Fire Island’s Rent-and-Buy season is hotter than ever

After years of renting in Cherry Grove, Adam Rosen and Matt Freeman finally bought a house there in January 2021. Maybe it was just in time.

“We looked at a number of properties,” said Freeman, 37, coordinator of Broadway Bridges, a program that brings students to Broadway shows. “As soon as we saw our house, Adam said, ‘I want this house.’ “

Working exclusively from their Manhattan home since the pandemic, the married couple extended their rental deeper into the fall season.

They bought the three-bedroom, two-bathroom home with a rooftop terrace and fireplace overlooking Great South Bay for $650,000 and a mortgage rate of 2.5%. Renting it for part of the summer made it more affordable.

“When we were looking at late fall, sellers basically thought that if the house didn’t sell by then, they’d be stuck with it until spring,” said Rosen, 42, a specialist attorney. in the field of entertainment. “The previous owners were motivated to sell.”

Pay top dollar

Expect a very hot season this year on Fire Island. Sales are up, inventory is low, and people are paying top dollar to be in the country without cars and with beautiful beaches that are never more than a short walk away.

As with other hot markets elsewhere in the country, where buyers are buying homes soon after listing and tenants are signing up earlier than in previous years, Fire Island is being “discovered” by people who didn’t know not the existence of barrier beaches.

Cherry Grove, a community of just 278 homes, still has a few homes for rent and even fewer for sale, said Evelyn Danko, a longtime realtor with A Summer Place Realty in town.

“It’s a very busy season,” she said. “We have seen a huge increase in sales and strong demand for rentals.”

So far, 13 houses have been sold this year, just under 5% of the small housing market.

In addition to the usual residents of Manhattan and Long Island looking for rentals, Danko sees more coming from outside the metro area, including Texas and Chicago, and even more from Europe, both l last year and expected this year.

“It’s amazing all the people who came out,” she said. “We are pleased.”

The impact of COVID

In Ocean Beach, the inventory of homes for sale is the lowest in memory.

“COVID has had a huge impact on the market,” says Abigail Mago, licensed broker at Fire Island Sales & Rentals in Ocean Beach. Because spring is a big selling season, Mago says she and other agents are hoping for listings in the coming weeks.

Mago’s own analysis shows that the average 2021 sale price on Fire Island was $1.126 million, a 23% increase from the previous year. The median average shows a more modest increase of around 9%. According to the Fire Island Association, there are about 600 homes in Ocean Beach, and there were 38 sales in 2021, or about 6% of the total housing inventory.

“We saw particularly strong activity in the upscale market, including a record $5.25 million sale for a beachfront home in Seaview,” said Mago, whose company brokered the sale.

Many traditional, modest summer cottages of 100 years ago have been razed and are now winterized with rooftop pools and terraces, and – once a rarity – central air conditioning. Renovations began in earnest after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 gave homeowners the chance to upgrade their homes, but it’s clear more high-end buyers are heading to Fire Island, many of whom would normally have flocked to places like the Hamptons.

A flood of influencers

For Tanya Fuchs, year-round Atlantic resident and associate broker for Ramsay Realtors in Bay Shore, which sells homes on both Fire Island and the mainland, a flood of money and social media gave the Fire Island gap over exposure.

“You see a lot of influencers with thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of followers, coming to Fire Island and posting meals at popular restaurants,” she said. They also run online polls asking which drinks are better, like the original Housers Bar’s Zippy vs. CJ’s Restaurant & Bar’s Rocket Fuel.

Fuchs sees rents averaging $6,000 a week even in the more laid-back Atlantic, which has few homes and a thriving boating community in the summer.

Atlantic has seen significant turnover, according to Fuchs. With only 55 homes, about 20% have been sold in the past three years, ranging from $600,000 to $1.65 million.

Farther west in Kismet, a favorite summer community for Long Islanders, largely due to the 1.8-mile walk from Robert Moses Field 5, finding a rental or home for sale is harder than ever.

“We’ve never had less inventory,” says Sam Wood, entrepreneur and realtor at Island Beach Realty in Kismet. “Prices are up.”

Rentals that used to be $35,000 for the entire summer season are now $10,000 to $12,000 per week. So, helped by low interest rates, people are buying homes that they can rent out for part of the summer, he said.

“That way they can use it and still make a lot of money,” Wood said.

The early months of COVID drove many out of the city to more bucolic communities, where people could be outdoors and feel safe. Fire Island is one of those places.

“The fall is huge here now”

Known for its summer crowds and quiet off-season atmosphere, Fire Island attracts residents who stay through the fall and even into the colder months in newly winterized homes, as many have yet to return to the office.

“A lot of city people are here year-round,” Wood said. “The drop is huge here now.” Restaurants remain open for an additional month, closing in November rather than the traditional October 1. “People come at weekends to watch the games,” he said.

Teardowns are becoming common in Kismet as well as Ocean Beach, but supply chain issues are slowing things down.

“Devices take almost a year,” Wood said.

For Freeman and Rosen, the draw to Fire Island was both the nightlife and the quiet beauty. Following the Cherry Grove tradition of naming the houses, the couple settled on “Ethel Mermen”, paying homage to singer Ethel Merman and their love of the beach life.

Although it’s not that far from New York, Fire Island feels like a whole different world, the couple said, adding that they enjoy the people and history of their town.

“I love going up to the rooftop terrace and watching the sunset,” Freeman said. “It’s a bit poetic, very peaceful. The fun is there when you want it, but you can also close the door and start a fire.”

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