Monthly Archives: May 2007

Talk Radio
I haven’t had much opportunity to tune into Russ Pruner’s Friday real estate show (WGCH, 10-11:00 am) but did so last week and heard my good friend Jeremy Kaye being interviewed by Russ and his new side-kick, Bill Andruss. Great show. Jeremy, one of the very best real estate attorneys in town, gave an hour-long walk through of a typical real estate transaction, from Town Hall records, to contract negotiation to closing. You might think that’s a pretty dry subject to spend an hour on (in my first year of law school, when I couldn’t sleep, I’d open my property law case book and doze off in minutes) but Russ and Bill asked good questions and Jeremy is almost as funny as his brother Joel so the time flew. If Russ is smart, he’ll make this interview available as a download on his firm’s website so that you can load it on your iPod and learn while you jog. Or you can just call Jeremy (625-5300) and ask him to entertain you. My only regret: Russ refused to take calls from listeners, thereby shutting off my creative impulses for the morning.

Two Nice Houses – cheap! (for Riverside)
I live down the street from Valerie Bromley’s new listing at 62 Arch Street and as I passed it each morning I wondered at the wisdom of its owners as the spent a year renovating what, to my eye, was a dated contemporary destined for a dumpster. I was (as usual) wrong, they were right. The house and yard have been transformed and the result is a very nice, livable house with five bedrooms, three fireplaces and a great deck overlooking Binney Park – throw your own July 4th party and have the best seats in town. Good price, I think, at $2,250,000.
Barbie Jackson has listed 23 Pierce Road for $2,395,000 and I liked it, too, although it’s a completely different type of house. This one is a 1927 farmhouse, totally updated and renovated in the past few years. Nice yard and a great porch. Either one of these houses would be a good choice.

The Arch street house includes a deck made of composite (okay, plastic) material that looks really good. This is a very practical choice for decking – more expensive than pressure treated wood but maintenance-free. My pal Nancy, tired of replacing rotten boards on our old deck, hired Rick Crossman of Old Greenwich (Archadeck, 978 –9050 to rebuild the entire structure using composite decking and it looks great. I’ve known Rick and the rest of the Crossman family for many decades – good people and Rick sells a good product. He’ll make a deck from whatever you want: pressure treated wood, Brazilian Ipe (great, beautiful wood that lasts forever and comes with a price tag to match its longevity) or, as noted, composite. It’s always nice to use local vendors because in the unlikely event that a problem develops later, you know where to find them and, with a local reputation to defend, these guys will always work to make it right.

Attack Cat
My mother’s cat Henry, a 17 pound brute we adopted from the ASPCA, loves people but detests interlopers on his territory (which, sadly for my Nancy’s Miss Kitty, includes the house two doors up –poor Miss Kitty is terrified). But I watched with great amusement the other morning when Henry spied two geese on my neighbors’ yard. He crouched behind our hedge, then stalked the interlopers in a slow manner that caused them increasing concern and, when he finally charged they flew off, squawking in protest, landing in our creek, where the belong. Cheaper to maintain than a Border Collie, I may rent him out.

More on fluorescent bulbs
Interesting discussion on NPR the other day on the new fluorescent bulbs, soon to be mandated as the only light bulbs sold in America. Turns out that they don’t work in “cans’, the overhead lights so many people have in their houses. The trapped heat destroys them quickly and even while still working, their light is distorted. I don’t think this will be a popular law.

Memorial Day Parade this Monday, Old Greenwich
Best chance to revisit all those people for whom a once-a-year conversation is just about right. Besides, the kids on bicycles are cute and, although last year was a bit thin in this regard, you can usually count on some good marching bands. Don’t miss it. 10:00 AM.

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Economists at work
The Greenwich Board of Realtors has commissioned a study by a UConn economist to measure the growth of Greenwich real estate. His conclusion: 600% over the past 20 years, outpacing all of the various stock indexes. That’s reassuring, but should be taken with a large grain of salt. So far as I can tell (and a meeting to discuss these findings with its author won’t be held until next week) the data don’t reflect improvements made to the subject property. That’s not necessarily fatal, because it’s the land that is soaring in value, not the housing stock. My kids were horrified when I told them that their childhood home was destined for the dumpster when its sold, but there it is; Nancy and I put in over $150,000 to improve it (okay, that’s a powder room for most readers but for this middle class family in the ’80s, it was huge) but whoever buys it will be buying it for its location, not our improvements. All in all, I suppose the study demonstrates that Greenwich has been, and remains, a solid investment – just don’t take the price you paid in 1986, multiply it by six and assume that that’s your home’s current value. Could be, but not necessarily.

