Daily Archives: July 16, 2009

There’ll always be a Cos Cob

Greenwich Time: happy Cos Cob peasants stomp grapes in basement, make wine all night. Doo dah, doo dah!

Harvest time on Stricklan Ave

Harvest time on Suburban Ave


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That’s a term I just coined (or I think I did; I could have read it somewhere and it stuck) to explain why the builder of 5 Dialstone and I have such different opinions of his house. I think he’s looking at the quality he has so obviously built into his house, and the cost he incurred achieving that level, and says to himself, “it’s as good as the best in Riverside so I’ll charge for the best.”

He was so angry at me because I tossed out a price opinion before I’d seen the house, and he felt that was unfair. but I was basing that opinion on the location of the house – the quality is irrelevant. It’s sort of like a motion for summary judgment in law where the judge assumes that everything the plaintiff alleges is true and still rules that, as a matter of law, there is no remedy at law. Here, assume that a house is of the very finest quality available – there’s still a set price a street will support and no higher.

What I think this builder doesn’t get is that Riverside is not one monolithic neighborhood. Prices break at a number of locations: south of the Post Road, south of Lockwood, south of the railroad and south of Riverside Avenue. Then they adjust for individual streets: Club Road gets higher prices than Gilliam Lane, parallel to Club and 150 yards away. Winthrop is more valuable than Crescent, Leeward more valuable than Oak, etc. etc. Dialstone is south of the Post Road, so it’s in a better notch than Sheephill Road, but that’s about it. A recent sale on Indian Head saw a house on one acre, with pool, sell for $3.2 million. The house was dated, certainly, but could be brought up to 2009 standards for $475,000, so you’d have the same $3.675 sunk in it as you would if you bought Dialstone. Yet, in another ten years, both houses will be just as dated again but the quarter acre on Dialstone will still be exactly that and Indian Head will still be Indian Head. Which do you think is the better value? Or Welywnn Road, on a half acre, that just sold for, what, $2.8 million? A five year old house but again, easily updated and again, Welywnn will be a more valuable location than Dialstone ten years from now, just as it is today.

So I meant no disrespect to the builder when I tossed out a figure like $2.6 million before I’d even seen his house. I watched it go up, saw the many, many months he spent on it and expected it to be of high quality. And what he permitted me to see matched my expectations. But I haven’t changed my opinion on what a corner lot on Dialstone and Lockwood will support and I don’t feel I owe the builder any particular sympathy. I’m pretty sure he bought the land direct to save himself a 5% commission, which is fine, but as an out-of-town builder, he might have more than made up that 5% by receiving some local knowledge and advice on how much to sink into a house at this location.

But maybe not – that spec house on Lockwood and Sound beach sold for the astonishing price of $4 million a year ago. Less than the $6 million that out of towner dreamed of but still a price that boggles my mind. I figure that the buyer lost at least a million the instant he got up from the closing table but that’s just my opinion.

So I hope 5 Dialstone finds a similar buyer who is willing to pay top dollar for a top quality house in a B- location. It can happen, and it does.


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Oooh, liberals just hate uppity blacks who try to leave the reservation!

Barbar Boxer patronizes black witness and he calls her a condescending bitch. Hee hee hee. Note: unlike the General who she demanded address  her as  “Senator”, Boxer lets this gentleman get away with calling her Ma’am”.


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Follow the money

29 people have died of Mexican Flu in Britain so far, yet the head of their health department predicts 65,000 deaths. Why would a public official whip up hysteria like this? I assume he’s found a way to profit from it. When he hires Al Gore as a Flu expert, we’ll know I was right.


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New spec house in Riverside

I’m off at 5:30 to see a new spec house at 5 Dialstone Lane, soon to come on the market. What price? Let’s all guess asking price and ultimate selling price. Mine is $3.4 ask, $2.65 sell (a year from now). Fire away. If I learn the proposed asking price when I visit today I’ll report it – otherwise, we’ll all just have to wait and see.

UPDATE: Well, I wasn’t able to see the entire house because the builder threw me off the premises. He was upset by my guesstimate of its selling price which, as he pointed out quite forcefully, was made before I’d had a chance to see the project. Of course, now I never will. Oh well, here’s a review of the part I did see: beautiful construction, with tons of custom built ins, expensive trim, coffered ceilings, etc. Very, very nice. The place is super insulated – foam, with a high efficiency boiler and every imaginable electronic control. Radiant heating in all baths, six fireplace with gas, heated two car garage, finished lower level (which I didn’t have an opportunity to see but I assume is of the same high quality as the rooms I did see while running for my life).

