Monthly Archives: February 2012

Damn, another great conspiracy theory debunked.

Plum Island - no Ice Man here!

Lyme Disease discovered in “Iceman”. Readers OG and MC and probably others have posted here on their idea that Lyme Disease started on Plum Island, the government lab off of northern Long Island. Our Swiss mummy, “Otzi” to his friends, is estimated to have died 5,300 years ago. Next we’ll learn that the oil companies really haven’t found a way to make a car run 100 miles on a gallon of gasoline but are keeping the technology secret,

And before you get started, guys, yes, the presence of Lyme Disease in the Swiss Alps thousands of years ago doesn’t specifically rule out evil, mountain climbing scientists going over to Europe and bringing the germ back home to infect their fellow Americans, but it does make it less likely, no? I’d put the odds of your theory being true at about the same as the air suddenly disappearing from your living room


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When even CBS spots trouble in the green agenda, there’s a problem

The community organizer and his chiropractor select the lottery winner

Last moth CBS News looked at the various “green” recipients of ObamaKare and came away unimpressed. There’s a whole lot of Solyndra going on, and no wonder:

Nobody from the Energy Department would agree to an interview. Last November at a hearing on Solyndra, Energy Secretary Steven Chu strongly defended the government’s attempts to bolster America’s clean energy prospects. “In the coming decades, the clean energy sector is expected to grow by hundreds of billions of dollars,” Chu said. “We are in a fierce global race to capture this market.”

Economist Morici says even somebody as smart as Secretary Chu — an award-winning scientist — shouldn’t be playing “venture capitalist” with tax dollars. “Tasking a Nobel Prize mathematician to make investments for the U.S. government is like asking the manager of the New York Yankees to be general in charge of America’s troops in Afghanistan,” Morici said. “It’s that absurd.”

News yesterday that one of Chu’s picks to receive $3 billion tax dollars, solar panel maker First Solar is failing was not surprising, but the White House continued to express its enthusiasm for its overall strategy. “Wait til those propeller beanies start up!” Chu crowed, “we’ll be in clover then. Com ‘on, baby needs new shoes!”


Hmm. A stated goal to drive gasoline prices to $8 per gallon, a massive diversion of tax money to a doomed technology with rich payoffs to political donors. If there’s a plan here, and I think there is, I don’t like it.


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Two sales reported today

25 Stiles Lane, (link includes both houses discussed here) 4 acres and a good looking house, asked $4.495 million and got $4.395. That’s quick work for a house in nosebleed territory (way up Bedford near the Armonk? New Bedford? border) but housing price trackers, take note: this sold for $5.150 in 1999. A client asked me just today whether we were all the way down to 1999 prices and I answered, “only in exceptional circumstances”. I guess this was an exceptional circumstance, although certainly those weren’t financial because the seller is not and never will be in financial difficulties, or we’re now below 1999, at least in those fringe areas I harp on.

On the lower end of the scale, 74 Longmeadow Rd in Riverside’s NOPO area asked $1.675 and got $1.375 million. This was an estate sale so the records don’t go far enough back to know what it sold for last time but I’m sure there was a healthy margin here, especially if one doesn’t adjust for inflation. The house itself is almost irrelevant because this has direct frontage on Mianus Pond. I mentioned this property a few months ago and said I’d love to live here. I still would.


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So, how much is it worth to you to live on a nice street like Ledge?

1900 house, renovated in 2003, at 17 Ledge Road, Old Greenwich, asking $4.199. Seems like a lot to me, what with just a bit over 3,000 square feet in what looks rather like a gate house, but then, I don’t care to live on Ledge Road at 4.2 million dollars.. It’s a popular road, so someone else probably will. Probably.


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Free renovations

Could be a good deal or not; depends, I suppose, on how much was put into those renovations. 9 MacKenzie Glen came up for sale today asking $5.350. The owners paid $5.500 million for it in 2006 and the listing notes “renovations” in 2009. Mackenzie’s a good location, off North Street and across from Clapboard Ridge, and this was, as I remember, a well built house – it won a HOBI award back in 2006 but, while good builders seem to be the consistent winners of that trophy, what do catamaran sailors know about home building? Plus, I’m suspicious of anything passed around by one’s peers – sort of like “Realtor of the Year”.

