Monthly Archives: August 2007

The sky is lowering, not falling

There are a lot of buyers out there who think that, if they only wait long enough, Greenwich housing prices will fall to affordable levels. So far as I know, these people have been waiting since, oh, maybe 1935. But it is true that waiting for a particular house to drop can be an effective strategy. One Ashton Drive came on the market 1/23/04 for $7.5 million and sold last week 3 ½ years later, for $5.125. One Indian Spring, the great old Rockefeller estate, was listed for $26,000,000 on 5/17/05 and also sold last week (via Barbara Zaccagnini) for $13,410,000. Now that’s a price reduction. I don’t mean to embarrass the sellers of these two houses but write this to make the point that, if you and your agent both think a house is over-priced, other agents may, too, and the house will linger, offering you plenty of time to work down the price. But beware: I’ve known buyers who rejected their agent’s opinion that a house was priced fairly and then lost the house they wanted to someone else. So listen to your agent; if you don’t trust her advice, get another agent – there are tons of us out here.

“Yacht” Club leases
Certain RTM members have complained that Greenwich leases waterfront property to four non-profit clubs, including the Old Greenwich Yacht Club and the Mianus River Boat Club. I think they’re wrong to complain. As I understand the situation, these are not private clubs: any town resident can join. Dues are paid, the buildings are maintained at no cost to the town and any “earnings” (a term mistakenly employed by Budget Overview Committee head Don Conway) are plowed back into operations. No one’s getting rich here, and the town itself collects all the revenue from slip and boat rack rentals. Even Mr. Conway admits the value of these clubs saying, “it’d great for kids who folks can’t afford to join private clubs” but he misses the point: there are a lot of residents who, while passionate about boating, wouldn’t join a private club at gunpoint. These four organizations provide a terrific, low-cost opportunity for Greenwich boaters to enjoy the water without enduring ten year waiting lists and the annual Commodore’s Ball. Leave ‘em alone, says I. As an aside, if the RTM wants to look at boat fees, perhaps it should eliminate the charge on windsurfers which are brought to the beach and depart the same day with their sailors. What services are provided by Greenwich that justify charging any fee at all?

Energy for Connecticut
Connecticut Attorney General and Greenwich resident Richard Blumenthal exulted over last week’s judicial ruling stopping, at least for now, a cross-sound natural gas pipeline, “thus preventing an ecological disaster”. Turns out, some clams were going to be temporarily displaced. I like clams, especially fried, but I also like having enough energy in this region to keep the economy going. I recently heard Blumenthal defend his opposition to the liquefied natural gas plant, which would sit six miles offshore, by claiming that there were other, safer ways to import energy, “like pipelines”. But if he and his environmental friends won’t permit pipelines to be built, or LNG complexes, or high voltage power lines, or nuclear reactors or conventional power plants – and they won’t – how do they expect to supply the region with our future energy needs? The best I can determine, this advocacy group’s solution is low energy lightbulbs and enforced use of scooters for commuting. If it weren’t so serious, the lunacy of these people, including Mr. Blumenthal, would be pretty funny.

Save this Date

The Women’s Club of Greenwich is sponsoring a cruise around the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor on Thursday, September 20. Hors d’oeuvres, buffet dinner, taxes and gratuities included, all for $95, regardless of club membership. Why am I mentioning this in a real estate column? Well, the head of the Club is my adored former Third Grade teacher, Maria Krumeich and she asked me to. I would never deny a (great) former teacher anything. Besides, thanks to the generosity of Riverside’s own Tom Peterson, I did something similar once on Malcolm Forbe’s Highlander and it was a blast. Questions? Call Carla at the Women’s Club @ 869-2046.

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The sky is lowering, not falling
There are a lot of buyers out there who think that, if they only wait long enough, Greenwich housing prices will fall to affordable levels. So far as I know, these people have been waiting since, oh, maybe 1935. But it is true that waiting for a particular house to drop can be an effective strategy. One Ashton Drive came on the market 1/23/04 for $7.5 million and sold last week 3 ½ years later, for $5.125. One Indian Spring, the great old Rockefeller estate, was listed for $26,000,000 on 5/17/05 and also sold last week (via Barbara Zaccagnini) for $13,410,000. Now that’s a price reduction. I don’t mean to embarrass the sellers of these two houses but write this to make the point that, if you and your agent both think a house is over-priced, other agents may, too, and the house will linger, offering you plenty of time to work down the price. But beware: I’ve known buyers who rejected their agent’s opinion that a house was priced fairly and then lost the house they wanted to someone else. So listen to your agent; if you don’t trust her advice, get another agent – there are tons of us out here.

