Daily Archives: September 25, 2009

Old Greenwich land sells for improbable price

7 St. Claire Avenue, an 0.42 acre building lot, has sold for $1.750 million. I’m mystified, but someone out there obviously saw (a lot) more value here than I did. Good for him. I’m not sure how the math works on this – a new house might be worth, maybe, $3.2 million? but maybe the new owner has a piece of Home Depot and can get building supplies at a discount.


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For this, I could come out of retirement

I no longer hunt wicked financial types but here’s a man who has sued Bank of America for 1,784 billion trillion dollars for bad advice he received over the phone “from some Spanish lady”.  I’m guessing here, but it sounds as though he may be unrepresented and if so, I stand ready to serve. I can’t even figure out my contingency fee on a sum that large but I’m willing to hire an accountant to do the work for me.


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1979 was not a very good year

Two more houses built in 1979 and priced above $3 million came on the market today and I wondered how houses of this age have been selling. Not so well.

There are fifteen houses built between 1978-2000 currently for sale, nine of them priced between $2 million and $4.5 million.

Nine houses built in that year have sold since January 1, 2008, with just one, 52 Round Hill Road, selling for more than $2 million: $2.150, with an assessed price of $2.650.

So what happens to the nine currently active that are in that price range? I smell price reduction.


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If wishes were horses, beggars would ride

Interesting article sent by a reader from Seeking Alpha that asks what houses would cost if they were priced in gold. Turns out, the last good year to buy a house was 2001 and it’s been downhill ever since. Yes, gold is volatile but as the last two years have shown us, so is housing. Anyway, it’s interesting. Especially in view of Shiller’s Shiff’s guess today that gold is headed to $5,000 an ounce.

Since gold is a universal metric of money, let’s see how housing has done when priced in gold. Yes, I understand you can’t live in gold or plant trees in gold, but the exercise isn’t to suggest housing is “only” an investment like gold–the point is to seek an understanding of the relative peaks and valleys in housing valuation.

In other words, is housing “cheap” now? There are various accepted metrics of approaching this question, for instance, comparing the equivalent costs of renting versus buying. Another is to ask if buying a house and renting it out at current market rates would yield a profit, and if so, how does that profit compare to other alternative investments?

Priced in gold, housing has already fallen 2/3 from its 2005 peak.


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Hey – it’s your money

304 Taconic

304 Taconic

This four-year-old house way up at 304 Taconic Road came on today asking $15.950 million for 10,000 sq.ft., 3,000 of which I’m guessing is under ground. That would certainly break the per-square foot record in this neck of our woods by a huge margin, and won’t that please its Taconic neighbors?:


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30 Crescent  Rd, Rvsd

30 Crescent Rd, Rvsd

The banks are slowly stirring and getting a few houses off one side of the ledger and onto the other. Thirty Crescent, which sold in a bidding war for $1.760 (ask was $1.68) in 2004, went off to the bank on a debt of $1.4 million.

28 Old Camp Road, in Cos Cob, purchased for $1.275 , has also returned to the lender.

 There are a lot more where these came from.

3 Roger

3 Roger

One house that is not in foreclosure yet does provide a neat example of the current market is 3 Roger, off S.Baldwin, purchased for $5 million in 2005 and reduced today to $3.750. Assessment is $3.570.


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I blame Bush

Jordanian caught trying to car-bomb Dallas office building.

Musselman tries to bomb Illinois federal building.

FBI: Pakistani – trained terrorists planned attack on Quantico.

Iran admits to second, hidden nuclear plant.

Subway bomber plot one of the most serious in years.

Had we just listened to Michael Moore and elected Obama instead of returning Bush/Cheney/Hitler to office for an unconstitutional third term, the Islamists would love us by now and be sending us presents of sweet treats and virgins instead of shabby, cruel terrorists. If only.


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What the hell does this mean?

From Greenwich Time’s Real Estate Showcase edition come this bit of realtorease:

“An eclectic blend of European charm and modern New England sophistication”. Let’s unpack this, shall we?

Eclectic: a mishmash of whatever comes to hand. Mulligan stew, for instance.

European charm: sweaty, unwashed bodies, lack of central heating, one bathroom per floor, two per every fifteen bedrooms, straw on the floor, a central holding pen in the living room for cattle to huddle and warm the great hall with their flatulence. Did I miss anything?

Modern New England: an oxymoronic term encompassing strip malls, horrible developments of split-levels and ranches on quarter-acre lots, bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-95 from Greenwich to Portland, casinos filled with polyester-clad retirees in wheelchairs, sucking on cigarettes around the mouthpieces of their oxygen tanks, and the New Hampshire State Liquor store.

Charm: all of the above

If you’re curious how this all comes together, the broker has a website, . Be my guest.


