Daily Archives: November 9, 2012

And it’s just beginning

Three days after the election, Obama’s EPA moves to close more federal land to oil shale production. It’s been reported, but not by the mainstream press, that the EPA has stockpiled literally thousands of new regulations in anticipation of Obama’s victory. Those regulations are ready to be unleashed on industry and here they come. I don’t mind voters getting what they deserve but it seems almost unfair to make the entire country suffer when only half voted to do so.

But that’s called sharing the pain, I suppose.


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Neighbor to neighbor?


A builder’s dream

94 Doubling Road is reported as selling for $7.650 million after just two days on the market. I must have missed it or it was never really on at all. Interesting price, because it sold for $6.745 million in 2004 and the listing makes no mention of any improvements done to it since then. If not, then this is a very odd phenomenon – prices have not even recovered to 2004 levels, let alone surpassed them. Mystery.


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As long as you’re Grant, get me a 7-Up


Old joke. But anyway, 5 Grant Avenue, Old Greenwich has just been listed for $1.995 million. Old (1924) house, completely renovated with new heating and a/c mechanicals, kitchen, baths and so forth. Detached garage, but what do you expect for under $2 million? $854 per square foot if you take its full asking price and divide it by the 2,300 sq. feet listed (I do hope that figure doesn’t include the garage). I suppose that if you figure $1 million for the land, $427 per sq. foot for the actual building is reasonable.

I suppose. Old Greenwich makes the back country look cheap.

Update: Geeze, who knew? This old George Price cartoon is available on Google Images.


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Bring back the back country?

Huge house on the prairie

There are currently 28 houses built since 1995 (40, 1980 and later) on four – to- ten acres, priced at $4.795 and up. Almost all of those are north of the Merritt in the back country and almost all are on what I’d call marginal and their broker might call less-than-optimal land. These are the product of the break up the estates that once comprised our back country and at least to my eye, aren’t an improvement on what was there.

Fudrucker and I were discussing the fate of these homes and Frankie posited, and I agreed, that the market for a huge house on four acres of so-so land located at the extreme edges of Greenwich is limited now and will probably decline from here. If we’re right, then who will want these things? Maybe, we thought, some super-rich types who’d buy them up on the cheap and reassemble the original estates. After all, four acres of rocks and swamp aren’t much use standing alone, but if that acreage is part of a 100-acre estate, they could add to the privacy of the main house.

An experienced realtor I know predicted almost twenty years ago that the mega-mansions sprouting like deformed mushrooms in the back country would be white elephants in the future. The builders paid no heed because buyers kept snapping them up, but I thought that realtor was right back then and nothing that’s occurred since 2007 makes me think he’s wrong now. Lifestyles are changing, and the idea of a forty-minute cruise to deliver a child to her travel team lacrosse game has lost its appeal; I don’t know why it ever held any appeal in the first place, but that’s another matter. Will that desire to live in the hinterlands return? Not so you could tell from my clients, who typically specify that they won’t consider living north of the Merritt, and not so you could tell from sales up there, which are languishing.

Younger friends of mine tell me stories about their parents who built huge palaces up on our northern border and now that their children have grown and left the nest, are rattling around in 10,000 square feet of builder’s bad taste,  wishing they could move. But they can’t – they aren’t even putting their houses on the market, because there is no market – not for these.

All of which is a gross generalization, of course, but that’s how I see it from down here. If I’m right, it will be interesting to see what happens. I’m rooting for my scenario, the one that puts the large estates back and the MacMansions scraped off the face of the earth. That may not happen, but what else will people do with these unwanted homes?

I suppose that as the town’s population ages we’ll see a demand for more nursing homes. And there’s always the idea of elder hostels floating around. Or, assuming Malloy stays in power, Section 8 housing crammed past our zoning laws – now that would be amusing. Stay tuned.


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Price cuts

3 Cherry Blossom Lane

3 Cherry Blossom Lane, way up on the Bedford border, is as of today asking $4.795 million. The builder wanted $7.995  in 2008, but want and get are different things. An old Antares leftover, I believe.

