Monthly Archives: July 2009

Edgar Martins is back at The NYT (briefly)

Readers may remember when the NYT Magazine ran an article on failed housing developments and used the services of one Edgar Martins to illustrate it. Well, once he admitted digitally altering the photos, including one of Patriot Bank’s 14 Baldwin Farms South, the entire article was yanked and there went my own exposure in the Times’ online edition. Drat.

But we have no hard feelings here at FWIW, and a man with Martins skills at fabrication are exactly what we needed so we hired him as our staff photographer and reporter. Together with our gossip reporter Scusie, we’re now able to bring you the latest, most accurate reporting in town because we don’t limit ourselves to reporting what a person says, we tell you what that person’s really thinking. So much better, and so much fun.

Anyway, the Times has brought Martins back to explain himself which he does, endlessly. We asked Edgar for his opinion of Martin’s “explanation” and he said, “what a hunk of horse turd. The guy was caught doctoring photos and now he wants to explain it away as committing art. It’s a good thing I’m now with guys like you who value that kind of thing ’cause this guy is toast in the real world of journalism.”

Well said and welcome aboard, Edgar.

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Correlation is not causation

I’m extremely skeptical of any theory that events of the past foretell the future, and I don’t give a fig for astrology but nonetheless, this chart reprinted in BusinessInsider is kind of cool, in a “gee, what if…” sense.

dow chart 1930

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But the debate is over!

From Archaeology daily news

Carbon dioxide (CO2) gets a bad rep for contributing to global warming, and deservedly so. But scientists say they can’t entirely blame the greenhouse gas for a curious spike in Earth’s temperature 55 million years ago. New research reveals that something else also seems to have warmed the planet during that time, though no one’s quite sure what it was.
Over the past couple of decades, researchers have been gathering data about a mysterious event known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). The data, derived from drill cores brought up from the deep seabed in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, show that the surface temperature of the planet rose by as much as 9°C within 10,000 years during the PETM, which itself started out warmer than our current world. Temperatures stayed at this elevated level for nearly 100,000 years.
On the surface, the culprit appeared to be CO2. For reasons unknown, atmospheric concentrations of the gas rose by about 700 parts per million, from 1000 ppm to 1700 ppm–more than four times higher than today’s level of 385 ppm–during the PETM. That much of an infusion of the well-established greenhouse gas should have been plenty to spike temperatures.
But a new analysis doesn’t fully support this scenario. Oceanographer Richard Zeebe of the University of Hawaii, Manoa, and colleagues ran carbon-cycle simulations of the oceans and atmosphere based on the data yielded by the sediment cores. They even simulated what would happen to global temperatures when they increased the atmosphere’s sensitivity to doubling CO2 levels–to 2000 ppm–during the PETM. The most they could achieve was a warming of 3.5°C, they report online this week in Nature Geoscience. That means some other phenomenon must have pushed up temperatures by as much as 5.5°C, the team says. So at present, the unexplained warming represents a gap in understanding about what causes significant and rapid climate change.
“It’s possible that other greenhouse gases such as methane could have contributed to the [PETM] warming,” Zeebe says. It’s also possible that the models are underestimating the climate response to CO2 increases. If that’s the case, it “would mean our understanding of the climate system is incomplete,” he says.
Zeebe’s team is now looking at smaller warming events that occurred within several million years after the PETM. “We’re currently trying to find out whether or not [they] were caused by the same mechanism,” he says. The idea is to determine whether the PETM warming was unique “or a universal feature.”
Geochemist Gabriel Bowen of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, applauds the work. “We’ve long had a hunch that something was fishy about the climate response during the PETM,” he says. “This study puts the nails in the coffin of the idea that climate during the PETM responded to CO2 alone.” Says Bowen, “The urgent challenge now facing us is to find out what was amplifying [temperatures] during this event and understand what it means for Earth’s future.”

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This will help the price average

25 Sherwood Avenue sold today for $19,000,000. It was never listed for sale so I wasn’t aware of its presence, but it looks like 15 acres with a couple of buildings all renovated in 2004. In fact, from the areal, it looks like a heck of a place.

To balance that, 11 Green Lane, a bank-owned property, sold for $495,000. The sad thing about this is the seller might have avoided losing everything because, although he paid $699,000 for it in 2004, he listed it for $895,000 in 2007 when its assessed value was $483,000. In 2007, there was still time to get out for more than the assessed value. Too bad.

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Andres Piedrahita: We’re so sorry, we’ll give it all back!

So he says now. Walt Noel, however, has already emailed us to say that his dumb son-in-law is high on horse flatulence and no money is going to be returned, ever. I’ll bet Walt is right on this, and that Andres was put up to this egregious lie by Fairfield Greenwich Group’s PR guy, Seth Faison.

