Monthly Archives: July 2008

Here’s a depressing opinion piece

The Wall Street Journal asks, Is John McCain Stupid?. The author concludes that he is. I’m sorry to say I agree. It probably doesn’t matter, now that Obama is already fitting himself out for the dollar bill but it does seem a shame that we’ve ended up with a choice between a moron and a megalomaniac. of course, I have many friends in town who would respond, ‘we’ve done the dolt, let’s try the preening ward heeler.” Fair enough, but I think we’re heading for (more) trouble.

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Here’s a good value


8 Mansion Place is in the King Merit development off of King Street in western Greenwich. Not one of our most expensive neighborhoods but that means you can still get over an acre of land (1.19, in this case) and a nice house for far less than the average run-down Riverside house will cost you. This house, added to and renovated in 2005, has a ton of bedrooms, a really nice yard and a knock-you-dead solarium/family room all for just $1,499,000, down from its original June asking price of $1,699,000. Disclosure: it’s a Raveis listing but long-term readers know I’ve never let that sort of thing affect my calling a house a good (or a bad) buy and I’m not doing that now. In a better market, I think the original price would have moved this place. Its current price is better still and, if the alacrity with which the seller has adjusted her price is any indication, i think you might be able to nibble away at the price even more. Unprepossessing from the front – it looks like the plain old ranch that it once was, this is one worth seeing, if you can adjust to or want to live out west. No highway noise, either, which is not the case in some houses over here. A very nice house, and one I liked a lot.

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Cheesey or sleazy?


The 12 hour parking slots at Town Hall give you 2 hours for a quarter – a nice price if you need to park for awhile. But take a look at these meters and see whether you can tell how much time is left on the meter. I usually can’t, which means that, even if I find an unexpired meter, I still have to slip in a quarter to ensure I don’t get a $15.00 ticket. I don’t know whether the scratches and condensation that prevent a reading are deliberate or just the result of poor maintenance, but it’s annoying either way.

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Going Down?


A few months ago I would have gagged at this price but now it’s an encouraging signal, I hope, of where the gasoline market is heading – 20¢ less than yesterday! (Taken in Cos Cob at 6:56 this morning)

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Hamilton Avenue Mess

I’ve refrained from delving into the fiasco involving our two schools (Ham Ave and Glenville) in our west because (a) I don’t know much about what’s going on and (b) http://www.Greenwichroundup.blogspot.com is already doing a fine job of coverage. I do know that, when the town and the YMCA, faced with huge cost overruns on their projects being run by Worth, denied any knowledge that there was even a whiff of impropriety concerning the firm, that a simple Google search turned up plenty. Try the link in the title and see for yourself.

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Why wait ’til November? Let the coronation begin!

I don’t think it’s news that Obama supports the wacky bill that would grant native Hawaiians (defined as anyone who is, once was or would like to be known as Hawaiian) rights to most of the state, free education and a Smart car – that’s pretty much a standard democrat platform. No, what I find disturbing is that the press – remember them? The hard-bitten, skeptical crowd of truth seekers who exposed fraud and pomposity without fear or favor has suspended even the faintest pretense of objectivity. I’m sure they’ll recover once the man is ensconced in the White House, but by then it will be too late. Here’s the money quote from the article linked above:

When Obama walked on stage at the McCormick Center, many journalists in the
audience leapt to their feet and applauded enthusiastically after being told not
to do so. During a two-minute break halfway through the event, which was
broadcast live on CNN, journalists ran to the stage to snap photos of
Obama.

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Where’s the Sitemeter?
The little Sitemeter that’s usually posted on the right is missing today, not because I’m ashamed of my modest readership (which in fact is building very nicely) but because the service that provides it is preparing to upgrade things. Their official explanation:

“For the next 30 – 45 days we will be testing our servers and databases in preparation for the launch of our new SiteMeter platform. If you are currently using our NoScript tag (plain HTML) the little SiteMeter icon that appears on the pages where you have pasted our tag may disappear. Please rest … ” [. - you get the picture - ed]

When it’s available, the Sitemeter is fascinating, at least to me. I have one reader who logs on from Germany every day – don’t know why, don’t know who – and another from Peking. The Internet’s a thing of wonder. The meter is public, so when it reappears, click on it if you’re interested.

