Nearly six months later — almost time for the summer season — Jersey Shore homeowners are still dealing with the aftermath of Tropical Storm Sandy: uninhabitable homes and neighborhoods where there’s so much mold in the air that it makes your eyes water. According to John Quaregna, owner of Jay Cue Construction in North Bergen, N.J., there are thousands of families still living with friends or relatives or in shelters, still homes upside down, and more than a thousand boats missing. Quaregna, who has his own vacation home on the Jersey Shore, is inundated with work, much of it helping homeowners deal with the second wave of devastation — unscrupulous contractors and the realities of their insurance policies. He recently spoke with REMODELING senior editor Stacey Freed:
RM: What are the biggest problems you’re seeing with insurance?
John Quaregna: Some people had flood insurance for repairs but not for the contents. A lot of people spent their own money out of pocket [thinking they’d be reimbursed by their insurer] only to find out that the insurance company wouldn’t give them enough. [Some] laid out so much on the cleaning part that they don’t have enough money to do the rebuilding part.
The biggest problem is a new FEMA rule: If you have 51% damage to your home, you’re required to go to the new height of 10 feet above sea level. At 10 feet your flood insurance would be only $3,500 — or the lowest insurance level. But if you stay at 8 feet [which was the old rule], your insurance will be $7,000 a year. And so many of the older homes are still ground level, on slabs.
RM: And of course there were the bad contractors.
JQ: When people had the original damage, say 6 inches to 3 feet of water, a lot of people came by and said we’ll take out Sheetrock. I had one customer who told me that a remodeler told her it would be a $12,000 job for what was really a $3,000 job.
RM: What are you doing to help?
JQ: There are adjusters from all over the country, and they don’t understand the costs in our area. Painting a room costs $120. The insurance companies think you can paint a room for $32. I’m working with the adjusters to make sure that people are getting the money they need. I have one project in Ridgefield. A tree came through the house. Insurance would give them $22,000, but the job would be $34,000. I call the adjusters and try to get people the money to do the repairs.
RM: It’s nearly summer vacation and tourist season. How will that be affected?
JQ: Hotels are already booked with people [whose homes were damaged]: FEMA paid for them to stay there, but ... the hotels have reservations they need to honor. People will need to leave. Where will they go? And with so many homes damaged [how can people who normally rent their homes do that?]
RM: What does the future hold for the Jersey Shore?
JQ: A lot of people don’t know how to deal with mold and tried to deal with it when it was still wet. Are mortgage companies going to loan people money to buy these homes in a few years knowing that there was mold in them and wondering whether they were treated correctly? That’s the next problem.
As for rebuilding, you have to be a year-rounder to get money from FEMA, and you have to raise your house if it’s not high enough. FEMA is giving people a $30,000 grant to raise their houses, but it costs twice as much as that to do the work.
The other concern is with the [damaged] boardwalks and the areas with rides and trying to get the boardwalks done for Memorial Day. There are environmental groups threatening to stop building because [builders are] using ipe, [a hard, termite-proof, weather-proof, and long-lasting wood that is cut from the Amazon forest] . And some people are wondering if developers will just come in and put up high rises, which will change the landscape. All this stuff is in the air. People just don’t know.
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