As the Hampton go, so goes Greenwich? Not quite – different markets, vacation vs. year-round – but the buyers are from the same pool. And in the Hamptons, nothing’s selling. Per the NY Times Sunday Real Estate Section.
The Osborne Avenue house hit the real estate market at the end of the summer of 2007, a season that can be said, with the benefit of retrospect, to have marked the sweaty height of a speculative fever. That was the summer that the average cost of a home in the Hamptons shattered the $2 million barrier, the one when Ron Baron, a mutual-fund manager, paid a record $103 million for a 40-acre oceanfront estate. At the time, there were already alarming signs of a downturn in the national housing market, as a crisis took shape in the subprime-mortgage sector and economists predicted a coming onslaught of foreclosures. But that didn’t cause much worry in the Hamptons. The bubble might be bursting off in Sun Belt subdivisions, but not in the playground of the Wall Street elite. Prices were propelled upward by a tautological justification: if you were rich enough to buy in the Hamptons, you were, by definition, a superior judge of the market.
Then came the dreary series of events that we can summarize, as Hamptons people do, by reciting a litany of names: Bear Stearns; Fannie and Freddie; Lehman; Madoff. Since the peak, as one horrific episode after another has unfolded, the area’s real estate market has mirrored Wall Street’s plunging fortunes. Average sale prices have declined by about 10 percent, but that only hints at the seriousness of the trouble, because hardly anything is moving. According to data collected by the Suffolk Research Service, a local real estate data company, the number of sales in 2008 fell by 25 percent in East Hampton, 39 percent in Bridgehampton, 45 percent in Southampton and 47 percent in Montauk. Things really collapsed during the fall. Investment bankers lost their jobs, corporate lawyers saw their client base vaporize and hedge-fund managers went from being hailed as geniuses to being hauled in front of Congressional committees. “Until the market improves or their mental state improves, they’re not buying anything,” says Herb Phillips, a veteran real estate agent who is also chairman of the Southampton town zoning board. “It’s dead.”
It’s a really informative article that you should read in its entirety because it has a lot to say about what’s happening here – for instance, the difficulty in pricing anything when there are no sales to use for comparison. And here’s a profile of a spec builder that could easily be a Greenwich tale:
Catherine Lignelli, a first-time developer, built the mansion, and if she misjudged the market it wasn’t because she misunderstood the newcomers’ appetites. She was from their world. Her husband, Jeff Lignelli, manages a hedge fund, and their primary residence is a 22nd-floor apartment on Central Park South. In January, she met me at the headquarters of Stonebrook Fund Management, her husband’s company, to talk about her entry into Hamptons real estate. Tall and blond, wearing a stylish tweed blazer, knee-high leather boots and a white cashmere scarf, Lignelli showed me into an office that overlooked Park Avenue. She told me that she had gotten into real estate because it was a career that she could pursue while raising her daughter, Alexa, who is not yet 2.
“My focus was quality and aesthetics for family and friends, and seamless entertaining,” she said. “Without sounding feminist, I think that as a mother, as a wife, I can lend a lot to the details of what it takes for effortless, organized living.”
Lignelli has a degree in fashion design.