The front lawn looked like a garage sale was in progress. Boxes and plastic bins were piled next to the white PODS storage unit parked in the driveway on South Long Beach Avenue in Freeport.
East Meadow resident Kelly Collins was sorting through photographs and mementos to keep or toss. For the last five years, she has held on to what was left of a house owned by her father Roderick Geohegan after Tropical Storm Irene and Hurricane Sandy flooded the one-story home up to the windows in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
“My father doesn’t want anything to do with the house after Sandy,” Collins said solemnly. “He’s been very sick. He’s not a well man. This has been a lot of pain to go through again. It’s a cute house. When he moved, it was really cute, but two hurricanes didn’t quite help the house.”
A Vietnam-era Navy veteran, Geohegan, now 71, moved to Freeport in 2006 to spend his retirement years close to the scenic Nautical Mile. Then his health started to fail. Shortly after Irene struck, Geohegan was stricken with leukemia and was in treatment for months while his damaged home was repaired. He moved back in more than a year after Irene rolled through, only to have Sandy hit a week later. Then he needed a triple-bypass to repair his heart.
Collins now faces tough decisions that she must make on her father’s behalf — including selling his dream home. Keeping the house while dealing with her father’s health issues has put a dent in her own finances.
“It’s sad. My daughter even said it’s going to be weird not coming out here,” Collins said, teary-eyed. “We’d come down and listen to music on the Nautical Mile.”
Selling the home and moving on, however, have presented a series of challenges, as is the case for so many Irene and Sandy victims.
Trying to avoid foreclosure on the home, Collins called Charles Wildes, co-founder of FirstCashBuyer.com, to ask whether he might want to buy it. Wildes’s company is based in Long Beach, with offices in East Meadow and Freeport, helps families on Long Island who are in distress by buying their homes in cash-only deals.
Recently, however, Wildes informed Collins that he was unable to buy the house because the balance owed on it was too close to its estimated value. According to Wildes, First Cash Buyer couldn’t purchase the home and still have enough money to repair it and resell or rent it. The home is worth about $315,000, as is, but is in need of a great deal of repair and maintenance work after it was severely damaged during Sandy. A full renovation was never completed.
After meeting with Collins, Wildes said he felt compelled to help and asked his wife, Suzanne, a real estate agent at Petery Realty in Long Beach, how they could help the family.
“When I learned what the family had gone through in the last few years, I couldn’t walk away without helping them in some kind of way,” Charles said. “I spoke with my wife, and she agreed we needed to help any way we could.”
With help from her fitness buddies at New York Sports Club in Long Beach, Suzanne helped out Collins move Geohegan’s belongings, clean the inside of the home, pressure-wash it and pull the weeds from the yard, with work completing the work on a single Sunday morning. The house will now be more thoroughly cleaned before being put up for sale. The Wildes said they are not interested in making a commission or receiving any monetary gain from the sale of the home, but hope they can get it ready for a buyer who might want it.
“At this point, we only want to help Kelly break even,” Suzanne said as she, her husband and Collins inspected the two-bedroom house. “[Geohegan] needs to live the rest of his life with this burden off his shoulders.”
As Collins stepped into the backyard, she took a deep breath, overwhelmed by emotion. She never intended to allow the house to reach this point, she said. She had wanted to fully repair it after Hurricane Sandy. She worked closely with her father’s insurance company and NYRising, but she was never able to finish repairs, and the mortgage bills kept piling up. So now, she and her father must sell.
Once the house is sold, Collins said, she will be able to focus on caring for her father, who now lives with her. With cleanup of the house completed, the Wildeses appear optimistic that they can find the right real estate agent or even a potential buyer.
“I’m not getting paid. I’m just passing this along to a Realtor. I want to help,” Charles said. “I don’t often come across someone like Kelly. I felt like I needed to help get the house listed, even if that’s all we do.”