Monthly Archives: October 2006

Sidewalks
For decades, Riverside residents pressed for a sidewalk on Lockwood
Road and, as a member of the Riverside Association once upon a time, I
added my voice to that effort. It took twenty years but we finally
have a very nice sidewalk protecting school kids and commuters. I was
astonished, however, as I watched the process unfold over the past
year, how much work was involved: new storm drains had to be
installed, utility poles and wires moved, stone walls torn down and
replaced, etc. I now understand why we had to wait so long.

But having said that, it would be nice if the town could find it in
its budget to build a sidewalk on that section of Riverside Avenue
between Mark’s Road and the top of Ross Bottom Hill, a distance of
perhaps 200 yards. This stretch is a blind curve and, while we
negotiated it safely when we were kids and I haven’t hit anyone on it
lately, that’s due to the fact that I know what to expect: the other
day I came around the curve and encountered three boys in the road- if
I hadn’t been traveling at 15 mph, ….

6 Jofran
This was a fabulous contemporary I wrote about some months ago. I
loved the house and said so at the time but expressed doubt that it
would sell quickly. It depends on how you define quickly but I was
pleased to see that it’s gone to contract. I don’t know its selling
price yet but the asking price was $2,950,000.

207 Farms Road
This column is usually restricted to Greenwich matters but Terry
Beaurline (Coldwell Banker) has just listed “The Block House” a
fantastic house built in 1721 and well worth notice here, even though
its location in “Stanwich Parish” has been subsumed by Stamford.
History? You bet. Revolutionary War soldiers, fleeing from a defeat in
White Plains, hid in a stone barn behind the house for weeks. In 1858,
in that same building, Simon Ingersoll built the first automobile, a
steam vehicle, and drove it eight miles to Stamford (where the sheriff
promptly ordered him to return home and stay there). The original
two-foot-thick granite-walled house, with all its beauty of
wide-planked-floors, beamed ceilings and great fireplaces, has been
embellished with an addition designed by a Yale-trained architect.
Mention of “Yale School of Architecture” brings to mind the
(misattributed) quote of Herman Goering: “When I hear the word
Kulture, I reach for my revolver!” But in this instance, the fellow
must have slept through class, because the new blends marvelously with
the old. A great house, on wonderful land (2 acres, with pool), asking
about $3,500,000. You couldn’t come close to such a house and property
in Greenwich.

Another one Bites the Dust
In the movie “Shawshank Redemption”, Tim Robbins demands of the prison
warden, “how can you be so obtuse?”. He’s rewarded by a lengthy stay
in isolation because the warden is corrupt and interested only in
protecting his position of power. I don’t think our Planning and
Zoning Committee is corrupt, but “obtuse” came to mind when I attended
a hearing this week on a proposal to save a historic house. The
question presented to the committee was blunt: do you want to preserve
historic houses or do you want to adhere to our floor area ratio
rules? The answer was, essentially, that FAR is sacred and houses be
damned.
Too bad – most of Greenwich’s few remaining old houses are stranded on
odd, under-sized lots carved out of their original farms. The P&Z
says, “well, just build a small (3,000 sq. ft., in last week’s
example)”. This is so stupid, so ignorant of market realities that,
despite my disclaimer above, I wonder if our P&Z isn’t as corrupt as
the Shawshank Prison warden. Could anyone possibly be this obtuse
without a wad of bills suppressing their brain? Wellyes, of course he could and our commission proves it. Its members aren’t crooks, they just suffer from a fanatical devotion to the flawed concept of the FAR. As I write, a Cat 10
bulldozer is pushing the house in question into yet another dumpster.

Gift to GHS
Despite attending high school with me, my friend Michael Horton
akshually learned to reed – he points out that the $1,000,000 donation
I recently wrote about went to the donor’s college, Colgate, rather
than to the high school. Still a very impressive gift but if someone
else has a wallet itching with good intentions, I’d urge that high
school kids need such a program even more than older students; to
conquer demons, you must start early.

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200 Cognewaugh
Ed Mortimer’s new listing is pretty impressive, to my eye. Anyone who traveled this road over the past year must have marveled at the huge quarrying going on as the builder prepared the site (and its neighbors all wrote to me; they weren’t as impressed). But the work’s done now and a beautiful house sits on a beautiful, flat lawn of two acres. I realize it sounds silly to say so but I was struck by how much house this is for “only” $5,000,000. I’ve seen comparable construction in other locations asking more than $6,000,000. Cognewaugh is not my favorite road in town; a bad place to forget a pint of cream for the morning coffee, but 200 is close to its Valley Road terminus and that mitigates things. By the way, while I’m not wild about the street itself I do love the sign someone with a sense of humor in the traffic department has posted near its end: “Caution, Winding Road”. If you’ve made it down far enough to read the sign, you’ll have figured that out by yourself.
Over reaching a remodeling permit
The old trick to get around the requirements of a new building permit was to apply for just a remodeling, take everything down except one wall and then, when no one was looking, knock that down too. The town’s cracked down on this recently, which is a good thing, but the stricter enforcement has caught up some innocent folks, too. Well, if not “innocent”, then people acting in good faith. What happens is that you start out with the intention of remodeling but, as I can attest from my own projects, you never know exactly what you’ll find behind walls until you open them up. When you do, and discover, say, extensive termite damage, then one wall has to go, then another and so forth, all while your contractor is saying, “you know, it’d be a lot cheaper just to knock down this part and build new.” Before you know it you’ve exceeded the limits of your permit and Jim Mahoney, our zoning enforcement officer, has stuck a bright red “stop work order” on your project. Your subs all disappear to work other jobs, you miss the summer building season and you’re stuck in bureaucratic hell. That’s bad. My advice is be aware, and wary, of how much of the house is coming down and try to keep Mr. Mahoney abreast of your doings. He’s a pretty reasonably guy, in my experience, and if you look like you’re acting in good faith, rather than trying to evade the rules, I’m sure he’ll work with you.
Get Our Attention
As the fall selling season slips away (only six more weekends before Thanksgiving!) sellers are taking price reductions in the hope of not having to wait for Spring to unload. Good idea, but don’t nibble: a $2,000,000 drop from $18,995,000 is a good start; $250,000 from a price of $7,500,000 is just silly. If that’s all you’re willing to drop it you’d be better off putting the money in the house – updated bathrooms, perhaps, or new kitchen counters. Of course, if your house isn’t going to fetch what you’re asking for it then you’re running the risk of just sinking in more bucks that can’t be recaptured but hey – you probably knew that when you over-priced it in the first place.