Morons at the gate
I overheard two fellow agents (and friends, hence no names mentioned here) commenting at an open house the other day. The house we were in happened to be near the railroad tracks and some overhead power lines. “I’d never sell this place,” said one, ” those power lines kill”. “Leukemia,” confirmed the other, nodding with supreme confidence. Now, I know these two to be well educated, otherwise-intelligent people, so I was dismayed at their ignorant acceptance of junk science – if they’re blundering around in a fog of ignorance, how are we supposed to calculate house prices? What (negative) value do we ascribe to bad Feng Shui, graveyards within 500 yards, nearby cell phone towers, a death down the street, etc? (I’ll concede that Mr. Kissel’s bloody, bound demise on Dairy Road significantly affected that house’s resale value – by the way: another murder “solved” by our gendarmes, who declared it a suicide). If our otherwise well-educated sales force thinks these things matter, surely some customers do, too. I don’t know how to adjust prices to accommodate superstitious nonsense but I sense that it’s a skill I’d better develop, and soon – we’re moving into over-drive in this country.

And in our laundries
Did you see Consumer Report’s latest review of “energy efficient” washing machines, now mandated by Congressional edict? Turns out, your basic top-loader machine no longer cleans clothes. You’ll now have to spend $1,000 to get something that will do the job. That’s probably no hardship for the average Greenwich household but I suspect that consumers in most of the rest of the country won’t be pleased. Just wait until they can no longer buy incandescent light bulbs. With luck, we’ll have a revolution.

The Back Country
A recent newspaper article on the Back Country quoted another two friends of mine who claimed that the beauty of the area has not been diminished by all the recent construction. Phooey, says I. A 15,000 sq.ft. badly-designed mansion crammed onto a 4 acre lot looks just awful, especially compared to the graceful houses set on 100 acres that they replaced. I understand market forces and I can accept change, but don’t try to pretend that nothing has been lost; the town has suffered greatly. North Street, once the grand, beautiful entrance to our town, is now cluttered with tasteless, over-sized collections of builder’s kitsch (fortunately hidden behind towering stone walls) – the rest of the Back Country has suffered as badly.

Wanna be a landlord?
Dan Piotrowski has listed a five unit condominium complex at 9 Riversville Road for $5,350,000. I assume that’s not quite the right price or it would have sold by now but these are pretty neat units, each renovated and each, I would think, capable of bringing in a decent rent. So at some capitalization rate, these ought to be a good buy.

Vile bodies
Speaking of corpses, did you see the news account of a Realtor and her clients discovering a three-week-old corpse moldering in bed? We just hate when that happens.

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Local Produce
Some time back I wrote, in response to a silly politician claiming that only losers with no better opportunities joined the Army, of Old Greenwich’s own, 1st Lt. Stephanie Whittle, GHS 2000, who turned down Harvard in favor of attending West Point. I just received the following email from another of her fans and I thought I’d reprint it here:

“That (now) Captain Whittle you speak of is pretty darn incredible. I spent four years with her at West Point in awe of her brilliance and extraordinary world view. She has always been the one to go to for advice, encouragement, and help with anything. That is to say that Greenwich Connecticut sends some good ones out into the world, and I’m sure that’s enough endorsement to help those multi-million dollar properties sell themselves. –CM”

In fact, Greenwich has always turned out some pretty accomplished kids. I’m still amazed that my small Humanities course at the high school produced at least five published authors, including a Pulitzer Prize winner. Artists, musicians, investment bankers, too many lawyers (that would be any more than one), we have a talented pool of young people here and CM is right: people ought to be willing to buy in Greenwich just so their children can matriculate with winners. I single out Stephanie because she’s sacrificing potential financial gain and her personal safety just to serve her country. At a time of war and with Memorial Day approaching, it seems appropriate to give her an honorable mention.

Attention deficit disorder
I read that Sony is condensing a variety of truly awful 70’s shows like Charlie’s Angels to 3-4 minute episodes: the Angles meet, get instructions from Charlie, chase bad guy, catch bad guy, end of show. They intend to post these on the internet and expect to make a lot of money, which I’m sure they will. But besides illustrating just how little actual content was packed in the original 30 minute shows, I think this development has instructional value for homeowners: the younger generation buying homes has almost no patience; not for letting plots develop and not for renovation jobs. I’m speaking in broad generalities of course but I have noticed that “fixer-uppers” are increasingly a drag on the market. I recently listed a really charming cape in a great location. Although families have happily lived there since 1935, it could have used a new, expanded kitchen and a new master bedroom suite upstairs. Both those improvements could have been easily done but we received exactly zero expressions of interest from end-users and numerous bids from builders who were interested solely in the land it sat on. That’s an increasingly common phenomenon, I think. So, if you’re thinking about selling your older home, either consider doing needed renovations now, yourself, or resign yourself to selling for land value. The latter isn’t so bad, fortunately, because the price of good building lots keeps rising, while the value of a physically obsolete, dated house is falling.

