Monthly Archives: April 2005

Lot splits. Because the P&Z has yet to enact its new rules governing lot splits a lot of savvy real estate types have made sure they received theirs before the deadline. The D’Andrea family carved out another piece of their Lockwood property, Bruce Cohen, the prominant land-use lawyer, split his lot on Perkley Lane. and so on. I don’t know whether there’s still time to emulate these people but if there is, and you you can do it, you probably should.

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Greenwich Time, which does a decent job covering our P&Z Commission’s frolics, has an editorial today on the subject (link below). There are some serious changes to our FAR regs on the horizon and the P&Z, if past history is a guide, intends to implement them as soon as the dust settles. One, for instance, would deduct from a lot’s FAR calculations any land underwater – a pond, for instance. So let’s say you own six acres in the Back Country, two acres of which are high and dry, the rest of which is a pond. If the pond doesn’t count, you will be restricted to a house size smaller than that allowed in the one acre zone. If the point of FAR was/is to limit houses to an “appropriate” size,then how does this result accomplish that goal? The P&Z won’t (can’t) say – but they’re going to do it nonetheless. Stop them before they sqeeze again.

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For What It’s Worth
April 29, 2005
Bidding Wars
Not everyone likes bidding wars. I usually do when I’m representing sellers because it ensures that they receive the best price. But sometimes these wars are counter-productive and here’s why: houses aren’t stocks, they come with all sorts of emotions attached. A family buying a house is seeking a particular neighborhood, a certain school, the right-sized yard, bedrooms and so forth. When they find a house that meets all their criteria they become attached to it and if they see it slipping away from them they can become bitter and resentful. Even if they win the house by paying more than they wanted to or can afford, the bitterness can linger and if, between the time of the successful bid and the closing difficulties crop up, there is no reservoir of good will to draw from to smooth things over. So sometimes it makes sense to just accept a good offer and not reach for the very last dollar. That depends on your own financial needs, of course, but the combination of a happy seller and happy buyer is not only a gratifying sight to behold, it can be a strong glue that holds the deal together. My advice, then, is to determine beforehand exactly what you want from the sale: maximum value, certainty or a specific closing date, for instance, and conduct the sale accordingly. Whatever you do, don’t change your mind halfway through. Nothing is guaranteed to stir up hard feelings more than accepting an offer, letting the buyer spend money on a house inspection, lawyer, and so forth and then accepting a higher bid. Decide beforehand how you will treat bids and stick to it.
Market Conditions
Of course, all of the above applies only in a strong sellers’ market, which seems to have disappeared for the moment. There are still bidding wars breaking out in perennially hot Old Greenwich and Riverside but not many, and certainly nothing like was seen in January. A combination of low inventory, high prices and stock market uncertainties has slowed the market considerably. Four houses priced over $7,000,000 went to contract this year and although three of those four entered contract this month, I think we’re seeing the end of the spring market and not its beginning. Of course, if I’m so smart, how come I sell real estate instead of own it?
New York vs. Connecticut
Lucy Krasnor, of Strategy Mortgage Corp (618-4444) has provided me with some interesting data. We’ll deal with average increase in house values next week (it’s all very reassuring) but for now, I thought I’d pass on the results of her comparison of closing costs in Westchester and Fairfield Counties. If you’re buying across the border, be prepared to take out you wallet and dump its contents on the desk—you’ll need a second mortgage just to cover closing expenses. On average, a modest little $1.3 million house will run you $51,656 in costs in New York, compared to $17,813 in Connecticut. The biggest contributor to this whopping discrepancy is, naturally, taxes: mortgage tax, “mansion tax”, school tax, county tax, etc. Of course, our legislature is busy working its mischief, all of it directed at Fairfield County residents, up in Hartford, so this advantage seems doomed. But for now, we’re a relative bargain.
Stop!
In my cruises up and down the Post Road I have noticed that an increasing number of drivers zoom by school buses stopped and signaling on the opposite side of the road. The offending drivers do so so cooly, with such breezy insouciance that I recently asked a police officer whether the law regarding school buses had changed since I got my license. Nope – the only exception to not honoring a bus’s signals is when the highway lanes are separated by a barrier as, for instance, on I-95. The Post Road is not I-95 regardless of how some people drive on it. The fine for passing a stopped bus is horrendous but I think the life-long burden of having a crushed school child on one’s conscience would be far, far worse. So don’t do that, eh?
Boycott
As you may know, the town Realtors conduct broker open houses twice a week. Tuesdays are for properties west of North Street, Thursdays for the east. On busy days, it’s a tough chore to get to everything on the list and some days, impossible. So I resent homeowners who, for their own scheduling convenience, insist that their house be shown on the wrong day. I do more than resent, in fact: I boycott the damn things. I refuse to drive way up Taconic Road, for instance, when the rest of the properties I’m trying to see are way to the west. I don’t believe I’m alone in this practice so, while it is perfectly understandable that some days just don’t work for you, you’re better off postponing your open house than holding a party to which nobody comes.