Flowers for Ferdinand
Or for Old Greenwich merchants at least, courtesy of Scott Frantz. Two days after the President left town Mr. Frantz delivered very nice bouquets and a polite note of apology to every retail establishment, including our Raveis office, that had been inconvenienced by the loss of parking. These weren’t the $10 bunch of roses you pick up at the gas station to make up for abandoning your wife while you played golf, either. Regardless of your feelings towards President Bush, Mr. Frantz is indisputably a class act.

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I’ve Moved!
The column is, as of two days ago, now being printed in the Greenwich Post on the front page of its real estate section. Since, like the Citizen, the Post is free, you can continue to get exactly what you pay for.

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Buyer Representative Agreements
A colleague of mine recently encountered a house-hunting couple she knew at an open house. They liked the house and they wanted her to represent her but, they confessed ruefully, they had signed a buyer’s representative agreement with agent that locked them in, for the entire state of Connecticut, for a year. They couldn’t stand the guy, had no intention of ever getting in a car with him again so they’d resorted to limiting their search to public open houses on Sundays. That’s ridiculous and it cost them the house because, by the time they freed themselves from the first agent’s tentacles the house was gone.

I’ve written about these buyer rep agreements before but it’s worth doing again. Our legislature mandated these be signed by buyers at the first face-to-face meeting with an agent. It was supposed to be a consumer protection aid, allowing us agents, in a departure from traditional agency law, to represent the buyer instead of the seller (before, buying and selling agents were considered to owe complete loyalty to the seller.) But the document was hijacked by my industry group and studded with provisions that favor us and hurt you. If you’ve worked with an agent before and are comfortable with that individual there’s certainly no harm in agreeing to work with them exclusively for, say, six months. But if you’ve never met the person before, why on earth would you lock yourself into a long-term relationship? Or agree to half the stuff in this contract? I drafted a simple agreement that contained no offensive terms and submitted it to the Connecticut Association of Realtor’s legal department for approval but was shot down, so we’re all stuck with the current form. But, by law, these things are negotiable so my advice is to, if you don’t know the agent you’re dealing with is to (a) realize that you’re being asked to sign a binding contract and not some meaningless form, (b) limit its duration to one day and one town and (c) cross out all the bad stuff. It’s your right.

Listen to Your Realtor
I saw a very nice house recently, which I intend to write about in a later column but there’s an object lesson worth pointing out now: the house and its grounds are immaculate and I was bowled over by the place. Until I headed for the master bedroom and noticed a worn, frayed runner. If the rest of the place had been in the same sorry condition I wouldn’t have picked up on this defect but, as it was, the owners might just as well have painted the thing Day-Glo orange. And, having been conditioned by that sight, I noticed that the master bath was a bit dated. Again, something I wouldn’t have cared about had the mood not been set by the worn carpet. The listing agent is one of the smartest, most experienced agents in town and I am absolutely certain she must have mentioned this to her clients. For whatever reason, they obviously declined to spend- what, a $1,000?- on a replacement runner. I think this was unwise. If your house is a wreck, don’t sweat it; price the thing as a dump and move on. But if everything about your house is bandbox perfect except for one or two glaring defects, fix them. You’ll more than make up the cost in the eventual sales price.

Lucky Me
When Greenwich Time ran an article about my finding a prehistoric spear head in Riverside photographer Bob Luckey was assigned to take my picture. He produced the first image of me that my kids were willing to admit being related to so, when I needed some new publicity shots I hired him. Amazing results. If you’re an ugly Greenwich native like myself or, more likely, one of the beautiful people, this is the guy to take your picture. And Realtors take note: Bob will photograph houses, too. If he can take this sow’s ear and come close to producing a silk purse, imagine what he can do for that crummy listing you’ve been trying to unload. Reach him at (203) 940-5593.

Good Read
Just finished “The Looming Tower – Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” by Lawrence Wright. Horrifyingly fascinating and brilliantly written, it’s received rave reviews from the entire political spectrum (heck, even Dan Rather liked it), which is a tribute to the author’s objectivity. He has no axe to grind here and contents himself with presenting a thorough history of Islamic terrorism from 1905 to date. Read it if you want an in-depth, fast-paced explanation of what we’re facing. When you finish, may I suggest a light- hearted digestive like my “Greenwich Mean Time”? Available at Just Books!

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