Monthly Archives: October 2008

That should do it for this afternoon. Have a great Halloween.

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If you can’t move, improve your present situation
It’s all very well for me to suggest, as I do below, that this is the perfect time to take advantage of our economic mess and the uncertainty it’s created by buying a house cheap but what if you can’t do that? What if, for example, you’d have to sell your current home to buy a new one and you’re not looking forward to some smart ass heeding my advice and showing up on your doorstep with a ridiculously low offer? Well, there’s another way to take advantage of these bad times: stay put, and improve your existing house – all the things you wanted in your next house? Maybe you can add them to what you own and stay put, quite contentedly, for the next few years while you enjoy them.

My fishing buddy, Lou Van Leeuwen, recently sat down with his subcontractors and basically proposed that they all (including Lou himself) cut their prices and offer to do renovation and new construction projects for 20% – 30% less than they’d have charged last year (building material suppliers, alas, are immune from Lou’s gentle persuasive powers, for the moment, or costs could drop even further). The theory is, naturally, that it’s better to be working and making a little money than not working at all. Lou ran an advertisement last week announcing this offer – I haven’t spoken with him to find out how it played but it makes sense. Here’s Lou’s contact information and a list of the sub contractors who are participating – top quality people, every one:
Louis Van Leeuwen,CEO, Greenwich Construction, LLC Office: 203.698.9428 Cell: 203.223.0634 Home: 203.637.3619
Braga Flooring
Complete Carpentry
CTX Concrete & Foundations
Greenwich Drywall
Interstate Lumber
Janeczek Contracting
Mathews Roofing
Pinho Landscaping
Quezada Painting
Roger Arnow & Sons Excavating
Sottile HVAC
Stamford Plumbing Supply
Summer Rain
Vartuli Electric
VPI Contracting

I mention Van Leeuwen because I know he’s specifically offering this. But any contractor should be willing to bend, and bend considerably, to get work in this climate. Dig up Lou’s ad and beat your own contractor over the head with it, if you wish.

Other top people I know who would welcome work, including small jobs: Rick Hvolbeck 249-2297 and his partner, Al Oliveira (914) 273-7316. I’m not suggesting that you call them to build that rabbit hutch you’ve always wanted (but you might) but Rick and Al did an incredible job on our place recently replacing trim, a porch deck, insulating the foundation and replacing rotten windows and columns, all at a price I couldn’t have touched a few years ago. These guys are builders and carpenters, not the half-skilled handymen who were all you could get in years past.

There are more, but you get the picture. If you’re stuck where you are, put some money into addressing long-deferred maintainence issues, add a room or a deck or even completly renovate the entire house (rents are low now, too, so you’ll have a place to stay). You’ll get a good price, save a lot of money, improve your existing house and maybe even increase its value, all while keeping these ruffians off the streets. A good deal for everyone.

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The month is (almost) up
Absent a flurry of reporting in the next 45 minutes, we’ll have seen just ten contracts for single family houses this month. That compares to 33 last October, which was not a banner month itself. So sales activity is dormant. I think it may be an excellent time to buy, and here’s why: uncertainty.

No one knows what’s going to happen to our economy in the next year, although it’s a pretty good bet that we won’t like it. A year from now, the median price of a house in Greenwich may very well be below what it is today but it’s also possible that we’ll be beginning to see the start of a recovery. If so, sellers will be tempted to hang on awhile and resist truly low-ball offers. That’s not the situation today. I know of one buyer who waited until the close of business after that first horrendous market dump a few weeks ago and, after the markets had closed, raised his ridiculously low bid by a few hundred thousand and got the house he wanted. The seller, already unnerved by September’s goings on, just decided the Hell with it and took what he could get. If the economy had been showing signs of strength, rather than imminent collapse, that buyer’s bid would never have been considered, let alone accepted.

And you can do the same. There are certainly sellers out there determined to get their price and, if they don’t have to sell, they’ll be stubborn. But there are many more in whom I sense a great deal of trepidation and who, I think, would be greatly relieved to be shed of a house they don’t want and don’t need. And there are also, of course, the spec builders who have to get out of their projects or risk losing everything they own to their lenders. So, while the bottom may not have arrived, the peak of uncertainty may have – in which case, it’s a fine time to be out there making offers.

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Real estate pricing theory, high-end style

So let’s say that you paid $25.75 million for waterfront at 112 Field Point Circle in June of ’07 (the Old Victor Borge place, now missing his house). You decide that you may have made a slight miscalculation, or maybe you see better opportunities elsewhere, like horning in on that ever-growing AIG bailout, which started at $20 billion and is now, where? – $160 billion? Whatever, you want out – where do you price the land?