Asking a tad under a 2006 price seems on its face to be aggressive but that’s what negotiations are for and besides, maybe those renovations add value – at the very least at this price, they’re the homeowner’s gift to you. Beats a box of chocolates.


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Good house, nice price cut

Peek-a-boo, I see you!

538 Round Hill Road cut its price today from $6.250 million to $5.2 (but what’s up with that awful picture? Somebody never read the admonition not to hide your lamp under a bushel, I think). Great location up near Leona’s and Malcolm’s, good views to the west. The east not so much, because this is built on a slope, facing east. A 1953 house showing its age when it sold for $3.750 in 2005, the new owners added on and presumably redid the interior.  Depending on how extensive that renovation was, $6.250 might not have been a ludicrous price in, say, 2006 but in this market, buyers obviously value it for less.


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An oddity returns to the market

Not that odd, but this house at 132 Riverside Avenue has front stairs leading to the second floor. It was built in 1963 and has been a rental most of that time so a string of owners have made out well here. In 1968 or thereabouts I stopped on my walk home from Eastern (kids actually walked to school back then, or rode horses) and asked the man who was building those stairs what was up. He explained that he was the owner/landlord (now lived in California, if I recall) and that potential tenants always complained about having to bring their groceries from the first floor upstairs to the kitchen on the second, so he was redoing things to eliminate that problem.

At fourteen, I wasn’t sure how walking upstairs outside was any different from walking up on the inside, besides being wetter, but the guy’s strategy obviously worked, because it hasn’t been changed in the 44 years since.

Asking price is $1.995. In 2005 the previous owner listed it at $1.780 and almost immediately cut it to $1.645. It sold for that $1.645 right away, for a total time on market of just 48 days. Smart guy, and an object lesson for those sellers who drop their price in tiny slices, leaving their product lingering on the market,.


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Why won’t intelligent people fear “Global Warming?”

Because of stories like this  (from the Guardian, of course).

A changing climate isn’t just about floods, droughts and heatwaves.  It brings erupting volcanoes and catastrophic earthquakes, says Bill McGuire in  London.

The idea that a changing climate can persuade the ground to shake, volcanoes  to rumble and tsunamis to crash on to unsuspecting coastlines seems, at first,  to be bordering on the insane. …. The fact that  it does reflects a failure of our imagination and a limited understanding of the  manner in which the different physical components of our planet – the  atmosphere, the oceans, and the solid earth, or geosphere – intertwine and  interact.

If we think about climate change at all, most of us do so in a very  simplistic way: so, the weather might get a bit warmer; floods and droughts may  become more of a problem and sea levels will slowly creep upwards. Evidence  reveals, however, that our planet is an almost unimaginably complicated beast,  which reacts to a dramatically changing climate in all manner of different ways;  a few – like the aforementioned – straightforward and predictable; some  surprising and others downright implausible. Into the latter category fall the  manifold responses of the geosphere.

Disagree? You’re a simpleton with limited understanding. That includes every scientist on earth.


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Tom Friedman, call your office

Useless Idiot

The Times’ Mr. Friedman is fond of extolling China’s model as “the way to get things done” but this report from China (and endorsed by China’s next leader) says that the economy is in serious trouble if the country doesn’t introduce more of a free market and dump the corrupt bureaucrats who are enriching themselves and entrapping the masses in continued poverty. If (some) Chinese can see that, why do you suppose Friedman and his employer are so eager for us to emulate their current failed system? Oh, wait a minute …

A joint report by the World Bank and China’s Development Research Centre has   warned that the low-hanging fruit of state-driven industrialization is   largely exhausted.

“As China’s leaders know, the country’s current growth model is   unsustainable,” said Robert Zoellick, the World Bank’s president. “This is   not the time just for muddling through. It’s time to get ahead of events.”

