Monthly Archives: November 2006

Landscaping
When I recently revisited 160 Bedford Road (which I wrote about last week) I initially thought that I’d pulled into the wrong driveway. What I remembered as a wooded property, albeit with a great lawn in front, was now wide open with great, sweeping vistas over all its eight acres. Because there’s nothing worse than barging unexpectedly and uninvited into a stranger’s home, I snuck around back to make sure that the distinctive pool and pool house were still there. They were so, emboldened, I entered the house and met its listing agent Jane Gosden. “So what happened?” says I, and Jane explained that last summer’s tornado swept away sixty-five mature trees and a similar number from the neighboring property. “Mother Nature’s vacuum cleaner” was how Jane described the process, and she was absolutely right. It cost the poor homeowner close to $100,000 to clean up the wreckage (home owner’s insurance pays for damage caused by trees that hit your house; otherwise, you’re on your on own here) but the salutary effect was probably well worth it. My point is, if you’re cleaning up your house to prepare it for sale, take a look at your grounds. Trees have a habit of growing ever larger and, if you’ve owned your house for a long time, they may have crowded close and now block your views. I’m not suggesting a clear-cutting operation but there are very few homes in town that wouldn’t benefit from a session with a chainsaw-wielding tree-cutter.

26 Mayfair Lane
Carolyn Sarsen (David Ogilvy & Associates) has just listed this beautiful old home for $8,350,000, which is a tad out of my price range but perhaps not for you Wall Street bonus babies. It was built in 1936 and last renovated in 1971 which means it’s due for more, but what a house. Set on five acres off of Pecksland Road, it reminds me of some of the houses of my (rich) friends that I used to visit growing up. Beautiful grounds, a nice pool and terrace it is, as the owner described it, “just a good house to live in.” It certainly is; today’s buyer will probably want to expand it, needlessly, in my opinion, but there’s plenty of room to do that, should you wish.

Moving Down the Food Chain
Alice Duff (Soetheby’s) has listed 27 Doverton Drive, off of Sabine Road, for $3,985,000. A terrific contemporary that was completely rehabilitated by its present owners-fellow agents who remembered it in its previous condition were astonished when we attended its open house. Big, wide open spaces, a nice 2 ½ acre lot and an excellent location. Good deal.

Will Morton’s Rotisserie
Some time back, traveling to New Mexico to research a book, I left the interstate somewhere in western Arkansas and drove for miles searching for my favorite food, barbeque. I finally found what I wanted at a run-down spot, with a screen door that slammed behind me, and filled with locals, all in their Sunday best, chowing down. Ambrosia. I’ve never found its equal around here until a friend, Wilson Alling recommended Will Morton’s new restaurant at 280 Railroad Avenue. Will’s a Greenwich native and graduate of France’s Cordon Bleu who for some reason decided to combine French rotisserie cooking with southern barbeque, and has produced a felicitous marriage of both. His pulled pork is the best I’ve had, ever, and his ribs and chicken are just as good. The restaurant is easily overlooked, as it’s located in that small building complex next to Pet Pantry, but it’s convenient to the movies and the Avenue. As an eat-in destination, I’d describe the place as somewhere between bleak and cozy (bleak’s too harsh; perhaps “utilitarian”), but there’s take-out available and delivery for just $1.50. If you eat in you’ll gain the presence of Will himself who’s always there, cooking. Very nice guy. There’s a very tasty sandwich menu and, for Thanksgiving, he’s offering an incredible range of dishes that obviously take advantage of his training and which go far beyond “mere” rotisserie foods: Turkeys, roasted or uncooked, a huge variety of side dishes and deserts, soups, salads and so on. I smoke cigarettes precisely because it frees me from worrying about such lesser hazards but health-nuts will be relieved to know that everything served is free-range, all natural, pesticide free, etc. Call 661-0100 or hit willmortonsrotisserie.com to order or view the menu. You’ll thank me for this, just as I did Wilson.

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Statistics
The third quarter sales statistics are out and they provide some interesting reading (if you lead a very dull life, that is). Sales are down ( -17.8%) for the year (481 vs. 585) and (- 44.6%) this September vs. September 2005 (31 vs.56). Average price is up 11% for the year ($2,716,737 vs. $2,447, 408) and 18% this September. Days on Market were 73 September 2005, 112 September 2006. So, there’s been a significant slowdown, but notice: prices aren’t collapsing nor will they, in my opinion. Many buyers are sitting on the sidelines waiting for what they expect will be bargain basement prices – I think they’ll be disappointed.

Buy a House?
If you’re still awake after reading all those statistics, here are a few more: there are 555 single family homes for sale as of this writing, compared to 488 the same week last year. That’s a 14% increase in inventory but this past August we were facing an inventory 26% greater than the year before so the trend seems to be improving. Those 555 houses range in price, by the way, from $575,000 (123 Henry Street, Byram) to $39,500,000 (65 Meadow Wood Drive, Belle Haven). You should be able to find something you like somewhere between them.

Price it Right
The sales book also revealed an example of the importance of pricing. Two nearly identical houses on Florence Road were sold last quarter. Each was built in 1963 and renovated in 2001, each had 2,202 sq. ft. One was priced at $875,000 and sold 14 days later for $880,000. The other was originally priced at $925,000 and sold 132 days later for $870,000. The lesson here is that stretching to get that last dollar on a sale will make your house look less attractive than its competition and may cause it to sit lifeless on the market. That’s bad, so don’t do it. Look at the statistics above, recognize that we’re in a slow market and price your house accordingly.

