Daily Archives: August 8, 2008


A reader posted a comment below, asking why no Realtor would give him any information about the relative merits of the various schools in town and instead restrict their comments to “all our schools are good”. That’s not necessarily how parents feel, but we real estate agents are barred from saying much else without violating a host of civil rights laws and state regulations. We can’t mention proximity to churches, whether a particular neighborhood has a lot of kids or none or anything else you as a buyer new to town might find useful. Welcome to the new world.

I believe we can suggest that you contact the Board of Ed and grab the test scores for each school, but I don’t know how much help that is. You may be able to visit each school and get a feel for how they’re run but in these post Columbine days, who knows? I do know that the principals are all pretty proud of their respective schools and you can almost certainly make an appointment to meet with any of them and get a sense of how the head of each school views his bailiwick. Or join a newcomers club and talk to other parents. Their opinions may not be factual, but at least they aren’t prohibited from speaking their mind. Good luck.

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SWAT teams

So you’re a small town mayor in Maryland and you have the misfortune to have a couple of crooks pick your address at random for a drug delivery – they’ll mail a package to your house and then pick it up under the pretense of a delivery gone astray. Arizona cops stumble across the scheme and enlist your local county’s sheriffs to raid your house, even though they know that you aren’t guilty of anything. Had the sheriffs asked your local cops, they’d have learned that you were a non-druggy and the mayor of the friggin’ town, for cripe’s sake but when SWAT team equipment is ready at hand, why worry about details that might spoil the fun? They charge in, shoot your two Labrador retrievers to death then handcuff you and your mother in law and make you lie in your pets’ blood for two hours while they ransack the place.

Then they let you go. No apologies because, ‘we don’t need no stinkin’ warrants”. There are lots of good reasons to oppose our supposed war on drugs and its futility is just one of them. Another is how we have empowered storm troopers and even what was once the beloved Coast Guard to trash houses and boats and terrorize civilians. Not good.

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"Investments" gone bad

A house on Riverside Lane sold for $1,639,000 in January 2007. The new owners added some new touches and put it back on the market exactly a year later for $1,895,000. That didn’t work out so today it took its 4th price reduction and is now offered for $1,699,000. Even if they get that price, the sellers will lose at least $100,000 after they pay commissions and taxes, plus whatever they spent in renovations. Oops.

There’s another house, on North Street, that continues to try to defy the market. It was first listed 8 1/2 years ago for $5,750,000 and didn’t sell. It’s been on and off the market ever since, unsuccessfully, and reappeared today for $3,995,000. That might have been a good price 8 years ago but there is now such a stigma attached to the place (you try to explain to a client why it hasn’t sold in over 8 years) that I don’t know what price will move it. It’s a nice house, too, so that’s a shame.

Finally, returning to Riverside, north of the Post Road, there’s a renovated house that came on 1 1/2 years ago asking under $2,000,000 but still $150,000 more than two new houses around the corner. The new houses sold immediately and those of us who saw this one at an open house all suggested, gently, to its broker that he’d be better off dropping his price below theirs. I guess he finally listened, but his new price announced today is way overdue and probably too late.

None of these examples is necessarily evidence of a free-falling market, although I suspect all could have sold for more than their current asking price a while ago. What they do have in common is that they were all overpriced initially and, good market or bad, that kills a sale. They’re just getting hammered twice now, instead of once. Oh well.

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Bush – how we’ll miss him

Good link above to an opinion piece wondering how people will cope when they don’t have Bush to kick around after January. Who will be left to blame? The author cites a number of examples of Bush-bashing but she missed an opinion piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that blamed the sorry condition of illegal immigrant meat packers on, who else, George Bush. The article is only available via subscription but trust me, its author is absolutely beside himself over Bush’s callous treatment of the poor workers and the president’s personal intervention (with Dick Chaney, no doubt) to create hell on earth for the until-then happy workers.

Fine,and Bush is certainly the Devil himself, but a quick Google search turned up a book review dated 2001 that blames the problem on a change in immigration law that was enacted in 43 years ago.

“Congress in 1965 inadvertently came to the rescue of the union-busting, wage-lowering strategy of the new meat packers. The 1965 immigration law had a major impact in the direction of the meat-processing industry by creating surplus labor pools with spiraling family chain migration and massive refugee resettlement operations.”

Bush hadn’t even begun drinking or joined Skull and Bones in 1965, when, according to this second article, Eden was lost, but it’s his fault for not fixing it! The three Demmerkrat administration we enjoyed since 1965, Johnson’s, Carter’s and Clinton’s were too preoccupied to take care of these people but Bush, that awful Bush, will rot in Hell for his wilful failure to do so. And now he’s leaving. What will we do, what will we do?


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Auction rate securities

Some time back, when a non-profit group I’m involved with discovered that they had $1,000,000 of funds frozen into this type of debt instrument, I wrote that it was a typical example of Wall Street treating its customers badly. These securities were described as as good as cash but, when the debt markets collapsed, firms like UBS and Merrill Lynch got their large customers out of them and re-sold them to non-profits and ordinary schmos – people who, say, wanted to hold their down payment for a house in an account yielding a quarter point more than a CD. Of course, when it came time to access those funds and buy the house, the schmo’s “financial advisor” was forced to admit that there was a bit of a liquidity problem and the money wouldn’t be available for, say, a year or two.

My column on the subject elicited the usual outcry from certain stock brokers advising me to stick to writing about real estate and stay away from subjects I was too dense to understand. I understood their ire – they’re the ones who, having no clue what they were doing, sold this junk to their customers and were feeling the heat, but I take a certain satisfaction watching their employers roll over and agree to buy these securities back. And pay fines of $100,000,000 or so. Yesterday it was Merrill’s ($12 billion)and Citigroup’s ($7 billion)turn. Today we’ll see UBS cough up $22 billion. Who else among the large firms is in hot water? All of them.

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Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?

Perhaps foreshadowing my later career as a trial lawyer, this quote from “Duck Soup” (not by Groucho, as I remembered, but by Chico disguised as Groucho – see link above) was one of my favorites when I was a kid. It’s still a good one. I have been chastised over the past year or so by some of my fellow Realtors for telling readers, first in my column and later on this blog that sales are way down and will probably continue that sorry decline for the foreseeable future. In fact, although the specific reason for my column being terminated was my daring to report on the financial woes of Realogy, parent company of Coldwell Banker and Soetheby’s, I’d generated a deep reservoir of ill will in the real estate community by telling the truth.

I don’t know what these “keep it quiet” folks think they’re up to; if their clients’ houses aren’t selling, or selling at discounted prices, who is left to be fooled? Regardless,even the Greenwich Time has finally admitted today what the industry has known for at least the past two years:

Update 2:05 PM Here’s what I wrote before I was so rudely edited by Blogger.
house sales are falling. At least 30% this year. GT finds a ray of hope in the number of sales (condos) under $500K but that number only increased from last year because prices have fallen below last year’s levels. For those who like anecdotal evidence in addition to statistics, there’s this: I called my plumber yesterday for a quick repair job. In years past he, and most plumbers in town, were so busy with new construction that non-emergency response time was 2-3 days. yesterday, he had someone at the house in 15 minutes. If the plumbers aren’t busy because the builders aren’t busy, things are slow.


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Read the comments

“Retired IB’r” has some very thoughtful, and wise comments appended to the “whither the market?” post below. Tomorrow I’ll move them up-can’t do it now with my iphone – but if you’re reading this Thursday night, check them out

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