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Greenwich real estate advertising in the age of the Internet

They’ve never heard of it.Instead, bowing to their owner/listing clients demands, my peers have once again enriched the Greenwich Time coffers with dozens of full page color ads for the “Real estate Special” today. Bah.

Look: I’d be embarrassed to disclose the asking prices for these houses too, so I understand your pain, but the day when not disclosing price or location would lure an interested buyer into calling your firm and talking to an associate who’s never seen the house and will merely recite the information on the listing are over. Gone. Kaput. The business model is that, by generating such calls, buyers can be enticed to go look at a dozen other houses by a smooth-talking sales associate. That’s about as effective as Honda of Greenwich filling its showroom with illiterate, pushy no-nothings and hoping that Greenwich customers will be snowed. Doesn’t happen.

Buyers can get all the information your sales associate will reveal to them more easily from the Internet. Moreover, they can map its location, check on recent home sales in the area, pull the taxes and run a credit check on the seller while they’re at it. So why call the listing office and talk to the one agent who is so new or so not busy as to have been stuck with desk duty on a beautiful Saturday afternoon?  (A few firms, like Cleveland, Duble & Arnold, actually have experienced agents answering phones. Most don’t.)

Print ads do nothing to sell a house. They do make the owner happy – he sees his house advertised and figures something good must come of it or, at the least, his goddamn broker is shelling out some bucks for once, but that’s about it. But Greenwich Time appreciates them – these days, it’s its last profit center.


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Maybe everyone’s in the Hamptons

Almost 11:30 and no activity noted on the GMLs board. No contracts, one sale of cheap land, four undistinguished new listings (rentals and a retread) and a few desultory price cuts. I said this at the beginning of the week and it’s still true: the market feels like the late August lull, rather than the last full week of September.


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Global Warming theory based on one set of data and it was just disappeared

I’m just a simple country lawyer, but if some farmer claimed to have grown the world’s heaviest pumpkin but refused to produce it at the county fair, and if, when the fair judges visited the man’s pumkin patch to see and weigh it for themselves they were told that the hogs had done ‘et it, I’d be a might suspicious, and might find myself harboring dark thoughts about whether that farmer feller had really truly grown such a pumpkin.

So you can draw your own conclusions from this report of the custodian of the world’s only complete set of global temperature data, data he compiled himself and which purports to prove the existence of global warming, who, when asked for a copy, at first refused, and when sued under the Freedom of Information Act, disclosed that he had only one record, stored on an obsolete computer, which had just gone and ‘et the whole damn thing. But he’d seen those records and by golly, they was proof that the old world’s just gettin’ hotter by the minute. Trust him on this: Al Gore does.

Happy Halloween.

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Why we need ObamaKare right now!

FDA admits that New Jersey politicians pressured it to approve unsafe, defective medical device. While cynics might question how Obama can pay for his plan with $800 million in heretofore – unknown waste , fraud and inefficiency if he turns the entire medical industry over to the care of politicians, instead of just most of it, as it is now, this case clearly shows how it can be done. Hope and change: we will hope that, for instance, Senator Frank Lautenberg, as corrupt and venal today a 92 as he was when he slithered from a snakes belly in 1917, will feel a new responsibility to his country and stop stealing from it. There’s the change we need all right. Robert Menendez will also change his spots. He’s been indicted but never convicted so there’s plenty of room for optimism that he’ll decide to stop accepting bribes from constituents and knuckle down to doing the country’s work.

Image the new world we’ll have, where people like Chris Dodd,  Barney Frank, Charles Rangel (I’d mention some Republicans here but they’re all in jail) take over medicine and, applying their keen intellect and knowledge, ferret out waste and fraud so that we can all have a free lunch for the rest of our lives. I can’t hardly wait.

WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administrationsaid Thursday that four New Jersey congressmen and its own former commissioner unduly influenced the process that led to its decision last year to approve a patch for injured knees, an approval it is now revisiting.

The agency’s scientific reviewers repeatedly and unanimously over many years decided that the device, known as Menaflex and manufactured by ReGen Biologics Inc., was unsafe because the device often failed, forcing patients to get another operation.

But after receiving what an F.D.A. report described as “extreme,” “unusual” and persistent pressure from four Democrats from New Jersey — Senators Robert Menendez and Frank R. Lautenberg and Representatives Frank Pallone Jr. and Steven R. Rothman — agency managers overruled the scientists and approved the device for sale in December.

All four legislators made their inquiries within a few months of receiving significant campaign contributions from ReGen, which is based in New Jersey, but all said they had acted appropriately and were not influenced by the money. Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, the former drug agency’s commissioner, said he had acted properly.

