Daily Archives: August 1, 2008

Greenspan – "Housing slump to continue"

Discouraging news, but Mr. Greenspan is not necessarily always right. Two years ago, he predicted the worst is over. So, as always, you pays your money, ya take your chances. I do wish credit would return, though.

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Asbestos? Yawn.

Dundee School, site of the new/temporary wiffleball field, turns out to be enjoying a bit of asbestos removal in the building. Parents of the wiffleballers are upset, according to the Greenwich Time article linked above. For once, the town is right – this kerfuffle is all much ado about nothing, spurred by ignorance, which breeds fear. My personal opinion is that the Congressional mandate to remove asbestos from all schools in the nation is a colossal waste of money that diverted billions of dollars to contractors when it could have been spent on books, new buildings or even increasing teachers’ salaries (if you’re going to waste money anyway ….)

But even if you think asbestos is right up there on the danger screen with Nalgene water bottles, an asbestos removal project is a pretty safe operation for those outside. The building is reverse-pressurized, keeping all dust inside a plastic sheet-sealed area, the workers all wear space suits, air is monitored and everyone has a grand time while being very well paid because it looks so dangerous. In fact, years ago I defended one of several young kids who were caught up in a federal sweep of unscrupulous asbestos removal contractors. these kids, acting under orders from their boss, skipped the pressurizing bit, shucked the spacesuits and basically just ripped everything up, ran a vacuum cleaner over the site and went home. After the busts, tests were done and, surprise! No harm, no foul. The kids got probation; their boss was sent off to cool his heels for a spell, if I recall.

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Eco Hysteria

There’s a movement afoot to ban bottled water, which seems dubious to me. A commentator below (“The Bag Lady is Singing) suggests that ecological awareness is a good thing, no matter how misguided a few zealots are, or sound. I might agree, if I didn’t fear that the zealots were on their way to taking over our schools, our children and our lives. The NYT article linked above doesn’t scare me – some of the comments appended to it do. Here, for instance, is one from exactly the type of person who sets my teeth on edge and tempts me to reach for my revolver:

“10. July 29th, 2008

Bottled water is THE. BIGGEST. MYTH. IN. HISTORY.
(next to WMDs, of course)
I’ve done some research on this topic. I believe anyone who frequently drinks only bottled water is a disgrace. THey are selfish folks who care nothing about their surroundings and the environment. THey don’t care that tons of plastic, and energy and oil are used to make bottled water (which in some cases, like Dasani, is filtered tap water already).
ANything that states “purified water” means it is TAP WATER that goes thru a Brita-like filter. So why pay for it?
Also, water like FIji, actually comes from Fiji – 7,000 miles away. That uses fuel for the airplane, plastic for the bottle, and tons of energy to make the darn thing. Workers are paid a few cents an hour to make this product, which you carelessly throw away.
ANyone who doesn’t care about the environment, or buys bottled water by the multi-pack, should be ashamed to call themselves American, or even a concerned human. People like this are the ones who have polluted the Earth.
Bottled water is for those occasions when you forget to take your own, or you have a sudden urge for water. That’s it. It’s an emergency product. Drinking bottled water is as stupid as breathing air from an oxygen tank 24 hours a day.
— Posted by irritated”

When not being irritated by water drinkers, this lady busies herself by slipping abusive messages under the windshield wipers of SUVs. You can’t tell her to get a life because she thinks she already has one. Ugh.

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Fill a tire, save the world

The Messiah has suggested that, if only we were to properly inflate our car tires, we’d save as much gasoline as that which could be produced by additional drilling. Even a moron like myself could detect that something was wrong with that figure so I did a little digging on the internet to see how much oil we’re talking about. The result: a lot, from the drilling (28 billion barrels from ANWAR and off shore, minimum) and not a heck of a lot from driving on properly inflated tires (maybe 90,000,000 barrels annually). Figure 311 years to match the foregone production. For a more interesting take, check Professor Hinderacker’s calculations in the link above. Be throws in oil shale, which I won’t because oil shale development is going to require tons of water, a commodity scarcer even than oil in the Rockies, and figures we’ll take 3,110 years to match what Obama wont drill for.

