In the summer of 1998, Ken Hilderbrand was considering buying a large boat—or rather a beach trailer—on a wave-sweeping lot in Montauk overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
“there was a [for-sale] The sign on the window, rotten,” Hilderbrand, 85, told The Post, recalling the dilapidated trailer sitting on the 1,972-square-foot plot of land Within Montauk Shores, Former seaside campsite for working-class vacationers, locals and surfers. Hilderbrand, owner of a jet-ski rental business in Bellport, saw the potential. Sure, it was a fixer-upper up a dirt road — but million-dollar ocean views Pulled it off like a rag. The asking price was $150,000.
“I said, ‘That’s ridiculous.’ It was old. It needed to be crushed. I looked in, walked out of here with it and said, ‘I’ll make you an offer for $95,000.’ He said, ‘I want $96,500.’ So that was it,” Hilderbrand said. He sold his boat and bought a trailer.
“Back then, you could rent them for $50 a month,” he said. A decade later, they tore down the trailer and built a two-bed, two-bath modular home with a wraparound porch, marble countertops and laminate floors, investing $100,000 in remodeling. Today, his humble 1,200-square-foot abode can earn $60,000 a three-month summer rental, enough to send one of his grandchildren to college, he told the Post. He said he would not even consider selling the property for less than $5 million.
Though it bills itself as “Montauk’s best-kept secret,” the 65-year-old trailer park Montauk Shores is now a shabby-chic status symbol that’s dividing the local community. Hilderbrandt may drive a reliable Honda — but you might spot a $40,000 Mercedes SUV parked here. Deep-pocketed buyers are being enticed by its location in Ditch Plains—a surfer’s paradise spread across two miles of sandy cliffs and the most coveted waves on Long Island’s East End. This week, The Post reported that an off-market listing for an 800-square-foot ocean trailer located on Edgewater Drive was under contract sell for a record-breaking $3.75 million,
It’s not clear who the buyer is in the deal that is set to close next month, but local residents said it was the same unit musician Jimmy Buffett joined in the bidding war back in 2005. Reportedly sold for $430,000 For the second buyer, however, Buffett is said to have offered another $30,000.
The previous highest recorded sale of a trailer park was in 2022 for $1.8 million. High rollers who have chosen modest homes here in recent years include Vitaminwater co-founder J. Darius Bikoff, hedge fund manager Dan Loeb, and filmmaker Karen Lauder. The property includes 152 individually owned lots and 47 leased sites totaling 199 homes—some scruffy-looking trailers, others tricked-out modular units. On-property amenities include a community clubhouse, a heated swimming pool, and a playground for residents to host parties and events.
But longtime owners and locals remember Montauk Shores as it once was – a sanctuary for year-round surfing, ocean views and easy living. In the late 1940s and ’50s, it was a tent campsite until the owners eventually filed for bankruptcy. In 1976, a group of residents and families purchased the property and started the Montauk Shores Mobile-Home Park Condominiums, the first trailer-park condo association in New York State. according to its website,
“The people who are buying there [Montauk Shores] No longer are New York City firemen who want to go surfing on the weekend, it’s people who have tons of money for a second home who say ‘I want to live where the surf breaks'” Dave Rutkowski, John’s Drive —the owner of the Inn, which opened on Montauk’s main drag in 1967, told the Post. “It’s wild to think that a trailer could ever sell for that much money.”
Residents say their new billionaire neighbors only use the trailers as changing rooms after swimming, leaving the units empty during the off-season. And some say all this cash is fueling the community feel and turning the once funky surfer’s haven into a private-equity playground that’s a revolving door for summer renters.
“When you read about the history of Montauk, it was a workers’ village. Now, they’re being priced out and pushed out,” says Cathy Pare, a retired New York City teacher who survived 9/11. Right after she moved to Montauk Shores with her husband, Chris, told the Post. The couple, who used to park their camper at a nearby campground, bought the one-bedroom trailer in 2001 for $175,000.
Pare continued, “When we first moved here, it was a very strict community. On the weekend we would have parties, karaoke, hanging out with our neighbors – now, since a lot of people have moved out, We have a lot of tenants. They can be noisy at night because they are there to party. You don’t get to know the people for a long time. They don’t respect the rules.
Her husband agrees.
“Personally, I don’t think it’s all that good. People who have money don’t really want to be part of the community. We have year-round celebrations—barbecues, Fourth of July parties. Years ago, more of these The residents used to participate. The one with the Vitamin Water, he doesn’t want to hang out with us. He doesn’t want to come to the barbecue at the clubhouse,” Chris told The Post.
Still, they stressed they are “grateful” their home’s value has increased and that Montauk Shores remains a “great” place to live. Years after purchasing their trailer, the couple has built a modular home of their own, with three bedrooms on the first floor and a studio in the attic with two queen-size beds, a deck, and an outdoor shower. He added that the house could easily accommodate 12 guests.
Referred to by locals as “a drinking town with a fishing problem,” Montauk has steadily lost its sleepy, blue-collar feel over the past few decades. Long Island saw an increase in sales in the early 2000s, after 9/11 prompted some people to flee the city for a more relaxed location. But with the 2008 opening of the trendy Surf Lodge nightspot, the area’s image really began to change. Hipster Manhattan party crowds soon descended on the city, crowds of locals swelled, and Ditch Plains Beach suddenly became cachet. In 2013, a limited-liability company headed by Bikoff Bought Dear East Deck Motel In Ditch Plains, a family-run oasis for surfers and fishermen was built in the 1950s for $15 million, with the intention of creating a private club for wealthy surfers, reports the East Hampton Star. The plan was ultimately thwarted by angry residents and in 2015, the motel was back in operation. 25 million dollar market. Now, according to property records, the property west of Montauk Shores has been divided into four lots, with owners listed under LLC.
By 2018, when retired NYPD detective Richard Powis, 54, bought a home in Montauk Shores, prices had begun to climb — but had not yet reached their current post-pandemic peak. He said he avoided a bidding war when picking up the two-bedroom, two-bath modular home for just under $700,000.
“I had a lot of close friends who have been coming here since the 60s and 70s. It has always been my dream to have a place here for my kids,” Paves, whose home is next door to Lauder, told The Post. “Some people have inquired [about buying our home], But it’s not something we would entertain. It’s very quiet here.
Still, he said he isn’t bothered by his billionaire neighbors. After all, they’re rarely around.
“They don’t really live here,” Pavese said. “They’ll stay for a weekend, a week — it basically revolves around fishing and surfing. They look like regular people. They go surfing and they shower. If anyone has money to spend If they have money, they are going to spend it.
And spend it, they’re leaving some of the old-school locals in a state of bewilderment.
“We’re sitting here, what happened here?” Marshall, a longtime Montauk resident who declined to give his last name, told The Post.
“It was always a pioneer place. When I grew up here there were 500 people. We knew everyone close; now, it’s more like corporate America. More rules, but not better rules. Our house is worth more money.” Maybe, but if you sell it, where do you go? You sell, you have to go and you can’t get back in,” he said.
“Montauk is a brand now. It’s surfers with new money going around on their electric bikes.”