Daily Archives: July 18, 2008

Oops!
54 Rock Maple Road (off Stanwich) was originally listed for $12,450 last year (thanks for the correction by one of the commentators below. I thought it crazily over-priced at the time and said so (without identifying it) in my column. Apparently the market agreed with my assessment so it hasn’t sold and today it was marked down, again, to $6,950,000. The sad thing (for the seller, at least) is that a lot of folks in the $7,000,000 market last fall never saw this place when it was pegged at almost $12M (notwithstanding the pleas of one of my commentators, agents just won’t waste their time showing grossly over-priced houses. The seller is obviously not serious, so why bother?. They either bought something else, like my own clients, or moved on. Either way, there are fewer buyers in that price range now than there were a year ago, so an opportunity was missed. Where’s the bottom for this house and the market in general? I don’t know.

A Practical Seller
Nokia, the cellphone people (they also used to make fine snowtires, but I believe they’ve left that business) bought 30 Owenoke Way in Riverside for one of their executives two years ago(6/29/06) for $2,950,000, down from its original asking price of $3,450,000. The executive having presumably moved back to Finland, the property is back on the market, asking $2,995,000. The company may or may not get that desired appreciation of $45,000, but at least it hasn’t mistaken a flat or falling market with a soaring one.

5 Lockwood Drive, in Old Greenwich, seems to be taking a more positive view than mine. This house failed to sell at $2,950,000 in 2005 and was withdrawn. Now it’s back, still asking $2.95M. I’m not at all sure that the market is better today than it was in 2005. The seller obviously would disagree.

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Falling in Love
It almost never happens, at least in real estate. It’s true that, in 1954, my parents saw a house in Riverside with a beautiful library, with fireplace, looking west over a huge backyard and my mother did immediately fall in love: she envisioned having her afternoon tea in that room, with a crackling fire behind her and her wonderful children frolicking in the back yard. My parents bought the house, but the tea thing never happened – five kids did, and our squabbling, noisy behavior put paid to that dream. A typical outcome for most real estate fantasies.

But other fantasies persist: the stranger who will fall in love with a house while simultaneously agreeing to pay more for it than a comparable house, the “foreigner” who, lured to Greenwich by some “international” firm’s website is shown your house, converts Euros to dollars in his head and makes you a full price offer, or Elvis returning from Mars in order to reestablish Graceland on your site. Don’t hold your breath for any of these to occur.

What you as a seller might want to do is have your agent arrange for you to see two or three houses that she feels are competing for your buyer, then go see them while maintaining an open, objective mind. Leave your memories and life’s adventures behind when you go. The swing set that your now 22-year old daughter played on when she was three holds no value, sentimental or otherwise, for a buyer. Same for that secret flower garden where your wife hosted Brownie troop meetings. All warm memories for you, and worth nothing to anyone else. Memories aren’t a factor in pricing. On your tour, check out the kitchen – are you offering Formica counters and 40 – year-old cabinets? Was your bathroom last updated during the Coolidge administration? These may indeed have been “good enough for my family”, but you’re trying to sell the place to a new family, not keep yours in place. Adjust your price to your competition.

And if you have renovated your house, know that all the cherry flooring, Sub-Zero appliance and coffer-ceiling libraries you’ve installed probably don’t set your place apart from others in your price range – they all have such things, or lack them, depending on that price range. If you’ve got all those amenities and your competitors don’t then congratulations: you’ve priced your house right and you should expect an early sale. If it’s the other way around, you’re doomed.

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Alternative Energy Hogwash
AlGore has demanded that we stop all production of oil and switch to “alternative energy” (undefined) by 20015. How are we to achieve that? He doesn’t say. Nor would the very nice young college student who visited my house the other evening, soliciting signatures on a petition that “was in favor of alternative energy”. “How are we going to get energy produced in Arizona to homes in Connecticut?” I asked. She was a little imprecise in her answer but I didn’t press her – she was about the age of my own daughters and there was no way I wanted to be mean to her. But for all you fans of science fiction stuff, here’s Steven Den Beste’s take on the subject. He makes my point with far more clarity and succinctness than I can.

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The other education shoe drops
Despite its cheery headline today,Greenwich Time does finally get around to reporting the bad news: test scores for writing and math are down for elementary and middle school students. The end of the world is not upon us – almost 80% of the students are at at least grade level in these skills, but the future for the failing 20% looks bleak. There were some thoughtful comments submitted in response to my previous post on this subject, and I do sympathize with teachers who face the unenviable task of drumming knowledge into thick skulls distracted by imessages, the latest U Tube and last night’s results from American Idol, but what he heck are we doing here? Some years ago, while trying to make a living as a writer (didn’t work, but it was fun), I hired on as a Kaplan tutor for LSATs – Law School Admission tests. My students were all college graduates and eager to master the test, something you don’t often encounter when teaching high school students, and I had reasonable success guiding them through the logic and reading comprehension questions that comprise most of the exam. But I was struck by their complete lack of historical and literary knowledge. I’d refer to an event, or a line from Shakespear or even a post WW II classic and be met with blank stares. Edmund Burke said that without continuity, men ‘would become little better than the flies of summer”; we’re fast approaching that level.

My own beloved daughter, a graduate of the high school, has an appalling lack of 20th Century history and I wouldn’t dare to test her knowledge of eras predating that. I once, after seeing her reading some insipid bit of fluff for her English class, wrote to her teacher, who happened to have taught me English in 1969-70, my Junior year. I pointed out that we’d read “Look Homeward Angel” that year, which opened up the entire world of Thomas Wolfe and his works – I think I read them all. “So what’s happened?” I asked. He replied that, today, if he assigned anything even approaching the difficulty and length of Wolfe, his students would simply refuse to read it.

I don’t pretend to know how to instill a love of learning and the aptitude to apply a keen mind to difficult tasks, but if we can’t do it in Greenwich,with all its advantages, I suspect that the Indians and Chinese will figure it out. And then won’t we be in trouble.

Update
I agree with the comment posted below about seizing control of our schools back from the union and our superintendent. For an example of how this was done in Los Angeles, check out this article

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