Monthly Archives: March 2007

Spring Market Conditions
Not so bad. I recently ran the numbers for the first two and a half weeks of March and saw that 64 houses had gone to contract, compared to 57 during the same period last year and 74 in 2005. So we seem to be doing okay; certainly not collapsing like some of the boom and bust areas like Florida. My advice would be to sell if you want to but not because you’re panicked.

Two Small Houses in Riverside
By coincidence, the childhood homes of my two best friends went on the market last week, both on Summit Road and just three doors apart. It was fun to revisit these houses for the first time since – I don’t know – 1967? Especially because, while they’ve been updated, they remain pretty much the same. Nancy Healy has listed 28 Summit for $1,259,00 which I think is the buy of the week. The house is a smallish contemporary (smallish by today’s standards – the Kramer family, three kids, two adults and, if memory serves, a dog, all fit in comfortably back then) with a good back yard. I know of no other property in its condition in that part of town at anything close to that price. Just up the street at number 36 Ann Simpson’s listed my friend Chase Carey’s house for a bit more, $1,525,000. It’s shy a bathroom, which could be remedied, but boasts a new kitchen and a lot of nice, new touches. Chase, by the way, grew up to become the CEO of DirecTV and recently contributed $2,000,000 to Colgate University, proving that growing up in a small house doesn’t permanently prevent a child from succeeding in life. Or it didn’t used to, anyway.

And over in Glenville
Barbara Suthergreen has 1 Strawbridge Lane (off Weaver Street) for sale at $1,579,00. It’s a good example of how much more your dollar buys in the western side of town because this house is almost 3,000 sq.ft., sits on a great, full acre of land, has been completely renovated, etc. etc. I really liked it and I think it’s an excellent buy.

Price it, sell it
We’re seeing bidding wars again, as I’ve previously reported, but many houses are still priced to high to attract interest. I see that one Riverside home finally sold for almost a million dollars less than the original price. For a house under $4,000,000, that’s a pretty large over-estimate of value. Of course, that error pales in comparison to another house, in another part of town, that originally came on the market in 2002 asking almost $10,000,000 and is still available five years later at just over $6,000,000. I hope for the owners’ sake that they’ve long since vacated; I can’t imagine keeping a house in showing condition for all that time.

Religious Fanaticism?
My father, who single-handedly kept the fifteen-watt light bulb industry alive, taught all of his children to eschew waste and save money. So I think it’s a good thing to conserve fuel, use energy efficient furnaces, insulate our houses, leave the Suburbans to celebrities, and so forth. But this global warming stuff has, in my opinion, zoomed way past the science that may support it and wandered into the realm of religious zealotry. Case in point: the news release last week that the average American woman weighs 164 pounds, which is up some 30 pounds from a generation ago (this study clearly was not conducted in our fair town, where three Lycra-clad Starbucks women together weigh less than that). The study’s authors weren’t content to point out that we’ve gotten fatter – they proceeded to calculate the extra gasoline expended and carbon emitted from transporting that extra poundage around and came up with a suspiciously-precise sounding sum. I don’t remember the figure but it was obviously enough to melt the polar ice caps and drown those cute bears. Forget gluttony; the new sin is being too large for the planet. Interesting (to me) is that the study failed to mention the patron saint of this new religion, Al Gore, who weighs 300 pounds and seems to travel with a driver (200 lbs?) a bodyguard (another 200?) and a publicist (93lbs). Everyone in a Suburban. But he pays John Edwards to install fluorescent light bulbs in John’s 28,000 sq. ft. home so all is well, I suppose.

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Oops!
Do to an editing error, my praise for two houses last week, one on Kennilworth Terrace, the other on Intervale, ran under a week-old headline, “Looking for an eyesore?” That certainly wasn’t my meaning and, while it didn’t hurt Kennilworth, which went via multiple bids at a price presumably higher than its asking price of $6.1 million, I don’t want readers to think either house is unattractive. Quite the contrary.

Don’t be a pig
The market has heated up, as it always does in spring, and we’re seeing bidding wars breaking out. Worse yet, we’re seeing the reemergence of “highest and best” situations where the loser throws still more money at the deal and “highest and best” becomes “highest and best and better yet”. I advise against this practice because you the seller will infuriate the original winner and, when the second bidder develops buyer’s remorse and walks away, you’ll discover that you’ve lost both. But the dumbest thing to do is to accept someone’s offer, let them spend $1,000 or more on building inspections and then break your word, accept a higher offer and refuse to compensate the first buyer for his out of pocket expenditures. Don’t do this because (a) it is wrong: you gave your word, the buyer relied on your word, and you should not let him be harmed by trusting you; or, for those of you who couldn’t care less about (a) then, (b) it may cost you dearly. Buyers who can’t stand losing out on any deal will often bid anything to win. Deal. Then they start thinking that they’ve over-paid and they walk. If you’ve treated the first buyers well – apologized, made them whole, etc., they may still be around to complete the deal. If you’ve stiffed them, trust me- they’re gone. So don’t do it. If you’ve accepted someone’s offer and the buyer, in reliance on that acceptance, incurs expenses for a building inspection, your best course of action is to stick with that buyer and place any higher offers in “back-up” status. But if you won’t do that, dig into your pocket and reimburse the first, disappointed party. It’s the smart thing to do.

