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Feb 20, 2013 11:42 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Raising Damaged Homes Comes With A Hefty Price Tag

Feb 20, 2013 11:52 AM

Two storms in two years—both bringing substantial flooding that washed through Aimee Whalen’s East Quogue home—was too much to take.

Without any savings, which she depleted on extensive renovations and repairs after Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, or the guarantee that her insurance money would come, she called in builders to lift her home, a step she took on “blind faith.”

“I didn’t have a choice but to lift,” Ms. Whalen said on Tuesday morning.

After Irene hit, she explored the option of raising her home, including completing a survey and applying with Southampton Town for the necessary permits. That jump-started the process after Hurricane Sandy this past fall, allowing her to contact the Westhampton Beach company Davis Construction Building Movers to start the work—before the waiting list formed.

Ms. Whalen said she knows of at least three other homeowners in the Pine Neck Landings neighborhood who are biding their time until work crews become available.

“At the end of March, I’ll never have to worry about it again,” she said, explaining that work on her home, which is not waterfront but still sits about 1,200 feet from Shinnecock Bay, should be completed within the next few weeks.

But that sense of relief will come with a hefty price tag. She explained that the builders estimated a cost of $94,000 to elevate the one-story, three-bedroom ranch, plus an additional price tag of up to $100,000 for all interior repairs and the replacement of appliances. Other small costs here and there, such as landscaping, pod storage and replacing her pool liner, add up quickly.

Her insurance company has doled out checks totaling $120,000 so far. She is also counting on an extra $30,000 from the National Flood Insurance Program’s Increased Cost of Compliance provision, though she has yet to hear if her application has been approved.

To cover the rest, Ms. Whalen, 54, said she would continue to work overtime at various registered nursing positions, and take out a home equity loan.

“My life is more important, and sleeping,” she said. “I just knew without a shadow of a doubt I was lifting.”

She is renting a room from a friend in the area until the work on her home is complete in March, if all goes well. She won’t be able to spend money on nice floors and improvements as she did after Irene, but she said she wasn’t dwelling on that.

“You have to keep living,” she said.

Michael Benincasa, the town’s chief building inspector, said Wednesday morning that he had issued at least five permits allowing residents to lift their homes. He added that his department has also determined that at least 23 homes—in East Quogue, Flanders and Water Mill—were substantially damaged in the hurricane, which means that the required improvements would cost more than 50 percent of the value of the houses. As a result, those homeowners must lift their houses as they rebuild in order to comply with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and town flood zone requirements.

Southampton Town Assessor Lisa Goree said town officials are now revisiting more than 700 homes in the municipality that sustained damage, mostly from water intrusion that flooded lower floors and electrical systems, in order to compile next year’s tax base.

Other residents in Southampton Town, like Tammy Olson and her husband, Clayton Humphrey, who own a home that borders Reeves Bay in Flanders, are still waiting eagerly for their insurance claims to be processed.

Their home, which town records state was valued at just over $200,000 before the hurricane, was substantially damaged during Sandy—meaning they must now raise their home. The label means the required repairs will total more than $100,000, or 50 percent of the value of the home. The couple’s property, which includes the house and land, was most recently assessed at almost $430,000.

The structure of their home was compromised in the hurricane, and the interior walls are cracked, Ms. Olson said. She hired a public adjuster, who has been handling her insurance claim, taking some of the burden off her and her husband.

“If I had known last time, I would have gone up,” she said, referring to the damage her home sustained in Irene, and the threat of her insurance costs spiking if her home isn’t lifted off the ground.

She too has applied for the Increased Cost of Compliance grant, though she said that puts a small dent in the total estimated cost of raising the home. But she, along with Ms. Whalen, said she sees no other option.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable living here,” she said.

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