Monthly Archives: August 2008


More effective than bribing the maitre d’
The man pictured above, “Eddy”, was our fishing guide for a few days this week and Thursday night we invited Ed and his wife Paula to join us for a farewell dinner at Harvest, reputed to be Montauk’s best restaurant. Great idea but when we arrived we learned that there was an hour-and-a-half wait for an outside table and inside? Forget it. We turned away, wondering whether Tony’s Pancake House was open for dinner, when Paula spotted the restaurant’s hostess and hailed her. She explained our party of five’s dilemma, the hostess disappeared inside for a minute and returned to announce in a loud voice for the benefit of the soon-to-be disappointed diners ahead of us, “I found your reservation – it was filed under ‘Eddy’.” Sure.

Okay, I felt a little guilty brushing past the hoi polloi clustered at the entrance but Eddy and Paula are regulars all year ’round (inside they were greeted by every worker, from bus boy to waiters) and heck, I’ve always wondered what it was like to have the velvet rope opened for my dining party. Turns out, it’s just grand. Food was excellent, by the way and, compared to Greenwich, a relative bargain.

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Back to work (after the weekend)
The tuna and shark population remains unchanged, despite our best efforts, but a few striped bass are on their way to becoming dinners. That’s Sean Mathews holding a bass (Sean’s the one wearing sunglasses). Need the best roofer in Fairfield County? Sean’s your man.

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Gone Fishing

Back Friday – please check in then. Thanks!

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So you’re thinking of buying a house
Okay, perhaps you aren’t, but maybe you should be. As I mention below, there are a lot of houses out there that have been on the market for a long time. Some of them have come down enough to represent decent values (for instance, a house on lower Lake Avenue originally listed in June, 2006 at $1.585 million is now asking $1.099 million. Offer $995 and grab it), others still have some room to drop but their owners might be willing to listen to, and accept, a low price – I know of one that has been on for 18 months and has dropped from $3.5 million to $2.9 million. I’d want to see it at, say $2.45 before I called it a good deal, but maybe ….

In any event, this is a good time to pull the records (or have your realtor pull the records) and examine houses that have lingered through a falling market. Look above your price range – a $2.7 house might actually be a $1.8 house and if $2′s your limit and the house suits your need, try it. Do some drive-bys, narrow down your search further by actually entering the house and, if you come up with a handful of picks, rank them in order of preference and put in a bid on one. If that doesn’t work, move on to the next, and so on. It may all be an exercise in futility but you could end up with the house you want, for a very good price.

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A letter from Nigeria
You loved their emails – relative lost in horrible plane crash, secret fund that can only be removed from the country with your assistance, please send all private banking information most hastily – now there’s another chance to quintzupple your money in that wonderful country: real estate!. read the whole thing, of course, before you invest, but here’s just a teaser:

A new report has predicted more buoyant time for operators in the real estate sector and urged investors seeking bountiful returns to look in that direction.

The report coming from the nation’s foremost credit rating and research agency, Agusto & Co, the report ranked real estate as one of the fastest growing sectors in the country.

It quoted the firm’s Analyst-in-Charge, Mr. Dolapo Oni, as saying, “The real estate market is one of the most viable alternatives to investing in the stock market that can give comparable returns.”

It also said, “Real estate tends to mostly appreciate. Prices of land and property rarely fall. In the last one-year alone, prices have appreciated in some areas of Lagos by over 200 per cent. On the average across all observed locations, prices appreciated by over 30 per cent.

“As such, investors are guaranteed to a large extent that their capital will appreciate significantly, if they invest in the right real estate properties.”

“Guaranteed to a large extent”? Who can resist that kind of opportunity? Please send your banking information directly to me – I’ll pass it on.

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Does the Back Country get a pass in the Police Blotter?