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$200 Million in campaign contributions and counting

The washington Post (above) has examined Fannie Mae’s giving history and the results don’t bode well for us taxpayers no matter who wins this year’s election.

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Greenwich Time Links

Here’s a link (click on title above) to one of the Greenwich Time articles on the egg tossing incident. We’re still working on the others.

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Here’s a great comment on selecting an agent that makes a lot of sense (because I didn’t write it!). I didn’t want it to get lost in the shuffle so I reprint it here.

“Though I agree with some of the techniques Chris mentions in scoping out the “better” agents, I have to say that elevating this town’s handful of good brokers to a level of consummate competency is unfair.I had used a couple of the “power” brokers in Greenwich on different occasions and found them to be too busy and/or scattered to pay me the kind of attention that I felt I deserved. They have too many listings and clients to manage with equal effectiveness. I eventually went with a lesser-known, non-veteran agent who has been wonderful. She appears to be among a large group of serious agents in Greenwich who are hungry for business but seem to be edged out by the veteran agents who rule the market — just because of their reputations. And not all of these veterans have favorable reputations on the street. I’d rather deal with someone who is smart and sincerely a hard-worker (even if he/she is not a veteran) rather than a tired, pushy, elitist.”

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Too bad greenwich doesn’t permit for sale signs by Realtors. This one makes sense.

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A quiet morning, but check out the comments section – there are a number of discussions going on.

I suppose we can talk about the latest tale of wayward boys causing trouble at the high school. According to the Greenwich Time’s sanitized version, five “high school football players” tossed eggs at a coach’s car over the course of several nights. The coach eventually took down their license number and handed it over to the police, then resigned presumably, the GT would have us believe, out of disappointment over the actions of his players. The true story or I should say, the rumored story, is, as usual with our local paper, far more interesting.

According to rumors, and some of these originate from people who should know, the egging crew included two co-captains of the team and they all pelted the car four nights running. The coach lost his cool and lay await for them on the fourth night, then engaged them in a high speed car chase across town to Byram or, if you prefer, across the Tappen Zee Bridge. Either way, he called off the pursuit, turned in the license plate number and was then fired from his coaching duties because his reckless actions had endangered the lives of the kids (who cares?) and any innocent by-standers who might have wandered into his path (that I do care about).

The kids, again rumor has it, although the school denies it, were ordered to run some laps and the matter would have ended there with one fired coach and five sweaty kids. But grumbling arose over the lack of punishment – the kids will continue playing with the team, for instance – and the perceived special treatment accorded star athletes. So yesterday our Superintendent announced a new round of punishment will be meted out, albeit without specifying what that punishment will be. I’d guess it will be a form of “super secret double probation” but what I’d like to see, just to make clear that budding pigskin tossers are treated no better than chair kickers, is them marched to the center of the football field, Tasered three times and then arrested and held on $50,000 bail. Now that would send (some kind of) a message.

(no links this morning, for reasons known only to God and Blogger.com. – if either of them deigns to send me a fix, I’ll have links in this post later)

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The bag lady is singing

I have a friend at a liberal New York magazine who is convinced that global warming is about to bring our doom so the link above is for you, Nick! I continue to side with that master of doom, Glen Reynolds, who says, “I’ll believe that we’re facing a crisis when the people preaching that act like it”. So when Al Gore gives up his private jets, when Edwards leaves his love child and mistress and returns to North Carolina (by train) to raze his 26,000 mansion and Barbara Streisand starts hanging her wash out to dry in Beverly Hills, I’ll believe. Until then …

