Daily Archives: March 25, 2009

No free lunch and no free food

The Obama’s servants will be tending a vegetable garden on the White House grounds but this will not yield “free food”, as Alice Waters claims. You have a vegetable garden for the pleasure it brings, not to save money (the quality of those vegetables is of course a wonderful bonus but that’s another matter). I somehow hope that a servant tending the boss’s garden will derive the same pleasure a homeowner does tending his own, but its nice of the First Family to at least give them that chance.

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The Republicans’ best shot

Harry Reid wants to “fast track” nationalized medicine through the Senate, blocking Republican input and making the bill an entirely Democrat – designed plan.  Let ‘em go, I say, don’t let a Republican fingerprint anywhere near this disaster. Someone wants to charge off a cliff, stand back and wave them good bye.

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David Boies, 0 – Brooklyn Law Student, 1

Boies tried and failed to persuade a judge to freeze Walter Noels assets, leaving our Greenwich hero and his charming wife Monica free to redistribute their wealth in more hospitable climes. A Brooklyn law student had better luck today and convinced a judge to freeze Peter Madoff’s assets.  Maybe Boies can bring this kid on staff and try again, this time going after Mark and Andy’s loot, if, that is, they left anything to grab after having free rein with Dad’s jet all these months. My guess? Bernie didn’t raise no dummies.

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It’s a poor carpenter who blames his tools

A California real estate agent is trying to get a town’s ban on for sale signs rescinded. It is true, I think, that even in this age of the Internet, more inquiries about houses for sale come in from “for sale” signs than websites. That said, I’m told that Darien is currently supporting a crop of such signs, at least two on every block, while their sales are as dead as ours here in Greenwich, where we have no signs. When times were good, we didn’t need signs and the town looked better for it. In bad times, all the signs a front yard can hold won’t convince a reluctant buyer to bid. In fact, given the swollen size of our inventory, a relaxation on the ban would reveal the sorry state of our market even more than is presently visible and that, in turn, might further scare buyers off. Signs are great for real estate agents – I doubt they do much for homeowners.

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Error!

My bestest friend Jeremy Kaye has called to alert me that he represented the builder /seller  in that recent sale to a certain baseball player (which makes sense, since Mr. Saper is a long-time client of Jeremy’s) while another lawyer who wishes to remain anonymous because of his out-sized modesty but who is a senior, senior partner at the Greenwich firm, Ivey, Barnum & O’Mara, had the athlete. This second attorney did consent to my using a recent picture of him being escorted to a real estate closing by some of his adoring former clients. I have that picture here somewhere, let me look ……. oh yes!

"So it was a couple of crummy errors on your HUD form. Lemme go!"

"So it was a couple of crummy errors on your HUD form. Lemme go!"

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One to watch

309 Stanwich Road

309 Stanwich Road

If its latest listing sheet is accurate, this Stanwich home is untouched in any major way since it was purchased for $1.735 million in 2000. The owner tried to get $3.1 for it in 2007 but that didn’t work and so today it’s back at $2.795. The ultimate selling price should be a good “apples to apples” indicator. We’ll see.

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I blame Bush

He should have strangled Jimmy Carter back in 1994 when the peanut farmer first ventured to North Korea.

North Korean long-range missile on launch pad.

let me show you where we are here on this globe. Drop in any time!

let me show you where we are here on this globe. Drop in any time!

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More price up-and-downs

392 North Street

392 North Street

This is a great old, 1900 house that’s been renovated over the years. It sold in 1999 in just 24 days for $2.650 million. The new owners added a pool and maybe some other things and sold it at full price in fifteen days in 2003 for $4.2 million. Nice work, if you can get it. Those buyers, in turn, tried tacking on a bit more profit and offered it for $5.850 million in April, 2007. I thought that was a ridiculous price but who cares what I think? Buyer’s opinions do count, however, and they must have giggled up their sleeves too, because despite the finest Greenwich Time advertising money can buy, it didn’t sell. (There’s a lesson there, if you’re interested.)

It’s been kicking around for awhile with a new broker and today, freshly shorn of yet another $500,000, it’s back as a “new” listing, for $4.495 million. That would seem to be very close to its 2003 price, by my math.

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End run around democracy

The EPA is proposing to regulate CO2 as a pollutant, just as Congress has demanded. But Congress itself, while beating its chest and harrumphing about a cap and trade bill, seems to be having some doubts. Senator Tom Harkin, for example, says any such bill will have to “take a back seat” to other issues like ruining our health care system. What’s going on here? I think that Congress is beginning to suspect that when the full price of cap and trade is broken to energy consumers (that would be you and I) they’ll be driven from office by outraged voters. How much cleaner, then, to have the EPA set regulations that will require the same costs be borne but leaves Congress out of it? Achieving what they want via a faceless bureaucracy instead of standing up at town meetings and explaining themselves to voters? What an easy choice.

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Stanwich Road, $1 million off

156 Stanwich Road

156 Stanwich Road

Nice house, good location, priced at $3.685 million last April. A year later, it’s asking just $2.695. I guess we know where Mad Monkey does not live.

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Is the Bloom off the garden?