25 Woodside Dr

And in Milbrook, 25 Woodside Drive is now $2.9 million. It too started high, back in 2007, when it was priced at $4.995. I don’t know the right price for this property but a $2 million reduction must surely have brought it closer to whatever that number is.


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Solving the mortgage mess, one house at a time



Come and get it!

20 Livingstone Livington Place, over in Chickahominy, I believe (west of Greenwich Avenue it’s all Chinatown, Jake), sold for $700,000 in 2002, was foreclosed on last month by Bank of America and immediately relisted for $319,000. Reports a sale contract after just seven days.

UPDATE: A reader steered me to the listing, and here’s my question: who loaned $700,000 on this in 2002 and why aren’t they in jail?


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Great moments in pricing history aren’t limited to Greenwich


View from on high

Here’s a Ridgefield listing that demonstrates the same illogic that some realtors and sellers in our own town employ. Eighty-eight acres, beautiful views and a 1939 mansion that probably needs work – at least, the listing makes no mention of improvements since its bricks were piled up back there in the Depression. So far so good; this much land with views must be worth something, I guess, even in Ridgefield, but the price history reminds me of some of the bone-headed juggling that goes on here.

It started at $18 million 13 months go and eventually dropped to $11.5 this past July, where it lingered. Yesterday its price was increased to $12.5 and that raises two questions: if the house wouldn’t sell at one price for five months, why would it sell now for a higher price? And why, or more importantly who, would pay an owner $1 million more than he was willing to accept before? The mind boggles.

By the way, $10 million or so for 88 acres strikes me as a pretty good deal. Ridgefield’s a nice town and until the Greenwich back country estates are reassembled ( a topic I’m going to write about soon), pretty much unobtainable here, with the exception of Mel Gibson’s old place, at three times the price.


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Time for a re-run

A friend and fellow realtor tells me that she’s suddenly receiving lots of calls from homeowners eager to have her list their house. Af first she was flattered but after meeting with several of them and learning what price they expected to receive, she realized that these people had been turned down by more experienced agents and were turning to her, figuring she was too inexperienced to know or too hungry to care that she was never going to get their price, no matter how much time she wasted on the effort. Hungry, perhaps, but she’s not stupid, so she sent them packing (in a figurative sense only – these people aren’t going anywhere soon).

I assume those would-be sellers will keep on their quest until they find some dolt willing to agree with them that the Greenwich market is back at 2007 levels, if not higher, but while we wait for those houses to appear on the market, here’s a cartoon I ran last year – it’s still applicable.


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Two sales


112 Indian Head Road

112 Indian Head Road, two lots, one house, sold for $5.3 million. Pretty steep, but not as steep as its original asking price of $7.250, 675 days ago. I’ve had occasion to remark on this home’s pricing decision over the years as it lingered and as I recall, those comments weren’t entirely favorable.

9 Knoll Street, also in Riverside, sold in just seven days, for $2.335 million on a price of $2.395. Different price league than 112 Indian, but pricing close to a home’s actual value seems to produce a speedier sale. Just a suggestion, naturally.


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Bob Horton: good questions, maybe not all good answers

In today’s on-line version of Greenwich Time he asks where is the town’s emergency preparedness plan and why is it kept in a secure, undisclosed location? (I have it on reliable authority, Bob, that it’s stashed in Peter Tesei’s under drawers). Horton’s absolutely right, but I disagree with some of his observations, like this one:

I am not an expert on the utility business, but it seems that CL&P has outsourced all but the most basic day-to-day maintenance of its infrastructure. In the event of a major storm, CL&P relies on hundreds of crews from far-off states to ride to the rescue. And if you think CL&P is going to “pre-position” this civilian army on our borders at the first hint of trouble, think again. These crews do not truly mobilize until the damage is done, and then they are at least a two-day drive away.

