Daily Archives: July 10, 2009

Well if you need to borrow money, why would we risk lending to you?

Mortgage standards rising to absurd levels, choking off sales.

“The credit pendulum is stuck at ‘stupid,’” said Lou S. Barnes, an owner of Boulder West Financial Services, a Colorado mortgage bank. “I am turning down loans every day that my grandfather in his Ponca City, Okla., savings and loan in 1935 would have been happy to make. And he was tough.”

I’m not necessarily convinced, because the article profiles people with one year earning histories or those who feel put out when 10% down is deemed insufficient, but it’s interesting, and if housing people were counting on buyers like these to bail out the market, they just lost.

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There can be no rational market while Walter Noel’s on the loose

General Motors stock, destined to become worthless as the result of its bankruptcy, gained 43% today before trading was halted at 2:00 p.m. Experts profess bewilderment at the phenomenon (which actually happens all the time down there in the canyons) but as one pointed out, “someone’s making a lot of money on this.” It’s cruel to say so after he’s become such a friend of this blog but I did mention last week that Noel’s Fairfield Greenwich Group restarted operations last week, ostensibly to wind up its matters. Is it too far a stretch to imagine Walt having one more go at his Round Hill Club friends at the bar, offering them a “sure fire, can’t miss” investment opportunity?

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This is what did Bourke in, too

One of the Kissel murder co-defendants has plead guilty. That never helps the guy left standing in the dock.

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Who said Darwinism is without a sense of humor?

obese_people-300x215Swine flu targets fat pigs.

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Finishing school

The affable Greenwich developer Dom DeVito reports to Otisville Prison September 15th for a 51 -month stint of R&R. Bernie Madoff’s future home is uncertain (and would somebody please draw a cartoon of Bernie in his cell, marking off the days til release on his calendar?), but his lawyer is pushing for Otisville, too and now Fredric Bourke is looking at a stay, probably similar to Dom’s in length, at a similar site. Could all three end up in Otisville? Wow.

A friend of Dom’s, reflecting on Dominick and Bernie being together, said, ‘the dark intelligence of Dominick, and five years at Madoff’s knees? A monster!” He meant it as a compliment, I think. Imagine if Ric Bourke joins in on the tutorials – Dom’s intellect, Ric’s money, Bernies’ schemes – watch out, world.

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“But he’s cheating, your honor!”

A Florida lawyer has filed a motion demanding that the presiding judge order the other counsel to wear better shoes, claiming that the scuffed Hush-Puppy look gives a false appearance of home-spun simplicity and honesty.

This trick used to work like a charm down at Wall Street arbitrations. The big, mean brokerage firm’s lawyers would show up, one lead lawyer and three flunkies towing carts of documents while I’d sit at the table with my client, one suit, which I wore every day of the hearing no matter how long, and a thin folder. Can a Greenwich lawyer look like a nice, simple country boy, come to the big city to try and get justice for his poor widow-lady? Every time.

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Don’t you just hate it when politicans engage in irony?

Pentagon: ban cigarettes for soldiers. We’ve already decided as a nation that, at 18, a young man or woman is mature enough to decide whether to risk dismemberment, death or being burned alive in a combat zone but too immature to drink alcohol. Taking that to its next logical step, we will now stop soldiers of any age from smoking because God forbid they might hurt themselves.

If we really wanted to stop war we’d make the minimum enlistment age 35, when most people are too wise and mature to risk their lives on the say so of some dumb politician in Washington.

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No more real estate news today?

Well it’s 4:15 and while I’ll check back later to make sure, that’s probably about it for MLS news until Monday. There were lots of price reductions today -27, or something, but that’s pretty standard for these times. 38 French Road lopped a million bucks off, from $12.75 million to $11.7 (or something like that) but again, that’s standard. I’ve said how much I admire the house, and I do, but if I were representing a buyer interested in any house in this price range I’d take it for granted that we should start several (or more than several) million dollars below the ask and work up from there. So what’s a million? Here’s the house again. Very nice.

38 French Road

38 French Road

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Mary Jo Kopechne was unavailable for comment

messageinbottleBLANKcopyrightObama delivers letter from Kennedy to Pope.

