Daily Archives: March 17, 2009

Calling all Noel fans

Received an intriguing request from a London writer for  well known publication, looking for information on the Noels:

“I’m focusing specifically on Ariane Noel, the sister that’s based in London, but any background on the way the Noels are now viewed in the US would be really useful!”

Anyone want to be an anonymous source? A named source? Except for you, Walter – I think you’re biased. If so, send me your dirt and I’ll pass it along back to the mother country. And anything on Andres Piedrahita would be gratefully received here – I have a feeling he may prove to be the most interesting of the entire Noel clan.

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Feds target Andy and Mark’s homes

No mention of their Greenwich homes but the feds are looking for at least $31 million from the boys, an amount loaned to them by papa to buy houses in NYC and Nantucket. Cherry Valley and Tomac Avenue next?

 

And, bye the bye, spoke with someone today who knows the Noel family quite well. Walter does not have Alzheimer’s, according to this source. Of interest is that the son in law, Andres Piedrahita, was long rumored within the family to be laundering money for his Colombian friends. He “was forced to leave Greenwich” in 1997, fled to England where something else happened to cause him to pull up stakes and flee again, this time to Spain. Anyone have details on these sudden departures?

Walter, this person says, is a harmless straight arrow, known to say such harsh things as “golly gee, Monica” when perturbed. You can believe it or not, but this story is that the guy was on the straight and narrow until son-in-law Andres insisted, based on the money he was pulling into the fund, on being made a partner at Fairfield Greenwich Group. It was downhill from there. Andres, not from wealth originally, suddenly had Bentleys, jets and mansions. Of course, Walter didn’t seem to be doing so badly either, until December 12th.

Update: as I was writing this, Guest of a Guest was sending me a link to its own article on Andres’ father. Not a nice guy, apparently.

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Happy news

A reader rightly takes me to task for reporting bad news but ignoring good. He particularly mentions the rise in housing starts reported today. > Because I don’t work on Wall Street, I don’t react instantly to bits of data, or I try not to. The housing starts, by themselves, mean nothing, in my opinion.

“We’re inclined to write this off as a weather-related fluke for now,” wrote economists for Wrightson ICAP. “If the permits series can hold onto its gains in next month’s March report, though, we’ll take it as a sign that new construction has finally found a floor (albeit a very low one).”
“We hold to the view that the level of housing construction is becoming so low in absolute terms that starts will bottom out in the months ahead,” wrote John Ryding and Conrad DeQuadros of RDQ Economics.
Construction of new housing units had plunged 38% in the previous three months before February’s unexpected jump. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had forecast a further drop to 456,000, despite an expected surge in multifamily construction.
But despite February’s gain, housing starts are down 47% from a year ago, and are down 74% from the peak in early 2006. Permits are down 44% in the past year.
Builders are trying to reduce their inventories of unsold homes as they face relentless competition from older homes thrown on the market by foreclosures or short-sales.
“With new home sales still falling and the months’ supply at a record there is no reason for homebuilding to rise,” wrote Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics.
The mood of home builders’ has rarely been worse. The National Association of Home Builders reported Monday that its sentiment index was stuck at 9 on a scale of 1 to 100 in March. See full story.
The government cautions that its monthly housing data are volatile and subject to large sampling and other statistical errors. In most months, the government can’t be sure whether starts increased or decreased. In February for instance, the standard error for starts was plus or minus 13.8%. Large revisions are common.
So I’ll wait a bit before singing, “ding, dong, the witch is dead.”

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Forget the AIG execs, why doesn’t Chris Dodd commit seppuku?

From Instapundit.

CHRIS DODD UPDATE: Amid AIG Furor, Dodd Tries To Undo Bonus Protections He Put In. “While the Senate was constructing the $787 billion stimulus last month, Dodd added an executive-compensation restriction to the bill. That amendment provides an ‘exception for contractually obligated bonuses agreed on before Feb. 11, 2009′ — which exempts the very AIG bonuses Dodd and others are now seeking to tax. . . . Separately, Sen. Dodd was AIG’s largest single recipient of campaign donations during the 2008 election cycle with $103,100, according to opensecrets.org.”

The country’s in the very best of hands.

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Then and now

16 Barnstable

16 Barnstable

Sold, 2007: $2.3 million, 75 days

Ask, 2009: $1.9 million (1 year at $2.295)

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Flagpole Lots

Hoisting Soviet Flag at North Pole

Hoisting Soviet Flag at North Pole

A flagpole lot, for those with inquiring minds, is a rear lot (the flag) that has a long, skinny driveway out to the road (the pole). The best example, or the most expensive one, is that $25 million dollar white elephant of a spec house on Round Hill Road, just before Baldwin Farms S. The builder had a big piece of land, even after selling off those two doomed parcels that used Baldwin Farms S. as access, but he wanted to retain the Round Hill address so he created a flag pole out to that road. Because zoning doesn’t credit the land in such an access way, he doesn’t have enough land to split it again (despite vague wording to the contrary), and he’s stuck with what he’s created. His real problem, of course, isn’t the flagpole – it’s the 25,000 sq. ft. he’s built hat few people want right now. It only takes one though, so perhaps that one will come along before the flag comes down.