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Has Riverside waterfront really gone up this much?

15 Willomere Circle

15 Willomere Circle

This nice old (1888) house sits on over 1.6 acres and was beautifully renovated in 2000 – it’s come a long way since the Crossman boys were antiquing it in their own special way back in the 60s. It sold exactly two years ago for $12,000,000 and, nice as it is, I found that astonishing. It’s nice, but I didn’t think it was that nice. It’s back on today, with no improvements worth mentioning by the listing broker, for $14.5 million. Maybe – I stand ready to be surprised again.

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Old chestnuts back on the open fire

1 Butternut

1 Butternut

Like Winston Churchill, some builders never give up, never surrender. Case in point is this aging spec house at 1 Butternut Hollow Road (ML#74012). Built on land purchased for $2 million in 2004, it has been for sale since April, 2005, starting at $5.895 and dropping to $4.350 in June, 2008, when it was yanked from the market and presumably converted to a used house by renting it out for a year. Now it’s back, for the same $4.350 it couldn’t sell at a year ago. Okay by me – good luck.

Interesting side note is that this land sold for $2.4 million in 2003 but when it was put back on the market in 2004 it could only get $2.0050. That might have served as a warning, had the builder been listening.

And then there’s a four-lot subdivision in Havemeyer on Halsey Drive, back again today at a new, lower price of $2.7 million. That’s $675,000 per lot, so you’d have to get what, maybe $1.7 million for each house you built there? I don’t think so – not right now, anyway. Top price ever paid for a house on Halsey was $975,000. Then again, nothing has been built on the street (at least nothing that’s been listed on the MLS) since 1950, so presumably new construction would fetch a higher price. The question is, how much higher?

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Cash for clunkers

The House has voted to put another $2 billion of borrowed money into the deal. I’d love to read an economist’s take on this program. On the one hand, I resent having $4,500 taken from me so someone else can buy a new car, but if they’re going to take it anyway -and this new money is being shifted from the already-enacted “stimulus” bill – it’s probably money better spent this way than on useless job training programs or porn film festivals in San Francisco – oh wait, they’ve already funded those. Well still, maybe it will help.

But how difficult would it be to simply offer every American or, to be fair to everyone, everyone in America, citizen or not, $4,500 as a trade in for a new car, damn the mileage, damn the cost? I’ve read that the current program has an application 138 pages long and takes five hours to complete. Face it, any car that’s worth only $4,500 is probably old enough that any replacement will give better mileage and emit less pollution. Just write the damn check.

Another funny thing about this program: dealers have been offering rebates at least this large for months, to no effect. Offer a government bounty and everyone flocks to use it. Why? My theory is that a rebate is just the return of your own money while this plan gives you someone else’s: mine, in this case.

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12 Ledge Road sells

Bank owned, this post and beam started at $3.795 (ha ha ha) and was sold by the bank today for $2.640 million, a lot more than I might have suggested but it’s a nice street and a good neighborhood so there you have it. I wonder if the bank threw in a dinghy for those floods?

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Chris Dodd has prostate cancer

I wish him well. Fortunately, this seems to be one of the cancers medicine has gotten the better of and he should be fine. He says it won’t stop him from running for reelection and judging from the experience of friends of mine who’ve had this disease, it shouldn’t. Naturally, I hope that a Republican prevents him from serving another term, but that’s a different matter.

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Stanwich sale price reported

156 Stanwich

156 Stanwich

I missed this property’s reported sale last week. $2.450 million, which seems a lot better than its asking price a year ago of $3.685. Next time you’re insulted by what you consider to be a low offer, understand that it’s sales like this that encourage them. I usually don’t show houses when first listed if they’re grossly over-priced because the owners aren’t ready to hear a realistic bid and it just annoys them. My philosophy is, if someone else jumps at the first price, God bless them – I’ll have saved my clients from a serious blunder. Usually though, that doesn’t happen.

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Contemporary houses

Must be from Yale

Must be from Yale

I like (a few) contemporary houses and if I were building new and didn’t care about getting my money back, I’d have one designed for me, just as I’d prefer a trimaran sailboat, if resale weren’t an issue. But often, it is and in Greenwich, contemporaries are very much passe. A search through the inventory shows 38 of them on sale (out of 738 single family houses), many of them with long-ago listing dates and none of them with a reasonable chance of getting close to their asking price (that’s my personal opinion, obviously). Greenwich buyers want traditional, for the most part, and contemporaries are not that. Peter Ogden, for instance, made quite a name for himself in Greenwich in the 60s with his designs but the few that haven’t been torn down yet sell for land value only. The poor guy’s life work won’t survive him.

