Daily Archives: June 12, 2009

Sad, but might make sense

Obama Administration considering a plan to bulldoze huge sections of dead cities to make them smaller, more manageable. It would conceding the end of industrialization of the Rust Belt but that’s a concession some twenty years overdue. I do wonder, however, if we’re not seeing the beginning of the end of the U.S., and just don’t recognize it, the way the Romans didn’t quite grasp the significance of their first defeats by the Germanic tribes.

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Not really for sale, I guess

That’s my answer to the reader who asked about 18 Cottontail Road, a cute little cottage built in 1938 and pretty much left alone since then. The sellers paid $975 for it a decade ago, priced it at $1.875 million back in October and have refused to drop that demand since then. It’s a beautiful little house, but it’s on an undersized lot (1.25 acres in the R-2 zone) and, judging from the fact that it’s still for sale, buyers disagree with the owners about the value.

But clearly, they’re willing to wait to get their price. That may be awhile, but hey, it’s their party and they can cry if they want to.

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Another example of “Low balling” problems

25 Selden Lane, way off in the northwest corner of town, dropped its price today to $4.995 million. A few months ago, the seller wanted $7.50 million. You know what would have happened had you offered $5 last December? Nothing good.

My advice, at least until owners start pricing their properties as though they were serious, is to just ignore new listings and let them mellow. Look for listings that are at least a year old and you may find a reasonable seller. Not often, but the odds are better.

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Why do builders do this?

Builders pay top dollar for land, change their mind about the wisdom of building and put the land back up for sale, always for more than they just paid for it. It happens all the time but you’d think that in tough times, they might know better. They don’t. My favorite example of this foolishness was committed by Dennis  Steven Hatch (corrected by reader – Denny Hatch, no relation, was my neighbor long ago. The mind fails), the historical vandal who demolished an 1858 Italianate on Riversville Road and replaced it with a plebeian structure of indeterminate style (or no style). Hatch bought two lots on Cat Rock back in 2006 or ’07 for $1.5 million total and relisted them the same day for $3 million. No taste, no brains – a common combination. The land is still for sale, if you’re interested.

A better builder, but apparently no wiser, bought 0.3 of an acre on Park Place last August (why?) for $1.460, changed his mind and put it back on sale this January for $1.675, dropped it down to $1.575 and when that listing expired, fired his broker and hired another, who has listed it today for $1.595. You may understand the thought process here – I don’t.

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Cash is king but a locked in mortgage rate’s not bad either

38 Khakum Wood, a building site bought for $4.8 million in 2005, listed again for $8.5 million in 2007 (tee hee hee) and eventually dropped to $3.8 this past May, went to contract last week and sold today, for $3.7 million. That’s a lot for a building site, but I guess if you want to live in Khakum Wood and you have the money, you pay what it takes.

On the other hand, a client of mine tells me that his house in another town, known for its slow sales right now, has gone to contract for 97% of his asking price. He set the price aggressively low because, unlike sellers in this town, he wanted to sell it, and he got the benefit of having a buyer with a locked in mortgage rate that was about to expire. Gotta love deadlines. Three other interested buyers, my client tells me, did not have locked in rates and had to drop out when rates bounced up 0.75%. So there you have it.

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Website listings

A reader asks,

More and more I see home owners developing/creating glorious websites to sell their homes; posting the web address in a display ad in such things as the WSJ/NYT/New Yorker.
 
Here are two (no one I know or anything) in today’s WSJ.
 
www.129BellaVista.com
 
www.stillhousePA.com
 
Are you seeing this happen in Greenwich, either from builders hawking their unsold wares or homeowners not able/willing to pony up broker’s fees?
 
I don’t know anyone personally who has gone this route but if you do, I’d love to know if this works. I, for one, look every week at those ads.
 
I realize I’m asking a realtor a question that takes money out of his pocket, but I am curious.
 
You can post any/all/none of this on your blog.

This is easily done and lots of agents do it for their listings – once you’ve done the set up, you can add a specific address page for maybe ten bucks.  And it’s not a bad idea, especially if you have a way to drive readers to it, like an ad in the WSJ (which will cost far more than the web site itself). As for owners or builders doing it themselves to save brokers’ fees, I still think the best way to sell a house is thrugh the multiple listing service. But heck, go for it if you want.

 

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How can you tell what’s an insultingly low offer?

11 Winding Lane reduced its price today to $8.3 million. It’s an old house sitting on beautiful land on a great street so maybe this is a good price, or maybe not – that’s not my point. The house has been for sale for two years now, and it started, way back in September 2007, at $10,000,000. Had a buyer offered $8 million back then, he’d have been accused of insulting the seller and her listing broker who,  presumably, set the ten million dollar price after due care and consideration (we professionals like to think so, anyway – your opinion may differ). Make that same offer today and, after certifying your sanity, they’d jump up and down with glee.

