According to Gallop, 7 out of 10 consumers think the housing bubble is soon to burst, but only 4 out of 10 believe that their own neighborhood will decline. Why the discrepancy? Probably because more people actually know something about their own area and ignore scary news stories about “national” conditions, whatever they are. This seems similar to that other recent poll which found that we all think that 90% of the population is fat but only 40% think that we ourselves are.
Zoning and Walls
For years, Paul Pugliese, architect, and principal of Greenwich Land Co., has been a one man band at our P&Z hearings, criticizing their proposals but, far more important, offering solutions to the problems the P&Z (dreams up and) seeks to address. They routinely ignored him so now the Board of Realtors has created a committee, headed by Paul and Sabine Schoenberg, that will, we hope, bring a multitude of voices to join Paul at hearings. Will it work? Who knows, but here’s one of the P&Z’s proposed regulations that ought to stir up some interest: all walls, fences (including split rail and picket) or plantings over three-feet tall must be set back 10’ from any public highway. Now, there are certainly safety issues involved here, and no one should be forced to proceed blindly onto a public highway, but, enforced on neighborhoods like Riverside, Cos Cob, Byram or Old Greenwich, this regulation would, at the least, bifurcate front and side yards, leaving 10’ strips of (taxable) yards outside the province of the owners and yielding 5’-10’ yards inside the fence. That’s a crummy idea that doesn’t even begin to address the perceived problem of sight lines. Some lots should not have fences or hedges on their perimeters – other lots can block out traffic noise with no effect on public safety- so what’s called for here is, I suggest, a lot-by-lot approach, not a sledgehammer rule that hits every front and side yard in town. If you happen to live in a neighborhood of smallish lots – Old Greenwich, Riverside, Cos Cob or Byram, say, take a stroll outside and see how much (or how little) of your front yard will be left if this regulation passes. Then call up the P&Z and register your comments. Or wait for a petition we Realtors have ginned up to come your way, and sign it. We’ll try to take it from there.
I drove up Riverside Lane the other day, took note of the many new houses being built and realized that like New Orleans, Greenwich is seeing the complete replacement of its housing stock, albeit piece-by-piece here, compared to the post-Katrina construction wave down there. This isn’t necessarily good or bad, I suppose, but the implications are (a) the town will continue to get more expensive to live in and (b) there are a lot of houses here that are rapidly approaching only their land value. The latter doesn’t necessarily mean your house’s value will depreciate but any increase in value will be limited to whatever rate land appreciates. I’m painting with a hugely overbroad brush here, but, as a generality, I think it works.
And More on New Houses
We have seventy-one new single-family houses on the market right now, fifty-one of which are priced at $3,000,000 or above. Many builders I know are shuffling their feet nervously, wondering whether to proceed with new projects, but I don’t think that statistic is as daunting as it appears. Sixty-six new houses in that price range sold or have gone to contract in the past twelve months and thirty of those went this year. One thing that does give me pause is seeing so much new construction going up that, so far as I know, is not yet on the market. Unless these are all custom jobs, which I doubt, there will be a large new influx of inventory in the next few months, which will render the reassuring statistics cited above, moot..
A Sight I Never Thought to See
I toured a beautiful new house the other day, priced at the top of the price range and was struck by my feeling that the woman’s closet was too small. Not too small for normal people and normal houses – this one could accommodate the belongings of a family of five – but, at this price level, the lady’s closet/dressing area is usually the size of a small house (the guy’s remains tiny, regardless of the size of the house). I believe I’ve been in this business too long if I, an oblivious male, can walk into what is essentially an airplane hangar and think, “gee, this feels a little cramped”.