“Yacht” Club leases
Certain RTM members have complained that Greenwich leases waterfront property to four non-profit clubs, including the Old Greenwich Yacht Club and the Mianus River Boat Club. I think they’re wrong to complain. As I understand the situation, these are not private clubs: any town resident can join. Dues are paid, the buildings are maintained at no cost to the town and any “earnings” (a term mistakenly employed by Budget Overview Committee head Don Conway) are plowed back into operations. No one’s getting rich here, and the town itself collects all the revenue from slip and boat rack rentals. Even Mr. Conway admits the value of these clubs saying, “it’d great for kids who folks can’t afford to join private clubs” but he misses the point: there are a lot of residents who, while passionate about boating, wouldn’t join a private club at gunpoint. These four organizations provide a terrific, low-cost opportunity for Greenwich boaters to enjoy the water without enduring ten year waiting lists and the annual Commodore’s Ball. Leave ‘em alone, says I. As an aside, if the RTM wants to look at boat fees, perhaps it should eliminate the charge on windsurfers which are brought to the beach and depart the same day with their sailors. What services are provided by Greenwich that justify charging any fee at all?

Energy for Connecticut
Connecticut Attorney General and Greenwich resident Richard Blumenthal exulted over last week’s judicial ruling stopping, at least for now, a cross-sound natural gas pipeline, “thus preventing an ecological disaster”. Turns out, some clams were going to be temporarily displaced. I like clams, especially fried, but I also like having enough energy in this region to keep the economy going. I recently heard Blumenthal defend his opposition to the liquefied natural gas plant, which would sit six miles offshore, by claiming that there were other, safer ways to import energy, “like pipelines”. But if he and his environmental friends won’t permit pipelines to be built, or LNG complexes, or high voltage power lines, or nuclear reactors or conventional power plants – and they won’t – how do they expect to supply the region with our future energy needs? The best I can determine, this advocacy group’s solution is low energy lightbulbs and enforced use of scooters for commuting. If it weren’t so serious, the lunacy of these people, including Mr. Blumenthal, would be pretty funny.

Save this Date
The Women’s Club of Greenwich is sponsoring a cruise around the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor on Thursday, September 20. Hors d’oeuvres, buffet dinner, taxes and gratuities included, all for $95, regardless of club membership. Why am I mentioning this in a real estate column? Well, the head of the Club is my adored former Third Grade teacher, Maria Krumeich and she asked me to. I would never deny a (great) former teacher anything. Besides, thanks to the generosity of Riverside’s own Tom Peterson, I did something similar once on Malcolm Forbe’s Highlander and it was a blast. Questions? Call Carla at the Women’s Club @ 869-2046.

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The sky is lowering, not falling
There are a lot of buyers out there who think that, if they only wait long enough, Greenwich housing prices will fall to affordable levels. So far as I know, these people have been waiting since, oh, maybe 1935. But it is true that waiting for a particular house to drop can be an effective strategy. One Ashton Drive came on the market 1/23/04 for $7.5 million and sold last week 3 ½ years later, for $5.125. One Indian Spring, the great old Rockefeller estate, was listed for $26,000,000 on 5/17/05 and also sold last week (via Barbara Zaccagnini) for $13,410,000. Now that’s a price reduction. I don’t mean to embarrass the sellers of these two houses but write this to make the point that, if you and your agent both think a house is over-priced, other agents may, too, and the house will linger, offering you plenty of time to work down the price. But beware: I’ve known buyers who rejected their agent’s opinion that a house was priced fairly and then lost the house they wanted to someone else. So listen to your agent; if you don’t trust her advice, get another agent – there are tons of us out here.