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9 Swan Terrace was just listed this morning for $1,299,000. I think that’s a good buy. Swan is in that duck heaven development between the Post Road and Milbrook. Mallard Drive is a busy cut-through, yet houses there have been selling quickly in the 9’s. Swan is removed from all that and should command a premium. A very large house (snuck in during the FAR hiatus) sold last fall there for a price, if I recall, in the high 2s. There’s an opportunity here.

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plastic litter Posted by Hello

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Well, darn – should have used the zoom lens for this one. Anyway, the Mobil station on the corner of US1 and Sheephill Road has decorated the place with plastic flowers. The white object in the background is a plastic milk bottle, which I thought was the perfect accessory decoration to their flowers.

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Two very nice properties on the open house tour today. 31 North Porchuck ($3,495,000) is a contemporary that needs (a lot of) work, but the views are incredible, as shown below. 18 Dingletown is just a nice family house – reasonably priced, I think, and with a great yard. Worth checking out.

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18 Dingletown Road. $2,495,000 Posted by Hello

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View from 31 North Porchuck Posted by Hello

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Al Small, creator of Concerned Homeowners of Greenwich, emails regarding the status of their suit against Greenwich concerning FAR regulations:It was scheduled to finally come to trial on May 11 but has been delayed again. So we’ll have to see when it is next assigned. Should be soon. It takes a while just to go through the procedures. Our last case took from 1998 to 2001 and this one 2001 to 2005 just for procedures. I have been meaning to put the briefs up on the website but havent gotten to it yet. …
Also now watching the P&Z with their clever disguise of major policy change as mere “housekeeping” and “definition changes”. They will be hearing 75 changes tomorrow night as a continuation of a prior hearing with too much to go through. A big item you may want to tell your clients to watch is the deduction of any water body over a certain size from lot area for FAR purposes. Anyone who has a pond or other water on their property could lose if this one is passed. I have had calls from homeowners who stand to lose 1,000 sq. ft. buildable area if this is passed. Also proposed change from grade plane measured at ten feet out from foundation to add measuring next to home and if “at any point” more than x feet would have to include basement in FAR. The bldg inspector said this could preclude underground garages and french doors out to a patio. They are doubling up on regs because they are again not working and the P&Z just tries to layer one reg on top of another until homeowners and architects are left rolling on the floor crying. No sense doing it correctly the first time, instead just heap regs on top of regs until no one knows what they can do.
Also watching the lot split definition that was passed by RTM recently that appears to be illegal in it violates town charter 101c (procedure for amending subdivision regs) and other general statutes possibly.
Lots going on and trying to keep up with it all.

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What’s this?
A friend of mine received a solicitation in the mail from something called the South Street Group offering to buy his house immediately, as is, with no commission. It was a mass mailing, so neither my friend nor I took it particularly seriously but I checked out the group anyway. It seems to be a “hard money” lender-a source of quick cash for people who are, say, being foreclosed on, as well as a realty brokerage. Can’t say much about their lending business but as a resource for potential home buyers, the company’s a bust. A search request for homes in Greenwich produced old, stale MLS listings:5 Irvine Court, for instance, which sold 9 months ago; Terrace Avenue, which not only is not for sale, it lacks the “waterfront” that South Street Group says it is on. Unless you count the storm drain that runs in front of the property.