There is a beautiful new contemporary going up on Stanwich overlooking Frye Pond and it’s a pleasure to look at and will no doubt be a wonderful house to live in – I’m envious. But aside from that example, contemporaries  don’t seem to be being built in Greenwich anymore; of the 38 for sale, all are at least 25-years-old and most date back to the 60s.

There is an upside to this: if you like this style of house, you can find numerous examples of the type, most of which have been updated and available, eventually, when their owners give up, for the price of the land they sit on. I can’t think of any that are priced where I think they should be, but give time time, and you’ll do well. But just remember that, when you decide to sell it again, that the house will have gained nothing in value. You should pay for the land only and expect to sell for that, too. In the meantime, if you choose well, you’ll have a wonderful house to live in.

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Soak the Rich! Oh, we’re already doing that

Top 1% of taxpayers now paying more than bottom 95%. That’s 1.4 million taxpayers paying more than 134 million and of course, there are millions more who aren’t taxpayers at all. The problem with this, aside from the fact that we’re going to run out of top taxpayers to fund all our bright ideas, is that the people who vote for all those goodies should have some stake in paying for them. But demagogues ignore this and we hear instead, endlessly, both in Washington, New York and Connecticut, that the rich must pay “their fair share”. They’re past that already, but the tyranny of the majority won’t discover that until the bill for health care for all, free cars and no energy come to rest on their own front stoop. May that happen soon.

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Here’s a price cut of note

88 Glenville Road

88 Glenville Road

This new construction was listed for $3.6 million at the end of April. It was put up by an excellent builder and is of very high quality. But, it’s right on the road, and that doesn’t help its chances of selling in this market. So today the seller took a second price cut, down to $2.595, which should help offset the road problem. Maybe. Decent yard in back, too.

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Ct. budget deficit solved: they’ll just surtax Brad Hvolbeck

Two sales for Bradley yesterday that should keep him around and available for a quick loan, if you’re short on pocket change these days: 24 Conyers Farm, $18.7 million, 98 Round Hill Road, full price, 4 days, $8.995.

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Their first blunder was picking a Chickahomony house to rob

Two burglers arrested after bungled robbery attempt in Chickahomony. Ah, fellas? Ya want high-end stuff to pawn, may I suggest the Back Country? The Merritt provides easy-on/easy-off shopping and you’ll be back in the Bronx in no time.

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Long term expertise

Cleveland, Duble & Arnold, Greenwich’s oldest real estate company, celebrates its centenary. I’ve always been grateful to the firm: it’s provided gainful employment to my little brother Gideon for more than twenty years and Tom Gorin, its co-owner, years ago had the wisdom to refuse to hire me, thus freeing me to find my own path of obnoxiousness that could never have been tolerated by a fine firm like Cleveland.

Besides that, Tom Gorin is a walking memory bank of Greenwich history. If I have any question about some long-ago owner or some particular home, Tom’s on my speed dial because he’ll have the answer (of course, since he’s the only one who does have this knowledge, he could tell me anything and I’d believe him. He may be the Edgar Martins of local historians, for all I know).

All in all, a great group of people, an excellent firm and with its institutional memory, they’ve seen it all, from boom times in the 20s, the Depression, and all the assorted ups and down since then. Happy birthday.

UPDATE: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Tom’s other unsung talent, that of mad musician. Here he is below, taken when the Sound Beach Volunteer Fire Department band performed at Obama’s inauguration.

Three cheers for the red, white and blue!

Three cheers for the red, white and blue!

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Whack-a-mole in the House

No sooner does Nancy Pelosi cut a deal with Blue Dog Democrats on limiting (a little) her version of ObamaCare than black and hispanic representatives say they won’t go along. What’s Nancy to do? If she gives away the country, she pisses off the Blue Dogs, if she doesn’t, she’s got every Congressman of color screaming bloody hell. She needs the votes of both groups to get any bill at all passed, but she can’t have one if she includes the other. Mongo have great pain between ears.

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Draining the moral swamp that is D.C.

Democrats refuse to issue subpoenas that would reveal Friends of Angelo in their ranks. The Chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee says he’s “too busy” for such nonsense and he’s right; these poor folks are just snowed under with investigating Roger Clemons and his possible use of steroids years ago.

Nothing to see here, move along, move along.

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Housing sales jump – the Mother of all head fakes?

Some people think so - I’m inclined to agree with them. We are certainly seeing more activity than last winter, but there’s no robust recovery here yet. Here are some statistics for single family house contracts:

                2007          2008                2009

May        58                 44                      35

June      63                 49                       39

July       40                  39                       36

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