Two Master Bedrooms
The New York Times reports on a growing trend, his and her “master” bedrooms. Apparently, after the kids have grown, spouses are deciding not to put up with each other’s snoring, sheet tossing and whatever other annoying habits the other has and are moving into separate bedrooms. I can’t say that I’ve noticed this here in Greenwich, yet, but the article quoted architects and builders from around the country who all said they were designing or building these things, so watch for it soon. Our houses will presumably get even bigger.

MulBerry Lane
Off Mead Avenue in Cos Cob, two nice houses. Number 2, priced at $879,000, is a move-in-ready Cape just renovated. Small but nice. Sally Parris listing. Number 6, listed by Tod Laudonia, asks $949,000. It needs work but it’s right on the millpond and its location justifies the effort.

Bad Houses
I’ve lived in town for more than fifty years and, during that time, I’ve seen out-of-towners make the same mistake, again and again. Because Greenwich residents are wealthy, these folks – store owners, builders, what-have-you, assume that they can charge any ridiculous price and Greenwichites will pay it. They’re only half-right; (some) Greenwich residents will indeed pay insane amounts for some things – have you priced clothes at Richard’s lately? – but they insist on getting value in return. In the case of Richard’s, it’s superb service (or so I’m told; I haven’t shopped there since they stopped selling Levis and moved across the street). For builders, the quid pro quo for high prices is superb quality of construction. So when I see, for example, a $10,000,000 mansion with flimsy banisters, lousy trim work, Home Depot cabinetry, I suspect that I’m looking at the work of a naive, cost-cutting neophyte who thinks a Greenwich address allows him to charge any price he dreams up. It doesn’t happen. Much as it galls me to admit it, most of our rich citizens in town got that way by being smart (well, lucky probably helps, too) and they aren’t going to toss their money away on junk. So if you build junk, price it as such. If you want top dollar for your efforts, you can get it here, but you’ll have to work for it. It’s a tough life.

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Kitchens
I enjoy cooking and often suffer intense jealousy pangs when I tour some of the luxury kitchens installed around town (the fact that, judging from their unused looks, these marvels of granite, 16-burner stoves and huge refrigerators are there solely for the convenience of caterers only increases those pangs, but never mind). The New York Times recently reported on what’s sure to be the next essential for Greenwich kitchens, the TurboChef oven, a combined micro-wave/convection/conventional appliance that cooks chickens in 12 minutes, soufflés in 2, and so forth. I want one, but I don’t think I’ll be shelling out $7,800 to buy one (unless all of you, right now, call me to sell your houses). But for some of my fellow residents that’s just chump change and I predict that as soon as one happy homeowner installs one all his friends (I suspect this particular gadget will be a guy thing) will want one too. Just think how happy your caterers will be.

And homes to put them in
So you’re ready for a new TurboChef but you worry it will dwarf your little Havemeyer kitchen. What to do? You might want to check out two new listings, either Joan Sutter’s at 25 Kenilworth, $6,195,000 or Jean Ruggiero’s at 12 Intervale Place, $6,450,000 .Both were built to exceptional quality standards (and both are Raveis listings, but regular readers of this column will have noticed that I don’t use that as a criteria for mentioning a house). If you think that this kind of price guarantees quality in new construction, you’re wrong; I’m not sure why, but possibly a combination of a shortage of skilled craftsmen and the natural desire of a builder to cut a few corners. Both these builders, Aberdeen (Kenilworth), Jeff Knapp (Intervale) resist that temptation, as evidenced, in a small way, by the crown molding in every closet. No sane buyer will pay extra for crown molding in a linen closet. These guys make the effort, I think, because their pride insists on it. In any event it’s a pleasure to tour houses like these after seeing some other new construction in town.

7 Old Kings Highway
I missed this house when it held a broker open house but I heard very, very positive feedback about it from my fellow agents. An attractive 1939 house updated in 1997 with three bedrooms and a small backyard, Dundee and Eastern school district, asking $960,000. From what I heard, that’s a good price. Catherine Stahl (David Ogilvy) listing.

