Daily Archives: January 30, 2009

Stimulus fraud – even the Associated Press gets it

Who’d have ever believed it? Main stream media is beginning to look at the pork fat oozing from the “Stimulus” bill and – surprise! – discovers that our politicians are back to the same old, same old.

WASHINGTON (AP) — They call it “stimulus” legislation, but the economic measures racing through Congress would devote tens of billions of dollars to causes that have little to do with jolting the country out of recession.

There’s $345 million for Agriculture Department computers, $650 million for TV converter boxes, $15 billion for college scholarships — worthy, perhaps, but not likely to put many Americans back to work quickly.

Yes, there are many billions of dollars in “ready-to-go” job-creating projects in President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus bill. But there are also plenty of items that are just unfinished business for Congress’ old bulls.

An $800 billion-plus package, it turns out, gives lawmakers plenty of opportunities to rid themselves of nagging headaches left over from the days when running up the government’s $10 trillion-plus debt was a bigger concern.

There’s $1 billion to deal with Census problems and $88 million to help move the Public Health Service into a new building next year. The Senate would devote $2.1 billion to pay off a looming shortfall in public housing accounts, $870 million to combat the flu and $400 million to slow the spread HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia.

But nothing is in the legislation by accident. By including in the Senate stimulus bill such far-ranging ideas as $40 million to convert the way health statistics are collected — from paper to an electronic system — lawmakers are able to thin out their in-boxes, even if they aren’t doing much to create jobs.

There’s also $380 million in the Senate bill for a rainy day fund for the Women, Infants and Children program that delivers healthful food to the poor. WIC got a $1 billion infusion last fall.

At the same time, putting items in the stimulus bill that really should be handled in annual appropriations bills creates more room in the latter for pet project and other programs.

It creates “headroom,” a top Senate GOP budget aide said, for things senators didn’t have room for in the regular process but still want to do.

Some lawmakers are sounding warnings.

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Bernie’s penthouse is going -is Walt and Monica’s cottage next?

The NY Post reports that brokers have been asked by the trustee overseeing the unwinding of all affairs Madoff  has asked for price opinions on the penthouse in preparation for its sale. Bernie wil have to have a place to stay while awaiting trial if he’s evicted from the apartment however – could he be coming to Andy’s place at 20 Cherry Valley? Or Mark’s place n Tomac Avenue in OG? That would be fun.

I have no news on any impending sale of Walt’s and Monica’s digs. To my surprise and disappointment, I have not been asked up for a tour and to give a price opinion. But the year is young.

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Kindle update

This smart fellow at Silcon Valley Insider has figured out that The New York Times could slash its delivery costs at least in half by stopping printing the rag and giving each of its subscribers a Kindle. That’s kind of cool – do it, Pinch, and I’ll keep my subscription.

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A contract in Old Greenwich

I don’t know what to make of the news reported today that 6 Irvine in Old Greenwich has gone to contract. It’s a tiny little house that’s been up for sale since 2006, asking $1.699 million. It finally dropped to $1.347 million in November and now someone has agreed to buy it, at an unspecified price. The last ask is 20% less than the first and I’m sure the contract price is lower still, but does it tell us much about the market, other than, thank goodness, there are buyers out there with checkbooks? I think not, because I was never impressed with that first price, even in 2006. There are a lot of houses out there dropping their prices to where they should have been originally, in a live market. That may prove to be too late.

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Even waterfront has its limits

212 Shore Road

212 Shore Road

Great views, obviously, from this house next to Tod’s. It sold for $3.535 million back in the glory days of 2005 and sold again, untouched, just eight months later for $4.975 to the current owners. They must have figured they could make more money more easily by riding the land value up rather than building a new house because eight months later they tried to unload it for $5.695. That was in February 2007 and no one was interested. Today they relisted it, back where they started at $4.975.