Downsides remain the same as when I first opined on the sale price: it’s on a quarter acre, which means no back yard – a terrace, but no yard. The terrace itself backs up to the swamp that runs from Lockwood to the interstate; good for deer and adventerous boys but bad for buyer appeal. And, while Dialstone may be, as described in the sales material, “a quiet cul de sac”, Lockwood Avenue is not, serving as it does as the cut-through for everyone wishing to avoid Post Road traffic.

Back inside, the children’s bedrooms are tiny – endemic in new construction as discussed earlier today but these bring the definition of “cozy” to a new level. The next generation of builders may discover that it’s better to have shared bathrooms and larger bedrooms but that’s in the future. For now, these are pretty typical, if a little smaller than normal.

The builder has priced it at $3.675 million and at the risk of offending him further, I remain skeptical. I have sold a fair number of houses in Riverside and I know what $3.8 new construction looked like and what $3.2 offered, and that was in a robust market. I hope he gets every penny he asks for; he’s obviously lavished a huge amount of care and attention to this house and cut no corners that I could see. But I based my original opinion on market conditions and, nice as this house is, I think Mr. Radman, the builder, may be disappointed. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

UPDATE II: Too funny. A reader points out that this house is listed with another firm and another agent for $3.995 million and has been for 66 days, according to Zillow. What’s so funny? Well the Zillow estimate of value is $2.4 million dollars! I wonder if our angry Mr. Radman will be pounding on Zillow’s door, demanding a retraction?


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Stanwich Road golf

156 Stanwich Rd

156 Stanwich Rd

BackCountry Gal asked about the status of this beautiful older house that backs up to the Greenwich Country Club’s golf course.I’m glad to report that it’s been under contract since June 18th, which I assume means it will sell soon. I love the house but it was first priced at $3.685 back in April 2008 an inappropriate price at any time and certainly so for 2008 when the market had begun its swan dive to the bottom. It came back on this spring for a million les: $2.695 and quickly sold – the right price will do that. I’ll report on final price when it closes. ML # is 72579.


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Byram condos go on hiatus?

Greenwich LandingAll four active listings at Greenwich Landing, the Byram River condo project that never went anywhere (I’ll have to check, but I’m not sure they ever sold even one unit) were withdrawn from the market today. Prelude to a foreclosure? Shifting to another agent? Developers planning to live in them themselves? Anything’s possible, but I suspect foreclosure.

UPDATE: 2 (out of 20) units went to contract October 9th (listing broker’s own clients) but I doubt those will close. Among other problems, can you see a lender making a loan on a vacant condo project?


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53 Winthrop

53 Winthrop

Here are two houses that went to contract today: neither one surprises me. 53 Winthrop is selling direct, but was priced at $2.495 which I thought was an excellent price. A great renovation on a wonderful Riverside street, I never wrote about this because I was too busy trying to sell it to my own clients ( : ) . Someone’s getting a very good buy.


And how about 173 Stanwich Road, also reported today as pending? This sold for $1.980 million in 2003, the new owner completely redid it and tried to get $3.595 for it in 2007. I liked the house very much but that was just such a stupid price it made my head hurt. Still, the marketplace takes care of foolish errors, eventually, and this thing has been dropping in price over the years until it finally hit $1.975. A reader asked my advice on this and I told him to go buy it immediately. If he turns out to be the buyer then shame on me – next time, I’ll keep my mouth shut and sell it to one of my own buyers. Regardless, it was impossible to go wrong paying the 2003 price for a renovated house here.


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There’s class, and then there’s Walter Noel

While Walt Noel slurps Long Island iced tea at the Bathing Club in Southhampton on someone else’s dime, here’s a guy who is digging into his own pocket to replace the $5 million his employees lost in their 401ks due to their employer’s investment with Madoff. That gentleman, one Robert Lappin, says he feels that he’s doing the right thing. Walter does too, although he does feel his friends’ pain and is very sorry they have to suffer.


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But, but…this is impossible!

