Monthly Archives: September 2005

September 23,2005

Nice Houses
Jean Ruggerio has just listed 212 Taconic Road, that house at the intersection of Stanwich and Taconic. It sits far off the street and overlooks a small pond and a beautiful yard. I have admired this house since it went up in 1999 and I was pleased to discover that it’s as nice inside as it is from the street. It’s not for everyone: people who need a mega-whopper mansion for business entertaining or ego gratification probably won’t find this suitable. Another agent, who liked the house as much as I did, said, “it’s not over-powering” and she’s exactly right. If I were looking for a big (7,000 sq.ft), comfortable house to raise kids, however, I’d take this one. Or buy it, if I had $6,200,000.

Maryann Grabel and Laurie Smith have co-listed 3 Hill Road. Closer to town and more modestly priced ($4,695,000), set down a long driveway. It has one of the nicest master bedrooms I’ve seen – bright, sunny and a terrific balcony. The rest of the house is also nice. Maryann tells me that the owner, a decorator (I know, I know) wanted to demonstrate how one can renovate an older house (1967) with its typical eight-foot ceilings and create airy, non-claustrophobic space. She succeeded very well, in my opinion.

Down in Old Greenwich, Aja Ohman’s listed 1 Gisborne Place (corner of Tomac and Gisborn) for $3,200,000. This is a 1905 farmhouse that was renovated and expanded five years ago. There are three stories, including a great third floor with a wood burning stove, kitchenette and a huge amount of open space for kids, entertaining or what have you. Good yard, too.

Best Condominium Value in Town?

I think it’s “The Old Mansion House”, between Valley Road and the Post Road in Cos Cob. In the 70s a developer converted an old mansion and built three more buildings to create a sixteen unit condominium association. The units are very nice, very convenient to town and represent an excellent value, I believe, as they sell in the low-to-mid $400,000s. Peter Janis, of Soethby’s used to live in the complex and served as its President so he’s quite knowledgeable about the whole project. He’s listed several of the units over the years including one this past August. It was such a great condo- two bedrooms, completely renovated and a garage – that I hesitated to write about it until I secured it for my own client. That accomplished, I now pass along the secret to you.

If At First You Don’t Succeed

Lower your price. On the other hand, there’s one property in town that’s been on the market for more than two years. It’s now with its third brokerage firm and is on its third or fourth price change all of which are higher than the price first sought. Sooner or later either the owner will lose patience and drop his price or the market will catch up with him. The latter event will probably take some time as the price is in the high,high millions. I wish him luck, either way.

Katrina Update

Local authorities have arrested the owners of a nursing home in New Orleans who failed to evacuate patients and lost 34 of them. Basis of the charges? The District Attorney claims “they were warned repeatedly, both by the media and by the St. Bernard Parish emergency preparation people, that the storm was coming.In effect, I think that their inactions resulted in the death of these people.” That’s tragic but, using the same logic, shouldn’t we expect to see the Mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of that blighted state doing a perp walk in front of the cameras? Stay tuned.

Mississippi Burning
Well flooding, anyway. Both Alabama and Mississippi were demolished by Katrina but, unless like me you went on-line and read area newspapers you’d never have known it during the first week of mainstream media coverage. Part of the reason is probably jounalists’ laziness – they tend to move in large flocks and write the same story – but I also suspect that they didn’t want to divert readers’ attention from “the Story” : Bush hates black people. Pictures from New Orleans necessarily showed mostly poor black people suffering (that’s who lived in the flooded sections) while the photos in other states showed Whites and Blacks suffering together and beginning to recover together. All three states did have one thing in common, however: FEMA was absent.

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September 16,2005

The Market Returns
A lot of recent activity, in all price ranges. 435 Round Hill Road, priced at $18,750,000, went to contract within 17 days – Jan Milligan found the buyer. 20 Interlaken, previously praised here, finally sold for $4,300,000. Joan Epand, listing broker, told me that, after sitting for such a long time on the market, three competing bids all showed up at the last moment. That happens often and I agree with Joan that, after awhile, the market shifts and what was viewed as unattractively priced suddenly looks like a bargain. Of course, if you’d been reading this column, you’d have known Interlaken was a bargain two months ago. Other houses mentioned here as good value also sold: 66 South Park Avenue and 47 Owenoke Way, for $3,295,000. This stuff’s not rocket science: good houses with sensible prices sell quickly, others do not. Of course, there’s no accounting for taste, so what I like may very much not be what you’re looking for.

Grand Old Homes
Setting aside for a moment my lust for commissions, there are some houses that, when I first view them, I’d give anything to have a client in the applicable price range, just for the pleasure of placing them in such a great home. Sue Van Der Griend’s house at 6 Keofferam Road is such a place. Built in 1897 as a summer home, Sue and her husband did everything right. They expanded in the back and went up three stories, creating a modern kitchen, master bedroom suite and other rooms, while leaving all the original beauty intact. There is a huge, wrap-around porch, all new mechanicals, six bedrooms, a half-acre of land, etc. Keofferam is one of my favorite Old Greenwich neighborhoods (houses on it come with deeded beach rights, by the way) and this is now my favorite house on that street. Intelligently priced, I think, at $4,495,000, I bet it’s gone in a flash.