It can no longer rely on imported technology to keep up blistering growth   averaging 9.9pc since Deng Xiaoping began to throw open the economy in 1978   and unleashed the nation’s pent-up commercial energy. “China has reached   another turning point in its development path when a second strategic, and   no less fundamental, shift is called for,” it said.

The report has been seized upon by Politburo reformers battling hardliners and   vested interests. Li Keqiang, groomed to take over as premier this year,   offered his “unwavering support” for the findings.

He faces tenacious resistance from factions within the party, who insist that   the country’s resilience through the global capitalist heart attack of   2008-2009 has vindicated state control of key industries and banks.

The report said China’s growth will slow to 7pc later this decade and 5pc by   the late 2020s even if China embraces deep reform. Stagnation lies in wait   if it clings to the dirigiste model.

“The forces supporting China’s continued rapid progress are gradually fading.   The government’s dominance in key sectors, while earlier an advantage, is in   the future likely to act as a constraint on creativity,” it said.

“The role of the private sector is critical because innovation at the   technology frontier is quite different in nature from catching up   technologically. It is not something that can be achieved through government   planning.”


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Who’s giving up, sellers or their agents?

No mas!

Or both? Yet another barren Open House list today, when this is supposed to be the busy season. Only four showings in the Back Country, all (three of the four, actually) old listings and all still overpriced. “What? Failure to sell and overpriced? Hey, buddy, correlation does not equal causation!” I disagree.

Same story for houses being shown south of the Merritt. Nine houses, ranging mostly under one million and in the west, three in the $2 – $2.9 range, one at $9, all of which have been lingering.

So no burning gas or time today. I may go up to Stamford Superior Court at 11:00, where Judge Mintz is ruling on whether a foreclosing bank’s appraiser has to overrule his employer’s instructions and actually go into the house he’s valuing. A novel idea, what?


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A rising tide and all that?

A reader, commenting on the sky-high sales of new construction in Riverside, proposes that those sales will raise the value of existing housing stock. I’m not so sure it will because there’s been a dearth of new construction until recently and there’s pent-up demand. Over the past six months, 19 houses have sold in the Riverside School district and almost without exception, everything old sold for under $2 million and anything built in 2006 and later began at $3.3 and up to $4.970. There’s a $1 million plus gap between older houses and new and the bulk of those older homes fall in the $1.5 and below range, essentially land value.

Buyers today want new and don’t buy old, so if you don’t have new to offer, better look for a builder to unload your property on. That’s a gross over-simplification, of course and I know, I know, “your house is different”, but it works for me.


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Two sections of town, two different reactions


Riverside and Old Greenwich residents and merchants are stoic in the face of a ten-year disruption of their lives while the bridges in those areas are replaced.

“We need bridges, don’t we?” Penelope Smithers says. “Then that’s what we have to do. You say three, why not four bridges, to ensure future growth? Want to reroute I-95 to its original proposed path through Tod’s Point? It will be unpleasant, but if it would help Greenwich, bring it on!”

Compare this to the reaction of Cos Cob residents when back in 1983 the Mianus River bridge was temporarily shut down for, what? Two weeks? Three? My God, their wails soared over the traffic noise that the Greenwich Association of Realtors described as “the quiet tinkle of a babbling brook”. “We want reparations!”, they cried. “We want a new school! A grocery store! A library! We want balloons on every corner and free pony rides!”

And they got it all, though the balloons deflated, the ponies wandered off, the grocery store closed when it refused to accept food stamps and the library, to try to meet the needs of residents, stocked its shelves only with pop-up books for adults and coloring books for the children like “My Daddy is a Snowplower”.

We acceded to their every demand yet they are still complaining, twenty-nine years later. The latest “gimme” their politicians Frankie Fudrucker and Peter Tesei insist on is a new pool in Byram so that their neighbors can bathe with their western peers. Give me a break.

The difference between Riverside and Cos Cob? A stiff upper lip and a quivering one.