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Here’s a curiosity

This North Carolina home builder swindled customers, investors and the federal government (that would be us taxpayers) out of millions and millions of dollars and enters into a consent agreement with the Department of Justice that calls for a very firm slap on the wrist, period. What I find curious is the odd focus of the DOJ which crows today about convicting Ric Bourke of a crime without a victim, investigates Apple for inventing the iPhone, and does nothing about a corporation that sold substandard houses and stole a fortune. The Department can’t prosecute every crime, of course, but this one seems like a good target.

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Bourke found guilty

A reader just alerted me that Frederic Bourke was found guilty. I’ll go see.

Sure enough. Here’s the WSJ report. The Christmas party at Round Hill Club is going to look pretty thin this year with everyone on the street in jail or in hiding.

More on Bloomberg.

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Defying gravity?

16 DewartThis house at 16 Dewart sold in 2003 after it had just (2002) been renovated, for $3.350 million. It’s back on today, untouched but six years older, for $3.750. It might work – an inferior lot across the street sold last week for $1.8 million, but I note that the assessed value for this house is $2.850. That feels like a good price to me, but we’ll see as the summer progresses.

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Uh oh, here comes global warming!

Jim Hanson, my favorite NASA climatologist and the one who promises us all certain death if we don’t stop all this nonsense right now says that the Climate Bill just passed isworse than useless“. Now, I happen to agree with him, but I thought it would be useful to send our ace reporter Edgar Martins over to Congressman Jim Himes’ office to find out if he still was proud oh his vote for the bill.

“I sure am,” said Himes. “We’ve saved the world.”

Told that Hanson says differently, Himes took a step back. “Well look, I haven’t actually readthe thing, you understand, but our hearts were in the right place, and I’m disappointed that Hanson doesn’t give us credit for that. Okay, if it won’t do anything, so what? We’re talking about billions of dollars here, all under the control of Congress. You want to breath, in the future, you have to ask for permission, How cool is that?” He winked. “And if you think we’ll funnel billions through Washington without getting our sticky little fingers on it well, I’ve got a cottage in Ireland to sell you.”

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A Greenwich primer

Out of towner HG raises a good point: folks like him don’t necessarily know the geography and layout of Greenwich. Herewith a top-of-the-head, completely subjective overview of the subject:

Greenwich has a series of discrete neighborhoods, ranging from blue collar cheap to blue blood expensive, and they each occupy small pockets of land. From east (Stamford border) to west (Port Chester, NY border) they are: Old Greenwich, Riverside, Cos Cob, Greenwich, Byram, then north to Glenville and, further north, the Back Country (anything above the Merritt Parkway, with 4 acre lots).

Old Greenwich and Riverside property is cheaper north of the Post Road (Rt. One), more expensive as your cross the Post Road and head south. In Old Greenwich, prices really jump when you pass south of the “Village” and start hitting prime time as you approach the water and Tod’s Point, our premier town beach. Lots are small but direct waterfront can fetch $7-10 million.

Riverside follows the same trend. Higher south of the Post Road, higher still south of the train tracks, still higher as you go south of Riverside Avenue and approach the water. $23 million is about our highest waterfront sale: 4 + acres, deep water dock, spectacular views up and down Long Island Sound but $12 million is not unusual. Non-waterfront is cheaper, but $2.5 and up for most homes south f Riverside Avenue.

Cos Cob is cheap(er) than Riverside or Old Greenwich with some very nice neighborhoods and a good elementary school. Unlike Riverside and Old Greenwich, lots get larger north of the Post Road so prices rise going north, rather than decline. There are two twisting, winding roads near the Riverside border, Cat Rock and Cognewaugh, that are hell to drive on but quite scenic and some people love them. Highest price on Cognewaugh was around $5 million but I doubt that will happen again for awhile. Builders who tried failed, and the most recent sale of a spec house, on Cat Rock, was 43.8 million, far more than I thought it was worth but far less than the builders did.

Central Greenwich – eh? Saw a building boom of $5 million condominiums a couple of years ago but I don’t think that’s happening now. Lots of them sitting empty and for sale – bargains in the waiting. South of central Greenwich is Belle Haven which, once you get past the sewage plant, is quite nice, with some $20,000,000 + sales and some houses not on the market that will eventually fetch twice that, I think. There’s Belle Haven and “near Belle Haven” and you want to be careful not to pay Belle Haven prices for near Belle Haven value. There’s also I-95 waiting behind some of these near Belle Haven houses but you’ll discover that on your own.