Greenwich Divaposes this question today because, while the blog’s author knows of several instances of domestic abuse, with arrests, among her neighbors, she never sees the incidents reported in our fair paper. My experience has been the same; I know of drug busts and horrendous abuse cases yet they don’t seem to see publishing daylight (except for George C. Scott and his wife – the Greenwich Time loved reporting on their spats when the unhappy couple lived in town).

So do our police keep certain incidents from the blotter or does the Greenwich Time protect wealthy criminals? Or neither – are people like the Diva and I just missing the news. One thing I’m sure of: bad things occur all over town, even in wealthy households.

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The World’s Smallest Violin
Our local daily reports that a young boy named Conor Holliday “has broken his ribs, wrist, ankle, shattered a bone in his left foot and fractured the Lisfranc joint in his foot – all in the name of the adrenaline rush that is skateboarding.” Mr. Holliday now complains that he dislikes paying a $10 fee to use the town’s skateboarding park, which costs taxpayers $40,000 annually to operate, and threatens to take his business elsewhere.

My question is, who’s been paying this idiot’s medical bills? If he’s a ward of the state, then it’s our tax dollars being used to patch him up and send him out to do it again. If it’s private insurance, then it’s our rising premiums achieving the same thing. Either way, maybe his parents should concede the obvious – the kid can’t skate – and take away his board so he doesn’t hurt himself, or our wallets, again. Failing that, make the kid pay the damn admission fee. Hrrmph!

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They’re back!

Okay, they may not be as welcome as the swallows of Capistrano (when I Googled that term to check spelling I was asked, “did you mean swallows of cappuccino?” – er, no)) but buyers are finally stirring, poking around after the storm to see what’s still here. Before you sellers get your hopes up, you might want to know that the buyers I’ve been talking to are ready to buy and have cash but they’re not planning on paying full asking price – quite the contrary. Their general consensus, if I can extrapolate from a small sample, is that the market is flattening out and probably will start recovering in the Spring, so perhaps now’s a good time to buy. I won’t disagree.

I’m also hearing rumors of a couple of very large pending deals that, if they come to fruition, should cheer up spec builders considerably. So don’t despair but do be prepared to hear offers well below what you’ve been counting on. As of today there are 37 single family homes actively listed since at least August 2007 (and that’s not counting listings that have expired and withdrawn with the intention of returning to the market in a few weeks). So if you won’t listen to a low offer, there’s probably somebody else out there who will.

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Tiny Bubbles

Busted ones, anyway. Today’s NY Times has a good article on the housing bust in California. We’re not anything close to that bad here (in the area the Times writes about, 85% of the houses bought within the past three years are worth less than is owed on them) but there are lessons to be learned, especially the folly of blind optimism that assumes a never ending supply of young millionaires capable and willing to spend $5 million and more for a new house.

And if you missed yesterday’s paper, check out Joe Nocera’s column, also in the Times, on how Fannie Mae went off course, while enriching its officers. Nothing in here that the WSJ wasn’t warning about a decade ago but it provides an ugly view of what happens when politicians and (other) crooks collude.

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33 Crescent Road, Riverside

This new construction (my listing, so take comments with a grain of salt) sold last week for $3.175 million (asking price, $3.195). That should make the neighbors on Crescent happy because the builder, Greenwich Construction, has now sold two new houses on the street for more than $3 million – the other, 29 Crescent, was a bit larger and sold for around $3.4 million.

These both replaced older, much smaller homes and it’s tempting to mourn the loss but, as listing agent for both, I can report that there was no – zero, nada-interest in either of the existing properties by end users. The market demands new, and bigger houses. We can complain but, when you go to sell your own house, perhaps you should feel grateful that there are still builders around willing to risk their money on speculative projects. If you don’t feel that warm appreciation, don’t worry – there are fewer spec builders every day so you may well have a chance to pass along your house to a deserving, if impoverished young family who will cherish your home as you did. And pay what you did, too.

