Daily Archives: October 13, 2008


Who’s crying now?

This was reported by the Wall Street Journal at least a year ago but I’m delighted the man’s troubles continue.
Oil production slumps 25% under Chavez. And it will continue to drop, which is what happens when your fire all the people who know how to produce something and replace them with political know-nothing appointees. I’m sorry for the people of Venezuala but many of them thought a free lunch was their due. El wrongo, and oil’s price is plummeting. Hee hee.

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Do “Green” houses command a premium?
This story from Australia suggests they do, but I have my doubts. I’ve seen no evidence of any such premium paid in Greenwich and even down under, there seems to be more poll evidence than actual sales. Yes, people say they’ll pay more, but that may be (okay, I suspect it is ) because no one wants to admit to a stranger that they’re a coal burning ecological vandal.

As I’ve said before, I think energy efficient homes are a great idea and I personally know, because I’ve done so, that I would pay extra to cut drafts by installing new windows, adding vapor barriers and extra insulation and all that. But again, when I’ve compared the sales prices of truly innovative houses with those of their plebian brothers, I detect no difference. This is also true, by the way, when it comes to quality of construction: buyers look at the location, the number of bedrooms and how many plasma TVs are hooked into the master bedroom and that’s about it. Quality, like energy efficient, more comfortable features, seems to fall into the “nice to have” rather than “must have” category, at least when people are speaking with their wallets and not to pollsters.
Update: (10:32 pm)
It seems to me that a warm feeling that one’s doing her bit for the environment only goes so far. Witness, for example the willingness of most residents to wash their garbage and place it in a blue recycling bin and then fly a private jet to Colorado to ski at an area whose development raped and destroyed a pristine mountain (I’m much more of a backpacker than a skier, obviously). But self interest always rules, so if I were a “green” builder or represented a green house, I’d translate the home’s ecological virtues into dollars and cents and put it all on a single sheet of paper. Most buyers worry about monthly payments and if that gas bill is going to be less by, say, $400 a month, put it in writing and win a sale.
Can a builder quantify these amounts? I don’t know – he (or the window, furnace and super-insulation manufacturers) should be able to; if not, then it’s all a bunch of hot air, you should pardon the expression.

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20 Carpenter’s Brook


Does this look like a $4.0 million family room to you?
It didn’t to me when I first saw this place (convenient to I-684, if you like that sort of thing. Can’t hear your spouse nag, for instance), nor did the rest of the house. The market must have agreed because it hasn’t sold and has slowly declined in price from $4 million to $2.4 million. Once again, don’t interpret this as evidence of a collapsing market but rather, an unwise pricing decision made long ago.
Update: My readers are right: this is the house shown in the McClatchy forecolosure vido (check comments for link, if interested). Their eyes are better than mine – I toured the house (a year or so ago but that’s no excuse) and didn’t recognize it – they did. Off to get new glasses.

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A reader asks, “what is the Golden Triangle?” According to this Wikipedia entry,

The Golden Triangle is one of Asia’s two main illicit opium-producing areas. It is an area of around 350,000 square kilometres that overlaps the mountains of four countries of Southeast Asia: Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. (Other interpretations of the Golden Triangle also include a section of Yunnan Province, China.) Along with Afghanistan in the Golden Crescent and Pakistan, it has been one of the most extensive opium-producing areas of Asia and of the world since the 1950s.

Oh! You mean Greenwich? In Greenwich, my source for all things pertaining thereto, Tom Gorin of Cleavland, Duble & Arnold, tells me that Mrs. Duble herself used to refer to “the Golden Circle”, an area encompassing the land between North Street and Riversville Road and extending south to the Lake Avenue circle. According to Tom, the term dates back at least to the 1930s and he’s yet to figure out who was left out when the circle was chopped into a triangle. Did it extend north of the as-then-unbuilt Merritt Parkway? Neither of us knows but I’ve always heard it applied to the mid country, so I think not.

But that was then. Now, realtors and builders use the term pretty loosely to add cachet to whatever they’re peddling. Sort of like that standard advertising phrase, “on the Stamford/Greenwich border”. You know, reading that, that the land’s in Stamford. No self-respecting Greenwich realtor ever admits that Stamford even exists.

Perhaps it is a circle after all: A drug buyer seeking wares today can probably have as much success in Greenwich’s Golden Triangle as that of Asia’s. Go figure.

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“Not My Job” contest, Riverside entry
The town is apparently trying to lay down a dividing line on the curve on Riverside Avenue just before St. Paul’s Church. If they follow its guidance, drivers will swerve back and forth from one side of the road to the other, repeatedly. I’ll stop by later and attempt a shot with my iPhone’s camera but here’s a snap from the web that seems to sum up the attitude of our line painters.

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Newspapers’ Internet Revenue Declining
I wish traditional newspapers well – without them, I’d have a far less interesting day and because I have a number of friends and relatives earning their daily bread at them, I’d be sorry to see them go. But they, for the most part, aren’t adapting well to the Internet. Greenwich Time, for instance, insists on running the most annoying ad imaginable on its front web page. Click on to read and a fake “post-it” note from Greenwich Hospital scrolls around the screen. It’s impossible to shut the damn thing off and impossible to read while the ad runs its course. How inviting.

