. By dry I mean through the use of a dehumidifier which pulls water out of areas you may have thought were dry. Failure to follow this tip may in about a month or so result with an infestation of fungus beetles, psocids (booklice) or silverfish.
I would also recommend placement of insect monitors or glue traps to alert you to any pest presence and perhaps serve as an early defense through capture mechanism.
Mike Akerly, real estate broker, Akerly Real Estate:
I think Sandy was a wake-up call to a lot of New Yorkers – residents, city planners, and developers. Irene was taken seriously by some last year, but after experiencing the second hurricane to hit the area in two years and seeing firsthand the devastation it can inflict on our city, people may begin to incorporate these experiences into their broader decision making.
We have a lot to learn from regions that have more experience with these type of severe weather experiences. I think some developers are going to start considering that experience when planning new projects in the city, especially in waterfront areas. Building mechanicals can be put on higher floors instead of in the basement, windows can be resistant to high winds, and back-up generators or alternative energy sources can be installed on site to maintain power in the building if the connection to the grid is lost or there are major blackouts.
Our city planners may begin to reconsider the wisdom of encouraging waterfront development, especially in estuaries and tidal zones that have historically protected our low lying areas. As much of this development has already occurred and can’t reasonably be reversed, planners will need to look to alternative means to protect our existing infrastructure and developed areas. Again, we can learn from other regions from Japan to the Netherlands to Italy who already have a head start on these complex engineering challenges.
I think buyers are going to start looking at whether or not existing buildings are at risk of future flooding and how they will perform in severe weather. I’m not saying that New Yorkers are going to lose their taste for waterfront property, but some may decide it’s not worth the risk and others may decide that only buildings that have taken the proper precautions are worth the investment. Further, insurance companies and lenders looking to protect their own interests are going to exert their influence on purchasers' buying habits, which may have a long term impact on our market.
Dean Roberts, attorney representing NYC co-op and condo buildings, Norris McLaughlin & Marcus
The most basic suggestion and probably most important is that the board and management should have an emergency plan in place prior to the crisis. This should include a chain of command, a phone or e-mail list to get information out, and equally important, a list of vendors and suppliers that would be needed in an emergency such as temporary boilers, etc.
All buildings should think about a building wide review of retrofits and improvements to address flooding and severe storms, such as putting generators on the roof. Additionally, clients of mine who have upgraded or simply maintained their drainage systems properly fared better than those who had clogged drains.
Michael Wolfe, property manager, Midboro Property Management:
When it comes to future severe weather, it's better to take the matter seriously and prepare accordingly. For example, we advised our residents to fill a bathtub full or halfway with water to drink and flush toilets in the event water is lost. Those that did so were much more comfortable in the buildings that lost water. Residents should also maintain at least 1 working flashlight in the event of a power loss.
Buildings should assess the feasibility of installing a generator to at least address lobby and hallway lighting, pumps, and mechanicals for water and heat. Using a generator to operate an elevator as well may be cost prohibitive.
Scott Greenspun, attorney representing NYC co-op and condo buildings, Braverman & Associates
In the aftermath of Sandy, here are few things co-op and condo boards should be doing:
- Put all of your insurance carriers on notice.
- Determine whether the building might be entitled to any governmental assistance, including but not limited to FEMA.
- Aside from repairing obviously damaged building components, consult with an engineer to see if there might be any “hidden” damages to building systems or components that should be investigated or remediated.
- Consult with your building's insurance broker to determine if there are any changes to the building’s insurance program are necessary to protect against the risk of loss of a similar disaster in the future. We have now had two major storms hit the area in a short period of time.
- Consider whether to implement “disaster management plans” in the event that a similar event occurs in the future.
- Inspect roofs to make sure that the wind did not create any condition that require building property to be re-secured.
Maria Vizzi, air quality specialist, Indoor Environmental Solutions:
With so much to deal with, emotionally and physically, resident managers are heroes, prioritizing the sanctuary of the home and making sure the quality of life comes back as quickly as possible.
One thing we have been seeing is related to the fact that the power was out in so many buildings, which means the compactors haven’t been working. Understandably, building residents did the best they could and continued to throw the trash down the chute system. Once the power came back, there was a back load of garbage and a stench to match.
Now that the power is back on, building managers are doing their best to get the building back to normal and are having the trash chutes cleaned and sanitized, which prevents odors from building up, roaches and rodents from camping out, and is good building hygiene.
Jeff Schneider, apartment insurance broker, Gotham Brokerage:
Insurance may or may not apply to your additional living expenses absent direct damage to your apartment by a covered peril. While flood from rising waters is not covered under apartment policies, you will often have coverage for loss of refrigerated products. And some policies may provide coverage for items damaged in storage.
In any case, document your loss/damaged property with photos. Keep receipts for additional expenses incurred. Take steps to mitigate damage...and dry your place out. There are companies that specialize in this like Maxons and Paul Davis restoration.
If you have an insurance claim file asap, and file with FEMA if you have significant losses.
Deanna Kory, real estate broker, The Corcoran Group:
For sellers who have already vacated their apartments, consider renting for a short-term to displaced families. Many buildings require a 6 month- 1 year minimum lease, but in certain times of crisis the building may be more lenient with this rule.
If you live in a vulnerable area or building try booking a hotel room [in a less vulnerable area] in anticipation of a big storm… this way there is less of scramble should you lose power for an extended period of time.
Roberta Axelrod, asset manager, Time Equities, Inc.
Building management should review the emergency preparation procedures for your building with attention to different circumstances that may occur in case of evacuation, lack of power, lack of heat or hot water, lack of electricity as well as post event procedures management such as an engineering inspection.
Also, buildings should consider the practicality and costs of back up systems and placement of equipment, such as in the basement or at the top of buildings. Review communication systems to keep residents informed, as well as backup systems for communication if management offices are out of commission.
Thomas Usztoke, property manager, Douglas Elliman Property Management
Buildings should give preemptive advice to residents and never assume everyone is hearing general press, TV, radio and other media communication on the subject.
In addtiion to advance communication between management, building staff and residents, communication should continue with updates throughout as a two-way stream. Management should have emergency contacts for all essential services including insurance, building claims adjusters and others.
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