Home builders take precautions for storm

South Jersey home builder Bruce Paparone is taking no chances. His crews began preparing work sites to keep damage to a minimum as early as Friday, as Hurricane Sandy's direct hit on the region became evident on computer models.

To remove anything that could blow around, Paparone said, "all loose items were removed or covered. Portable toilets were tied to Dumpsters, and all loose lumber loaded into garages. Forklifts were put on top of open lumber piles."

On Monday, he said, contractors and other employees were told to stay home.

All over the Philadelphia area, the housing industry was braced for the kind of storm that, if forecasters are right, has not been experienced here for more than a century.

Not that builders and real estate agents are unfamiliar with bad weather. Paparone has prepared for high wind and rain before, but it's been years since a windstorm has damaged a standing open-framed house his crews were working on.

Closer to the Jersey Shore, ground zero for Sandy's landfall, Brad Haber did what he could to minimize damage to homes he is building in Egg Harbor Township - a project finally under way after three years of planning.

"The first thing we did was secure all windows and doors in houses under construction," Haber said. "I had my Dumpsters emptied, collected all loose lumber into heavy stacks, and cleaned all storm-water inlets of leaves."

"Now," he said, "I just wait for the storm to pass."

At Eighth and Walnut Streets, contractor L.F. Driscoll has the high-rise Penn Medicine Tower under construction.

"Most of the building is closed in, with construction mainly at the roof level," said John Gattuso, regional director for Liberty Property Trust, the joint developer with Parkway Corp. "The contractor is familiar with the procedures involved in these situations, so the material there was removed and stored safely."

Similar precautions have been taken at Liberty's other projects around the city, including at the Navy Yard, Gattuso said.

The hurricane will likely add another layer to the already-complicated transactions real estate agents handle, especially now that housing appears to be recovering after six less-than-healthy years.

Buyers who have already signed agreements of sale "may want to consider having the home reinspected for any damage not previously known, assuming they had a home inspection already," said John B. Badalamenti, an associate broker with Prudential Fox & Roach in Wayne.

Sellers will need to disclose any damage from the storm, since they remain responsible for properties until they change hands at settlement, Badalamenti said.

Ruth Feldman, an agent with Weichert Realtors/McCarthy Associates in Mount Airy, emphasized that sellers "bear the risk of any loss" in this kind of situation.

"So if there is damage and insurance claims, the process may get delayed while damage is being corrected or a credit for said damage negotiated," Feldman said.

"Hopefully, both sides agree to this," she said. "If not, the buyers do not have to buy the house. They have a right to terminate and get their deposit money back."

Closings scheduled this week are likely to be delayed, because "most local lenders have either closed or are closing early," Jerome Scarpello, of Leo Mortgage in Ambler, said Monday.

Appraisals will be a big concern, Scarpello said.

"If you have one done but are waiting to close, many lenders will require a reinspection to certify the condition of the property since the storm," he said. "We are not used to this kind of thing in this area, but in hurricane-prone areas, there are tighter lending restrictions or the requirement of greater down payments."

For property managers and building owners, too, the storm likely will mean headaches.

At Dranoff Properties, which owns several Philadelphia buildings and the Victor in Camden, a lot goes into preparing for any storm threat, president Carl Dranoff said.

"Anticipating transportation issues, most of our staff is already at buildings, and our managers are encouraged to stay at properties and all our employees have a place to stay once they are here," he said.

Last week was spent "securing supplies for winds and flood, but also power outages," said Dranoff, who has had flooding problems at his Venice Lofts in Manayunk. "We have sandbags in place or ready to go."

A property-wide communication system is set up with residents, he said, and "if we lose power, we text and have walkie-talkies."

Though no comparisons have yet been made with Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans in 2005, there is some concern in the housing industry about the long-term effects such a storm could have on the still-new recovery.

"If houses are underwater both in terms of mortgage and floods, it will be interesting to see what the insurance companies do about paying to rebuild," said economist Joel L. Naroff of Holland, Bucks County. "People could take the money and run.

"But," Naroff said, "I don't expect the impact on the market to be great or long-lasting, as the worst impacts will likely be near the Shore, where rebuilding makes sense."

Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com or @alheavens at Twitter.