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$7.2 Million?
I recently gave a price opinion for some property in central Greenwich. My advice was rejected, which is fine, but the figure I gave was considered too low, I suspect because there’s another new house nearby asking $7.2 million. Now, asking is not getting, but I’m pretty sure the seller of the house I advised on hasn’t quite grasped this concept.

So here’s a picture of what’s available on Ridge Avenue for $7.2 million. I’ll be curious to see how it does. If it sells for somewhere near that price then I’ll be proved wrong, again. But I might be looking pretty smart a year or so from now.

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Here’s what MADD should be mad about
drunk, high, naked driver crashes into parked car while masturbating.

Instead, they have their knickers in a knot over the proposal by a group of college presidents and drinking experts (how does one apply for the latter job?) to lower the drinking age back to 18.

Drunk driving is a menace and should be vigorusly attacked. Turning 3/4 of the college kids in this country into criminals is not the way to do that. But, as others have pointed out, MADD has turned away from combatting drunk driving and into a rabid temperance movement. I don’t drink so I don’t particularly care what the angry mothers are up to but I do have three kids, all over 21 now, who, I suspect, imbibed a beer or two at school, just as most college kids have done for, say, the past 150 years. If educators think banning such behavior is a bad idea, maybe we should at least discuss it, rather than leave the decision to MADD.

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Don’t tell my peers here in Greenwich
But things are bad all over, even in Bulgaria

And Martha’s Vineyard

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Copy Editor!
The Greenwich Time, fresh from laying off half its editorial staff, announces today that Cops Relish in Golder Verdict. It seems to me that one may relish a verdict but, unless you’re a hot dog, can you relish in anything? And if that’s the intended meaning, shouldn’t the headline have referred to the Goulden’s verdict?

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Havana, I hear you calling
The Wall Street Journal article I link to below mentions “Climate Crime Cards” that kids can use to spy on, and report environmental crimes committed by their parents, friends and relatives. I wondered if the editorialist was indulging in a bit of satirical stretching so I Googled the term and damned if he wasn’t exactly right. Wow. This all seems eerily reminiscent of stories I’ve read about life in Nazi Germany and, later, communist paradises like Cuba where children are encouraged to spy on and rat out their parents for impure thoughts. In protest, I may just start tossing #3 plastics into my blue recycling bin.

Or buy fresh ammunition for my guns.

Update: reader Juan comments: Juan writes…
“Reminds me of the story of little Pavlik Morozov, who became a Soviet Hero and was adopted as patron saint of the Young Pioneers for denouncing his father. His life exemplified the duty of all good Soviet citizens to become informers, even at the expense of family ties.

http://andrejkoymasky.com/liv/fam/biom6/moro1.html.

The back story is that the distressed mother, abandoned by her husband for another woman, instigated the child’s denounciation. And in the end, most of the family and extended family, except the mother, were killed by the Soviets.”

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The New Yorker article
The Greenwich Time has discovered Nick Paumgarten’s article on Greenwich. Paumgarten’s tone may be a bit pessimistic on the current state of our real estate market (could be because he spent too much time talking with me) but I think he’s right on, naturally. Leave it to our local paper, however, whose last revenue source is real estate advertising, to seek out and quote those Realtors still capable of whistling past the graveyard.

But local brokers say that explanation only gives part of the picture. While it’s true Greenwich’s upscale market is not as robust as it once was, it’s certainly not bad enough to doom a well-planned project to failure, many said.
“I don’t think Greenwich has been that hard hit,” said Jackie Hammock, a real estate agent for Coldwell Banker. “There are still plenty of these houses that are selling.”

[Coldwell Banker - isn't that the firm that got your column axed for saying mean things about real estate? Ed. Why yes, I believe it was]

While I’m delighted that there are still optimistic agents working the beat and while I don’t believe that the market has died forever, I personally stopped whistling awhile ago.

