By Barbara Pronin
For most of us, the devastation of Hurricane Sandy is no longer much more than a memory. But in parts of New Jersey and elsewhere on the Eastern seaboard, weary residents are still working to clean up the mess, assess the damage, and rebuild their homes and lives.
For Gloria Nilson & Co. Real Estate, whose thriving business empire reaches well into the eye of the storm, the past 16 months have provided good reason to rally, reflect and reimagine.
“When we acquired the company five years ago,” says Chairman and CEO Richard (Dick) Schlott, “it had a fine and long-established pedigree as a truly quality company. Our plan was to expand the footprint, re-energize the sales force and increase volume and revenue without compromising one iota of quality.”
In the face of a floundering real estate market trying hard to recover, Schlott made the strategy work, updating technology, fine-tuning management and increasing agents from 500 to 700. Over the past five years, the company’s sales volume has increased by nearly 50 percent.
“When Sandy hit,” Schlott recalls, “we were the number-one real estate company in the two major counties we serve in New Jersey and we were growing steadily in surrounding counties and into Mercer County, Penn. We had established a niche as the luxury-home leader on the Jersey shore, and it was a busy, innovative and exhilarating time. It seemed there was nowhere to go but up.”
But on October 29, 2012, Sandy slammed into Brigantine, N.J., northeast of Atlantic City—a post-tropical cyclone with hurricane force winds that razed buildings, downed trees and power lines, and left residents dazed. Homes flooded. Others collapsed, as whole stretches of high-priced beach disappeared into the sea.
In all, the storm left 100 dead, hundreds injured, and thousands displaced from their homes.
“In Mantoloking, where the average selling price exceeded $3 or $4 million even then, more than 75 percent of homes were no longer habitable,” Schlott says.
Statistically, the areas hardest hit by the superstorm comprised 20 percent of Gloria Nilson’s total business. But statistics are only part of the story. In fact, commerce in the entire region nearly came to a halt as FEMA, the National Guard and legions of volunteers joined in the massive effort to provide emergency relief.
Bivouacs sprung up to shelter and clothe the bewildered and suddenly homeless. Food, water and medical supplies were hauled in by the ton—and, as unbelievable as it sounds, volunteers were needed in 12-hour shifts to help guard unprotected homes against the inevitable looters.
“It was an absolutely amazing effort,” Schlott explains. “My wife and I loaded underwear, paper goods and other essentials into the car and delivered them wherever they were needed. Our 12-year-old daughter was totally embarrassed to ask if people needed toilet paper. But, hey, she learned to do whatever it took, and so did hundreds of our neighbors, agents and employees who all pitched in to help.”
In the weeks and months that followed, some of the shock wore off and the rebuilding slowly began. But still today, the sounds of cranes, bulldozers and table saws fill the air in many areas as small towns and multi-million dollar beachfronts struggle to reconstruct themselves.