But if you’re going to renovate …
Be careful – some houses just aren’t worth putting more money into. I’m aware of two houses, side by side on the same street that were priced within $200,000 of each other. One was a tear down, the other had a much better yard, a beautiful pool and a completely redone interior that, unfortunately, kept its original front-to-back split arrangement. The tear down was sold in days while the renovated house, at this writing, still sits because builders aren’t willing to pay extra for what they don’t need and, apparently, home buyers don’t want it either (their loss, in my opinion –it’s a nice house). So, before you commit to a big re-do job, you might want to pick the brains of a friendly Realtor.

Humor on the circuit
I thought I was being funny advertising a drawing for an Airbus 380 at my recent broker open house (no one wanted the rough sketch of a plane that I presented) but Andy Healy, of Surf &Turf Realty did me one better by requesting agents to “please remove shoes before entering”. Agents who showed up were confronted with a muddy, vacant lot. Well done, Andy.

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Tod’s Point wing ding this Sunday
The Greenwich Shellfish Commission (and I hope you knew that we have one) is sponsoring a pretty cool event this Sunday, from 1-4, at the Point. Besides a clam digging class, there will be an additional 25-30 exhibitors demonstrating or passing along information on just about every possible salt water recreation, from reading (Perrot Library), fishing (Sportsmen’s Den), diving (Ski & Scuba), lobstering (Bill Fossum himself!) and on and on. The sloop Soundwaters will be moored off the Old Greenwich Yacht Club and available for inspection, Bruce Museum is doing something else which I can’t recall so you’ll have to go see for yourself, and so on. A map to the whole thing will be available at the gate but basically head down to the Yacht Club work your way past the windsurfing launching area, and you’re there. Questions can be directed to either Roger Bowgen at 243-6364 or Sue Baker 637-4610. No rain date, so keep your Sou’wester handy.

Smart Renovation in Old Greenwich
Ginny Hamilton has just listed 27 Shore Road for $3,350,000. It’s a house I liked a lot, an old (1894) Victorian that was intelligently expanded and renovated in 2004. I used to subscribe to “The Old House Journal” and each issue included a back-cover photograph of the “re-muddling of the month”. Horrifying. The careful work on this house would qualify for a picture on the front cover. Of course, in Greenwich, we have less to fear from bad renovation jobs than from dumpsters swallowing old houses whole. It’s true that some houses are simply obsolete, with low ceilings, failed basements and the like but I wish that people planning a tear-down would visit this house first to see what can be done to bring a great older house into the new century. Ginnie, perhaps you should hold a public open house.

Doing it on the cheap?
An agent who attended the broker open house for a very, very expensive house (if I gave its exact price I’d embarrass the builder, who probably deserves it but …) reports that its master bath was a cheap-looking plastic tub. I understand that weight considerations may dictate an acrylic, rather than cast iron spa but if the resulting product comes out looking cheesy and you’re hoping to set a price record for you house, you might want to try a bit harder.

And speaking of trying harder
I held a broker open house in Riverside the other day for a nice new house priced around $4,000,000 and only 47 agents showed up. The low turnout at open houses puzzles me. There are currently over 1,000 agents in town yet, as I’ve written here before, you see the same 150 faces at open houses – where are the others, doing lunch? Oddly enough, the largest turnouts come at the super mansions, when dozens of agents I’ve never seen before show up to tour. They have as little chance of selling a $15,000,000 mansion as they do of dying from the sudden loss of all the air in their living room but out they come, like groundhogs, before disappearing again. Riverside and Old Greenwich are still experiencing bidding wars over new construction so you’d think more of my competitors would be working the area but I’m grateful they don’t. As it is, my listing is going to contract this week.

I have a great deal of sympathy for my fellow-residents who were flooded recently (by the way, I’ve heard nothing but praise for the firefighters and police officers who responded to calls) but I lump their complaints and demands that the town “do something” in with those of the citizens of New Jersey – don’t build in flood plains if you don’t want your feet wet. This isn’t heartlessness but rather basic geology, taught me many years ago in college: rivers have channels and they have flood plains which, by definition, flood when it rains a lot. It’s stupid for states like New Jersey to keep rebuilding on floodplains, as though re-setting ten pins, and Greenwich might want to reconsider its policies, too. “Flood control” is an oxymoron – just ask Noah.

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