Even if you share my low opinion of the intelligence of former Harvard Law Review editors, is it possible that Obama is this dumb? I think not; I think he assumes that we are, we gun-clinging, religious fanatics who don’t have the sense to live in an urban paradise like Chicago. He’s trying to sell a bill of goods that seems painless: we switch a few light bulbs, check out our tire pressure every month, stop drinking bottled water and presto! The polar bears are safe. The question is, will Obama and his friends content themselves with passing out free light bulbs and tire gauges or are they preparing to shut down the western world’s economy? If it were Al Gore about to be crowned emperor, I’d know exactly what we were in for. Obama remains a mystery, to me.

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Anything can happen but don’t count on it

156 Lockwood Road (on the corner of Sound Beach) in Riverside was originally listed in April 2007 for $5,995,000. Although I didn’t give out its address in my column I did mention that, given its location on the two busiest streets in Riverside and Old Greenwich, I didn’t think the seller would get that price. In fact, I thought he was friggin’ loony, and neighbors who guessed which hose I was writing about agreed. It finally sold this past July for $4,100,000. Again, considering where it was built, I think the seller got lucky. Lesson is, if you’re an out-of-town builder doing your first project here, don’t let the magic name “Greenwich” blind you to the oldest of real estate maxims – location, location, location.

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Flipping houses for fun and profit

It doesn’t happen often these days, but 38 Highview Avenue in Old Greenwich was purchased by an investor couple I know (but don’t, alas, represent) for $1.395M on August 16, 2004, and went to contract just 7 days after being listed this July with an asking price of $1.795M. I assume, based on it selling so quickly, that the winning bid was close to or at the full asking price. If so, that’s not a bad result in this market, even knocking off 10% (a grossly pessimistic percentage) for commissions, taxes and all that. It probably doesn’t hurt that the sellers are local, and one of them is both a town native and an excellent financial advisor. They picked the right property and did just fine. Nice work, if you can get it.

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New vs. experienced agents

A couple of readers have asked how inquires about real estate are handled by brokerage firms here in town. Speaking only for the two or three firms whose policies I am (sort of) familiar with, here’s how it works: a call comes in – Hallelujah! The Internet has killed 90% of such calls in the past five years – and is routed to whoever has “desk duty” that slot (usually, an agent holds down desk duty for 1/2 the day). In the pre-internet days, a caller stood a pretty good chance of finding an experienced agent on the line because that’s where the business was – we’d run ads in local papers and those ubiquitous real estate gimme books found in supermarkets and would-be buyers had to call to find out the price (often) and the address (almost always). People volunteered for desk duty because they could count on receiving at least a couple of calls a session and, with luck, could convert the caller into a customer. That’s not true today so a lot of us find we have better things to do with our time. Not all of us – I know of at least one very experienced, successful agent who still grabs the duty desk and does well at it. I personally will do it only as a matter of being a team player.

The bane of an office manager and those of us who have the misfortune of being within earshot of a telephone inquiry regarding one of our own listings is the agent who has never seen the property in question and can do no more than recite what’s on the listing sheet, information that the caller, thanks to the Internet, already has. A lazy, experienced agent is no better in this regard than a new agent who hasn’t troubled to personally view the inventory. If you’re lucky, however, you’ll find a real person who has seen the property, remembers its details and can speak English well enough to communicate that knowledge. If you find that you’re getting along with that person, by all means make an appointment to see the house you called in on and perhaps others with her, regardless of whether she or he’s a star performer or a novice. Enthusiasm, coupled with knowledge, will go a long way.

Two points: 1. Desk duty is very much not a “personality contest”. Whoever wants to sign up for the task gets it and an ambitious, eager agent can find all the slots she wants. 2. Don’t be (too) afraid of identifying yourself and disclosing what you’re looking for. One reason the Internet became so poplar, I suspect, is that buyers can search for property anonymously without fear of being hounded to all ends of the earth by a starving, desperate agent. In my experience, that usually doesn’t happen – we ask, politely, if you’d like us to email you additional information on the house and whether you’d like information on other houses that seem to meet your criteria, and that’s it. If you decline, we don’t have caller ID and won’t telephone you at 2:00 a.m. to tell you about the perfect house that just appeared nor will we appear at your daughter’s christening. I did witness one agent chase a walk-in out to the parking lot and act like a Pekingese with loving on her mind, but that was once – most of the rest of us are more restrained.

So feel free to call. You’ll often find a good person on the other end of the line who can give you some valuable information, free and without further obligation. If you like what hear and feel comfortable with the agent, try out a relationship for a day. If not, there are at least 999 other agents here in Greenwich twiddling our thumbs and awaiting your call.

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