Byram – cheap blue collar neighborhood, perfectly nice, he said, but not necessarily what people move to Greenwich for. Funny enough, Byram Shore Road runs along the water and the waterside houses pull in large prices – $23,000,000, once and still big bucks today. Cross the street and watch your value drop to a tenth, so don’t be swayed by what the house 50 feet away but on the water sold for. It doesn’t apply.

Glenville -bigger lots, nice area, but removed from Central Greenwich (all of five minutes but there you go) so prices are a fraction of what Riverside and Old Greenwich’s (south of the Post Road) are.

Mid-Country is the 2 acre land north of the Post Rad and south of the Merritt. Can be quite pricey – $10 million on Round Hill, even, just a month ago, $16.5 million for new construction on 7.5 acres. $2 – $3 million used to be a typical price for the mid-country, I’d drop that to $1.5 (and up) today. Just like the Back Country, the farther west you go, the lower the price.

Back Country: 4 acres, figure about $3 million for a building lot, so even if you find a cute little cottage back there, and you can, if it sits on 4 acres, you’re still looking at a multi-million dollar piece of property. There are exceptions – 7 acres off Round Hill have been foreclosed on and,together with a livable, but run down house, could be bought for $1.5 if Weikert, the listing broker, cooperated. As it is, it refuses to return calls or communicate in any way on this property which I assume means they have their own buyer in the works. whatever, when it finally sells, it should drive prices down a bit, even if it is substandard property (wetlands, steep hill, cellphone tower behind it).

So that’s abut it, for now. And HG and other readers, remember that this was literally just zipped off my keyboard, without much reflection and certainly without the nuanced shades of difference that each neighborhood has. But as a general, quick primer, it should get you started.

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The lady makes Jim Himes look – better

Dont you confuse me wit no fax!

Dont you confuse me wit no fax!

Our dumbest Representative, a lady who displays her bottomless ignorance every time she opens her mouth, has yet another brilliant idea: ban credit default swaps.

“No, I don’t have no idea what they are,” she said in explaining her proposed legislation to ban the instruments, “that Himes boy’s gonna explain them to me. But they be bad – I do know that much, and so I want them gone. We’re off to make this a more perfect union, understand?”

UPDATE: For readers angered by this post and who think it is somehow an attack based on racism rather than disgust that someone this stupid and uneducated (high school) should hold a position of power in this country, I invite you to prowl the accumulated results – all 131,000 of them – for the search term, “maxine waters idiot”.

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Christopher Peacock comes back

The standard, must-have kitchen for every Back Country lass who has never stepped foot in one and never will in her lifetime is a Chrisopher Peacock. The caterers bring their own equipment for the social functions thrown by hostesses up there but if a kitchen isn’t by Peacock, friends will talk and drop you from their life. In fact, you want the real story behind Monica Noel’s disappearance from the social scene? That’s right, cabinets by Kitchen Pride, refrigeration by Plus-Zero. So when the company went bust this spring panic spread like a house on fire up in horse country and the wailing and gnashing of teeth could be heard as far south as Cos Cob. What could they do? What would they do?

Turns out, they only had to wait – something nearly impossible for that set, but still easier than doing entirely without. Peacock has bought back his name, factory and Greenwich showroom from SmallBone, who paid him $12 million for all that a year or so ago and then went belly up. So have no fear, your favorite white kitchen will soon be available again – now all you need is a solvent builder to install it for you.

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Hey, Walt!

Donna Curtis Memorial Tower

Donna Curtis Memorial Tower

Frankie wants to know, :how large an envelope?” (he points out that true Back Country types have been known to pay in the seven figures to get what they want, just to give you an idea).

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Withdrawn from market

Corrigan

Corrigan

A pretty nice house at 25 Selden Lane and this accompanying parcel on Corrigan were withdrawn from the market today, unsold. I suspect things would have gone better for this place had the sellers not overpriced it to begin with and split the land into  two parcels. Price was originally $5.250 for the Seleden Lane house and $2.250 for the extra lot. The house had its own 5 acres but the beautiful view you see here of the pond was the extra lot and was the best part of the view from the house.  So if ypu bought the house but not the extra land, you’d lose your view; not an attractive prospect. This land is way the heck out of town (Greenwich InfoDiva would refer to it as “convenient Back Country”, but ….) near King Street. Not a location that commands huge prices to begin with and not one likely to support a total price tag of $7.5 million for a somewhat-tired house.