Update – the foregoing was written last week. Word is that, as of today (9/15) contracts have been signed.

Can’t Afford That Much?
Helene Barre’s listed an 1888 Victorian at 314 Sound Beach Avenue for $2,095,000. It hasn’t been renovated the way Keofferam was but hey – look at the price. In very good condition with a modern , eat-in-kitchen. I liked it very much.

Want Newer Construction?
101 Lockwood Road was a pleasant surprise. Not stunningly impressive from the street, inside it’s bright and airy with high ceilings and lots of room. It was built in 1997 by Stazza, a good local builder, and feels very comfortable. $1,995,000, which seems about right.

For Sale By Owner?

Attorney Tom Ward and his partner Ed Cosden at Ivey, Barnum & O’Mara recently spoke to Wm. Raveis agents about probate law and other matters. It was, as expected, highly informative but one of the more interesting points was this: according to Tom, before a Probate Judge will approve a sale, he or she wants to know if the property was fully exposed to the market: how long was it listed and was it placed in the multiple-listing service? The Judge does this to ensure that the beneficiaries receive the best price. It occurs to me that, if even a judge can understand that multiple-listing a house achieves top dollar, a financially sophisticated home owner could reach the same conclusion.

Been There, Done That

Tom Gorin of Cleveland Duble & Arnold passed along an interesting article from Avenue Magazine (yes, underneath that goofy volunteer fireman marching band helmet is a trendy jet setter who reads magazines like Avenue. Who knew?). The article, Déjà vu and the Real Estate Bubble” was written by Tom’s good friend David Micchonski, the former manager of Coldwell Banker here in Greenwich, and details the many, many cautionary stories in the financial press warning of impending doom in the real estate market. Nothing new here, but the stories Michonski cites were written as long as fifteen years ago. The same Casandras writing today have been predicting a collapse since 1990, all while touting the virtues of as an investment. Michonski concludes that Wall Street is envious of the money being wasted on real estate when it could be earning valuable commissions. I think he’s right.

Too Late for Summer
One bonus of this job is the opportunity to discover books. Books are rare in town, sadly, but occasionally we encounter bookshelves of readers and I usually glance at the titles to see if I’ve been missing anything (no, I don’t paw through someone else’s property). One house I saw recently had an entire collection of works by Bernard Cornwell – I’d never heard of the man but I was impressed that someone would own twenty of his books so I checked a few out at the library. Lots of fun- historical fiction that follows the career of one Richard Sharpe as he defeats every enemy of England from India through Waterloo. Recommended for boys 12 on up, I’d say and of course, entirely suitable for readers who never grew up, like myself.

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I see that they have arrested the owners of a nursing home in New Orleans who failed to evacuate patients and lost 34 of them. Basis of the charges? The District Attorney claims “they were warned repeatedly, both by the media and by the St. Bernard Parish emergency preparation people, that the storm was coming.In effect, I think that their inactions resulted in the death of these people.” That’s tragic but, using the same logic, shouldn’t we expect to see the Mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of that blighted state doing a perp walk in front of the cameras? Stay tuned.

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Besides reminding us of how blessed we are to live in safe old Greenwich, the disaster down south can teach a few other lessons, too. My liberal friends claim that the whole mess is the result of the Bush Administration’s contempt for big government while I think it reveals that the new Republicans love big government all too much. We have spent, I believe, something like $40 billion on “Homeland Security” since September 11th and, so far as I can tell, all we’ve received for our money are 40,000 new federal employees who rub women’s breasts and confiscate nail scissors. FEMA’s budget has swollen from $250 million, when it was first formed, to over $6 billion today, thereby encouraging slackards like the Mayor of New Orleans to abandon their duties to safeguard their citizens in favor of a “let the Feds do it” strategy. Did you know, for instance, that New Orleans, which, under federal law was required to develop an evacuation plan and care for its citizens for 72 hours after a natural disaster, simply decided that “Good Samaritans” would take care of the 200,000 people without cars? That’s no plan at all, as was so tragically demonstrated last week (although the sight of Sean Penn over-loading a small boat with his personal photographer, publicist and hair dresser, then promptly sinking his “rescue craft” did provide a light moment).

The real lesson of Katrina, I think, is that local authorities should not depend on federal bureaucrats to respond instantly to disaster. Greenwich and Connecticut should each focus on applicable disaster plans (Governor Rall, I hear, is doing exactly that this week). I’d rather trust local officials to know what’s needed here than rely on a FEMA administrator in Washington D.C. I might also buy some ammunition, but that’s another story.

Real Estate News
The week before Labor Day is not a particularly busy one in this business but I did see some houses of note. Gary Silberberg (Intriguing Realty) has completed his project at 21 Desiree Drive, off of Stanwich, and it’s quite nice for its type. Regular readers know that I’m not a huge fan of huge houses, but I like this one. Desiree has been transformed from a street of smallish homes to large ones like this one of 9,400 sq.ft., so the house fits in with its neighbors. It has been built to extremely high standards and abuts nearly 400 acres of park and conservation land. Pool, five bedrooms (with room for more) and a finished, walk-out basement. $5,950,000.