The agency has never before publicly questioned the process behind one of its approvals, never admitted that a regulatory decision was influenced by politics, and never accused a former commissioner of questionable conduct.

UPDATE FROM INSTAPUNDIT: BUT THOSE ELECTRONIC MEDICAL RECORDS WILL BE A SNAP: Baucus Claims It’s Too Difficult to Put Health Care Bill Online. They don’t want you to know what’s in this stinker until it’s too late. That’s the real “difficulty” with putting it online.


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Fringe areas – first to fall, last to recover

Just as New Canaan’s real estate market collapsed long before Greenwich’s and will take much longer to come back, the fringe areas in our town have been taking a hammering for some time now. 99 Richmond Hill, sold for $8 million and the peak, with an extra million added later, sold last month for $6. 556 Riversville, bought for $3.5 in 2003 and extensively renovated, sold this summer for $3.2 million.

42 Richmond Hill

42 Richmond Hill

Here’s a beautiful piece of land on Richmond Hill that asked $4.25 milion in 2007  has now dropped to $2.5 million. Assessed value is $1.8 and in this market, even that may prove too high.

Another fringe area is Hillcrest Park in Old Greenwich. An acre of land there (with a tear-down) listed for $1.495 in 2007 and sold yesterday for $700,000. This was very nice land so you Havemeyer owners across the road? The value of your own property just lost 40%.

I’m sure these areas will come back, eventually, so if you’re looking for a bargain in Greenwich – not necessarily the very best investment you can make but a bargain – look to the edges.


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As the Hamptons go, so goes Greenwich? Part II

A regular contributor and friend (who also has a house he’d like to put up for sale if the market ever stabilizes) gleefully pointed out this article in today’s WSJ: Signs of Life in the Hamptons. The article (and my friend) claim that Wall Street guys, newly emboldened by visions of hefty bonuses at year end, are coming back into the market and buying baubles again.

Fair enough. But there’s this:

While the luxury real-estate market remains moribund in most parts of the country, there are a few signs of a nascent turnaround in the Hamptons, a string of beach communities housing some of New York’s wealthiest. The number of new deals put into contract jumped to 156 in August from 62 in July, says Corcoran’s Rick Hoffman, who tracks a listing system shared with other companies in eastern Long Island. Home sales also rose 34% to 344 units in the second quarter from the prior quarter, according to Suffolk Research Service Inc., a local real estate data firm. While up, that’s far less than the 576 units sold in the second quarter of 2008.

Hamptons developer Joe Farrell, who built his last spec home for more than $7 million two years ago, is ramping up again. Earlier in the spring, he says it was no problem getting 10% to 15% discounts on “blue-chip” lots south of Montauk Highway and within walking distance to the beach. Now, “some stuff is going into bidding wars,” says Mr. Farrell, who recently lost out on a one-acre lot on Bridgehampton’s Sand Piper Drive near the beach for $3.15 million.

Brokers remain circumspect about whether the surge heralds a real recovery. From May 1 to Aug. 31, pre-foreclosure filings in the Hamptons jumped 31% to 294 from year-earlier levels, according to Long Island Profiles, a publisher of real-estate and foreclosure data. Summer sales were “mediocre at best,” says Peter Turino of Brown Harris Stevens. “This is probably a temporary improvement. I think we’ll have a very slow winter.”

The sales jump partially reflects lower prices, but brokers say the increased activity also reflects changes on Wall Street, whose workers represent the largest proportion of Hamptons buyers. “I think word is that bonuses are going to be good,” says Ms. Sander, who notes the buyers of her Sag Harbor home work in finance. “I think it gives them confidence to buy.” The return of rank-and-file Wall Streeters helped activity increase most for homes under $6 million, considered here the middle-luxury tier of the market. Brokers say employees from Goldman Sachs, which recently reported net income of $3.44 billion for the quarter ended June 26, are particularly well-represented.

Everyone agrees that the Hamptons are a long way from total recovery. The median sale price of a home on Long Island’s East End was $560,000 in the spring of this year, down 32% from the peak price of $825,000 in the first half of 2007, according to Suffolk Research. Inventory remains high: In August there were 4,900 homes for sale in the Hamptons, or roughly the equivalent of about three years of inventory, according to StreetEasy, a New York-based online listing service. Some seasoned brokers say pent-up demand and a delayed spring selling season are responsible for the summer surge in activity. The market is “going sideways,” says Dottie Herman, president and CEO of PrudentialDouglas Elliman.

Sideways is better than off the cliff, admittedly, but we’re still close top that edge and a quick shove could produce a horrifying “look out below!” moment. My advice remains the same: buy quality land/location at a 2001 price and you’ll probably be fine in the long run (five years, say). Otherwise, you’re not necessarily going to lose, but you’re assuming a lot more risk.


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