I don’t think the house was ever worth what it was asking so the new price is not a reflection of a declining market but rather just a reality adjustment. But you couldn’t offer what you thought it was really worth back then (or today either, probably) without receiving a rude reply. So no offer gets made, and the seller probably wonders why.

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Yet another contract

22 Sundance, in Riverside, asking $1.399, is reported under contract. That’s nice, but when researching its history I discovered a perfect example of how not to sell your house: overprice it! I may bottle this amazing insight but here it is for free, for now. The previous broker listed this for $1.895 in April 2005. The market never, ever soared so high that this would have been considered a good price, but the owners let it linger on the market for 18 months, slowly dropping its price while the listing grew older and staler. The finally pulled it in late 2006, redid the kitchen and baths, installed new floors, painted it and returned it to the market this spring at its new price of $1.399, and have sold it. Yes, the market’s dropped, but this house was never worth $500,000 more than its current asking price. What a waste of time, money and energy.

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There goes his chance to be the next Miss California

Obama defends Defense of Marriage Act in court. Says banning gay marriage helps balance federal budget. Cites incest, child marriages. The Left will explain this, but I’m curious to see how they do it.

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Good news, bad news

Good news: 126 Cat Rock Road, asking $3.7 million, is reported today as under contract, so someone is out there buying. Bad news, or at least, sobering news, is that this same house sold new in 2001 for $3.595 million – full asking price. The current sellers “renovated” in 2003 and, while I don’t know how extensive those renovations were, it seems as though they’ll net less than they paid eight years ago.

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God bless foreign brokers, once again

12 Buckingham

12 Buckingham

I won’t even pretend to understand how this worked but hats off the the listing broker. This house on Buckingham, a little dead end off of Roberta, off of North Street, was built in 1978, had some fresh paint tossed around and was put up for sale last month at $1.295. Apparently there was a lot of interest because a week or so later, the broker raised the price to $1.500 million and had a contract immediately. Out-of-town buyer’s agent, naturally, but still – I’m impressed.

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Where’s Walto?

Walter Noel hasn’t been as active on this board as he was previously, and I worried that perhaps age and Alzheimer’s were catching up to him. I needn’t have worried – he was apparently busy supervising his Japanese housekeepers in an important moving operation. Sadly for the housekeepers, they were caught today attempting to smuggle $134 billion in U.S. bonds into Switzerland. I’ll admit to some astonishment – until now, I hadn’t realized that bonds could come in denominations of $500 million, probably because Popsy always limited my advances from the Trust to just $10 million at a time. Heavens.

Perhaps you financial guys (or Walt) can educate me – I’ve heard of “bearer bonds” that are endorsable by anyone who has possession – are there other types, and if so, do you have to sell them at a discount? Just need to know in case the Terror of the New Canaan Bar BJ O’Rourke makes life too hot for me here.

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Local post office branches to be shut down?

It’s on the table according to this article. Every town with more than one P.O. (Greenwich has six) is being looked at for a whacking. Off the top of my head, I’d say Riverside’s, at the shopping center, and maybe Cos Cobs would be likely targets. What do residents and local postal officials say? Who knows – although the article is published in what was once Greenwich Time, its focus is entirely on Stamford. Probably written by a Bridgeport reporter, to boot.

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I blame Bush and the culture of corruption!

The Debbil’ Bush so infected Washington with his evil miasma that even the Messiah has fallen under its spell.

Obama fires AmeriCorp Inspector General who investigated his friend. Hope all you want – they’ll be no change.

By ANN SANNER and PETE YOST, Associated Press Writers Ann Sanner And Pete Yost, Associated Press Writers 20 mins ago

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama says he has lost confidence in the inspector general who investigates AmeriCorps and other national service programs and has told Congress he is removing him from the position.

Obama’s move follows an investigation by IG Gerald Walpin finding misuse of federal grants by a nonprofit education group led by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is an Obama supporter and former NBA basketball star.

Walpin was criticized by the acting U.S. attorney in Sacramento for the way he handled an investigation of Johnson and St. HOPE Academy, a nonprofit group that received hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants from the Corporation for National and Community Service. The corporation runs the AmeriCorps program.

“It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general,” Obama said in a letter Thursday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden, who also serves as president of the Senate. “That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general.”

The president didn’t offer any more explanation, but White House Counsel Gregory Craig, in a letter to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, cited the U.S. attorney’s criticism of Walpin to an integrity committee for inspectors general.

“We are aware of the circumstances leading to that referral and of Mr. Walpin’s conduct throughout his tenure and can assure you that the president’s decision was carefully considered,” Craig wrote.

