Monthly Archives: October 2008

21 Lia Fail, Cos Cob

Want your own, 500 seat marble amphitheatre? Here’s your chance. I’ve been intrigued by this property ever since Aimee Liu walked me through it on our one date (and only date – Aimee was a really sharp girl) back when we both attended Eastern. Aimee went on to much better things, including Yale and, later, a successful writing career but the amphitheatre is still there, along with a small residence built in 1940 or so from material salvaged from the Havemeyer mansion over in Old Greenwich. First sold in 2004 for $2.2 million (after languishing at $2.8 million for a year – I told the seller not to price it there but she went with the broker who promised more and delivered well, less), the new owners have tried since 2006 to sell it again. They first listed all of its 5 acres (two building lots) for $3.5 million, which, even though they’d updated the original house a bit, didn’t strike buyers as much of a bargain. They eventually dropped the price to $2.795 and now offer just the house and amphitheatre on 2 acres for $1.6 million – no mention of what’s to be done with the second lot across the driveway.

This is a magical place,set far off of Valley Road and at the right place, would be a wonderful buy. If I were in a buying mood, I might offer the asking price for the full 5 acres and see how badly the sellers wanted to move.

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Is this a “Georgian”?

According to the listing agent it is, and who am I to argue? It’s at 14 Martin Dale, if you care to drive by and see for yourself. Its builder has been asking $5.995 million since April, so far without takers. Now he offers an “Aspen vacation” to the selling agent. I suppose, if that perk were disclosed to the client, a buyer’s rep could take advantage of that deal but if I were the potential buyer I think I’d wonder if the advice I was receiving to buy the place was tempered by the desire of my agent to go skiing. And once I started wondering about that, I think I’d start wondering about lots of things about our relationship. The best way to keep a deal clean, in my opinion, is to forgo offering selling agents any extra bonuses and cut your price, instead.

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If he won’t help his family, why should I? Obama’s aunt, uncle living in Boston slum
Just asking.
Update: Here’s a good point:

His campaign obviously found her. It shouldn’t have been hard, in spite of being an apparent illegal immigrant, she and her husband have been cited in several newspapers over the years. But once they found her, rather than help her, the Obama campaign shut her up.

Spread the wealth indeed.

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Howard Dean, now and then:

Howard Dean, 2008:

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Monday that he’s looking forward to one party controlling all aspects of government, despite GOP charges that it would be a disastrous Nov. 4 outcome. “Republicans had a chance to rule. They failed miserably. I think it’s time to give the other party a chance,” Dean said on MSNBC.

Howard Dean, 2005:

We need more than one party in charge. And the vote on Tuesday is going to be critical to decide whether American democracy still allows those of us who didn’t vote for the president to have any say in running the country whatsoever.
[…]
Someday, the Democrats will be back in charge again. Do we want a Democratic Party that’s in charge of everything? Well, you know, I suppose it’s my job to say yes. But the truth is, as an American, it’s better when parties share power. It’s better when even those people who didn’t win the election have something to say.
[…]
[There] is a culture of corruption and abuse of power in Washington. This is what happens when one party is in charge of everything.

Politics for a change!

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Stock Market: These days, that last five minutes is a bitch!

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“Built Date”?
A reader asked why 396 Round Hill Road was listed as having been built in 2006 when it had been on the market since January 2005. The best I can determine from checking its listing history is that, maybe, it didn’t receive a certificate of occupancy until 2006. Here’s what it looked like in the beginning of January 2005, when its built date was shown as “2005 – u/c” [under construction]:
Clearly, this structure was not ready to receive a final c/o at the time this picture was taken. So, if construction lingered for another year, then 2006 would be the right date. In any case, it never hurts to have your attorney examine all relevant building documents before you buy.

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A happy reader asks,

Funny topic…A friend once bragged to me she was building an “authentic Georgian” house…it’s been on the market until recently (MLS# 68755) but I think it was taken off. It’s a gorgeous home but I am not sure how “authentic” it is.
Doesn’t Georgian usually connote a red brick house? What’s with all these faux Georgian’s?

