Long Island's housing market posted strong gains last month, with sales surging by 41 percent compared with a year earlier.
In Suffolk County, the median sale price at closing was $331,145 in October, a year-over-year gain of 5.1 percent, according to a report released Thursday by the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island. Nearly 1,200 Suffolk homes changed hands, a rise of more than 46 percent compared with a year earlier.
Over the same period Nassau County's median price increased by 6.6 percent, to $420,000, and the number of sales jumped by 36 percent, to 1,106.
Last year superstorm Sandy, which struck on Oct. 29, delayed or scuttled many home sales. Those delays could skew the comparison, said L.P. Finn, chief operating officer of Northport-based Coach Realtors.
The local real estate market is recovering, but buyers and sellers should expect ups and downs, Finn said.
"This is not going to be a sustainable surge," Finn said. "It's not that the economy is so strong, it's not that we have so many buyers in the market, it's not that we're in 2003 again."
Low mortgage interest rates and tight inventory have created a "sense of urgency" among home buyers, fueling sales, Finn said. The average rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate loan last week was 4.35 percent, mortgage giant Freddie Mac reported Thursday. Rates hit a record low of 3.31 percent in November 2012.
Last month there were fewer than 6,600 homes for sale in Nassau -- a six-month supply, at the current sales pace -- and just over 9,900 in Suffolk, an 8.3-month supply.
Many homeowners have avoided listing their homes and buying larger ones because they have little or no equity, or they feel insecure about their future, Finn said. "If people are scared, they're not going to purchase."
Along the storm-damaged South Shore in Nassau, sales plummeted in the wake of Sandy, but they have recently picked up. Nearly 950 homes changed hands along Nassau's South Shore in the three months ended in September, compared with 107 in the first quarter of 2013 and 718 in the second quarter, according to a report last month from the appraisal firm Miller Samuel and the brokerage Douglas Elliman.
Among last month's buyers was Martin Kilkenny, a science teacher who bought a one-bedroom co-op in Long Beach for $229,000. In June he sold his three-bedroom Long Beach home for $220,000. The property sold at a discount because it was heavily damaged by Sandy, he said.
Kilkenny received $60,000 from his insurer for the flood damage, despite having $250,000 in coverage, he said. The settlement was not enough to repair and elevate the home, he said. He did not believe it would be wise to borrow a large sum of money to raise the house, since he plans to retire in about five years. As a result, he said, he was forced to sell the property that has been in his family for four decades.
"Residents like myself have to leave because we got nothing," he said.
For many homeowners in the South Shore city, it's taken this long to learn how much money they'll get from their insurer or the federal government and figure out what to do with their properties. Kilkenny said: "People are finally realizing, 'I can fix it up' or 'I've got to get rid of it.' "