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The rich were different from you and I

Say goodbye to all that

Yo, Fat Cat! You’ve had a break, until now. WSJ: Slower foreclosures for costly homes. (UPDATE: a reader (okay, “the reader”, Walt points out that I survived the cut and was quoted by the article’s reporter, Shelly Banjo. Not much for a few hours of her time but she’s delightful company and one line is more than you should expect from a reporter – she’s there to do a story, not stroke your ego. Or that’s what I’m told, anyway).

 A new analysis for The Wall Street Journal shows that high-end homeowners are able to remain in their houses, without making payments, for far longer than those with smaller mortgages.

Nationally, borrowers with loans of at least $1 million were in default for an average 792 days last year before banks repossessed their homes, according to an analysis by data provider Lender Processing Services. For loans under $250,000, the wait stood at an average 611 days—a difference of about six months. The numbers are current through November.

The intervals are especially long in states such as Connecticut, New York and Florida, where judges are required to approve foreclosures before banks take back properties.

But enjoy that pool while you can because then there’s this: Million dollar foreclosures rise as rich walk away

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Five years after the housing bubble burst, America’s wealthiest families are now losing their homes to foreclosure at a faster rate than the rest of the country — and many of them are doing so voluntarily.

Over 36,000 homes valued at $1 million or more were foreclosed on — or at least served with a notice of default – in 2011, according to data compiled by RealtyTrac, which tracks foreclosures. While that’s less than 2% of all foreclosures nationwide, it represents a much bigger share of foreclosure activity than in previous years.


Until recently, many homeowners at the high end of the housing market were able to postpone the foreclosure process, Blomquist explained. With other assets and alternatives, “they had more financial means to hold out against default.”

In addition, lenders are typically more amenable to working with homeowners that have other resources, said Ron Shuffield, president of Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell, a real-estate firm in Miami where homes priced over $1 million represented 9% of all foreclosures last year.

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We were just discussing this

Old Greenwich’s Sound Beach and Tomac Avenue  RR bridges to be shut for up to four years, Lockwood Lane for one. You’ll certainly have a ton of traffic diverted up Lockwood and the northern half of Riverside Avenue, but where will those big semis go? The Riverside bridge can’t accommodate them so I’d guess they’ll have to come down from Stamford and then turn north on either Sound Beach Avenue or Tomac. Won’t that be fun?

And yesterday I wondered (still do)  whether Dunkin Donuts had taken this into consideration when it decided to come into Old Greenwich and open now, rather than four years from now when village life and traffic return to normal. We’ve all known this was coming for years, but did DD’s Realtor warn them of this upcoming goatf**k back in corporate headquarters? Better to lose a sale than have an unhappy customer, right? Of course it is.


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That’ll learn her!

Homeless Bridgeport crack addict gets 12 years for, among other things, enrolling her kid in a Bridgeport school he wasn’t entitled to attend. I assume the bulk of the sentence, if not all, was on the drug charges she also plead guilty to but why is she going to prison at all? We’re going to pay $30,000 a year to incarcerate a dope-addled woman for using dope? If she didn’t commit armed robbery or some other violent crime, we should save our money and return her to the van she lives in.

Raj gets 17 years for stealing a couple of million bucks, Chip Skowron gets five years for $20 million, Walter Noel ($400 million?)  isn’t even indicted. This loser is shipped away for 12 years for using drugs and “stealing” $15,000 in public education her son wasn’t entitled to (and surely he was entitled to receive a public education in another district, so what’s the total damage)? This is nuts.

(h/t: TB)


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No wonder so many US politicians are crypto-commies

Mass murderer, thief and hero of the left - go figure

It’s where the money is. Ruling Chinese communists are billionaires.

According to the Hurun Report, as cited by Bloomberg, the 70 richest delegates in China’s National People’s Congress have a combined net worth of 565.8 billion yuan or $89.8 billion. That’s more than 10 times the combined net worths of all the members of Congress, the Supreme Court and the President. (Their collective riches are only $7.5 billion.)

What’s more, China’s politicians are getting richer more rapidly. Last year, their combined wealth grew by $11.5 billion, or about 15%.

For those who think this growing wealth reflects a rising tide that’s lifting all Chinese boats, consider this: Per capita annual income in China is still about $2,425.