The non-partisan Congressional Budget office has reviewed Obama Care and concludes that it will increase costs and weaken our economy. They obviously didn’t see Obama’s memo outlining the ways we were going to save billions and strengthen the economy. How did that happen?


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Perkins Road land

New listing at 58 Perkins Road (ML#73874), 3 acres for $2.350 million. Perkins isn’t my favortist road in Greenwich, but the assessed value (70% of estimated market value) is $2.137 million, so the seller seems to have his pricing right.

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Market Activity

Well, a little bit. Ann Simpson’s listing at 1 Lockwood Avenue (Old Greenwich) is under contract. This came on May 5th for $2.995 and was dropped to $2.595 a month later. That seems to have done the trick and illustrates, to me, the value of taking down a non-working price in big chunks as quickly as possible. 22 Tomac’s $2,000 reduction today will, I predict, have a less salubrious affect that this one’s $400,000 cut.

And the late Dick Button’s house on 7  Sylvan Lane, (ML# 72722)already under contract, sold for $1.840. Price was $2.195. This was a land sale or at the very least, the house added nothing to the value, and I’m a little dubious that 0.39 of an acre, even on Sylvan, is worth this much but if a buyer felt otherwise, good for him.

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Enough about golf – try this poll:

So you’ve been dipping a little too heavy into the compay snuff box and the feds have you dead to rights on, say, a billion dollar heist. They want to put you away until 2099 and your lawyer says that at best he’ll have you out by 2069. Sentencing date’s coming up. What do you do?

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Slide show: top 10 white-collar criminals in jail

Fascinating if morbid look at where some of the past few years’ criminals have got to. What puzzles me, looking at some of these folks serving life sentences, why they’re there. I’d check out before I checked in for a lifetime of being ordered about by prison guards but I can’t figure out who’s the coward: me, or them? Fortunately, last time I checked my conscience, that’s not a choice I have to face.

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Here’s a nifty idea for summer activities

When I was a kid, my father’s poor eyesight prevented him from participating with me in my passion for the outdoors. I learned to camp, hunt and fish on my own, through books, but I longed for a neighbor or some adult to teach me how. It all worked out and I learned what I needed, but I saw an ad just now in Arcadia Coffee for a local guide who is a 20 year Greenwich resident and willing to teach ages “from 4- 104” kayaking, flyfishing, striped bass fishing, flyfishing for bass (presumably both fresh and salt water) etc. etc. Oh, and white water canoing. I know nothing about this person – I don’t even know his name, but the number on his ad for “outdoor Guidance” is (203) 559-4445.

If you’ve got a bored kid or maybe know of  child of a divorced friend who might enjoy this sort of thing, it might make sense to check this out. It sounds like something I would have loved. And maybe you could go along – yes, it’s one of those bonding activities!


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Three sales

16 Irvine (ML# 71938) sold for $822,000. Owners paid $640,000 for it in 2003, renovated it with new kitchen, baths, etc. in 2007 and tried selling it that year for $1.150 million. Took two years and many price cuts but the job got done. Assessment: $733,810.

11 Brown House Road sold for $1.665 but this is one of those “for reporting purposes only” deals so it was never exposed to the market and  we don’t know anything about that price, good or bad. Owners paid $1.120 for it in 1999.

48 Highview (ML#72788) sold for full asking price of $1.685, which makes sense: I know the owners and they deliberately priced it to sell. Shows what can happen even in this market (this was a May contract) when you aren’t stupid. They bought this for $1.560 in 2002 and did a beautiful job renovating it, so they may have “lost” money on the deal, if you don’t consider the shelter value for seven years, tax deductions etc. And of course, they’re buying something else that is much cheaper now than it was a year ago and they knew enough to look at the entire transaction, not just the sell side. I told you they were smart.

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Open house report

Hmmm. I loved 313 Stanwich Road (ML# 73760) the old house that served the McCloy family so welll over the years. It feels like a house should feel, in my opinion, with lots of rambling hallways, rooms in odd places and beautiful grounds. The McCloys must be fierce hunters, so don’t bother visiting the Austrian Alps looking to kill a chamois: the McCloys beat you to it and the creatures’ skulls are all here, tacked up on the walls. They probably go with the owners, so if you’re not into the “Gentleman’s Study” motiff, fear not. For that matter, I understand that the owners intend to yank the barn board off the “Austrian Room” and take that, too, which is a little peculiar, but perhaps there’s sentimental value there, for some reason.