If You Want to Get the Big Bucks
You have to put in big bucks. I toured a $5,500,000 house the other day and remembered another builder’s cutting remark: “he built a nice $3,000,000 house but priced it at $5 ½.” I think that’s not quite accurate but certainly there are details that should be in a house this expensive that were not there: custom closets, for instance, instead of pegboard California ones. Trim molding inside those same closets: don’t know what good it does but the top builders do it. Routered trim panels, instead of window frame build ups. This was a perfectly nice house and it sits on a great piece of land but if I were a buyer at that price level, I’d demand more.

160 Bedford Road
I love this house and the eight acres it sits on but it remains unsold. I assume the house’s age (1932) deters buyers but I visited it with an architect and he came up with several great ideas for building new and incorporating the old. With eight acres in the four acre zone, you could finally build that 45,000 sq. ft. house Bitsy and the two kids have needed for the proper development of their souls.

I thought this was well priced at $5 million. At its current price of $3,495,000, it’s a bargain. It’s jane Gosden’s listing.

Overheard on the Golf Course
No, I don’t play golf but my brother Gideon does (why?)and says that he heard a builder complain, “you just can’t make a profit in Greenwich if you buy a property from off the Multi List – you’ve got to buy direct.”

Now that’s not true, and I can point out many, many profitable land transactions that Realtors were involved in but here’s my point: what the builder was complaining about was he couldn’t get as good a deal if other people knew about the land and competed with him for it. But what’s bad for a builder/buyer is good for an owner/seller so, when a builder knocks on your door you might want to at least consider exposing your home to the full market, rather than accept the builder’s promise that he’s offering you the best possible price. Sometimes they don’t, you know.

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Real Estate Advertising
Having tried my hand at it myself, I’ll vouch for the difficulty of writing ad copy for houses. One of the best in our business recently ran an ad boasting that “A River Runs Through It”. I think I get the point but it just doesn’t seem like a selling point, unless you want to go trout fishing in your basement.

Mainstream Media
I don’t watch much television but I’m told one of the nightly news shows has been running a week-long set of stories depicting the horrors of our current real estate market. Young couples facing ruinous mortgage payments and foreclosure, sellers unable to sell their houses, give-backs by builders and on and on. I realize that it’s an election year and the traditional media wants very badly for the electorate to believe that the economy has gone to Hell but mortgage rates are low, unemployment is just about non-existent and Wall Street continues to roll in profits. Even Greenwich’s real estate market has succumbed to this media pressure so our inventory has increased 16% – I don’t think that’s the end of the world. Well priced houses still sell quickly: Ginnie Ridenour’s listing at 48 Carrigleah Drive,a waterfront acre in Riverside, came on at $4,995,000 and went to contract (via John Cooke) almost immediately. In the past two weeks, thirty-five houses went to contract, at (asking) prices ranging from $10,000,000 on down. Some of these were dogs that had lingered on the market for years and finally moved only after their owners dropped their prices by huge fractions but, if you couldn’t sell an over-priced house in 2004, your finally selling it for less money in 2006 is evidence that it wasn’t priced properly to begin with. That’s not evidence of a collapsing market: it’s market forces at work.

10 Audubon Lane
Another agent told me that I had to be certain to view this house because it was so awful. As you might imagine it’s much more fun to write about bad houses than it is good so I scurried over to Bedford Road with gleeful malice in my heart. Imagine my disappointment when I pulled up the driveway and found myself admitting, “not bad”. Things only got worse for me when I entered the house: it’s well built, well laid out and bright and airy. All in all, a very nice house indeed. The only thing that could be held against it, I suppose, is that it’s not a traditional “Colonial” (gasp!) but it’s close enough to that design to be confused for one. Set back off Bedford on a private four acres, asking $4,795,000. Claudia Hirsch of Preferred Properties has the listing.

Real Estate Signs
The Greenwich Board of Realtors is about to crack down on open house signs. It’s early days but the plan may include Realtors paying for the services of a sign confiscator who’d travel around town confiscating signs that violate the law. It’s a start and, with the election about to fade away and with it all the political signs, some improvement is coming. By the way, Bernie Yudain recently posed the same question that’s been plaguing me: has anyone in the history of the world ever switched candidates because of a road sign? I think it’s just a harmless way for parties to put their dumbest, most enthusiastic supporters to work while keeping them from underfoot. It’d be more useful if they prowled Probate Court, looking for dead residents to solicit votes from.

Cookie Cutters
I don’t have many customers in the $10,000,000 range (okay, I don’t have any customers in that range) so I asked a friend who does why every new house on Round Hill and its environs looks identical. Simple: it seems that no trophy wife with a trophy home wants to be shown up, so each must have exactly what her peers have. The builders of these monstrosities know that and build accordingly. Mystery solved. And, just so you’ll know what’s coming, a New Canaan mommy recently told me that the new house I was showing her was inadequate (at 5,400 sq.ft.) because it lacked a second floor playroom for her (only) child. “All the new houses in New Canaan have them”, she informed me and I’m sure she’s right. Look for them in your neighborhood soon.

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