And that paper is not alone in posting selectively. Columnists often aren’t up on the net, articles disappear while moving from hard copy to the electronic version, what news there is is often posted hours after the fact, reader feedback is curtailed and made awkward to submit, “registration” is often required – who the hell wants to submit a full personal bio to some stranger just to read a story? If the guys running these things ever checked, they’d discover that a surprisingly large percentage of their readership was 90-year-old women living in the North Pole; now there’s some useful information – and on and on.

Can newspapers save themselves? I don’t know but, unless they get with it, I fear not.

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I like this trend
God knows what will happen to this happy line by 4:00 PM, but things are looking brighter this morning. I was thinking over the weekend – an unusual activity for me but it was a boring, if quite sunny weekend and … – As a real estate agent, I’ll do okay no matter what happens to prices, once we get some stability. If prices stay really, really low, Greenwich will still attract buyers and they’ll be more of them who can afford to live here. I’d miss the occasional sweet commission from that $7 million sale but the bread and butter of real estate, prior to the run up of the past two or three years, was the $1.5 -$2.5 house. If that range drops to $750 – $1.5 well, I’ll have to sell more houses to make the same money, but life will go on. I need to keep busier anyway, as some of the postings on this blog will attest.

But I do worry. There are 3 Fountain households in Greenwich and it’s been comforting to reflect on their “value”. We all felt, if not rich, assured that there were assets there to fall back on. I’m much more worried, however, by the toll this is all taking on my friends’ jobs. Already I know folks who’ve lost their employment not only on Wall Street but in all the peripheral areas – career placement, for example, contracts when no one’s hiring. Builders are hurting, and carpenters, and who wants to hire consultants when business is in the toilet? Except for our public schools, however, but then they’re immune from this stuff.

So I hope that the panic subsides and the economy recovers. I’m not at all confident that it will; there are too many long-deferred problems out there to make anyone sanguine, but I can, and so I do, hope. Not much else to do.

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546 North Street
A reader asked about this property and I’m happy to write about it because I like it very much. It’s set way off North Street on 5 1/2 acres, was built in 1924 and, although the listing sheet makes no mention of it, has been maintained and updated through the years. Great yard, very nice house, good location. It’s my own firm’s listing, just so you know, but very much not my own listing – I wish. Originally listed at $7.995 million it’s come down 25% to $5.995. I’m not blowing my own horn here, but its new price is much closer to what I suggested when I participated in a price opinion inspection. Sometimes sellers, particularly estates, have their own idea of value, but even they have to hear the marketplace’s response, eventually.

Anyway, it’s a grand old place, in very good shape, and I think it speaks to what Greenwich used to look like. Which I consider to be a good thing; others’ opinions may differ.

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I posted on this yesterday but if you missed it,…Britain takes over Royal Bank of Scotland. 60% anyway. What will this do to the corporate headquarters in Stamford? Beats me, but I would not plan on setting up a catering service for traders on site, at least for now.

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17 Khahum Wood Rd
The Winner!
In an earlier posting I stated that the biggest loser in price cuts was 66 Cherry Valley Road, listed for $20 million and sold for $11.4 million, or 57% of its asking price. I forgot (because its listing was deleted) 17 Khakum Wood Road, whose builder, Mark Mariani, originally listed it at $25 million and, after slowly marking it down to $13.5 before deleting it from our MLS records, eventually sold it privately for $12.5 million. That success earns Mariani the coveted “What Was I Thinking Award” for 2005, 2006 and 2007 (the years he first listed it, reduced it and sold it). That’s a trifecta, no? When this first came on the market I suggested in print that there were equal or better houses available for half its price, a comment that caused the builder to permanently ban me or any member of my firm from the privilege of viewing his subsequent creations. I paid no heed, of course, but I did take a certain satisfaction in seeing where this house ended up. Instead of banning me, maybe he should have listened.

Update: A reader asks how this particular Waterloo compares with Antares own fiasco on Langhorne Lane and, I do so hate to break this to Mr. Mariani, but it appears that Antares has edged him out of the title by a hair. Langhone was listed for $25 million in April ’07, increased (Antares genius at work)to $28 million that October and sold this August for $13.75, or 49% of the highest listing price. Mariani may squeal, but I decide the rules in this contest and I’ve determined that calculating mark downs will be done using the highest, not the first, asking price. Antares is out of the residential construction business now but they were certainly competitive for the title when they were building. 16 Cherry Blossom Road, for instance, part of their failed mansion project in our N.E. corner (which any realtor could have told them was a dead spot for sales) listed at $10.9 and sold 1 1/2 years later in December ’07 for $6.6 million, 60% of its asking; not enough to win the award but a darn good try. I’ll miss those boys.

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Here’s a guy who says the stock market’s about where it should be – 15 X earnings and you should wait for it to really drop so you can pay discount prices, not retail. Interesting.

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