But here’s the problem: the house is old. I mean, old. My pal Nancy and I tackled a project like this in Maine when we were childless, clueless and had far more energy than money and it was a great experience. Today I wuld balk and I suspect most buyers will too. You’d have a beautiful house when you finished, but that’s two years and millions of dollars down the road. Plus, and this is just one man’s marketing tip, the sellers should patch the water leak in the hallway ceiling and repair the broken sash cords in the windows. Their presence just emphasizes the amount of work needed here and that’s a discovery best left for a buyer to discover after the closing, not on his first visit.

But a great old house and could be a fun project if you’re retired and wondering what to do with your money. Asking $6.495 or thereabouts.

23 Eggleston Road, down in Shorelands, is really fun land, a half/acre of direct tidal waterfront, which means mud half the time, water the rest. The first price of $8.5 million was insane, and aren’t you glad you didn’t listen to the listing broker and pay that much for it two years ago? The current price of $4.995 is better, but you have to do some calculating here, weighing your desire to enjoy this beautiful view versus the ultimate worth of a house, even on waterfront, in Shorelands. The house is a teardown (I like it just fine and would move in tomorrow but that’s me – most people will want something new). So if you pay $2 million for a new house, can you justify a $7 million house in Shorelands? I think not – I’d have a problem with $6 million, frankly, but that would be closer to the mark. So something has to give here, and I’d guess it’ll be the price of the land (I’m told that there was a deal for $6 on this land awhile ago that fell apart. Lucky buyer). The listing sheet descibes a “Christopher Peacock kitchen” which, if accurate, must date back to Mr. Peacock’s training days in the Youth Reformatory of Liverpool in 1957. Or perhaps the kitchen is stored off premises. But you’re buying the view here, not Peacock’s early efforts.

I did like 26 Cobb Island Road (ML# 73624), Pat Lynch’s listing in – I was going to say Cos Cob but by God, it’s got an 06830 zip, so let’s say, on the Cos Cob border. $4.850 million, very nice house, completely and extensively renovated, with sweeping views down Cos Cob Harbor to the Sound. One can watch Georgie Lowther’s bungalow going up on the scrap of land he retained when he sold his family’s view and Lowther’s Point (don’t cry for the boy – that view fetched $22 million) or, in a few weeks, the mansion to be built where the Lowther manse once stood. It’s far down the harbor from Cobb Island so it won’t affect your view but will provide a point of interest for the next year or two.

Drawbacks are two, neither of which you can do anything about: I-95 and small children’s bedrooms. Noise is entirely subjective but I did not find it objectionable here. You certainly can’t hear it indoors and walking around outdoors, it just didn’t strike me as a deal-breaker. It’s probably worth $2 million in discounted price, so that’s a fair trade off for me; you have to decide for yourself.

The small bedrooms are something my clients constantly harp on and I’ve become sensitized to the subject. I always figured a bedroom was for sleeping so who cared how big it was but if my fee-paying clients care then I do too. But that’s something most builders do, I suppose because everyone wants precious to have her own private bath and you can’t have one without taking away the other. As I said, nothing to do about that here – if your kid complains, tell her to try living under a bridge instead. I liked this house very much and I think the price under $5 is a good one.

I can’t say the same for 14 Ben Court, which is a pure land value with a tired old house on it that has to be removed. I’d place the value of a lot on this street at between $950,000 and $975,000 so the current price of $1.495 seems wildly excessive. If I’m right, that will be corrected over time and if I’m wrong it won’t be the first time.


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Not too late for a career switch, Walt

Tom Watson, 59, shot a 65 at the British Open to take the lead.

By the way, the poll of best local courses (somewhere in yesterday’s postings) showed Stanwich as the runaway favorite, Playland coming in second, and Greenwich Coutry Club and our local Bruce/Giff tied for third place. Innis Arden got one vote, last time I checked.  Is it really that bad? I only sled there.


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$20 oil by year end or $85? Take your pick

Bloomberg has one “expert” predicting oil at $20 a barrel by the end of December, the consensus at $65 and Goldman saying $85. These guys could be working in my industry for all the good they do. Still, someone’s probably right – what say you, Mad Monkey?

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The heck with open houses, I’m heading to Kansas City

Buy a pickup, get a free AK-47. How come Greenwich car dealers can’t think of cool ideas like this?

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