Good question, reader. First, the house your friend said she was building is pictured above. It does have the requisite red brick but it was built in 1989, long before she bought it (for $11.2 million in 2005), so perhaps her claim of authorship is a bit overstated. It was put back on the market in February this year for $12.5 million but found no takers and was withdrawn in August.

But what about the faux Georgians you mention? In the real estate world, we build, and sell, “in the style of” which means, of course, that there’s nothing at all in common between the real thing and whatever pile of bricks we’re unloading on the newly-rich. Here’s a definition of Georgian from the Wikipedia article cited in the post below:

“Georgian architecture is characterized by its proportion and balance; simple mathematical ratios were used to determine the height of a window in relation to its width or the shape of a room as a double cube. ‘Regular’ was a term of approval, implying symmetry and adherence to classical rules: the lack of symmetry, where Georgian additions were added to earlier structures, was deeply felt as a flaw.”

If a house like that ever existed in Greenwich, it was razed long ago – we’re into eclectic!

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“How can I enjoy this when polar bears can’t afford to attend school?”

College costs soar above inflation rate so the natural response is to increase student aid!
Here’s another idea – cut college aid and see how schools respond to fewer applicants. Sounds crazy, I know, but shoveling ever-increasing piles of money onto school administrators or, worse, bailing out the student loan shysters hasn’t seemed to encourage a sense of thrift – maybe trying the opposite will help.

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Wisdom via the Catskills:

The media is regarding the election of Barack Obama to the presidency as a foregone conclusion and the pollsters seem to back up that conclusion. If that is indeed the case, so be it. As Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York, put it with superb prescience after losing in the primaries to his eventual successor, David Dinkens: “The people have spoken. It is now time for the people to be punished.” Dinkens’ spectacular ineptitude led to his being soundly defeated for re-election after only one term by a Republican(!), Rudy Giuliani (Dinkens, the mayoral equivalent of Jimmy Carter, has been bitter about it ever since). New York City flourished during Giuliani’s administration. Similarly, our nation will survive an Obama administration and will surely flourish anew in time.

Of course, the blogger quoted believes in the Resurrection, life after death and all that, so his sense of “in time” may be larger in scope than it is for some of us.

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Where is the left’s outrage?

We all heard the howls when those two Nazis, Bush and Cheney, eavesdropped on cellphone calls between terrorists. So why, when the Ohio Democrats, state officials all, searched “Joe the Plumber’s” background to dig up dirt , did no one on the left complain? No one. That’s presumably because, unlike terrorists, ol’ Joe doesn’t hate America and probably doesn’t think much of Obama, so he’s got to be destroyed. I don’t think I’m particularly paranoid but I have a dreadful feeling that this is what’s in store for anyone who dares question the Messiah. What’s truly scary is that my friends on the left can hardly wait.

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Twin Lakes Drive, Riverside


Waterfront at the end of Gilliam Lane

“Twin Lakes” was the silly name a would-be developer, Jack Brod, stuck on the this end of the road when he had it in mind to festoon the place with 35 houses. He lost that particular dream and was limited to 5 lots, two of which were carved out of this, the original mansion’s yard. Still 1.82 acres remain, leading down to Cos Cob Harbor and providing tidal access to Long Island Sound. I don’t think I’ve been in the place since the Fritzsches owned it and, with all possible fondness for the Fritzsches and their 7 (? – seemed like that many) kids, the house was a tad run-down. The listing says this was “renovated” – there’s that word again – in 2006 and there’s an open house tomorrow so I’ll go see and report back. $15 million, if you’re wondering.

Oh: the “Twin Lakes” are – you guessed it – a pair of little brackish ponds, but nice enough in their own way. We used to play hockey on the first one, when Muzz Patrick (Patrick Division was named after his grandfather, Muzz was a Rangers player and, later, their manager) lived on its edge. And Dorothy Hamill first skated there, on her way to Innsbruck. Good memories, nice neighborhood.

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Realtorese, continued, courtesy of CEA

Definition and picture of Georgian architecture – moderate size, simple.