Will they get it? The most recent comp, 200 Shore Road, sold for $7.750 million this past August, just a shade under the asking price of $8 million, but that was a larger (0.5 vs. 0.33) more private lot with better views and included a beautiful, expertly crafted house built in 2004. I suppose you could duplicate that house for around $3 million, especially with today’s contractor discounts, so $4.975 might work. It will be interesting to see what happens.

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What does she know that we don’t?

A fellow agent just got off the phone with a hard bargainer who said she’d restored homes from New York City to Utica. She was interested in land in Greenwich, she said, but she was not going to pay more than $30,000 for any single piece of land. I hope my colleague told her to check back next month, but I doubt it. Missed opportunity.

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Will the last guy with ethics on Wall Street please turn out the lights?

Steven Schwarzman, head of Blackstone Group, has been sued by the Financial Times for stealing on-line subscriptions from the paper since 2002. One employee got the password and log-information and then distributed it to everyone else at the company, saving a whopping $129 per employee. FT finally got suspicious when it noticed one single reader downloading thousands of articles a day.

From all accounts, this Schwarzman is a charitable guy, especially when he can get his name attached to a generous act. Given the opportunity to steal anonymously, however, he took it. I don’t understand why anyone would want to do business with such a person, let alone trust him, but I’ve been learning that whatever idea I once held about the morals of the “my word is my bond” crowd is sadly outdated. A now-reformed friend, speaking of his own career as a trader perhaps a decade ago, confessed, “yeah, I guess you could call what I was doing cheating, but I figured I was doing nothing different from the guys on either side of me, so what the hell.”

 As I said, my friend has reformed and repented, but I wonder whether Steve Schwarzman was one of those guys next to him?

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But Waterfront still sells, even in Norwalk

6 Point Road

6 Point Road

Wilson Point, Norwalk, anyway. This cool-looking old house, renovated and sitting on an acre-and-a-half of direct waterfront, was listed in October for $5.495 million and just sold for about $5 million. Ten percent off asking, in this market seems like a great deal for the seller. I don’t have the listing details to post because once a property sells it goes off line, but this sure looked great. Obviously, at least one buyer agreed.

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2001 pricing on North Street

718-north-st718 North is what I suppose I’d call a tired old house on great property with water views of the water company’s “lake”. You can’t use that lake – it’s a reservoir – but no one else can, either, so your privacy is assured. The present owners paid $3.583 million for the house and land in 2001 and have been trying sporadically to sell it since 2004. It’s back on the market today with a new broker and a new, lower price of $3.5 million. If we fall back to 1997 prices, you’ll be able to buy this place for $2.635 million. I hate to tell you this, but that number doesn’t strike me as impossible.

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Round Hill Road 25% off

351 Round Hill Road

351 Round Hill Road

I like this house very much. It’s well designed and beautifully built. It has two acres in the 4 acre zone but those two acres support a pool, good yard and views over meadows and woods. Who needs more?

It came on back in 2007 asking $7.275 million which I suppose was too aggressive – the market (don’t tell Susan Nova) was beginning to shut down, even then. It’s had a number of price cuts since then and today was marked down to $5.430 million. Compared to other houses in this price range, I like this one. Your tastes may differ, but it’s worth a long look, in my opinion.

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Greenwich Time’s Nova admits: “Real estate market’s in the crapper!”

[Editor’s note: Greenwich Time feels that the news they provide on our local market is so accurate and timely that they’d be fools to give it away, so Susan Nova’s column is not posted on line. If you wait a week, it will be every bit as valuable and available free. I’m too lazy to actually interview the lady  so I have taken the liberty of inventing what she might have said, had she been asked. Quotes from realtors mentioned are real.)

Susan Nova, Greenwich Time’s real estate columnist since Bernie Yudain was in short pants, shocked the town today by admitting in print what until now no one had suspected: Greenwich’s real estate market sucks.

The meltdown in the economy has reined in spending across the board from retail sales to real estate. Edgy about their investments, income and jobs, consumers have been in retreat from the Greenwich marketplace, which shifted into reverse in 2008.”

