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Wildwood Crest Endures Rental Ban, Planning to Reopen

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By Rachel Rogish

To access the Herald’s local coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage, click here.
WILDWOOD CREST – “We can’t make plans,” Mayor Don Cabrera said recently, “it’s not good.”
As the Jersey Shore continues under the temporary rental ban, local real estate, hotel/motel owners, and renters brace for a hard economic landing. Although the short term rental ban will lift May 26, the loss of income due to cancellations climbs.
Cabrera and his wife, Jeanine, feel the market strain both personally and politically. Owners of Cabrera Property Management, 35 properties from Avalon to Cape May are under their care, along with 10 full-time staff members.
“I am personally affected,” Cabrera said. Due to cancellations, the mayor has suffered a loss of about $20 to $30 thousand. Cabrera said most of the cancellations were from Canadian travelers, who make up a significant portion of Cape May County’s tourists, according to the mayor.
As mayor of Wildwood Crest, Cabrera also contends with the loss of tax monies. Sixty percent of the municipal tax base comes from hotels, motels and second homeowners. According to borough tax records, there are 572 condominiums, 250 single-family homes, duplexes or apartments, 73 motels, and 200 year-round rentals in the Crest. The administration must find ways to make up for the loss of revenue.
“There’s a market where you have to restore confidence,” Cabrera said. Even when the ban is lifted and restrictions ease, the mayor expects some level of hesitancy among the public.
 “It is the goal of the Recovery Initiative to facilitate a progressive reopening of Cape May County over the next several weeks, subject to strict mitigation protocols and culminating in the most responsible reopening of many of its public and business facilities no sooner than June 1, 2020,” reads the proposal.
“We’ll be alright,” Cabrera said, urging real estate and hotel/motel owners to stay positive and flexible.
Jessica Lees and Ralitsa “Rali” Lees, of Lees Real Estate, are finding creative ways to further their business during COVID-19.
“As we navigate the changes to real estate practices as a result of COVID-19,” Lees said in a prepared statement via her website. “Our number one priority is to protect the health of you and your loved ones, as well as ours.” 
“While our team is continuing to work remotely from home, we are now available for virtual meetings and showings, and of course, we can still do live showings while taking necessary precautions,” Lees wrote.
How can “precautions” help agents and those seeking property in the Crest?
Lees said “virtual methods,” i.e. video tours, provide a contact-free experience even if someone visits the property in person.
“We will open the property,” Lees said, “and, if you prefer, can tour the property with you via video chat, to answer questions you may have.” Social distancing measures will be observed. All transactions can be handled remotely.
“We look forward to seeing you all again very soon,” Lees concluded.
According to media sources, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced poll numbers that one in four small businesses are “two months away from going under.” This data was made public at the beginning of April.
Steve Tecco, president, Greater Wildwood Hotel and Motel Association, and owner of the Armada, in Wildwood Crest, said in previous comments, “Not only are there refunds going out, but at the same time, there are no new reservations coming in.”
One property owner, who wished to remain anonymous, said Murphy is responsible for the economic and personal agony of the state and the Wildwoods.
Sen. Michael Testa (R-1st) blasted Murphy’s statewide approach to lifting restrictions as opposed to the petition submitted by county officials.
“We shouldn’t be treated the same,” Testa said May 12. “The harm he will cause our community by delaying reopening is completely unnecessary and will have life-altering, long-lasting effects.”
Officials in Wildwood and North Wildwood announced that hotels and motels and short-term rentals will resume May 26. The ban will also lift in the Crest June 1, according to media sources. The summer may be salvaged, but the loss of income will leave its impact.

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