For less money , $3,250,000, Marta Stroll has a listing at 1 Winthrop in Riverside that is also a high quality project. It is obvious that its builder, Tim Gilson, is one of the good guys – someone who takes pride in his work and puts extra quality in as a matter of course. This is a very, very nice five bedroom house, on a great street. Considering that several houses in the area, of far lesser quality, have recently sold for close to this one’s asking price, I think this is a bargain.

And, while it isn’t new construction, Sally O’Brien’s listing at 727 Lake Avenue represents a good value, too. Built in 1983 in the Federal style, its present owners have done some extensive renovation including modernizing the kitchen and all the baths. Over two and a half acres, asking $2,695,000 – that’s a good price for Lake Avenue, I think.

Fuel Conservation
Adam Smith pointed out in 1776 it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest And it is our self interest that will encourage us to buy more efficient cars, furnaces etc., rather than grand calls for sacrifice to the common good and denunciations of vendors as greedy capitalists. I am no happier to pay $3.35 for a gallon of regular than any other
citizen, but if that price makes other fuel sources – tar sands, solar power, whatever – competitive with oil, then I’m all for it. I remember paying $0.25 a gallon for gas here in Riverside in 1972, then traveling to Europe that same year and paying $3.00 a gallon. Is it
any surprise that Europe has a thriving nuclear energy industry and a fleet of fuel efficient cars while our contribution to the world has been the Chevy Suburban? I think not.

Nest week, back to real estate – I promise.

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26 Stag Lane

I had a chance to tour Rick Harris’s new construction project recently and was quite impressed (Rick is the son of our long-term Town Clerk, Mike, and is very much not to be confused with the other builder with a similar name, Richard Harris). Rick obviously takes pride in his craftsmanship, as he should. Everything about this house smacks of top of the line quality: the 80 year roof, Brazilian cherry floors, wall finishes, mechanicals, including a German furnace which is one of the most efficient furnaces on the market, beautiful trim work and moldings, and so forth. While it is more fun to write about badly made houses, it’s far more gratifying to spotlight excellent builders and their work, so I am happy to point this one out.

Don’t Wait

Speaking of efficient furnaces, the price of fuel is skyrocketing and heating our homes this winter is going to be an (ever more) expensive proposition. You can ease the pain quite a bit by installing a new, efficient furnace and a better hot water heater-either constant demand or super insulated. The trouble is if, like me, you don’t think about your water heater or furnace until it breaks, you’ll have no time to research or order the best system; when the water heater is leaking across your basement floor you want your plumber (Mat Falco, in Old Greenwich, by the way, is a great one) to come out that morning and replace it. Which, if you’re lucky or if you call Mr.Falco and his sons, they will. But the replacement will be what’s called in the trade as “on the truck” – whatever is in stock, not necessarily the most efficient product available. If you have an aging furnace or water heater (15-20 and 10 year life expectancies, respectively) you might want to address it this fall before you need instant action. You could lose a few years of useful life on the thing but a really efficient heater will quickly pay you back.

The Sky is Falling?

About three weeks ago, the New York Times claimed that the housing market was doomed because the ratio of rents vs. buying price was so skewed. As I understood the argument, rents were so low that it made far more sense to rent rather than buy and that meant that the bubble was about to pop. So last week, the Times ran another article, this time on the front page, stating that rental prices were rising. Their conclusion? “Evidence that housing boom is ebbing.” I realize that no one at the Times actually reads the damn thing and I understand the Times’ fierce determination to bring down the housing market (and anything else they can grab on to) but really, if they think that declining rents and rising rents both mean the end of the world is near (“women, minorities hardest hit”) then perhaps we should interpret their economic reporting for what it is: “all the bad news we can dream up”. Consistency may well be the hobgoblin of little minds but self-contradictory conclusions are evidence of no mind at all.

Summer Homes

Every experienced agent knows never to let his buyer/clients go away on summer vacation before they’ve bought something but I did just that this month and, sure enough, the couple fell in love with a lake house and decided to buy it instead of a larger house here in town. So much for them.

In fact, speaking as a fellow parent and a friend, I urged them to go for it. Some of my very best childhood memories were formed at my family’s house in Ogunquit Maine. There’s something wonderful about returning to the same house each summer, hitting the same sleazy attractions – in our case, the York Animal Farm – the same restaurants, fishing spots, and so on. I loved Ogunquit and I’m sure my friends’ kids will love their new home. As I’ve just packed my youngest child off to college, I can attest that what seems like all the time in the world is quite short. Choosing between a larger house here in Greenwich or a place to create indelible memories? No choice at all, in my opinion.

Macadam Travelers

A friend just returned from Nantucket with a tale of woe about getting her Lexus SUV stuck during an off-road adventure. I am (just barely) enough of a gentleman to have refrained from saying to her face, “well, duh!” but saying that in print’s another matter: These vehicles are the motor vehicle industry’s version of a Potemkin Village and are designed solely to siphon money from Americans and transfer it to those 7000 Saudi princes and their retinue. Leave the pavement at your peril.

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