Both prices were eventually reduced, to $4.195 and $795, respectively, but I don’t know who would buy the house without the view. better, I think, to have kept them together at one price. If they’d started at $4.195 originally for the whole package I’m pretty sure it would be sold now, rather than pulled off the market. Lesson is, just because you can subdivide your land, it doesn’t mean you should. Splitting off a back lot may be one thing while threatening the view is another.

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The Kissel story lives, even if Andy’s a bit under the weather

It was two years ago when the body of fraudster Andrew Kissel was found in the basement of his home at 8 Dairy Road, hands bound and stabbed repeatedly (Andy’s torso, not his hands). Notwithstanding Greenwich Police Chief David Ridberg’s immediate conclusion that the death was an open-and-shut case of suicide, others kept poking around and eventually arrested two men,  Kissel’s former chauffeur and a cousin of the driver, both hailing from South America. Their trial starts Monday but the pre-trial shenanigans have been every bit as entertaining. For instance there’s this story from the July 1st Greenwich Time , wherelocal developer Greg Silver is alleged to have been the lover of Andy Kissle’s wife, Hayley.

[Defense Attorney] Sherman points to, which reveals that Kissel’s estranged wife may have been having an affair at the time of his death. “The investigation revealed that Hayley Kissel was involved in a relationship with Greg Silver,” states the search warrant. “That Gregory Silver and Hayley Kissel shared an office located at 200 Railroad Avenue. That during extensive interviews with Silver and Hayley, neither individual mentioned the relationship to investigators.” Other police reports list different men as Wolff’s boyfriend, however.  

The warrant further states that Wolff “has not cooperated with investigators since the early stages of this investigation” as reasoning to why they needed her cell phone records.

“The search and seizure warrant “¦ suggests that they considered her a suspect of the crime,” wrote Sherman in his brief.

Wolff’s attorney did not comment on the motion Wednesday.

Additionally, the motion points to e-mails and interviews that display the “hatred” Wolff felt toward her husband leading up to his death and the couple’s “acrimonious divorce,” according to Sherman.

Although Wolff cried briefly during an interview with investigators the day her husband’s body was found, police wrote that “Hayley did not seem upset during the interview and at times giggled/laughed during some of her comments. She seemed relieved that he was gone,” states the police report.

An analysis of her cell phone records show that she received a call April 2, 2006, at 9:52 p.m. that lasted 331 seconds, but it was unclear where the call originated from. The records show that five different cell towers picked up calls Wolff either made or received between April 2 and April 3, 2006, which Sherman alleges goes against what she told police ­– which is that she remained at a friend’s residence on Duncan Drive the entire day and night.

Sherman also points to police reports that show Wolff lied to detectives over who was the direct beneficiary of a $15 million life insurance policy on Kissel’s life.

“We had been told by Hayley Kissel that the children were the direct beneficiaries of the policy and that she would only be receiving the interest,” wrote investigators in a police report. “(An insurance agent) advised that the policy specifically states that Hayley is the direct beneficiary.”

In a different police report, Sherman cites a report from a family friend who told police Wolff had checked on the insurance policy one to two weeks before Kissel’s death.

I don’t believe the defense is pointing to Mr. Silver’s alleged dalliances as evidence that he was involved in the murder/suicide (although his wife was probably no more amused by the story than Stephen Dent’s wife was to learn of his acts) but rather, to toss some smoke around, bring another suspect: Haley, into the matter and try to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury. Still in a slow real estate summer, this story should prove a nice diversion. And since Mr. Silver’s own projects aren’t exactly stirring, he might enjoy the chance to think about something else, too.

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The market’s not dead yet

25 Keoffram

25 Keoffram

Two contracts reported already this morning, one being Brad Hvolbeck’s whopper in Conyers Farm, and now this Thalheim spec house on Keoffram in Old Greenwich that’s been asking the outsized price of $5,000,000 +. I liked the house very much and Keoffram is one of the prettiest streets in Old Greenwich but I couldn’t recommend the house to my clients at this price. Someone disagreed, obviously, and I’m glad – it will be a great place to raise a family, and if that’s more important than a few odd million (which I think it should be – I’ll let you know if I ever have a few extra million) go for it.

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