Daily Archives: December 16, 2009

Greenwich Avenue still attractive to investors, anyway

I ‘m not a frequent shopper on the Avenue (although I do intend to make my way to the Apple store and check it out) but that doesn’t mean much – I’m not the Avenue retailers’ target audience. Apparently the people those retailers do want to attract are still coming, because 75 Greenwich Avenue just sold for $8,000,000 an amount that Greenwich time says is a record. I ‘ll take their word for it. The article implies that the buyers were foreign investors, taking advantage of the cheap dollar, and are interested in expanding the building upward from one story to the legally permitted three. I haven’t checked its assessment but, in the past, the town has woefully under-valued and thus under-taxed property on the street. If that’s the case here I hope an immediate adjustment will be made so the buyers can take further advantage of our currency exchange by paying increased taxes with our weak dollar.

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Doesn’t anyone believe in the global warming “proof” anymore?

Russians say that the CRU (of East Anglia email fame) monkeyed with Russian climate data to exaggerate global warming argument. It’s almost like someone’s been cooking the books around here, literally.

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Welching on your debts or, “strategic foreclosure”

Another story, this one in the WSJ, about borrowers walking away from their mortgaged property. The people profiled aren’t incapable of paying their mortgages, they just don’t want to. And in many states, they’re free to do so. Connecticut is not one of those states, unless the law has changed since I was familiar with it (and it very well may have – ask a real lawyer). As I recall, Connecticut lenders’ recourse is not limited to just the property, so they can chase after your bank accounts, cars or, worst of all, turn your account over to a collection agency who will make your life a living hell for the next ten years. Bt as I say, my knowledge is dated, so check with a lawyer who’s up on this area and see what your options are. the morality of the act I leave to you and your conscience.

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Aerial shots of Greenwich

A reader would like to contact the other reader whose firm has aerial pictures of Greenwich. I forget your name sir, but if you’d contact me, I’d be glad to put you in touch with a customer. Thanks.

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Cat Rock beauties

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East Portchester sounds like a dangerous place

Only last week did I discover via an article in Greenwich Time that Greenwich is blessed with an appendage on its western side called East Portchester or, by some, Byram. Never been there myself, but here’s a story of some chump who did visit and was held up by armed thugs, hit on the head with a baseball bat and ditched by his girlfriend, who seems to have been an accomplice of the robbers. The area sounds as rough as the Innis Arden area of Old Greenwich, where armed car-jacks are so popular. Good thing I huddle at home in safe, secure Riverside.

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Another shocker

293 Stanwich

This spec house is reported sold today for $3.735 million. Out of town broker and buyer, naturally, but still ….

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Sale prices reported

As the year ends, we’re seeing houses under contract close and thus their selling prices reported. Mixed news today.

29 Old Wagon

This Havemeyer house was, I think, a pre-fab, stuck up on land purchased for $720,000 last year. It started at $1.895 and sold for $1.654 which seems like a home run for the builder.

29 Innis, in Old Greenwich, listed at $899,000 and sold for $900,000 – bidding war! Assessment was $1.045. Most recent comp on this street is probably #20, which was described in 2006 as ‘perfect opportunity to renovate” and sold “as is”. Went quickly for $1.275.

And 18 Pierce Road in Riverside has sold for $1.4 million, on an asking price of $1.595. Again, I think the seller did well.

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Worst ideas of the decade?

BusinessInsider’s got 15 of them, ranging from the Segue to the Pontiac Aztec, but chocolate-chip-pancake-wrapped sausages on a stick has to be the worst.

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Cat Rock Road

I had occasion to come down Cat Rock a few minutes ago and was struck anew with what a horrible collection of the builder’s art we’ve amassed on that street – possibly the worst assortment in town. Not every house there is ugly, of course, but those that are cover the past six decades of bad taste, from cheap builders specials thrown up in the 60’s, “contemporaries” from the 70’s, T-111 siding and all, and then, stretching into the past few years, huge over-sized pieces of crap yanked from those design books that promise fifty awful house plans for a hundred and fifty bucks. Yuck.

Just saying.

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Apple to apple

37 Sachem Lane

Sold September, 2008 for $860,000. Put back up for sale October, 2009 at $860,000, then dropped to $810,000. Under contract as of today. When the sale price is reported, I’ll let you do the math of calculating the depreciation.

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Looks like Crown Lane won’t be joining Round Hill as a den of thieves

The NYT looks at the whispers of insider trading at SAC and, so far as I can tell, comes up with nothing.

Despite the 1995 censure, former SAC employees say that Mr. Cohen does not tolerate wrongdoing and that the firm, which manages about $13 billion, is being unfairly smeared. Its compliance department has about 15 employees who watch for suspicious trading patterns and other potential violations. The firm neither encourages nor condones insider trading, these former employees said.

“There was a culture of compliance,” one former manager said. “People who couldn’t explain how they were doing things were let go.”

Well darn – eventually, Walt Noel, Raj, Ric Bourke, Dom and the rest of the crowd on Round ‘Em up Hill will be in jail or run out of money and cease to be entertaining. I was hoping Mr. Cohen would take up the slack. Of course, there’s always the chance that Stevie’s neighbor on Crown Lane, noted cartoonist Jerry Dumas, will develop a taste for illegal behavior and keep the street in the running. He hangs out with that Yudain character and we all know what he’s capable of.

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2010 – the year of the bargain?