“Yacht” Club leases
Certain RTM members have complained that Greenwich leases waterfront property to four non-profit clubs, including the Old Greenwich Yacht Club and the Mianus River Boat Club. I think they’re wrong to complain. As I understand the situation, these are not private clubs: any town resident can join. Dues are paid, the buildings are maintained at no cost to the town and any “earnings” (a term mistakenly employed by Budget Overview Committee head Don Conway) are plowed back into operations. No one’s getting rich here, and the town itself collects all the revenue from slip and boat rack rentals. Even Mr. Conway admits the value of these clubs saying, “it’d great for kids who folks can’t afford to join private clubs” but he misses the point: there are a lot of residents who, while passionate about boating, wouldn’t join a private club at gunpoint. These four organizations provide a terrific, low-cost opportunity for Greenwich boaters to enjoy the water without enduring ten year waiting lists and the annual Commodore’s Ball. Leave ‘em alone, says I. As an aside, if the RTM wants to look at boat fees, perhaps it should eliminate the charge on windsurfers which are brought to the beach and depart the same day with their sailors. What services are provided by Greenwich that justify charging any fee at all?

Energy for Connecticut
Connecticut Attorney General and Greenwich resident Richard Blumenthal exulted over last week’s judicial ruling stopping, at least for now, a cross-sound natural gas pipeline, “thus preventing an ecological disaster”. Turns out, some clams were going to be temporarily displaced. I like clams, especially fried, but I also like having enough energy in this region to keep the economy going. I recently heard Blumenthal defend his opposition to the liquefied natural gas plant, which would sit six miles offshore, by claiming that there were other, safer ways to import energy, “like pipelines”. But if he and his environmental friends won’t permit pipelines to be built, or LNG complexes, or high voltage power lines, or nuclear reactors or conventional power plants – and they won’t – how do they expect to supply the region with our future energy needs? The best I can determine, this advocacy group’s solution is low energy lightbulbs and enforced use of scooters for commuting. If it weren’t so serious, the lunacy of these people, including Mr. Blumenthal, would be pretty funny.

Save this Date
The Women’s Club of Greenwich is sponsoring a cruise around the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor on Thursday, September 20. Hors d’oeuvres, buffet dinner, taxes and gratuities included, all for $95, regardless of club membership. Why am I mentioning this in a real estate column? Well, the head of the Club is my adored former Third Grade teacher, Maria Krumeich and she asked me to. I would never deny a (great) former teacher anything. Besides, thanks to the generosity of Riverside’s own Tom Peterson, I did something similar once on Malcolm Forbe’s Highlander and it was a blast. Questions? Call Carla at the Women’s Club @ 869-2046.

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The newest “Must-Have” fashion accessory
According to NPR, and who argues with NPR, fashionable families now count at least four children as necessary accessories, to go along with the yellow Labrador and the Mercedes. That many children, apparently, sends a message that you can afford four private school (and college) tuitions, a very large house and nannies to care for the brood. One young mommy interviewed for the article said, “I’m highly educated, ambitious and no longer employed in the workplace so of course I want to excel at something; in this case, raising the perfect family”. Let’s see: well educated, ambitious, rich young women – where do we find those? Instead of mulling over closing Parkway School, the Board of Ed should start planning new schools (I realize that all these perfect children are slated for private school but, as that young mommy may soon discover, not all perfect children are quite so perfect and some, alas, are going to end up rubbing shoulders with the great unwashed in the public schools).

The sky (isn’t) falling!
The New York Times reported over the weekend the sad story of a supposedly rich young thing from Wall Street who applied for a $1.5 million mortgage and was quoted rates as high as 13%. Leaving aside that a someone buying a piddling house under $2 million hardly qualifies as rich, in Greenwich, is it true that the pool for large mortgages is drying up? I called Marcos Zavattaro, Vice President of Patriot Bank and one of the most experienced mortgage guys I know (252-5922, if you want to talk to him yourself) to get the scoop. “One of the most ridiculous stories I’ve ever read”, was his response. According to Marcus, the so-called “jumbo mortgages” – loans over $1.0 million that can’t be sold to FannyMae, have indeed been hit by the recent credit panic, but not to the extent reported by the New York Times. Last Monday, he had a quote of 6 3/8 for one such loan; the next day, that same loan was 8%, because no one is willing to buy loans until they know what’s happening. Still, 8% is not 13%. Marcus’s advice – I think it’s his advice, but call him personally, in case I blew this – is to wait and let the panic subside over the next 60-90 days, when, he thinks, rates will retreat. If you want to buy a house before then, he suggests that you go interest only and pay the loan off when that bonus rolls in. If that bonus rolls in, of course. If not, we in the real estate industry stand ready to help you unload your unfortunate purchase at only a slight discount. Ah, just kidding – all my smart friends on Wall Street seem to have already figured out how to profit from the present scenario and if you haven’t, maybe you should be here with me on the other side of the trenches.