This Flagler hotel has flagpoles but is not a flagpole lot

This Flagler hotel has flagpoles but is not a flagpole lot

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Pricing houses in a down market

127 Sound beach

127 Sound beach

This 1920 house was bought for $1.220 million in 2002. I liked it then and haven’t seen it since but it’s back on today asking $2.1 million after the owners have added a new kitchen, central air, new baths, etc. That doesn’t strike me as a bad price at all. The house’s driveway is on Wesskum Wood, so you avoid the hassle of entering Sound Beach Avenue, and nice as the house was eight years ago (and it really was), a new kitchen and baths would have been welcome. But will buyers go for this price? I hope so, because I think it’s a good one, and if it doesn’t fetch close to its asking price, we’re really dropping down there. But maybe we are, so who knows?

And here’s another poser:

31 N. Porchuck Rd

31 N. Porchuck Rd

This house on North Porchuck was built and sold in August 2007 for $7,850,000. The new owners added a pool and then had to place it back up for sale this year. Being no fools, they listed it for $6.995 million, as close to a million dollar write-down as makes no never mind (especially if you add in the price of the new pool). It’s a beautiful house, with great views of a pond, terrific lawns, a wonderful layout and even a walk-out basement that’s twice the size and twice as comfortable as my own house. It would be absolutely perfect for  clients of mine but I know that they’re waiting for the right bargain and, these days, $1 million off isn’t considered a bargain. I don’t blame my clients or fault them for being unreasonable – we are turning up bargains, and if they settle for something not quite as perfect but $4 million less well, that’s a large bulk of dollars to offer comfort and consolation for not getting exactly what they want.

And like so many buyers today, mine are in no hurry – they don’t have to buy a house. It’s a tad frustrating though, because it wasn’t long ago I could have told them with assurance that they wouldn’t find a house as good as this one at its price, ever. Now I can’t say that.

But it is a great house and if you do have to buy, or are willing to pay to get exactly what you want, this one is worth seeing.

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And this is different how?

fashionRobot to be used in fashion catwalk.

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AIG’s million dollar (plus) bonus babies

Cuomo’s got the names of all 73 AIG employees who received bonues of $1 million and up, but hasn’t released them yet. Why not? What good will they do him, compared to us Greenwich real estate agents. We need names of Greenwich residents Andy, and we need them now. These folks have money and we have houses to sell. Get on it, please.

One name associated with AIG FP is Greenwich’s own Robert Leary but he’s probably a bust as far as peddling him a mansion goes because (a) he left AIG in 2006, (b) unlike most of his fellow whizz-bangers, he warned of the liability they were creating, and (c) he’s supposed to be a decent, honorable guy – that usually precludes foisting an over-priced, gawdy piece of builder’s dreck on him. But Bob, maybe you have friends who are still there?

UPDATE: What did I tell you? Mr. Leahry lives in an 1898 house of modest size and, if my memory of the house still serves, exquisite taste. We don’t do houses like that in this town any more, sir, so you can just stay right where you are – don’t call us, we’ll call you. And your friends probably have the same taste so they can stay off the phone, too.

This is a tough business.

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Maybe now Coldwell Banker Greenwich will get my point

Just about a year ago I was fired from the Greenwich Post after the manager of their biggest advertiser, Coldwell Banker Greenwich, threatened to pull their advertising if I wasn’t yanked. My publisher took about a nano-second to weigh whether he was in the journalism or advertising business and that was the end of my print run.

Which is water over the dam. This blog is far more successful, and far more fun, than the column, so no hard feelings. But I was fired for discussing the overwhelming debt loaded onto Coldwell Banker and its sisters, Century 21 and Sotheby’s, by the private equity firm of Appollo management. Apollo bought the parent company of the brokerage firms, Realogy, and smothered it in debt to pay its own investors. The point of my column was not to attack Coldwell Banker but rather to express dismay at how the new Wall Street was ruining good companies through its greed.

Today, a year later, the Wall Street Journal says the same thing. And the chickens are coming home to roost, to quote Obama’s preacher.

Wall Street might remember the private-equity boom for the billions in fees it collected along the way.

The rest of the country might remember it for a different kind of cleanup: job losses created, in part, by unsustainable debt loads hoisted on thousands of companies across the economy.

So far, the private-equity industry hasn’t come to terms with this inevitable bloodletting. That is largely because it has been spending the last two decades trying to reform its image from the 1980s, when buyout artists were branded unrepentant “flippers and strippers.”

The makeover can’t hide the basic facts: Otherwise-decent companies are being subsumed by debts that simply can’t be paid in this brutal recession. There is a certain irony that the Web site of the industry’s trade group, the Private Equity Council, highlights three investments — MGM Studios, Univision and Hilton Hotels — that are already struggling mightily.

There are more than reputations at stake. There are big portions of the economy, too. Private-equity research firm Pitchbook Data estimates 7.8 million people are employed by companies owned by private-equity firms.