According to a foreclosure data service I subscribe to, there are 305 foreclosures in various stages of litigation here in Greenwich, with 193 of those initiated this year. I have looked at many – maybe most – of those properties and I don’t see any that are going to come out alive. By which I mean, the mortgage debt is greater than the current value of the house (I’m not talking about liens placed on houses for commercial disputes, but actual suits to foreclose a mortgage).

From anecdotal evidence, tales of friends of friends who, laid off, have been struggling to find a new job and failing, I’m afraid we’re going to see even more foreclosures started next year. Between those new actions and the concluding legal process for the earlier ones, I believe we are going to have a big chunk of bank owned housing to dispose of soon. Our current inventory, for instance, is around 585 single homes. Many of those are, of course, in trouble, but if we add another 350 distressed properties to that inventory, the results will be good for buyers, bad for sellers.

I’m far more pessimistic on this subject than many other realtors and I certainly wouldn’t panic if I were you – I could be way off here. But I do think that, if you’re holding your house off the market with the intention of selling it at a higher price next fall, you may want to consider either planning on holding on for another couple of years or getting out this spring.

That’s my two cents worth, anyway.

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What would Jesus do?

Stand and be counted. The Washington Examiner calls this “the bad idea of the day” and while I hate to cede that award so early -it’s only just past 10:00 am in Washington, after all – I’m inclined to agree.

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Just how stupid are we?

Japan initiates its own “cash for clunkers” program but excludes American makes. We, on the other hand, coughed up billions so that some lucky Americans could buy Korean.

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I hate you! Aw, com’ere, ya big lunk

The Hill: Congress shovels $20 million cash from financial industry into its campaign coffers, protesting all the while.

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Peter Schiff: the economy is not improving

“Mission not Accomplished”

First, a closer look at the jobs numbers shows that employment improved in sectors that benefited most directly from monetary or fiscal stimulus: government, healthcare, financial services, education and retail sales. Meanwhile, sectors such as manufacturing continued to shed jobs at an alarming rate.

These dynamics actually exacerbate our economic imbalances. Recent trade deficit figures (in which the deficit-reduction trend of early 2009 has sharply reversed) show how this employment growth is preventing needed rebalancing. Essentially, the administration is nurturing firms that cannot survive without subsidies and support.

Once stimulus is removed, the “saved” jobs will be among the first to go. If the president has not figured this out yet, I am sure Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke has. As a result, the market should discount as pure bluff any claims from the Fed about an eventual “exit strategy” from current stimuli. Such an “exit” would bring about Bernanke’s greatest fear – spiking unemployment.

Second, major investment and commercial banks are not back on their feet but remain fundamentally insolvent. Their current business model of risk-free speculation depends upon the maintenance of government backstops, the continued availability of cheap money from the Fed, and the use of accounting gimmicks that allow them to conceal losses behind phony assumptions.

Third, while it is true that home prices have stopped falling, this represents failure, not victory. True success would be a drop in home prices to a level that potential homebuyers could actually afford. Instead, we have maintained artificially high prices with tax credits, subsidized mortgage rates, low down payments, and foreclosure relief.

With 96% of new mortgages now insured by federal agencies, market forces have been completely removed from the housing equation. With so many government programs specifically designed to maintain artificially high home prices, devastating long-term consequences for our economy are inevitable.

What a spoil sport. And just before Christmas, too.

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Russ Pruner: And that’s the way it is

Home sales up this November, down for year.

Greenwich home sales continue to trail behind the number recorded by this time last year, but the market has improved over the past few months and real estate agents hope momentum continues into 2010.

Sales were down more than a quarter through the first 11 months of 2009, with 321 through last month compared with 444 by November 2008, according to data released this week by Riverside-based Shore & Country Properties.

For November there were 33 single-family home sales, up from 11 in November last year. The increase was expected, considering there was virtually no market at the end of 2008, said Shore & Country owner and partner Russell Pruner.

Pruner said with the activity it felt like a “mini spring market” in November, and though there will be a lull in the next few weeks because of the holidays, he expects activity to start up again in mid-January.

“I think some of the pent-up demand that’s been waiting to release has started to release, and I think that demand will continue into the first quarter of 2010,” Pruner said.

The average home price was still down about 8 percent, to $2.5 million from $2.8 million in 2008, with major sales, including the sale of clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger’s estate for $20 million, skewing the number higher. The median home price was down 21 percent, to $1.5 million from $1.9 million last year.

Pruner said buyers, sellers and agents are still waiting to find out where the bottom is for prices.

“They’re trying to figure out where value is in the market,” Pruner said.

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I never really believed that bit about them working for us anyway

Senator Schumer curses stewardess on shuttle flight.

WSJ: “Congress travels, public pays”.

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Starve the good schools at the expense of the bad?

Riverside parents are upset that the town spends just $8,000 per pupil in Riverside versus $12,000 at New Lebanon. That doesn’t seem right but if extra money brings New Lebanon up while not driving Riverside down, I suppose that’s the way to go. What I fear is that, like all other levelling plans I’m familiar with, this will end up with both schools equally bad.

Riverside Principal John Grasso agreed that more education dollars should go to schools with students that have the highest need.

However, because the district allocates literacy coaches based on the percentage, not number, of students who require this support, the district’s largest school has routinely come up short on getting this type of help.

For example, the 215-student New Lebanon School, the district’s smallest elementary school and one of its lowest performers, receives funds to devote twice as much time for literacy support as Riverside does, even though the 505-student Riverside has more students who qualify for the support, a school official said.

In fact, Riverside receives the least time for literacy support of any elementary school in town, said Grasso. He has urged the schools chief to take another look at how the district alocates literacy specialists.

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