What Real Estate Brokers Say Is Georgian – gargantuan, bells & whistles:
Like this,

like this,

and, of course, like this.

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396 Round Hill Road

Great moments in real estate pricing?
This is a really nice house, designed and built by one of my favorite architects, Alex Kali-Nagy. Really – he has a great eye for proportion and each room in every house he’s done seems just right; this house is no exception. But I do wonder at how he’s trying to sell this place.

It was first listed at $8.950 in early 2005 and didn’t move. In November of that year he withdrew that price and replaced it, the same day, with a new one: $10.9 million. That didn’t work so he lopped off a million bucks four months later, eventually dropped it to $9.395 and watched it expire, unsold, in November 2006. In February of this year it returned to the market, four years older and priced at $11.5 million – it still won’t sell. Perhaps raising it to $125 million will do for this house what it didn’t do for Leona’s.

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Mark Mariani, Builder to the Stairs?


Why isn’t this man smiling?
Perhaps it’s because he’s just lowered the prices of two of his unsold projects, 10 Dairy Road (the terminal resting place of Andy Kissel, bound, stabbed and no longer investing in earthly things) from $10,750,000 to $8,450,000 and One Meadowcroft, from $14,500,000 to $13,500,000. The latter reduction is a mere 7% off ask, but a million bucks is still a million bucks, or so I was led to believe.

So how’s this town’s most aggressive spec builder doing? From what I hear, he tells anyone who’ll listen that he’s doing just fine, “no worries, mate”. But he has at least three unsold projects on the market and, if this article’s right, 250 people on his payroll. That’s a lot, eh?

By the way, for an interesting look back at Hedge Fund Greenwich as it was just a year ago, check out this article in Vanity Fair. Things have changed – permanently? I doubt it; we’re all just waiting for the next crop of Masters of the Universe to emerge from the primordial ooze. Though I do worry, sometimes, that we natives are like the Cargo Cultists of Vanuatu who were blessed during World War II by manna falling from heaven when planes were shot down or had to ditch. For years after that conflict ended (and in fact, continuing today) the natives constructed crude replicas of airplanes, hoping to encourage the Gods to return with more largess. Should we be building mock trading floors?

Update: I notice that 10 Dairy Road’s address has been changed back to its original number, 8. Did the Post Office require this or did Mariani decide that the stigma attaching to the property because of Mr. Kissel’s unfortunate demise had passed? Beats me.
A reader asked about the third Mariani spec house on Sabine Farms (actually, 27 Doverton, off of Sabine). That house is a mirror image to the Dairy Road house but, perhaps because of its location off Round Hill Road, was originally priced at $11.750 million. Now it’s down to $8.450 so it’s obvious that, at least as Mariani has come to see things, identical houses should command identical prices, regardless of location (or dead bodies).

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Realtor-ese
A recurring topic because we real estate agents are so darn creative! In no particular order:
“Lake”: any body of water large enough to hold a (small) frog.
“Trout Stream”: any trickle of water too small to be called a lake.
“Renovated”: if no mention is made of anything specific, assume that there’s nothing to mention, so count on the dust bunnies having been swept from under the beds and, maybe, ashes cleaned from the fireplace.
“On the Stamford/Greenwich border”: in Stamford
“Enjoy as is, renovate or start anew”: Reserve a dumpster.
“Has great potential”: Reserve a dumpster.
“Convenient to transportation”: backs up to I-95.
“Not a drive-by”: It’s a drive by – and keep driving.
“Must see”: Same advice – keep driving.
“Motivated Seller”: We can’t possibly unload the place at its current price but the dumbass seller won’t publicly admit it – bring a low-ball offer and let’s talk.
“Won’t last”: It did, or we wouldn’t still be advertising the turkey.

Send in your own favorites and I’ll add them here.

Reader Updates: “seasonal water views”. Go up on the roof, climb a step ladder and wow!. I myself, because I’m a truthful sort of guy, prefer to call these nature sightings “seasonal water glimpses”.