Power to the people, babe, right on! Hugo and Fidel must be green with envy and even Chris Dodd is whining to his Hollywood puppet masters that he’s underpaid. The NYT’s Tom Friedman, on the other hand, still loves these guys but then, he married a multi-millionaire heiress and can afford the luxury of being a brain dead collectivist.

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Price disclosed

11 Pinecrest Road in Riverside, new construction, was reported under contract last December but  it closed yesterday and its price reported as $4.970 million. That’s a huge amount of money for a fairly modest home – a lot of its 5,000 sq. ft. is underground – but hey, Riverside is hot and there’s little new construction, although that’s changing as the builders come out of hibernation. If you’re keeping track, this 0.46 acre lot sold for $1.5 million in 2010.


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Remember Greenwich’s Marty Frankel?

Well I SAID I was sorry

His victims are still suing  entities they feel were his accomplices in his fraud. Marty was a lot of fun back in 1999 when his scheme to defraud insurance companies (he got something like $200 million) unraveled; turned out he lived in a nasty contemporary up on Lake Avenue (not the “luxurious mansion” the press, mistaking a Greenwich address for wealth, described, and he brought in live-in Russian prostitutes to entertain him. One of them was found hanged a few years before the end and our cops might have discovered what was going on then and stopped the fraud but they walked past the banks of computers Frankel and cohorts were operating, looked at the dead body and, as they are instructed to do in all cases of sudden death in Greenwich, declared it a suicide. Keeps our reported murder rate low and our real estate prices high, don’t you know.

When Frankel was finally exposed he fled with diamonds and cash to Europe where he lasted just a few months before being caught. He’s been in jail since the fall of 1999 and, after being extradited back home in 2001, was sentenced to 17 years. With credit for the years he was incarcerated in Germany he’ll be out in 2015 and so, depending on whether he successfully hid some of those diamonds, he should be alright. I know you were worried about him.


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While we’re waiting for some real estate activity to be reported today …

See ya!

Here’s a cheery WSJ article to start a Monday morning. Well, maybe not cheery, but certainly wise.

Why doctors die differently

Years ago, Charlie, a highly respected orthopedist and a mentor of mine, found a lump in his stomach. He had a surgeon explore the area, and the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer. This surgeon was one of the best in the country. He had even invented a new procedure for this exact cancer that could triple a patient’s five-year-survival odds—from 5 percent to 15 percent—albeit with a poor quality of life. Charlie was uninterested. He went home the next day, closed his practice, and never set foot in a hospital again. He focused on spending time with family and feeling as good as possible. Several months later, he died at home. He got no chemotherapy, radiation, or surgical treatment. Medicare didn’t spend much on him.

It’s not something that we like to talk about, but doctors die, too. What’s unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared with most Americans, but how little. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care that they could want. But they tend to go serenely and gently.

My cousin Ed Fountain says that he wants to die peacefully in his sleep like our grandfather, not kicking and screaming like the passengers in the back seat. Good plan.

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Stubborn to the end

Clearing the Highlands

There’s a house going to final foreclosure today (nah, I can’t tell you which one, we’re hoping to sell it) that probably didn’t need to be lost. Clearly the owners stopped paying the mortgage – divorce? job loss? some reason) but the mortgage debt, even including what was probably an emergency second, come to $3 million on a house that should sell for $4.5 (numbers disguised to protect my own financial interest, but the ratio’s about right). Did the owners price it to sell and walk away with a small profit? Of course not; they priced it at twice its value and held it there for four years, waiting for the market to recover, I assume. It didn’t, they’ll get nothing.

I know from personal experience and conversations with other brokers and loan folks that the Greenwich real estate landscape is cluttered with cases like this, owners desperate to keep up appearance, desperate to hide their financial distress from their friends and neighbors. That’s not only a fatal trap, it’s totally unnecessary in these times because so many of the once-high-flying are in the same situation. A homeowner who admits defeat, and with luck it’s only a temporary one, will receive sympathy, not scorn from his friends and if he doesn’t, then they were never friends to begin with so why care? Better to run away and live to fight again another day.


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