The sacrifice has been worth it, Kiernan said. The shore is where their grandchildren played, their four daughters packed in with their friends and the couple was considering moving full time because they viewed the community as a second hometown.
"It was low-key fun," Kiernan said.
But the little house offers mostly heartache now. The Kiernans received about $100,000 from their insurance company, but that's less than half the amount of their policy and nowhere near enough to pay the mortgage and shoulder the cost of demolishing and rebuilding.
"This was our investment," John Kiernan said as his wife wiped away tears.
Even tearing down the house and selling the lot is no easy way out a¿¿ while homes have been selling on the Jersey shore, values are not what they were before the storm.
"Do I build it, do I leave it? I can't even sell the property because properties have been downgraded that much," he said.
Second homeowners are not eligible for a suite of relief options available to primary homeowners. Federal Emergency Management Agency rebuilding assistance, $1.8 billion in rebuilding funds the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave to New Jersey or low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration. Second homeowners will also see their flood insurance rates go up because they are not grandfathered in like primary homeowners.
In Lavallette, the skeleton of Cora Hoch's sea glass-colored vacation bungalow remains, its foundation tipped, wiring exposed, doors missing and "do not enter" spray-painted on the side.
"We put our life savings into that little house," said Hoch, a school nurse from Kearny, N.J. "We can't afford to fix it, and FEMA will not give us anything."
FEMA said the assistance money is meant to be a one-time stopgap measure to help people get back into their primary homes as soon as possible. Congress, FEMA said, set the rules.