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Off to see open houses

Not much new on today. Leona Helmsley’s place is open again to us agents but I’ve seen it once and, while it’s very nice, I don’t have any customers in her $125,000,000 price range so I think I’ll pass this time. Those statistics I posted yesterday were so depressing that my manager told me that she was not going to pass them out at today’s sales meeting for fear that everyone would run into the street and beg to be run over. Ah, it’s just a cycle. Just like automobiles or airplanes, these things go round and round, up and down. The uncertainty – how down will we go, and for how long? – is what’s whacking the market right now, but we’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again.
In the meantime, if you’re a buyer and have access to cash or a mortgage, you’re king.
More after the tour.

Update
Well that was quick (quicker than writing this update, which disappeared down the rat hole when I tried to post it). One decent house in north western Greenwich on a beautiful acre and asking $1,499,000 which I think is pretty good. I’ll have pictures and a write up of it soon. Other than that, we were treated to a Belle Haven house that sat unsold for a full year at $16,800,000. It now has a new broker and a new price, $14,250,000, but I don’t think that will do the trick either. “Belle Haven premium” notwithstanding, I suspect that, at this price, the house will still be here a year from now. Another house, on three close-to-town acres, offers either a total renovation project or is a tear-down. Asking more than $9,000,000, it too will probably continue to linger. All in all, current sellers seem to be ignoring Dr. Johnson’s warning about second marriages which he described as “the triumph of hope over experience.”

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Deck Materials

Popular Mechanics (click title above for the link) has a good article on the various options for decking material. I’ve made decks from three of the four mentioned (pressure treated, fir and composite) and my experience matches the reporter’s. I no longer build decks – or I haven’t in a long time – but Rick Crossman does, and his company, Archadeck, is here in Old Greenwich. Give him a call (978 – 9050) and he’ll give you prices on all of this. If you can’t sell your house and you’re going to stick around for awhile, you might as well enjoy the view from a new deck.

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Sales and Inventory

Well, as I suspected, we’re a little slow here in town – time to head for the Rockies or the beach until say, next February. Contrary to what I opined in a comment below, the $1 million to $3 million dollar house is still our bread and butter but according to these stats, we’re reduced to dining on stale crusts and oleo margarine. Here’s what we’re up against (and sorry for the layout – we’re still futzing with this blog – what I see is not what you get, and it’s frustrating):

Contracts since March 1, 2008
<$1,000,000 39 current inventory = 72
$1-$1.49 31 current inventory = 137

$1.5-1.99 29 current inventory = 98
$2.0-2.99 41 current inventory = 163
$3.0-$4.99 37 ` current inventory = 161
$5.0-$7.99 16 current inventory = 103
$8.0+ 7 current inventory = 81

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Best Agents?

In a comment to my previous post concerning active, knowledgeable agents versus the 90% who eat bon bons by their pools and wait to view properties for the first time with a client (I refer to this as a “mutual voyage of discovery” and consider it a huge waste of the client’s time) a reader asks how he can determine who among the 1,000 agents in town is one of the best. Since he already has my name, I’ll restrict my remarks to other agents.

There are plenty of good agents in town but, short of posting yourself outside a broker open house all day and seeing who shows up and who doesn’t, it’s tough to figure out. If you call a brokerage firm’s manager and ask for one of the top producing agents (we do represent both buyers and sellers), you might get the right person, but you might also get whoever is on floor duty that day. Depending on who is in the office at the time, this could be good or bad.

Reputation is usually a good sign – ask friends who have recently bought or sold a house who their agent was, and what they thought of her. For large firms with sales recognition programs, check the agent’s websites for membership in the firm’s top 5% or 1% circle (naturally, I’ve been in both, so I think this is a great technique!). But the top selling agent last year, town wide, was David Ogilvy, who doesn’t employ such showmanship, nor does he need to – see above, under “reputation’. My brother Gideon works for Cleveland, Duble and Arnold and they, too don’t have top producer awards yet his name will be found among the top sellers. Jean Ruggiero, my colleague here at William Raveis, is not only the second-most productive agent in Greenwich, she’s got an excellent reputation for success and has also been a member of the Raveis “Chairman’s Elite Club” forever, so there you have it.