Anecdotal Market Report
While out showing houses the past two weekends I noticed that at almost every house we were either preceded or followed by other agents and their clients. Offers are being tossed around, contracts signed and, I think, we’re seeing the end of winter doldrums. I’m waiting for the month to end to compile first quarter statistics but things feel busy. Feelings, of course, aren’t facts, so stay tuned. But if you’re house hunting and think there’s no urgency, you should probably reconsider.

A final food item
Did you see that PETA has chastised Al Gore for eating meat? In an open letter to Mr. Truth, PETA points out that “ the United Nations [has] determined that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.” The ex-VP, says PETA, should switch to a vegetarian diet if he really wants to save the world. If this is true, and who am I to doubt the United Nations, why isn’t anyone else talking about it? Could it possibly be that Americans might be willing to consider buying smaller cars and a few fluorescent light bulbs but, threatened with having their Big Macs wrenched from their hands they’d rebel and start examining the whole global warming panic? Certainly there must be some reason why Al Gore and his friends in the press never even address the number one source of deadly carbon gasses in the world. Of course, judging from his ever-expanding size, I suspect Gore is eating far more than his share of meat and, probably, buying sirloin offsets as compensation but, as with his private jet, shouldn’t he be at least telling the rest of us not to do it? I want a new movie.

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Mail Boxes
I received a number of emails from readers squawking about the Old Greenwich Postmaster’s dictate that his carriers will no longer deliver mail on foot and that every household without a mailbox must have one by March 1st if they wish to continue to receive their mail. Has the Postmaster had ever tried digging a posthole in the middle of a Connecticut winter? The ground’s frozen this time of year, sir. By the way, I suppose that the Post office’s new motto will be something along the lines of, “neither rain, nor sleet nor fear of snow will keep us from our jeep’s window”. Not quite as inspiring as the original.

Parkway School
Parkway’s predicted extinction is casting a long shadow over sales in that area. Parents with kids in public school seem determined not to send those children to Glenville or Western – a prejudice that I believe is completely unfounded – so listings in the Parkway district are lingering, at least among public school buyers/parents. That’s a huge area of town to hang in limbo, and I hope a resolution is coming soon. My preference, even as a taxpaying resident of Riverside, is for Parkway to stay open. My political sources tell me, however that the school is 40% underutilized, feeds almost no students to Western Middle School and is therefore doomed. What happens if it closes? Where will those elementary students be sent and what about houses in the Parkway/Central district? Will the Central kids be shipped to Western? If you own a house in the Parkway area, count on your buyers being limited to private school parents or on owning the property until the situation clarifies.

505 Cognewaugh
Here’s a nifty house, listed by Krissy Blake (Prudential/ Brad Hvolbeck). A 1927 farmhouse that’s been completely redone and expanded, on an acre of beautiful land. The owners utilized some of my favorite things in redoing this house, including miniaturized air conditioning (essential if you’re dealing with plaster walls) and a “slate” roof made from recycled tires, great stuff which lasts forever. A brand new, modern kitchen, all top appliances and the house itself has been beautifully finished. It didn’t work for my clients (when the 6’4” husband ducked his head entering the old, low-ceilinged living room I suspected as much) but for short guys like me, just perfect. The living room is the exception, by the way: most of the house will accommodate even Allan Houston of the Knicks.

Riverside tops out?
As a life-long Riverside resident I have always touted this section of town as the perfect place to grow up and to raise a family. But recently, while showing houses to a Riverside family, I was struck by the huge disparity between what a dollar buys in Riverside and what you’ll get in the Mid-Country. Riverside and Old Greenwich have always been priced, per square inch, at the highest level and you get something for that: kids can walk to school and their friend’s houses, there’s a real feeling of neighborhood and, assuming you belong to either Riverside Yacht Club or Innis Arden, your playground is just around the corner. All that said, I sense that we’re a bit out of whack here in the eastern part of town and either prices will level off for a spell or other areas are going to rise. Riverside has always been bomb-proof and I think that will continue but I wouldn’t count on soaring appreciation until other parts of town catch up. Just one man’s opinion, of course, and one from someone who’s often wrong.

Six Frigates
For history buffs, this new book by Ian Toll recounting the founding of the U.S. Navy is a great read. Mr. Toll is, I guess, an amateur historian (he once worked as an analyst for the Federal Reserve, which greatly increases my respect for that institution) but he’s collected all sorts of well and little-known facts into a compelling story of the navy. The bickering, back-stabbing and second-guessing that went on during this period of 1795-1815 will be strikingly familiar to anyone living now during our current war, and the descriptions of Decatur’s battles against the Barbary pirates and the Brits are well told. It’s not on U-Tube, yet, so you’ll have to actually read it, but there are pictures.

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