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It’s 9:15 in the morning and I’ve been in the office an hour, waiting for clients to show up and sign a lease. It’s not a huge deal-I usually come in early, but these people specifically requested an early meeting and now, an hour later, I’m still cooling my heels. I find that annoying. This is not going to be a long-lasting relationship.

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38 Round Hill Road
Notwithstanding my gloomy prediction about high end sales, rumor has it that 38 Round Hill Road, just listed last week at $10,450,000, has an accepted offer. Lower Round Hill continues to be a prime address.

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For What It’s Worth
April 22, 2005
Showing Houses
The most dreaded code in our real estate book is “LBACC”, for “listing broker must accompany”. It is hard enough to juggle a showing schedule around our time requirements and those of our customer and the various homeowners whose houses we intend to show. Add the schedule of the listing broker into that mix and it’s a mess. The other weekend I had seven houses to show, all LBACC, and it wreaked havoc on the day. It’s nice to be able to plan a logical route, showing houses in the Back Country, say, before ending up in Belle Haven. But we did a lot of doubling-back that day and missed a few houses entirely when we couldn’t coordinate our schedule with that of the listing agent.
It’s understandable that an owner would want her own agent present when her house is shown. The owner has come to trust her agent, knows that she knows the house and, most important, probably won’t let the cat out and will lock up as she leaves. Sad to say, this is not always the case when a house is shown by just a buyer’s rep. But the point is to sell your house and the best way to do that is to show it to prospective buyers; anything that limits that process is hurtful. My advice is, usually, to forego the luxury of having your listing agent accompany every showing and hope for a quick sale that ends your torment as soon as possible.
(Really) Big Trees
Years ago while out on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula I saw a steady stream of logging trucks, each carrying just a single, huge log on its bed. It seemed a shame that such magnificent old trees were being carted off to the sawmill but I was an Easterner and didn’t consider it my business. In Greenwich, these days, we seemed to have reversed the process and I now see a steady stream of trucks coming the other way: they each carry a single live tree on their beds, headed for installation in the Back Country. At $20,000 to $50,000 a tree, that’s an interesting phenomenon.
Price it Right
Even expensive houses are selling quickly in this market if they’re priced correctly. Renee Gallagher (Round Hill) put 18 Cedarwood Drive on the market last week at $5,695,000 and it was gone instantly. The house was a real beauty and impeccably renovated but it’s always helpful if a house is priced just low enough that buyers see all its merits and not its flaws. As my brother Gideon likes to point out, a high price affords buyers an opportunity to focus on their objections: too low ceilings, too close to the road, etc. and they often turn away from a property. So don’t reach for the stars in pricing your house.
Jump On It
This sordid business can occasionally be incredibly gratifying. I’ve been working with a family now for some time and we were all despairing at ever finding a house that met their needs. A house finally came on the market last week that, while not meeting every single criteria they wanted, approached perfection close enough to justify moving quickly, which we did. Because these buyers had been looking for so long they had a huge advantage over those just beginning their search. They knew comparable values, they knew what neighborhood they wanted and they had lined up their financing. The latter is most important when reaching for a popular house because it allows buyers to present a clean offer, free from contingencies. The result? The sellers are delighted that, after just three days, they could stop showing their house and they buyers are relieved that their search is finished. Sunday saw buyers and sellers happily chatting away, the buyers’ children busy picking out their rooms and a swarm of neighborhood kids on the house’s front porch, waiting to play with new friends. Pretty neat, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the yeoman efforts of Jean Ruggiero in holding the deal together. Jean was merely filling in for the listing agent in her absence but she treated it as though it were her own deal and was incredibly helpful, way into the night. Jean’s a real professional and a pleasure to work with.
Does This Mean We’re Getting the Transamerica Pyramid?
Until now, my favorite real estate ad was one describing twelve-foot-high mahogany doors opening “into an intimidating foyer.” But last week a new listing on Bonwit Road described the house’s location as “a neighborhood in a mist of gentrification.” I haven’t the foggiest idea what that means, but perhaps the area behind Caldors is being transformed to look like San Francisco.

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