“Much loved” = obsolete

“Charming” = small

Cozy – means that it’s really a dollhouse or doghouse

New paint – it’s amazing how far $5 per gallon paint goes

New carpet – covering up the scratched hardwood floors

Close to Park – SO close that you’ll never find a parking spot
Peaceful backyard– because 36,000 cars drive by the front yard each day.
Professionally remodeled – the owner and their siblings didn’t do the work, the neighbor’s sister’s husband’s son did.

Movable center island – the kids ran into it so many times it came loose.

Quaint – it’s pink!

Steps to the creek – be ready to sandbag the front yard each spring.

On golf course – high insurance for broken windows

“Classic”: brand-new, trying to look established

“Georgian”: anything with stone, no matter how little of it, on any part of the facade, even if you need a magnifying glass to find it.

“Condo alternative” – so small that only a single person or couple can live in it.

“Compound” or “retreat” sounds like it’s in the middle of a war zone

“First time on market in 70 years” : Last updated when Grandpa sold the horse and used the proceeds to replace the outhouse.

“Lovingly maintained”–the harvest gold appliances still work like a charm and the sheet vinyl in the kitchen has been so carefully patched, you’ll hardly notice.

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Riverside/Old Greenwich vs. Mid and Back Country?

It all depends on your taste. I grew up in Riverside and raised my own children there and really enjoyed the ability to find friends to play with in every back yard. Of course these days, where there is no such thing as pick-up game of baseball and “playdates” are scheduled 5 years in advance, there is less opportunity for spontaneous fun but it was still nice not to have to chauffeur my kids around – they’d walk or bike home from school, stopping by a friend’s house on the way and we’d see them in time for dinner. Great stuff.

But other people feel suffocated by the close quarters – a claustrophobia made worse in the past 50 years by the constant erection of new houses and the destruction of the meadows and woods that used to be here. They’d no sooner live in a house 25′ from their neighbor than drive an old beater car to the station. Aaaghh! And I understand that (well, the former, if not the latter). I worked with a great couple who lived in Riverside but, the more I listened, the more I heard that the husband, who’d grown up on lots of land in the mid-west, felt cramped on a piddling 1/3 acre and the wife was more interested in a classic pre-War home than she was its location. I suggested we look at a great old house on two acres, with a pool, that was selling for the same price as Riverside homes on far less land and with far less charm and they loved it. The move made perfect sense for them.

The one complaint I hear from Back Country parents is about the driving – 45 minutes to drop kid #1 to soccer practice and kid #2 at a friends house, then go home for 1/2 an hour and repeat the process. If your kids are old enough to drive, that’s not an issue.

So yes: per square foot, Riverside and Old Greenwich are more expensive and have been for a long time – families with young children particularly want to live in the area. The trade off is in privacy and room – some people insist on those, others do without them for the convenience. The nice thing about Greenwich is that there’s room enough to satisfy both tastes.

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82 Buckfield

Here’s a nice house in the Back Country that was, I think, aggressively priced back in 2005 at $4.790 million. It languished for awhile at that price, was pulled, and eventually returned at $4.495 million. Today the sellers chopped a cool million from that and now ask $3.495 (do I have to do all the mathematical heavy lifting around here?). I wish for the sellers’ sake that they’d started here, when the market was stronger – ok, when there was a market at all – but it’s now a lot of house for a reasonable amount of money. I wish the sellers well.

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5 Raymond Street, Old Greenwich


When this house (click on title above for listing details) was last on the market back in 2004 it was listed at $1.625 million and sold quickly at full asking price. That was then. It’s now on the market again – the listing claims it was “renovated” in 2008 but I’m pretty sure that’s just realtor speak for tidied up and painted. In May, the seller asked $2.250 million; it’s now down to $1.788, still 10% over what they paid for it four years ago. If the seller is lucky he’ll manage to break even, in my opinion.

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Happy news from happy Realtors What downturn? Every thing’s great and now’s the perfect time to buy a house, says this economist. Don’t let the fact that he works for the National Association of Realtors throw you for even one instant. He couldn’t say it if it weren’t true, right?

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You say Hello, and I say Dubai

Like castles built on sand, the Dubai real estate boom is crashing. Too bad.

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