Daily Archives: March 20, 2008

Bear Stearns, R.I.H.
That would be rest in hell, if it weren’t for my having friends who worked, honorably, for this firm. Back in the 90’s, I argued with those friends that, notwithstanding their own blameless activities, they worked for an enterprise that profited from providing financing and clearance service for corrupt penny stock – boiler room fraud machines like Stratton Oakmont, R.H. Baron’s, and the like. The SEC eventually shut down the penny stock firms, Bear Sterns paid some $48,000,000 in fines and, I hope, my friends all left for better firms. Bear Sterns itself moved into the subprime mortgage market and basically went bankrupt this week – couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of guys. Of course, for those employees engaged in the legitimate side of the banker’s business, it may be just a bit galling to learn that, while their stock investment evaporated over the weekend, Jamie Cayne, Bear Stearn’s last corporate chief, resigned in January and closed last week on a $28,000,000 unit at New York’s Plaza Hotel.He “earned” $38,000,000 last year for guiding the firm into this mess. When all else fails, flee the ship and buy real estate.

$28 million and worth it?
I can’t guarantee that, but Helene Barre’s new listing for that price in Conyer’s Farm at least seemed reasonable. I may be nostalgic here – the house abuts the lake where we used to skip school and swim (another agent, older than I, used to “park” here” – if only Eliot Spitzer had known of the place) but the house sits on 22 acres, was magnificently built by Hobbs and, all in all, gives the impression that a huge amount of money and care went into its production. Not to cast aspersions, but that sets it apart from some other houses I know of in this price range. In addition to the fantastic trim work, I particularly liked the filtration system that whisks cigar smoke from the house: I was recently amused to see a very nice outdoor porch, with fireplace, labeled a “cigar patio”, but true masters of the universe just flip a switch and stay right in their comfy chair, puffing away without anyone complaining. Cool.

Smart Builder
Chuck and Nancy Standard, of Riverside, recently contacted me to compliment Tom Brandenburger (203) 912-2136, a Greenwich builder who’s been constructing a new house next door to them on Hearthstone Lane. It looks like a very nice house, but what the Standards liked was the care and attention Brandenburger bestowed on the neighbors. Trees that buffered the adjoining properties were encircled with orange fencing and posted (in both Spanish and English) “Area de la Proteccion del arbol – no entrar”, driveways were plowed, friendly greetings exchanged and concerns addressed. I work with a builder who does the same sort of thing but it astonishes me to see so many builders who ignore these common courtesies and run roughshod over neighborhoods while pursuing their projects. Dumb, because good will is invaluable.

When bad prices happen to good houses
Here are some recent asking and selling prices of perfectly good houses that sat forever on the market before finally being sold: $3.095 asking price in March ’06 sold for $1.980 March ’08. I could go on (in fact I did, in an early draft of this post but libel laws concerned me), but you get the message: the best house in the world won’t sell if it’s over-priced, so don’t do it.

Canada free trade
Did you catch the flack between Obama and Clinton over who was going to be hardest on Canada and our mutual NAFTA agreement? Someone smarter than I am (a low hurdle) points out that Canada has universal health care, a high minimum wage and environmental protection laws that would keep Dick Cheney sleepless at night, so if these two are really intent on enforcing a fair trade bill they aren’t, as they claim, interested in “a level playing field” but rather just want to shut down all trade. The last time this was tried, vie the Smoot-Hawley tariffs of 1930, things didn’t work out so well, so if either of these two is elected, I suggest you sell your real estate (especially you, Mr. Cayne), buy gold, and hunker down.

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