This news came as a complete shock to her loyal readers who are used to such cheerful headlines as: Sales Still Soar: Greenwich Isn’t Suffering From A Real Estate Slump. (May, 2007). Why the turn around?

“I just couldn’t keep up the facade”, the famed writer admitted. “People were relying on me to tell them what was actually happening but my editor as good as told me, ‘you jeopardize our real estate advertising and you’ll be writing from a cardboard box.’ So I skirted around things a little bit. Besides, who wants to hear bad news? I’m a happy sort of girl and I know my readers want to be happy. They want to be depressed, they can watch CNN, for Cris’sake.”

True to her word, Nova strove to return to usual form and sought out the usual suspects:

” I think the fundamentals of Greenwich are still strong,” said Bill Andruss …. This is still the most desirable community. That’s what will carry the day….. Sellers now have enough information …to deal with the realities of today’s market.”

“Sellers have adjusted their prices,” agreed Julianne Ward.

“If you get an opportunity to get into the Greenwich market at these prices, that’s a good deal,” said Nancy Healy.

“Even with all the bad news about the 2008 results of the Greenwich real estate market, your home probably held its value better than your portfolio and your 401(k)”, said Jackie Hammock.

“Okay. maybe not your portfolio,” admitted Nova, “but how’d you geniuses do with your Fairfield Greenwich Group investment, huh? Bet that’ll be the last time you listen to an investment spiel around cocktails at the Round Hill Club,” she cackled.

The article does conclude on a somber note: “We still have a little bit more to get through before it gets better,” Healy conceded.

Noted Greenwich real estate optimist Mad Monkey could not be reached for comment.

 

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We’re from the government and we’re here to hurt

I’ve written about this before but here’s another article on the toy safety law, passed by Congress and effective next week, that will put small toy and clothing manufacturers out of business. Big Toy – Hasbro, Mattell love it because they won’t have to worry about those pesky little elves screwing up their sales any more, but it seems a shame. But no doubt, having put them out of business, Congress will suggest that they band together and apply for Stimulus unemployment benefits.

Tim Carney at the DC Examiner explains:

Thousands of self-employed businessmen, artists, and boutique owners who make or deal in hand-crafted children’s toys, clothes, or furniture could be out of work next month. A 2008 federal law, with the salutary-sounding name “Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act,” could drive these craftsmen out of business.

Big toymakers, who helped write the bill, are ready for the regulations that will go into effect Feb. 10, while smaller toymakers look likely to suffer. It’s another example of how Washington, when it regulates an industry, often helps the biggest businesses in that industry while crushing the smaller guys.
 

This third-party testing portion of the bill goes into effect Feb. 10, which has small toymakers up in arms. The Handmade Toy Alliance is one of many groups mobilizing to keep the CPSC from destroying artisan toymaking.

It’s not just toymakers that will suffer. Small clothiers will be faced with onerous requirements that couldput them out of business, while large firms, like The GAP (GPS) simply add it as another cost of business to pass on.

What’s particularly egregious is that you hear so much about small businesses, and how they’re the engine of the economy and how we need to bolster small business, rather than simply favor large corporations. All that’s fine, but then you get garbage laws that undermine that — all in the name of consumer safety, of course.

We wonder, if Mattell and Hasbro were so concerned about consumer safety before, why weren’t they doing all these things without a law asking them to?


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Southerbees Greenwich discovers the Internet

In a move entirely unrelated to this blog’s needling, Sotheby’s Greenwich has decided to release its listing data to Internet search sites. Until now, the firm shared that information only with its other Realogy-owned firms, Coldwell Banker and Century 21. “Our clients wanted the protection of knowing that their homes would only be shown by polyester-clad agents,” Miss Moniker Noel, newly hired spokesman for Sotheby’s explained. “With some of these firms, you just don’t know what the agents will wear – I’ve heard that one agent in Old Greenwich has an entire business outfit comprised of nothing but blue jeans and ratty flannel shirts. Imagine! Still,” she sniffed, ‘market conditions being what they are, we felt that we had no choice but to lower our standards.”