My personal experience is that the agent is more important than the firm he or she works for. We all have websites, some of which are better than others, we all have “international connections”, for what they’re worth (generally, very little) and we are all capable of exposing your house to the Multiple Listing Service, which is what will probably sell your house, eventually. So comfort level and confidence should take priority. Until this year, I’d have insisted that you check how many transactions a candidate did in the past year, just to get a feel for their familiarity with the market place but today? A fellow agent came into the office last week, crowing that she’d just been out with a buyer. I suggested that she stick the guy in formaldehyde and preserve him as the last of his breed.

So ask around, make some calls, talk with a number of agents and either ask them about or check their resume. And, even in a slow market, you should probably keep your listing to six months, so that you can get out of an ill-fitting relationship. For you buyers – if you’re out there – be especially careful about signing a “buyer’s representation agreement” that locks you in for more than a day or two. especially if you’ve never met the agent before. State law requires that we get you to sign such an agreement the first time we meet face-to-face, but the agreement can be limited to just a few specific houses or one day. The worst thing you can do to yourself is sign up for six months exclusive representation with someone who, on your first tour you discover is incompatible. I use one-day agreements, but I am aware of agents who try to lock customers in for six months or even, in the most egregious example, a full year. Someone who’s that insecure about getting along with you is probably no one you want to do business with.

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Good news, bad news

The good news is that 1 Flagler Drive, asking $5,900,000, went to contract over the weekend, presumably for something less than asking price but proof nonetheless that there are still some deep-pocketed buyers out there. The bad news is that this gargantuan (by my standards – at 11,000 sq.ft. it’s probably tiny for other folk’s taste) mansion sat on the market since September 2, 2005, when it asked $8,495,000. Lesson here, I suppose, is that if you slash $2.5-$3.0 million from your asking price, you’ll eventually sell anything in this price range. Another lesson is don’t be so silly in the first place.

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A New low in euphemism

Greenwich Time refers today to “anti-prohibitionists” who used to run booze up my creek and stash it at what is now Dot McCullough’s boat house. Didn’t we used to call these folks “rum runners”? More colorful and far more accurate: I’m pretty sure that the criminals were very much in favor of Prohibition, because it enabled them to make huge, albeit illicit fortunes – just ask Joe Kennedy.

By the way, I hate using Greenwich Time’s website because of the pop-up ad for Greenwich Hospital that floats across the screen, blocking access to the main article. I don’t know how much the paper is receiving for this ad, but I’d think the cost of reader annoyance exceeds the fee.

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Don’t Taser me, Bro!

Our School Board has sent out a survey to parents, asking if they “support a school resource officer at the high school”. The Board eschewed the use of such inflammatory language as “armed and tasered” because they apparently feared that using the more accurate description might alarm parents and cause them to withhold their support for a program the Board itself obviously endorses. “School Resources Officer” sounds so benign – officer Friendly, there to help students find their lost textbooks, perhaps coax a stray kitten from a tree or maybe help out with a tough homework assignment. The reality is that at least one such officer tasered a kid last year for kicking a chair and tossing a water balloon – a dastardly deed, but, speaking as someone who lobbed 1/2 a grapefruit across the Student Center at a group of visiting educators way back in 1971, hardly a capital offense.

The trouble with giving cops toys like Tasers or, God help us, lots of really cool SWAT Team equipment is that, sooner or later, they’re going to want to use it. I say, if we’re that concerned about a Columbine at the High School, either arm the teachers or take the taser away from the cop. Someone might still get killed, I suppose, but the temptation to use non-lethal force beyond a head-lock would be removed.

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