Grassley had written Obama a letter pointing to a law requiring that Congress be given the reasons an IG is fired. He cited a Senate report saying the requirement is designed to ensure that inspectors general are not removed for political reasons.

Grassley said Walpin had identified millions of dollars in AmeriCorps funds that were wasted or misspent and “it appears he has been doing a good job.”

Messages left for Walpin seeking comment were not immediately returned.

The IG found that Johnson, a former all-star point guard for the Phoenix Suns, had used AmeriCorps grants to pay volunteers to engage in school-board political activities, run personal errands for Johnson and even wash his car.

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Mark Mariani, Land Lord?

70968_101_12Developer Mark Mariani withdrew his spec house at 11 Doverton Road today, still unsold despite a $3 million price cut (it would still have cost you $8 million and change yesterday). A month ago he pulled another job, 8 Dairy, the “Kissel Death Hpuse”  (just kidding the basement where poor Mr. Kissel committed suicide by tying his hands behind his back and stabbing himself 8 times – if you don’t believe me, ask Chief Ridberg – is long gone and this house, plus a new address, has replaced it).  Dairy is rented, the listing agent informs me, and there’s a rumor floating around that Mariani has found new money to sustain his business (1 Meadowcroft remains unsold and, so far, on the market at $14 million) and will be renting the houses out for or to that new investor. Whatever, these are not boom times for developers – had you noticed?

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Lyon Farm prices

I commented yesterday that we’re seeing these units sell, after more than year on the market, in the-mid $800,000s. A reader asked how much of a decline that is and, while I haven’t done exhaustive research, I did pull the last 100 sales, going back  10 years, and it’s an impressive decline. Of those 100, 57 were priced from $2.9 million (sold for full price in just 28 days in 2006) to $1.050 with bidding wars breaking out all the time (one $1,050,00 unit, for instance, sold for $1.0575 in early 2007. Before these two recent sales, you have to go back to 2002 to find a sale below a million (just one, for $908,000) and to find any quantity of $8s at all, back to 2000 and 1999. If you’re curious, 1999 also saw a sale for $475. Just in case you’re wondering where prices might be headed.

Here’s a fun fact: there are 14 units for sale now. The lowest is asking $799 after originally asking $!.499 in 2007, and I could find only one, listed by Rene Gallagher in April 2009 that started in the $8s. Rene gets it, others don’t. Unit 307, for instance, started in 2007 (almost all of these date back to those halcyon days) at $1.695 and has now dropped to $1.290., 606 asked $2.250  and has dropped to $1.8 and unit 202 started at $1.875 in July 2008 and hasn’t dropped one goddamned penny! No one’s going to steal thatcondominium, by God. Mad Monkey probably has his mother livig there.

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Chimney sweep scam in town

That’s what Greenwich Time reports. These frauds come through (sweep through?) town every year and seem to find their prey among the elderly, so if you have a parent who may be too trusting, you might watch out for him or her. The best chimney guy I know is Billy Ingraham, (203) 869-5242, a life-long townie, firefighter and an honest expert. I’ve always found that if Billy says you need something repaired, you do, and he doesn’t say that if you don’t. There are other legitimate firms around and you’ll be fine if you use them – just stay away from unsolicited bums showing up at your door (unless you called Billy, of course – in that case, the bum on your door might be him! : ) .

Furnace cleaning? Best deal seems to be the service contracts with your oil dealer (I particularly recommend Northfield Fuel, here in Greenwich) or the gas company. The Fountains, always on the edge of efficient energy saving, have a collection of antique furnaces that have all benefitted from these maintenance contracts. Fixed price, unlimited parts to keep them going. Good deal.

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Save the earth – use plastic

Paper bags vs. plastic. Guess which is better for the envirnoment?  I’m overstating the case for plastic for effect, but this WSJ report shows that the automatic knee jerk conclusion that paper bags must be better is …wrong.

On Monday, a United Nations official called for outlawing [plastic bags] world-wide. Said Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program: “There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere.”

But nothing is simple in the push to protect the planet. There is growing evidence that the production, use and disposal of plastic bags put less burden on natural resources than paper bags. Meanwhile, a knock against plastic bags — that they can’t be conveniently recycled — is becoming less persuasive as more cities start accepting plastic bags in curbside recycling programs.

That makes the cash-register question — paper or plastic? — more vexing than ever. “It depends on what environmental issues you see as being more important,” says Lisa Mastny, who directs the consumption project at the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental group. “The things you can see in your daily life tend to create more of an emotional response than the things that are in the background.”

What Ms. Mastny would prefer — and what most studies agree is most beneficial to the environment — is for shoppers to bring their own reusable bags to the grocery store. A reusable bag is better for the environment regardless of what it is made from, as long as it is used at least four times, according to a 2004 study by the French retailer Carrefour.

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