How about $35 million? You’ve owned it for over a year, for Chrissake, and no one’s built any more Belle Haven waterfront since then, have they? And aren’t you entitled to some kind of compensation for exhaling CO2 over the once-verdant lawns during that time? It works that way on Wall Street and it damn well ought to work that way here!

The difference between the original owner of this place and the current one? Victor Borge only played a clown.

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Did you hear the Happy News?

(From someone else’s column)

” For the nation, existing-home sales increased last month as buyers responded to improved housing affordability conditions”

A cynic might describe “improved affordability conditions” as the bottom dropping out of sales prices, but he’d run the very real risk of the NAR stripping him of his brass-colored Realtor’s pin.

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Sales since September 1, 2008
A reader asked what’s been happening to sales since Septemeber so I looked it up. Remember that some of these sales were contracted for as early as April so their price today might not match that agreed to six months ago. That said, here goes, all 43 of them. (address, original asking price, sell price and % to original – formatting in Blooger is a bitch, so bear with me)

11 Langhorne $28 million – $13.75 – 49%
11 Island Drive $15.75 – $15.5 – 98.4%
4 Old Round Hill $14.5 – $10.875 – 75%
16 Beechcroft $8.295 – $6.15 – 74%
101 Brookside $6.995 – $5.995 – 85.6%
268 Round Hill $5.6 – $4.6 – 82%
18 Sherwood $5.4 – $5.2 – 96%
752 North St. $4.9 – $3.9 – 80%
25 Birchwood $4.2 – $3.6 – 86%
70 Pecksland $3.7 – $3.0 – 81%
123 Shore Rd $3.2 – $2.8 – 87.5%
67 Hillside $2.8 – $2.325 – 83%
21 Wilshire $3.495 – $2.180 – 62%
10 Keofferam $2.940 – $2.415 – 82%
29 Irvine $2.585 – $2.150 – 83%
27 Dandy $2.549 – $2.349 – 92%
11 Hettiefred $3.375 – $2.349 – 69.6%
69 Rockwood $2.295 – $2.729 – 119%
49 Arcadia $2.495 – $2.075 – 83%
62 Cat Rock $2.25 – $1.9 – 84%
83 Circle $2.795 – $1.885 – 67%
18 Orchard Hill $1.895 – $2.0 – 105%
3 Old Farm Rd $1.995 – $1.525 – 76% [pd.$1.75, 2003]
29 Spring St. $1.950 – $1.6 – 82%
17 Suburban $1.995 – $1.695 – 85%
25 Ridge St. $1.695 – $1.650 97%
83 Rvsd. Ave. $1.750 – $1.50 86%
22 Bramble $1.575 – $1.525 97%
5 Lockwood Dr. $1.575 – $1.4425 92%
28 Lockwood Dr. $1.495 – $1.595 – 106.6% [April contract]
47 Will Merry $1.895 – $1.350 – 71%
4 Cross Ridge $1.340 – $1.210 – 90%
7 Ginko $1.150 – $1.275 – 111%
12 Deep Gorge $1.250 – $ 937 – 75%
37 Sachem $ 915 – $ 860 – 94%
29 Old Wagon $ 849 – $ 720 – 85%
5 Hollow Wood $ 699 – $ 650 – 93%
990 North St. $ 672 – $ 685 – 102%
279 Davis $ 899 – $ 550 – 61%
60 Gold $ 610 – $ 481 – 79% [paid $495, 2003]

So not nearly as bad as it has seemed. Of course, we’re way down on contracts this month and of the few we have (9? 10?) some are way off asking price but still, the sky isn’t falling (or hasn’t yet fallen, take your pick)

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With enemies like these, it must be a great idea
We voters have a choice next Tuesday to call for a Constitutional Convention – no agenda beyond that, but all hell is bound to break out if citizens meet to discuss what our state government should look like going forward. Support of a political position based solely on who’s against it isn’t fail-safe – Barbara Streisand was against the invasion of Iraq, for instance – but it’s a reasonable starting point and everyone who should be opposed by people like me is against this proposition: The Lady’s League of Women Voters, the UAW, the teachers’ union, political incumbents, Ed Krumeich, you name them, they don’t like it.

So I do. Besides, think of the theatre it will produce, to entertain us during the coming months of darkness.

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Conde Nast cutting staff.