Change your broker, lose your buyers
I’ve been busy recently showing houses in the $5-$9 million range and rarely have I seen so many over-priced homes. I marked a number of them as ripe for realistic offers but saw this week that the owners of several of them have switched brokers and retained original price. That’s a sign of serious derangement – it’s not your agent’s fault that your house hasn’t sold, buddy, it’s your price – compared to others in your price range, you’re out of whack. So, when I see an owner refusing to acknowledge this truth, I cross the house off my list for future consideration. I’ll come back to it next spring when it will probably be in a free-fall and be a real bargain.

Pomerance Property
Did you see the interesting quote from Dianne Fox, our Town Planner, stating that there is nothing to prevent moderate income housing from being erected on the Pomerance park? I realize that many in town feel we need more moderate-income housing, but I suspect none of us who supported the town’s purchase of the parkland, for $20 million plus, did so with the intention that it be built over with housing. Bait and switch, or just another town official imposing her will over what the town wants? I don’t know, but it seems to me that we should fire our town planner and the current members of the RTM Land Use Committee. Time for a fresh start.

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Old Greenwich bargain?
I think so, at least. Cathy Adams, of Country Living Associates, has listed a completely renovated four bedroom house at 54 Highview Avenue for $1,695,000. Highview is a deservedly popular street, within walking distance of Old Greenwich School and the village and a pretty easy walk/jog/ride to Tod’s Point. I think, comparing this house to what else is out there in its price range, this one’s the best by far (a comment that will surely solicit a dozen emails from other agents asking, “what about my listing?”, but what the heck).

Pool safety, continued
I never did hear back from my pool safety expert but from what I could learn there are a number of ways to address the suction pump peril (I’d think that a simple grill would do the job but apparently not). One device is a vacuum breaker that, installed, shuts down the pump when it senses a blockage. My advice, if you have young children or grandchildren, is to make an appointment with whoever services your pool and arrange for a thorough, careful safety inspection. And make the recommended changes.

Multiple Listing Service
I heard from a reader who pointed out that I often say it’s impossible to price a house too low in Greenwich because the marketplace will bid it to its proper price. So why, he asks, should he spend the money hiring a broker? He himself has sold three properties on his own and did just fine to which I say, good for you. But my point about the marketplace effect assumes, of course, that the property is fully exposed to every potential buyer and I know of no better mechanism to achieve that than the MLS. A “For Sale by Owner” sign stuck on the front yard won’t do it. Here’s an example: several years ago, an older acquaintance of mine decided to sell his waterfront property but shuddered at the thought of strangers wandering through his house. He approached a local agent and asked him to find a buyer. This was done, the house traded hands for somewhere around $4.0 million and both sides were happy. Those of us who heard about the sale thought the seller had left at least $1.5 million on the table and in fact it sold for more than twice the original selling price a few years later. That usually doesn’t happen when your house is on the MLS, although there are exceptions, especially when a house has been over-priced originally and then grown stale.

Besides, a source of objective advice and tactics can be invaluable. As a former NASD arbitrator I felt sorry for the poor deluded fools who came before our panels without benefit of counsel. Stock broker fraud and selling a house are different things, of course, in that, in the latter case, someone actually wants to give you (some) money while in the former Wall Street, having taken your money away, has a fierce determination to keep it. I’ve never strong-armed anyone into using my services as a lawyer or Realtor but if I had legal difficulties, I’d hire a lawyer and if I wanted to sell a house, I’d use the services of my fellow Realtors and the MLS. But feel free to ignore my advice; some folks succeed at the going-it-alone route and others have created an entire subspecialty in my business: turning FISBO’s (for sale by owner) into listings. If there weren’t a lot of failed FISBOs out there, that market niche wouldn’t exist.