What was billed as “the last unit at Lily’s Garden”,  a condo at 191 Milbank Avenue was reported sold in May, 2008 for $6.058 million, a tad off its asking price of $6.7 million but still impressive. Now there’s yet another “last unit at Lily’s Garden” for sale, but it’s not faring as well. It started at $6.350 million and today it’s been marked off to $5.2 million. I’ll bet that purchaser from last May isn’t amused.

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Nationally, home sales are up – some folks aren’t impressed

I previously noted that sales were up while prices were down and suggested we’d see a similar resumption of sales in Greenwich when our prices dropped. Other analysts looking at these data are similarly unimpressed. John Carney has a piece, “The Stupid Exuberance over Home Sales” whose title says it all, but fell free to read the whole thing.

Calculated Risk has lots of charts to ponder, but bottom line is: compare year to year, not February to the month preceding (markets are seasonal) and don’t confuse a drop in inventory in states like Florida with a sign of resurgence – no one is starting new condos and foreclosed units are selling, so of course inventory is dropping.

If we see Greenwich inventory dropping, however, that would be a good sign – no major condo developers here. But we aren’t, so far.

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Price Cuts

25 Dorchester Lane

25 Dorchester Lane

I last wrote about this Riverside listing in January, I think, when the relocation company that controls it dropped its price from $2.295 million to $2.195. I pointed out then that agents and buyers had surely discounted its price by at least that much, so if they wanted to stir up some action, they’d have to dig a little deeper. Today they did, knocking it down just below $2 to $1.999. If you can get a discount off that, you may have a good deal here.

This place was bought new for $2.150 in May, 2004. The buyer tried to get $2.950 for it in May of ’08 and he and, later, his company’s relocation company, were forced to reduce that steadily over the next ten months to its current price. If there’s a lesson here, it’s the same one I’ve been preaching: don’t suffer the death of a thousand cuts. It hurts like hell and it’s ineffective. If this place had been chopped from $2.950 to, say, $2.350 back last summer, the size of that reduction might have impressed buyers with its value. Instead, the slow, tortuous ebbing until it reached $2 hasn’t excited anyone, and now a buyer, seeing its new price, will undoubtedly ask for more.

All that said, this is a decent house on a good street in Riverside and it’s certainly looking far more attractive with its new price tag.

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It waxes and wanes

17 Marshall Street

17 Marshall Street

The glory days of Havemeyer Park were probably reached five years ago, when this house, priced at $679,500 and described as untouched since it was built in 1948, sold in just days for $758,111. (If bidding wars ever return, by the way, that winning bid illustrates how to do it: always toss in an odd number so that, God forbid, you don’t end up in a tie and have to endure a second round of bidding.)

The buyers renovated the place, adding a beautiful new kitchen and modern baths and listed it for $895,000 in February 2008. It didn’t sell – by that time, the market was well into its death spiral, yet today it’s come back on at $995,000. The listing agents comprise the most successful sales pair in this business so there must be a method to their seeming madness, but the point of this post is directed more to a remembrance when, just a few short years ago, a tired old cape in Havemeyer could attract multiple bids in days and even hours. This new market is clearly a disappointment to sellers, but buyers must be tremendously relieved to know that the pressure to decide on a house immediately and offer more than even the owner thinks it’s worth are passed. And maybe past, as well.

UPDATE: InfoDiva, you’re right on both counts, but I’d rather not post your thoughts here.

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Still crazy after all these years

99 Porchuck Rd

99 Porchuck Rd

A mortgage foreclosure suit seeking $990,000 has been filed against this owner (it’s in The Commercial Record this week, so please don’t write that I am breaching someone’s privacy). Its history is illustrative of our recent land frenzy and demonstrates that wildly over-pricing houses is not a recent phenomenon. This 4 acre lot with a partially-finished, derelict house on it sits down in a hollow off Porchuck and is comprised mostly of stream, wetlands and woods. It was listed for $1.7 million in September 1999 and sold for full price shortly thereafter. In July, 2001, the buyer having apparently changed his mind about building here, listed it for the same price he’d paid for it: $1.7, and sold it in July 2002 for just $1 million. Hate when that happens.

Undaunted by that seller’s experience, the new buyer waited a bit and in November, 2004, relisted it for the astonishing price of $3,800,000 – I checked; that price did not include a new house – and the listed expired in July, 2005, unsold.

So now it’s started down the foreclosure path. I drove by yesterday to see what price I thought it might fetch and I was stumped (a cruel pun, in view of the trees that have buried this land). The original listing claimed that FAR regulations would permit a 12,000 sq.ft. house but was, perhaps wisely, silent on where wetlands would permit you to site such a building. Even assuming that you could find a dry spot large enough to accommodate that kind of house, you’d end up with all house, no yard.

So suppose you wanted to build a more modest house: you’ll still be down off the road in that h0llow. Porchuck is a fine road, but what’s the value of a house built in this bit of damp swampland? $3 million seems a stretch in this market, especially when you can find a new house in a better location for that price. $2 million? Maybe, but no builder would risk even that without a buyer already signed up (in fact, given new stricter credit rules, no builder could build a house here without a buyer signed up). I don’t think a buyer is going to show up in time to save this from foreclosure. If I’m right, it will eventually become the problem child of JP Morgan. There is bound to be some value for this land, but I don’t see JP getting its million back. Maybe $450,000? Maybe. It wouldn’t astonish me, though, if this ended up trading for ten cents on the dollar.

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