Readership and advertising is off and many people are cheering. Not me, because I have friends who work there, but I long since stopped subscribing. The comments to the article announcing the cuts all seem to be from former subscribers to the New Yorker and Vanity Fair who cancelled their subscriptions after both magazines tilted entirely to the left.
A typical comment:

It is a curious thing, how about fifty percent of the reading public is right-center, and how 100% of the publishing world goes to such strenuous efforts to insult the right-center. You’ve willfully alienated half of your potential customers with your incessant lobbying and condescending, contemptuous editorial attitude. 5% is only the beginning.

No fear of that here! Well, no fear of tilting to the left – condescension and contempt, we can do.

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Here’s a sad story:
Murtha pleads for money to save his seat after calling constituents racists

“We need to raise another $1 million to compete,” his campaign fundraiser Susan O’Neill wrote in the e-mail obtained by The Hill. “We need money immediately.”

O’Neill blamed Republicans from outside Pennsylvania for Murtha’s problems.

Those damn outside agitators – can’t we just arrest them?

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I realize that different jurisdictions can have different laws
But what law sees students arrested for hanging an Obama effigy when a Sarah Palin figure or or an effigy of a U.S. soldier is hanged with impunity?

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Well this isn’t going to pay for a house in Greenwich!
Laid off Wall Streeters turn to bartending.

On the other hand, this might: Wall Street execs say they won’t kill bonuses. I think that, politically, these guys are morons but since they’ve already demonstrated that they’re financial idiots, why not? If those with ability won’t stay without a bonus, is that a bad thing? Let them go on to better firms that aren’t tethered to the government teat and the losers can stay behind and take orders from the likes of Henry Waxman.

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Now that it’s too late,
CBS finally fact-checks Obama’s ass. And guess what? His numbers don’t add up.

If he closes every loophole as promised, saves every dime from Iraq, raises taxes on the rich and trims the federal budget as he’s promised to do “line by line,” he still doesn’t pay for his list. If he’s elected, the first fact hitting his desk will be the figure projecting how much less of a budget he has to work with – thanks to the recession. He gave us a very compelling vision with his ad buy tonight. What he did not give us was any hint of the cold reality he’s facing or a sense of how he might prioritize his promises if voters trust him with the White House.

With all respect to the main stream media, the time for this analysis was months ago, before the great unwashed was convinced by y’all that a free lunch was coming.

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Spec houses
A reader asked for an updated figure on the number of spec houses currently on the market and I’m happy to oblige. Without examining each and every listing, I can only estimate, but I ran a search for houses built in 2006 to date, on the assumption that most are being offered by their builder and, if not, they’re new enough to compete with other houses that have remained vacant – besides, I know of several 2004 and 2005 spec houses that remain unsold, so the numbers should work out about right.

Of the 795 single family and condominium units on the market today, 172 were built in 2006 or later. Fifty-eight of those are condos so we have 114 new single families for sale. Nine of the latter are priced between $10.9 million and $25 million, 61 are between $4 – $10 million. So 70 high-end spec houses, all looking for buyers. How fast are they moving? Seven sold in the past quarter and of those 7, only 1 sold in October: 16 Beechcroft, reduced 26% from $8.295 million and “dumped” for $6.150. If the market picks up, I suppose we have only ten quarters – 2 1/2 years, right? – before we’re through the inventory, assuming nothing else is completed and put up for sale until then. If this month’s activity is a harbinger of sales activity to come then, Houston, we have a (bigger) problem.

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Lower my price? Are you mad?

Saw a couple of houses on the open house tour today that will never attract offers, in my opinion. One seller, according to the listing agent, had rejected her pricing advice and insisted that buyers would realize how unique and special his run-down little cottage is. Fat chance.

The other seller – again, according to the agent – is content to sit on his property, floors sagging like a sway-backed mare’s, highway noise rushing in, until the market meets his price. That’s fine, and good luck to him, but why is he wasting our time? Call me when you get serious or, if the market ever does reach your price, I’ll call you – I’m confident the property will still be available.

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895 Lake Avenue

I mention below a new condo on Suburban Avenue that seems to have been disposed of at or near cost. Here’s another builder who is apparently having second thoughts. BSF Builders, a very successful firm in town with a great track record paid $3.1 million for this place on August 25. They’ve now put it back on the market for $3.495 million, although why someone else would pay $395,000 extra for the opportunity to pick up BSF’s discard is a bit of a poser.

