Market Conditions
A bit of a slow down in the past few weeks. Sixty-eight single family houses went to contract between January 1 and February 17 this year, compared to eighty-one in 2005 and ninety-five in 2004. The market is not moribund, by any means, but there are a lot of tire kickers out there. It doesn’t help that the main stream media continues to declare a bursting of the housing bubble; just last week, the New York Times wrote that speculative pre-construction condo buyers are losing their shirts. There is a big difference, I think, between speculators operating in Miami and families buying homes in Greenwich. The Times disagrees but then, we rarely see eye-to-eye on anything.

Renovated and Still Going
I really liked 395 Stanwich (or 53 Rock Maple, take your pick) when it was first listed a year or two ago. It was a 1938 classic in need of some updating but I personally wouldn’t have changed all that much. Ann Benedict (Country Living Associates) bought it and, while sharing my own tastes as to what needed doing, bowed to market demands and added the now-requisite eat-in-kitchen, a huge new master bedroom suite and even baths for each of the bedrooms. No sharing for today’s princes and princesses! But she did a great job of preserving everything that made this house so appealing to begin with: graceful proportions, cedar (I think) moldings and the prettiest living room in town. The house was bumped out a bit, sideways and forwards to accommodate the new kitchen and master bedroom but I didn’t even notice that when I first pulled up. So, beautiful house, terrific grounds with an additional two-acre conservation buffer and a price of $4,950,000. Well worth it, I think.

13 Edgewater Drive
Another example of how to renovate a house. Originally built in 1915, it was expanded 1981 and new owners renovated it last year. It’s still relatively small: 2,600 sq.ft., four bedrooms, two baths, but I think it will perfectly suit the needs of a young family. Walking distance to the school, train or, going the other way, the beach. Susie Schruth (Prudential) has listed it at $1,735,000. If it doesn’t sell for more than that in a bidding war then we’ll know we’re in a downturn. But I’m betting it’s gone in days.

Planning & Zoning
The P&Z is allocated eight staff members, who keep busy reviewing applications, dealing with the public and so forth. Of the eight positions authorized, however, only three are currently filled. This is a huge problem, as you will discover when you go to get a permit for a simple addition. For instance, if your property is within 1,000 feet of the water you will need a Coastal Area Management (CAM) review. In the past, projects within the CAM area but not actually on the water were put through an “administrative review” which meant you filled out a lot of paperwork, the staff read through it to make sure all the proper forms were filled in and you were approved; ten day delay, at worst. Now, because of the staff shortage, that same simple review takes at least two months. And it is not just CAM reviews that are being delayed, everything is. Want to add a deck this summer? Expand your kitchen? Better start applying now, or you’ll be sweeping snow off your unfinished project next January. I don’t hold any personal grudge against Diane Fox, who runs the P&Z, but one of the responsibilities of an administrator is to ensure proper staffing levels. This problem has persisted for a long time and is getting worse, not better. Why? And, assuming Fox is incapable of curing the shortage, why doesn’t one of her superiors step in?

School Vacation
It’s been pure bliss getting around town this week with the schools closed and so many families away. No fighting frenzied, whippet-thin anorexics in Starbucks, no need to dodge SUVs, it’s even been possible to find a parking space. All in all, it feels the way Greenwich did decades ago and I enjoy it. Perhaps we should close the schools permanently.

It May Be Time to Retire When …
One of our older Realtors donned those paper, over-the-shoe booties agents pass out at open houses when the weather’s bad. She toured the house, came down the stairs, searched around the front door and exclaimed, “but I can’t find my shoes!”. In fairness to her, I suspect we all have days like that.

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