Pens and paper in hand, a stream of people Monday examined 16 properties in Patchogue, Mastic Beach and a few other communities -- but it was not your normal real estate open house.
These were the first storm-damaged properties being put up for sale by NY Rising that were open to prospective buyers, the start of a nearly three-week series of viewings in Suffolk and Nassau counties.
Many of those who came out, including builder Robert Soviero of East Patchogue, were less interested in patching up a house than in demolishing it and rebuilding from the ground up -- literally.
"Knock it down and build a new home," he said while touring 48 Roosevelt Blvd. in East Patchogue, inspecting the one-story ranch with the practiced eye of someone who renovates homes for a living and sells them. He was unfazed by the mounds of sawdust on the floor, holes in the ceilings, walls that were ripped open. He'd get rid of it all, anyway.
"The home, the way it sits right now, is too low," he said, concerned about the low foundation.
The houses on Monday's schedule are among a batch of 150 properties bought by NY Rising that will be sold at auction next month -- then, either rehabilitated or torn down and rebuilt. Overall, the state has acquired 700 such homes on Long Island.
Creating better-built structures, state officials said, is the ultimate goal of the NY Rising program, which is using federal funds to allow residents to sell, repair or rebuild homes that were substantially damaged by superstorm Sandy in October 2012 or Tropical Storms Irene and Lee in 2011.
"We are in the first stages of the auction sale process," said Rebecca Sinclair, managing director of buyouts and acquisitions, who was on hand as curious prospective buyers viewed 6 Leo St. in Patchogue, a three-bedroom ranch. "I think it's a pretty significant milestone that we have acquired as many properties as we have, and we are able to now have this opportunity to return them to the market."
The housing stock, however damaged, attracted investors and contractors who surveyed the properties for their structural integrity, keeping in mind other obstacles, such as code violations and the cost of elevating the properties to comply with Federal Emergency Management Agency specifications.
Some, such as builder Robert Simeone, were crunching numbers right on the lawn of the properties, explaining that elevation, which is required of all properties sold through the auction, might get pricey.
Others, such as Elsie Soto of Patchogue, were imagining themselves cooking in the Leo Street home's small kitchen.
She came across news of the open house and auction through Internet searches and began looking into it, adding that she was most attracted to the $76,050 starting bid.
"I'm very much interested in this one," said Soto, a personal assistant, who is looking for a new home for herself and her mother. "I feel like this is the one."
Soviero was concerned that a property sitting so close to wetlands might pose some legal problems. He said he hopes the state program can assure him that the house is free of pending violations of town ordinances and codes.
"For a builder, myself, to buy this property, I would have to have a guarantee from the state that everything here, as far as the perimeter is concerned, would have to be legal, up to code," he said.
Sinclair and auctioneer Misha Haghani, of Paramount Realty USA, said they have received thousands of inquiries about the properties.
"The response so far has been fantastic," Haghani said. "We don't know another sale of this magnitude that's ever been conducted on Long Island in a non-foreclosure context."
He said the properties are in 26 towns and villages. They range in size from 600 square feet to 4,000 square feet, and are on lots from 2,500 square feet to 10,000 square feet.
The open houses began in Suffolk and will progressively stretch west to the Five Towns area, then travel back east, allowing two opportunities for viewing each property.
The auction will be held May 19 and 20 at the Hyatt Regency Long Island hotel in Hauppauge.
George Mayer of Center Moriches had looked at five properties by early afternoon, and he was impressed.
"Some are in good condition. All have potential," he said at a Mastic Beach house, adding that he heard about the auction through the media. "I live close by. Maybe it's a good opportunity for me and my son to fix it up, see what happens."