The first auction of Sandy-damaged houses acquired by New York Rising sold out all 81 houses on offer in three hours Tuesday, with 69 set to go on the block Wednesday.
Hundreds of would-be buyers filled the auction room at the Hyatt Regency in Hauppauge, armed with certified checks and their eyes on the prize.
The auction started with the first winning bid of $535,000 for a nearly 10,000-square- foot bayside property in Bellmore and ended with a $19,000 bid for a water-view house in East Rockaway.
"It's a great success," said Jon Kaiman, special adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Sandy storm recovery, observing from the side of the room. "We're getting them back on the local tax rolls, except they'll be storm-ready and fully updated."
Bidders ranged from contractors to investors to young home buyers to neighbors buying the property next door, such as William Romeo, whose second-round winning bid of $485,000 bought him the house next to his on Ripplewater Avenue in Massapequa, giving him an unobstructed bay view.
"I'm going to knock it down to make a little compound," he said.
He and his family moved back into their own house in October, "almost two years to the day" after it burned down as Sandy raged outside. "It's a storybook ending to a challenging, crazy two and a half years."
While he knew exactly what he was getting, other buyers bought property sight unseen, expressing confidence they could make the investment pay.
"We just bought them blind," said Stephen Portelli, owner of Stephen Joseph Properties of Syosset, referring to the Seaford properties he bought for $150,000 each after losing out on bids for other properties. "It doesn't matter. We'll take a chance. . . . I feel pretty confident we'll be all right."
It was the same story for Adam Butter, a real estate broker in Long Beach, and his partner, who ended up buying for $50,000 an Island Park house they have yet to see.
"They were practically giving them away," he said enthusiastically.
And Juliana Mei, a young first-time investor from Miller Place, paid $56,000 for an unseen house in Freeport. "It was such a good deal I can't go wrong with that," she said, admitting, "I'm a newbie. My heart is pounding."
Anna Oh, an investor from Flushing, bought three houses without seeing them. "I'm just learning from him," she said, nodding to her adviser, Vincent Tomasino of Port Washington, a longtime property investor and owner, who said he was well aware of the risks." But, she said, she had clients who would either invest in or live in the properties.
David Pinto, of Great American Restoration, an East Meadow firm that mitigates storm, fire, mold and water damage, said he'd been prepared to buy multiple properties if he'd had the opportunity to inspect the homes with an engineer, rather than simply walking through on open-house days. He bought a property in Oceanside, he said, that he tentatively plans to knock down to rebuild on a new foundation.
"I think it's a good deal, but a bit of a risky deal," he said. "You're only going to get a 15 to 20 percent return in a seller's market, and that type of return is risky. . . . It's an attractive property in a nice neighborhood, but to raise that house doesn't make sense. Essentially I'm buying the land."
In each round of bidding -- there were 41 in all -- the high bidder could choose up to five properties at the winning bid price, with step-in buyers free to choose if that person didn't buy all five. Buyers had to deposit certified checks of $25,000, $35,000 or $45,000.
Offers are irrevocable for five business days from the date of execution of the purchase and sale agreement, and bids are subject to a 6 percent auction-related fee, known as a buyer's premium.
Dave Doerbecker, of 1A Contracting in Long Beach, bid $200,000 for a white stucco house on Clocks Boulevard in Massapequa with a bay view in front and a canal in back.
"We're going to repair and lift it and make it nice and livable," he said, and then decide whether to live there or flip it. "I think it's feasible, but with the way the real estate market is on Long Island, there's not enough room for it to be profitable if you flip it."
General contractor Anthony Strianese of Bellmore has no such doubts. He's going to repair and flip the Massapequa property he picked up for $270,000. "I think I got a fair deal," he said. "I should make a few dollars."
Does it seem risky? he was asked. "Not to me," he said. "The property alone is worth the money."