“Things are bad, and because of the capital structure, it’s even more challenging,” says Pitchbook’s John Gabbert. Private-equity owners are “going to do everything they can to make these companies lean to service that debt.”

Buyout bosses have for years said they had properly “stress-tested” their numbers, leaving room for a downturn. But they couldn’t anticipate a near depression.

Just look at Moody’s latest Bottom Rung list, which features the companies it views as most likely to default on debts. The buyout gang’s all there: Univision, Harrah’s Entertainment, Realogy Corp. and Jacuzzi Brands Corp. among others.

Gee, I sure hope Coldwell Banker doesn’t threaten to pull its advertising from the Wall Street Journal!

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Cutting to the Bone

9 Boulder Brook, a very nice spec house built by one of the best companies in town, has seen its price reduced $100,000 today to $6.450 million. I sympathise with builders who are watching their profit drain away from projects and this builder doesn’t need my advice but if you are in a similar situation and do need advice, here it is: buyers in this market have already reduced your house, in their mind, far more than $100,000, so a price cut in that amount isn’t going to do much to persuade them to bid.

Just my opinion.

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Alec Madoff – no relation to Bernie

I just received a phone message from the unfortunately named Alec Madoff, of Cos Cob, complaining that I’ve said nasty things about him in connection with the Madoff scam. A quick search of this blog turned up no posts to that effect (Andy Madoff, Bernard’s son, is another matter) but I did see one comment referring to Alec Madoff showing up on the Madoff victim list.

I will be calling Alec this morning to see what else I can remove from this blog but I wanted to post this now – Madoff victims are, of course, an entirely different category than Madoff perpetrators, and I do apologize if I conflated the two.

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If yesterday’s picture was of a dead cat bouncing, what’s this?

hp_indu2

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What’s in a renovation?

71 Richmond Hill Rd

71 Richmond Hill Rd

Here we have a house on four acres, built in 1994 and originally put up for sale in 2003 at $4.050 million. It didn’t sell so the owners did something else for five years and brought it back on the market last spring at $3.795. That listing expired two months ago and today it’s back again with a new broker and a new price of $3.495. All that’s fine, but I’m curious that the new listing claims it was “renovated” in 2007 while the previous listing makes no such assertion. Did the previous agent, an experienced woman, fail to notice that her listing had been renovated or did she deem whatever changes the owners had done too insignificant to merit the term? The choice seems to be between an inattentive agent or a difference of opinion as to what makes a renovation. I’d go with the latter, which is what makes comparing houses so difficult, sometimes.

UPDATE: here’s one definition of renovate from the Free Dictionary:

ren·o·vate (rn-vt)

tr.v. ren·o·vat·ed, ren·o·vat·ing, ren·o·vates

1. To restore to an earlier condition, as by repairing or remodeling.
2. To impart new vigor to; revive.
Merriam-Webster mentions “to clean” in its definition, so perhaps this house has had dust bunnies chased from under its beds and the ashes swept from the fireplace.

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Greenwich Time death watch

Not by me – I kind of enjoy the paper, which can be consumed in thirty seconds and you’re good to go, but there are those who don’t and are anticipating its demise with glee.

Bill Clark gives them fifteen days, although I’m unsure where he comes up with this deadline.

Brian Harrod at Greenwich Roundup notes the recent firing of twenty more staff from the Hearst Connecticut division and foresees a combined paper issued from Bridgeport.

Hearst continues to deny that it plans to fold GT and The Advocate into a regional paper, but today it shut down its Seattle Intelligencer (a name coined by our former president George Bush, by the way) and, if I were employed by Hearst, I think I’d be sending my resume to someplace like AIG, where they still give out paychecks and bonuses.

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What’s in a Mojito?

From the same Belle Haven party mentioned below comes another picture taken by Fairfield County Look. I’m curious what, exactly, has been done to the guy in the middle to produce that look of smug satisfaction. I’ve got to get to more parties.

"Oh George, you big silly!"

"Oh George, you big silly!"

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Everybody in the AIG Bonus Pool!

What with all the fun talk about taxpayer money funding AIG Financial Products whiz-kids to reward them for blowing up the world, it’s nice to find a Greenwich connection to the story (by the way, riddle me this: if Obama says we’ll recoup those bonuses by withholding them from the next fund transfer to AIG, doesn’t that mean that AIG doesn’t need the money in the first place? I mean, we’re supposedly giving them all this money because it is absolutely essential to their survival. Yet if they can survive without $455 million, is it possible that there are other dollars in the package that are also non-essential? Just asking). Anyway, courtesy of Fairfield County Look, here’s a pic of Gerry Pasciucco from a Belle Haven party last spring, I think, showing the new head of AIGFP, mojito in hand, contemplating the ruin of the global economy (in fairness, Pasciucco was brought in after the collapse with instructions to shut the unit down – but it is an ironic picture, no?)

Gerry Pasciucco with his Brunswick - issued Che shirt

Gerry Pasciucco with his Brunswick - issued Che shirt

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