Attempts to reach that other Internet hold out, Greenwich Properties, So Fine! were unsuccessful since they have decided to go into seclusion and have cut off their telephones and cable. At present, we understand that customers are allowed to view their listings by invitation only, with those invitations delivered on handsome card stock by a footman and valet. This may not be true, however, as this writer is still waiting for his.

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Google kills Bambi

In upstate New York. Old news from the summer but no one noticed until recently. All nicely photographed by the Google map team. It’s brutal, but at least it was accidental and not a deliberate act of cruelty like Glenn Reynolds and his MixMastering Puppies.

reynoldsblender

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Dodd: “This has nothing to do with my Countrywide loans or my Irish cottage!”

Chris Dodd and Barney Frank enjoy the Irish sea coast

Chris Dodd and Barney Frank enjoy the Irish sea coast

Plot to destroy all Fannie Mae loan documents thwarted. Dodd: “I knew nothing about it and it’s only  coincidence that my cottage is named ‘Fanny Rest’. Now go away.”

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Maybe we can market Greenwich as a weekend destination for lobbyists

When Washington has the power to decide who gets rich and who doesn’t, it’s hardly surprising that it’s the lobbyists who are first in line for that wealth. This isn’t a new phenomenon of course but recent events, including TARP, the Stimulus Bill and impending acts in Congress make it clear, to me at least, that the politicians are determined to ensure that all paths to riches pass through it – with a hefty toll to the gatekeepers, naturally.

As I’ve said about the global warming hoax, it’s all about power and control. Washington wants it all.

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Apples to apples, one to watch

31 Sound Beach Ave.

31 Sound Beach Ave.

This is a nice little house that came on today for $1.250 million. It has a sales history that neatly illustrates where the market went during the past nine years and perhaps its sale now will show where that market is headed. Or not, but I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

It sold for $445,000 in January, 2001. The new owners painted it, may have added a new kitchen stove and some other sprucing up but pretty much left things as is, and listed it again for $1.095 million in April 2006. There must have been multiple bidders because it sold a month later for $5,000 more than ask, or $1.1 million. There’s no mention in today’s listing of any additional improvements so I assume that either there were none or those that were performed were too insignificant to mention (and we realtors consider sweeping the ashes from the fireplace a “renovation”, so assume nothing’s been done). The seller must hope, therefore, that the market price for a house this size and in this location has increased $150,000 since the spring of 2006. Is he right, or wrong? I know what I think, but that’s irrelevant; we’ll see what the market says. Stay tuned.

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Obama has an idea

We’ll bring back unions, soak the rich and create more entitlements for the middle class. It’s worked like a charm in France, hasn’t it? I do wish that all those liberals who have threatened to move to France over the past decades as elections went against them would just do it, rather than bring that failed economic model here. The grey cloak of mediocrity is descending.

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Nancy Pelosi on job stimulus bill

There is no reason why anyone, after watching this brief clip of our leader explaining the stimulus bill, should oppose it anymore. The debate is over!

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“Wall Street Bonuses to go way of Dodo” – Bloomberg

Article in Bloomberg predicts that governmental control of Wall Street firms could kill bonuses. Bad news for Greenwich real estate sellers, if true (and great news for buyers, of course – they’d no longer have to compete against people earning 10X more). Seems to me, though, if Wall Street ever recovers and starts generating huge profits again, those clever boys and girls will figure out how to share in what they’ve produced. Fine – I’d rather return to the old system than have Chris Dodd and Nancy Pelosi setting other peoples’ salaries. My personal choice, as though that matters, is the Swiss bank’s idea of paying bonuses in shares of what its bankers had bought. If the stuff proves profitable down the road, everyone prospers. If the stuff tanks, it’s Havemeyer Park for you, young man.

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