Interest rates
Very much not an area I know much about (so perhaps I should start a hedge fund?) but I hear from my financial sources that there are an awful lot of people with bad credit in Connecticut and even here in Greenwich and the borrowing market has pretty much dried up for them. It’s killing deals and I assume that will create a ripple effect because, if someone with excellent credit can’t find a buyer for his existing house, he probably can’t afford to buy yours. Greenwich has always had a solid real estate base and I can’t imagine that collapsing but it’s not inconceivable that things may slow down, for awhile. It’s not quite the cop’s “nothing to see here, move along, move along”, but I wouldn’t panic. Yet.

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Drop that price, now
I checked up on some numbers: in the second and third week of July 74 single family homes were placed on the market while only 31 moved off to contract. That’s not awfully astonishing, or alarming, because the holiday slowed momentum and besides, like forest fires out west, this happens every year. But a month from now, all sorts of new inventory will be coming on and your poor listing, tired and stale, will be buried amid the new ones. It’s your money, but if you’ve been resisting a price reduction, you might want to make one now and sell your house to some nice family that needs a house before school starts.

Old Greenwich traffic
Have you noticed the traffic buildup in Old Greenwich these days, especially between the hours of 11:30 am to 1:30 pm? Some days, the cars are bumper-to-bumper from Mackey’s Mobile to Binney Park. I suspect it’s a mixture of beach, lunch and ordinary business traffic and I have absolutely no solution to propose; we’re a one traffic light town down here, but it’s simply awful. I try to avoid coming into town during that period and, with due apologies to Tomac Road residents, just bypass the business district. Must be hard on merchants, though.

Trusty service
I mentioned Mackey’s, and I have always had a great relationship with, first, John Mackey himself and then later with Peter, his son in law and his associates Paul and Kenny. That said, I happened to bring my car into Soundview Service Center, across from the Post Office on Arcadia Road, for the cheapest gas in town and, while I was at it, a question about my air conditioning. My Honda’s four years old and on really hot days the A/C seemed to have lost its punch. I left it to be serviced and an hour later received the scariest words you can hear from a mechanic, or a cancer surgeon: “Mr. Fountain, could you come down here? I want to show you something.” Well, the “something” turned out to be nothing more (or nothing less?) serious than my own inability to set the A/C controls properly and, once they straightened out this moron, everything was fine. I mention all this because the proprietors could so easily have taken advantage of my ignorance and run all sorts of tests, added whatever has replaced Freon these days, etc. I thanked one of the owners, Pete Parente (it’s a family business with a bunch of adopted kids so whoever you meet there is probably a Parente) for his honesty and he said simply, “that’s not how we operate.” Indeed they don’t, so SoundviewService Center (637-2033) has now been added to my list of recommended service providers.

Swimming Pool Safety
Nancy and I came very close to losing our boy John, now a strapping 24-year-old, when he was three and playing in our friend’s lake. So the tragic death of six-year-old this past weekend in his parents’ pool struck an awful chord. I have many clients with small children who insist on a swimming pool and, while I suppose a sale’s a sale, I always point out the statistic in that great book, “Freakonomics” that a child is 100 times more likely to die in a family swimming pool than from a gun in the household. Deadline pressure prevents me from including advice from local pool safety experts (next week, I promise) but do be aware of the danger of pools. This from someone who raised three kids on a tidal creek without losing one of them (I think so – Nancy, is that right?)

630 Lake Avenue
A loyal reader has emailed, informing me that this property is going to auction in the near future. He asks why the Multiple Listing Service, touted by me as the best method of exposing a house to the market, so obviously failed. My answer is, … I dunno. I liked the house very much when it was first listed on the MLS and still liked it, a year later, when it reappeared with a new broker and a lower price. But it’s a quirky house and even the MLS can’t move a house when its price is wrong and, in this case, the market says the price is wrong. Minimum bid, according to my reader, is now $500,000. Now that would be a bargain.

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