Daily Archives: March 17, 2006

Dodo birds, Travel Agents and Realtors
The New York Times Magazine section devoted an entire issue to real estate and, in a pleasant departure from recent practice, filled it with interesting articles. The one creating the most buzz among my fellow agents was by the author of “Freakonomics”, in which he predicts that the rise of the internet, which gives what he claims to be full, complete information on every house for sale, will soon put an end to this profession or at least reduce it to a fee-based service: $40 an hour for showing a house, $250 to list it on the MLS, and so forth. Depressing news for some of us if he’s right, and he might be. After all, lawyers in Greenwich used to charge a percentage of a house’s selling price for representing buyers and sellers but switched entirely to fees when our practice was ruled, er, a tad anti-competitive. Lawyers are still around, you’ll have noticed, but we certainly rued the loss of that percentage when, over the years, house prices soared.

But I’m not so sure the author is right. For one thing, services like Zillow.com, which he cites as an accurate source of pricing information, are anything but. They offer out-dated information, missing entire renovations, for instance, and usually are way off on the square footage of a house – I don’t know why. An error in pricing either way could cost a seller a lot of money. Assist to Sell offers to list your house on the MLS, stick a lock-box on your door and then leave you to it. Emanual Kant might have something to say about this because he wrote that, before imposing a system (in his case, moral, in this case, business model) one has to expand things a bit and see what would happen if everyone were to do it. Assist to Sell, so far as I understand its model, requires that there be buyer’s agents to screen customers and escort them through your house. If no one is paid to do that, or gets $40 an hour, same thing, then who is going to be willing to conduct these tours (I read recently that unions have been paying homeless men minimum wage and no health benefits to picket Walmart protesting its low pay but is that really the labor base you want to show your house?)

I was discussing all this with Valerie Sanantonio, a very bright person who, with Bill Andruss, has just listed a huge house on Wyckham Hill for a reasonable price (more on the house next week) and she pointed out possibly the biggest error in the theory: the idea that sellers and buyers are solely interested in price – they’re not; both groups want service and information, and lots of it. The internet will not warn you about FAR limitations, proposed zoning changes that will effect the use of your house, pre-screen customers, wait at your house for 45 minutes when those same customers run late, call the plumber when a pipe bursts in your vacant house, etc. Of course, I may be just whistling past the graveyard here. If so, I hope the author’s predictions, if they do come true, hold off long enough for me to get my kids through school.

200 Lake Avenue
Debby Huffard has just listed what she calls a single residence and I’d call a town house with party wall, for $2,995,000. Whatever, it’s neat. Originally built in 1889 for the headmistress of Rosemary Hall, it has its own, very private walled back yard and once had, according to June Peters, who knows everything, a tunnel in the basement connecting it to the attached house next door. Restored, nicely finished, close to town. I like it.

Santoro Brothers
These three brothers (Joe, Paul and David) are continuing a construction business started by their father just after WW II. The current project on Valley Road is not dissimilar to the Rosemary Hall house described above. Technically, it’s a condominium but the only common wall is the garage. This end of Valley is a work in progress so to overcome that the brothers have loaded quality, size and top-end appliances into what feels like two, single family homes. Four bedrooms in each, 4,000 sq. ft., two-car garages, walk-out basement, decent yard, all for around $1,500,000. As Joe told me, their business carries their family name and they have no intention of demeaning that. The pride of that statement shows in every inch of this project – A good buy and, as the neighborhood continues to go upscale, which it will, a good investment.

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