Rene Anselmo and real estate signs in Greenwich

News that the late Mr. Anselmo’s house has been listed with Brad Hvolbeck for $39,000,000 has stirred a number of questions about the man and his charitable acts, but perhaps the most significant impact he had on Greenwich was persuading the town to ban “for sale” signs.

Greenwich real estate was always run by a handful of privately held real estate firms and they never, ever used signs to advertise their properties.It was simply considered beneath them, and harmful to the Greenwich image.

In the mid-80s, as chain store realtors came into town and began buying out their smaller competitors, they also introduced signs. Even today, in the age of the Internet, a cheap, fifty-buck sign is still the most effective way to sell a house, outdrawing full page newspaper ads, huge Internet spreads and everything else. And in those days, they were even more important.

So realtors (and sellers)  wanted them, but Rene Anselmo did not;  he waged a one man war against them. He’d cruise around town in his Bentley convertible and collect them and bring them back to his home on North Street, where he’d call the agencies who owned them and tell them where they could pick them up. He was arrested repeatedly for his efforts, and the attendant publicity brought the issue to the town’s attention. A battle ensured: Rene and the few remaining independent realtors , Betty Moger of Cleveland, Duble and Arnold being among the foremost, and the chain stores. Not surprisingly, the chain stores lost and Greenwich banned all commercial real estate signs. Owners were and still are free to place their own signs – the First Amendment demands it, but otherwise, no signs.

I have my doubts about the constitutionality of the ban, but the chains have complied, and we have no signs. Which is great from an esthetic point of view, but sellers definitely pay a price. Regardless,(or as Hiram would doubtless suggest, anti-disirregardless)  the campaign was pure Rene: he saw something he didn’t like, and took action.


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15 responses to “Rene Anselmo and real estate signs in Greenwich

  1. Xyzzy

    I have to say that I am happy for the ban. The neighbor at the head of my street has had their home on the market for over three years and still needs to come down by 25% to have even a chance to sell it. If I had to look at a big real estate sign all this time I’d be pissed.

  2. Old Coot

    Please clarify; if I list my home with you, am I allowed to post one of your “For Sale” signs, or if not one of yours, one of my own which provides your office’s telephone number? Or may I only post my own sign if no Realtor is involved?

    • Old Coot, I’ve been puzzling over that. It seems to me that a homeowner can erect a sign saying ” for sale” and post the number of his realtor – at the very least, it should keep the town law department in knots for months, by which time, if you did list with me and hence had it priced correctly, you’d be long gone.

  3. Martha

    What a great story, thanks for sharing it!

    Wouldn’t it be “irregardless”…?

  4. duff

    I assume a home owner erected sign would still have to be within their “setbacks” and not on town property.

    When “realtor signs” where prohibited did this apply to contractor signs also?

    I am all for the ban on all signs. Our town is the better for it.

    Signs, advertising or gimmicks does not sell houses, Realtors do.

  5. First Amendment expression trumps snooty aesthetic considerations resulting in an all out ban. Greenwich has had experience with this and lost. All it takes is a challenge to the law, and it WILL fall.

    That said, I don’t like the signs either.

  6. InfoDiva

    Chris, according to the Greenwich Time archives, he didn’t just collect the signs–he defaced them with spray paint, because he thought their presence defaced the town.

    Do sellers really “pay the price” as you suggest? In the short run, maybe…but in the long run, surely not. Even after all my years in town, I marvel at the beauty of Greenwich roads in the spring. Crops of real estate signs would destroy that.

    • Info, I absolutely agreed with Rene’s actions so don’t get me wrong. But yeah, I do think that sellers pay a price for not having signs. Compared to increased value because the town is the more beautiful for not having sings? That’s a hard one to quantify, but I’m personally delighted that we don’t have them.

  7. Accolay

    Now if only utility lines didn’t exist…

  8. Stanwich

    I am horrified at how that idiot Brad Hvolbeck could make Rene Anselmo’s house actually look bad — his advertising on the house spread was laughable. He should be ashamed to have put that together. Better yet, the estate or whom ever is selling the property should kick him off the assignment. The lighting was poor, camaera angles sucked and everything is now in full bloom so why does he show winter shots? A property of this stature required areal photos and some photoshopping of the blemnishes, he did none of that. CF, please tell me you agree? At least a little bit?

    Some of the ads for premier estates in town are beautiful. Ogilvy’s ad for Leona’s place (while overpriced) was very well done. The advertising for Mel’s place and the Hirschorn casita are other good examples of fine jobs by realtors. It amazes me that Brad Hvolbeck can pull down these listings and serve up this garbage.

  9. Net Worth Declining

    In my neighborhood, there are 3-4 houses for sale in wildy different sizes and wildly different prices. I am hard pressed to imagine how 3-4 “For Sale” signs would help sell them. Until you know the size of the house and the asking price, the sign is just eye pollution.

  10. anonymous

    Mr. Fountain what are you thoughts on this new listing! You should make it have it’s own post!

  11. captmidnight

    I used to work for Mr. Anselmo at PanAmSat. He was a pioneer in the broadcast industry in that he launched the first privately owned satellite in to space to carry his little known SIN network and bust the Intelsat monopoly that was currently in place in the satellite industry. That one little satellite spawned an entire private industry and enabled global broadcast distribution that we take for granted today. He was indeed an eccentric man, some of his noted highlights in addition to the real estate signs:

    Street signs, he thought the green metal signs atop the rusty steel posts were ugly, so he started a campaign of buying the town those white wooden variants we have today and replacing the green versions. Then someone from the town got up in arms and complained that they wouldn’t last and would require maintenance for years to come. Mr. Anselmo was incensed that the town would look his gifthorse in the mouth so he set up a maintenance fund for the care of the signs. The selection of which streets would get signs and which wouldn’t was somewhat arbitrary and elitist. Not surprisingly all the streets around “Petite Trianon” got done first and then other prominent locations followed. The town still has a mix of both white and green signs to this day and indeed, some of the white signs are starting to show their age but it was a nice gesture on his part.

    He only hired gorgeous women to work in PanAmSat’s Greenwich office, unattractive women need not apply. Every now and then he would hand them a fistful of cash ($10,000 was not uncommon) and send them on shopping sprees on Greenwich Avenue during lunch. He loved the attention and appreciation and he was a real ladies man to say the least.

    His son, sadly, got in to a good deal of trouble with drugs and alcohol and never aspired to follow in his father’s footsteps, after several visits to rehab and eventually a monastery where he became a monk. Eventually he moved to LA and used his father’s considerable wealth to finance and produce movies, none of which ever really worked out.

    He had a large dog at Petite Trianon, I think it was a Bull Mastiff or similar, who used to roam the neighborhood, and all the neighbors loved it and knew where the dog lived. One day the dog stopped coming around, Mr. Anslemo had grown tired of it and rather than try to find a new home for it he simply had it put down.

    Controversial as he was, he was a very unique and generous man who’s legacy in town will live on long after his wife sells their home.