This location has an interesting background. It was part of the Martin R. Frankel compound – he of the insurance fraud, diamonds, international manhunt and all that. Our police ignored many complaints about activities here – they did show up once when the nude body of one of Frankel’s Russian sweeties was discovered hanged but, as demanded by the Greenwich Police Manual, labelled the death a suicide and returned to headquarters. Only when Mr. Frankel set fire to the place in preparation for flight did anyone take official notice of the goings on here and even then it was the Fire Department, not the police.

Oh well. Someone bought the house, out of foreclosure, I believe, and did a very nice job renovating it. He listed it for sale in June, 2005 for $3.765 million and eventually sold it for $3.187 a year later. The next owner was not so fortunate and resold it to BSF this August for, as noted, $3.1 million.

And now it can be yours, for the seller’s cost and a wee finder’s fee.

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Here’s a sale
Always nice to see any activity, I suppose. 17 Suburban Avenue is a nice, brand new, free standing condo that was originally listed in May, 2007 for $1.695 million. It was reported sold today for $1.259 million. I doubt its builder made much money on it at that price, but at least he’s out of there.

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Twin Lakes Revisited
Well this was a disappointment. I mentioned this new listing yesterday and today got to see what’s been done to it in the past 35 years. Not much, it seems. Instead of the waterfront I remember, all that’s left is a view easement and a physical easement that will permit you to cart a Sunfish down to the water, when there is water. The 5 houses I remember being carved out of the original acreage are seven, at least, and they crowd in on this one on every side. The owner of this place was rumored to have money but if he did, he obviously preferred to spend it on legal fees suing his neighbors rather than improving the house – as a lawyer, I applaud such passion; as a real estate agent, I do wish he’d done a bit more than slap up some fresh wallpaper during his tenancy. The staff that ran the kitchen in 1928, for instance, is long gone and won’t be returning. Buyers today tend to do their own cooking, at least occasionally, and when they do, they want more than a ship’s galley to work in.

Ducking one’s head as one passes along a dark corridor to what serves as the master bedroom “suite” feels awkward for someone of my gigantic height. Sure, few people grew to my 5’10 stature eighty years ago but today, many men are approaching 6 full feet, and they’ll bang their heads on these low ceilings.

Etc. I’m a little surprised at the $15 million price tag on what is essentially an obsolete house with a view of the water (or mudflats, depending on the tide) but heck, you won’t know if you don’t try. Or something.

Update: reader ACF says, “Funny, I don’t remember having to duck my head but then again, the last time I went upstairs in that house the Teicherts still owned it, so I was probably around three feet tall.”

And I also heard from this group:Well, we don’t have to duck our heads!

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Aaaghhh! The Gore effect strikes again!
Snow blankets London during global warming debate

Snow fell as the House of Commons debated Global Warming yesterday – the first October fall in the metropolis since 1922. The Mother of Parliaments was discussing the Mother of All Bills for the last time, in a marathon six hour session.

In order to combat a projected two degree centigrade rise in global temperature, the Climate Change Bill pledges the UK to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. The bill was receiving a third reading, which means both the last chance for both democratic scrutiny and consent….

Recently the American media has begun to notice the odd incongruity of saturation media coverage here which insists that global warming is both man-made and urgent, and a British public which increasingly doubts either to be true. 60 per cent of the British population now doubt the influence of humans on climate change, and more people than not think Global Warming won’t be as bad “as people say”.

Both figures are higher than a year ago – and the poll was taken before the non-summer of 2008, and the (latest) credit crisis.

Sounds like some people are wising up – but I thought the debate was over?
Update:
Record snows in Switzerland!
Record cold in Florida!

I’d read that OwlGore would be in Florida campaigning for the Messiah, but how’d he get there from Switzerland – private jet?

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So, how’s the rental market?
I’ve heard it said that the town’s just buzzing with young New Yorkers, snapping up our listings in preparation for buying next year. That’s nice. I also see this in today’s open house listings:

$5,000/MO
6 YEAR YOUNG COLONIAL, 5 BEDROOM, DUNDEE SCHOOL, MINT. WILL ENTERTAIN ALL OFFERS.

As I like to say, your results may differ.

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More on Joe
State investigation of Joe the Plumber more extensive than first admitted

A state agency has revealed that its checks of computer systems for potential information on “Joe the Plumber” were more extensive than it first acknowledged.

Helen Jones-Kelley, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, disclosed today that computer inquiries on Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher were not restricted to a child-support system.

The agency also checked Wurzelbacher in its computer systems to determine whether he was receiving welfare assistance or owed unemployment compensation taxes, she wrote.

This should anger people of any political persuasion. The fact that it is instead justified and defended by Obama supporters lends a frightening foretaste of what’s to come.

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