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Our Environmental friends on the lunatic fringe
I missed this opinion piece when it originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal but it’s still available on the web and it’s fun reading for people of all political persuasions. Well, perhaps not. Here’s a quote:

But now the environmental movement has morphed into the most authoritarian philosophy in America. The most glaring example of course is the multitrillion-dollar cap-and-trade anti-global warming scheme that would mandate an entire restructuring of our industrial economy. This plan, endorsed by both presidential candidates, would empower climate-change cops to regulate the energy usage and carbon emissions of every industry in America. If we do this, the best estimates are that we could reduce global temperatures by 0.1 degrees by 2050 and save on average about one polar bear a year from early death. But no burden is too great when it comes to helping the planet — even if the progress to be made is infinitesimal. To weigh costs and benefits is regarded as sacrilege — the refuge of global warming “deniers.”

There are also new federal and state proposals to snoop on citizens in our own homes. California is considering a plan to police the temperature settings on residents’ thermostats. The feds are checking on the flush capacity of our toilets and the kinds of light bulbs we use. A new game called Climate Crime Cards urges kids to spy on and keep an online record of their family’s environmental faux pas — noting when their parents fail to turn off the TV, plug in too many appliances or use the clothes dryer on a sunny day. Sen. John Warner, a Republican from Virginia, wants to bring back the reviled 55-mile-per-hour federal speed limit law so that America can reduce gasoline consumption. Barack Obama believes that properly inflating the tires on our cars is the solution to our energy woes. Is the government going to start giving tickets for failure to inflate?

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Are newspapers next?
Home Magazine shuts down

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Parking ticket appeals
In my driving history I’ve probably accumulated 10 parking tickets over 39 years. Spread out over that time, that’s not bad (no, I’m not counting the tickets I got when I attended college in Boston, when, in those blessed pre-computer days, you could ignore the tickets and switch to new license plates on visits home). And I’ve never appealed one until now but a cop recently ticketed me for parking too close to a hydrant and, when I questioned him, he said, “you were in my way.” I don’t think that a cop’s pique is sufficient reason to get a ticket so I filed an appeal and went off to Town Hall today to argue it.

It was an almost painless process. I met a very nice guy named, I think, Bob Bishop who heard me out sympathetically, agreed with me that the cop was not behaving well but asked me how close I was to the hydrant. I confessed that I was certainly closer than the 10′ demanded by law so he suggested cutting the $50 ticket to $25. Seemed fair to me and the matter was closed. Took 5 minutes.

So I got what could be perceived as an apology from the town for the peevishness of their officer and I paid for my sins. Here’s a picture of the scene of the crime. You’ll notice that the offensive policeman is a gentleman in his late 50′s. Anyone that age still wearing shorts and directing traffic probably has suffered some career disappointments along life’s path, but that’s
no reason to be a jerk, in my opinion.

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Soak the rich
A commentator below says, “Um, Chris, we live in Greenwich, CT – we ARE too rich and are [sic] fellow American [sic] absolutely need it.

A $2B relief package for Americans in financial crisis sounds like a good idea compared to $700B in appropriations for an unending war.”

I don’t know why these people feel justified in deciding that I have too much money (let alone why they think taking it forcibly from me and passing it along to someone else will bring Eden another step closer).

The funny thing is, it’s always the middle class that gets stuck with the bill for these sensitive people’s generosity. Some state – Virginia? – set up a program whereby anyone who felt under taxed could send in a voluntary extra payment. I believe that in the years the program ran, four taxpayers sent in a total of $5,000. I don’t believe that Warren Buffet contributed.

The Demmerkrats are planning a real extravaganza at their convention next week that will showcase beggars – the Dems call them “real people” who want my money so they can spend it on themselves. Perhaps if I had not just fired off huge, account-emptying checks to the IRS and my daughter’s college I’d feel more generous towards these grasping strangers but I did, so I don’t. Less than 50% of us pay income tax now and I doubt a democracy based on majority rule is going to correct that soon. So the forecast for the productive members of society looks bleak. I wonder, when they finish us off, who will be left to fund the liberals’ largess?

Pay me taxes!

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