The New York Times ran yet another article declaring a recession in the housing market the other day so I thought I’d see how we’ve been doing in ours. As always, it depends. Overall, we’re off 32% in contract activity for the period I surveyed, June 1 – July 25, 2005 and 2006, 106 units (single family and condos) vs. 154 (all of this year’s numbers are probably skewed a bit towards the downside because there are bound to be properties currently under contract that have not been reported due to outstanding contingencies).Single family homes did better, down 21%. It’s the condos being whacked, selling at just 43% of last year’s pace, 19 vs. 44
It also depends on what neighborhood you look at. For single family homes, Riverside is untouched, 20 now, 20 last year. Old Greenwich is up, 21 vs. 16, Greenwich proper, down, 38 vs. 57 and Cos Cob, down, 8 vs. 17. It’s these latter figures that explain why some of my builder clients only do business in Old Greenwich and Riverside.
Inventory is up substantially. 181 condos now vs. only 89 the same time last year. 526 single family homes available now vs. 444 last year. In case you’re wondering, 261 condos sold in all of 2005 and 738 single families.
I’ve noticed that a number of tear-downs are coming on the market at a price that allows no profit for a builder. For instance, one I know of is priced at $1,200,000. At that price, when you add another $1,000,000 for building, plus commissions, taxes etc., the resulting house would have to sell for at least $2,500,000 just to break even. All this in a neighborhood of, at best, $2,000,000 homes. I don’t necessarily mind this trend because I’m tired of watching the houses of my childhood friends disappear but if you hope to cash in on the lack of land in town by selling to a builder, remember that he or she is not a non-profit organization. Not deliberately, anyway.
I recently toured two houses at opposite extremes of home decorating. One was a mansion that had exactly one personal photograph, a formal, posed family portrait and nothing else. It struck me as awfully cold and I wondered if the lack of family snapshots indicated a family in trouble or an over-bearing interior decorator. We advise “de-personalizing” a house to make it easier for a potential buyer to imagine themselves as the next owner but banishing all memories of your kids and pets seems excessive. Don’t be bullied. At the other extreme was a very nice house that had dozens of photographs on every level surface. That, plus the presence of too much furniture, made the rooms appear small and cramped when in fact they were not. So listen to your agent, clean out the place, even if temporarily, and go sell your house. But don’t forget you have a family, too.
Did you see that Chicago has passed (an undoubtedly unconstitutional)law mandating WalMart to pay its workers a minimum wage of $10 per hour plus $3 per hour in benefits? This kind of whacko economics is always popular with uneducated people which explains why the Democrats are pushing it so hard, but I don’t get it – if raising the minimum wage is the solution to poverty, why stop at ten bucks? Wouldn’t $100 per hour help even more? And if it were raised to $1,000 per hour these folks could buy (modest) homes in Greenwich, all to my own enrichment. Go for it!
Nick Barile, of York Builders, builds a great house. I’ve admired some of his previous projects on Tomac, Hendrie Avenue and Pell Place, and now he’s just finishing up his latest on MacKenzie, off of North Street. A great entrance, graced with a 150-year old newel post (Barile always adds antique touches to his houses, to good effect) and a really nice, curving staircase. Another agent/friend though the rooms to either side of the entrance were too small – not to my eye; I find them perfectly proportioned and large enough to entertain an entire mob of Conyer’s Farm polo swells or whoever else comprises your social circle. Slate roof, built-in desks/bookshelves in the childrens’ rooms, over an acre of land in an R-12 zone (a smart move – this neighborhood has gone upscale and 12,000 ft. lots won’t cut it), great finish work and on and on. $5,595,000 – unlike some other new construction I’ve seen recently, this one’s quality at least gives you the impression that you’re getting what you pay for. Diane and Russ Dutcher, of Coldwell Banker, have the listing.