Bob, at the peak of restoration efforts, CL&P had over 4,000 out-of-state crews working 16 hours a day. To suggest that CL&P pre-position them on our borders is just silly – you’d have to call them down from Quebec and Minnesota, say, days in advance of a threatened storm. Who foots the bill for that when the hurricane shifts course and veers out to sea? It happens.

And your criticism of CL&P for keeping too few linemen on its payroll is no better founded: we rate payers can’t afford, nor would we want to keep enough linemen on the payroll to make a significant difference in responding to one or two disasters every couple of years. If 4,000 crews were required to effectively repair the state’s wires, what would 100 men accomplish? An expensive luxury, however powerfully symbolic.

On the other hand, this is a great question, and the problem it exposes seems easily correctable:

In speaking to a crew that I believe was based in Quebec, they said that a shortage of gasoline hindered their repair work. Wondering if a backup gasoline supply was covered by the town’s emergency plan, I emailed Peter Tesei. He took great exception to my question and to my “pre-determined agenda,” but also forwarded a response from Emergency Management DirectorDaniel Warzoha. He wrote that providing gasoline was not part of the town’s responsibility (perhaps a new section of our secret emergency plan is needed?), but that between the town’s Fleet Department and CL&P creating a fueling station at Grass Island, utility crews had the gasoline they needed.

I heard from a friend that she saw line crews stuck in gas lines, waiting an hour to refuel. She called Fred Camillo, he called Tesei, he called the Chief of Police and an order went out to the cops directing those lines to give the power workers priority. I was gratified to learn that that entire process took just 30 minutes t work its way up, and then down the chain of command, but isn’t this something that should have been thought of and planned for years ago?

Horton’s right: if our “emergency plan” really exists, why not make it public and see what deficiencies ordinary citizens might spot?

But here’s the real point of Sandy and the lesson we should have learned, which Horton doesn’t address: help in even a modest-disaster like this is not going to be instantly available. It can’t be, so citizens should be prepared to look after themselves for several days, if not longer. “Preppers” have been ridiculed for years, and I tend to scoff at what seems to be their paranoia, but we’d all have been far more comfortable last week if our houses had basic camping gear and emergency food stores at hand. We don’t need a government emergency plan to know that, and to act on it.


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On the role of the media and the arts

Standing up to greed and oppression

“The idea of social realist art and of journalism was that: ‘We’re going to tell people not what things are like, but what they should be like, and what they will be like, and we’ll get them to keep focusing on the future.’ “

Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Iron Curtain, speaking last night on NPR’s “Fresh Air”. Applebaum was speaking of Poland from 1945 and 1956 – it seems apt for our country, today.

This past September, Walter Russell Mead described our mainstream press thus: 

If the president were a conservative Republican rather than a liberal Democrat, I have little doubt that much of the legacy press would be focused more on what is wrong with America. There would be more negative reporting about the economy, more criticism of policy failures and many more withering comparisons between promise and performance. The contrast between a rising stock market and poor jobs performance that the press now doesn’t think of blaming on President Obama would be reported as demonstrating a systemic bias in favor of the rich and the powerful if George W. Bush were in the White House. The catastrophic decline in African-American net worth during the last four years would, if we had a Republican president, be presented in the press as illustrating the racial indifference or even the racism of the administration. As it is, it is just an unfortunate reality, not worth much publicity and telling us nothing about the intentions or competence of the people in charge.

The current state of the Middle East would be reported as illustrating the complete collapse of American foreign policy—if Bush were in the White House. The criticism of drone strikes and Guantanamo that is now mostly confined to the far left would be mainstream conventional wisdom, and the current unrest in the Middle East would be depicted as a response to American militarism. The in and out surge in Afghanistan would be mercilessly exposed as a strategic flop, reflecting the naive incompetence of an inexperienced president out of his depth….The White House fumbling around the Benghazi murders would be treated like a major scandal and dominate the news for at least a couple of weeks.

If Bush were in the White House, the Middle East would be a horrible disaster, and it would all be America’s fault.

The communist governments of the Soviet Union and its empire collapsed and dissolved when the dichotomy between what was promised and what was grew too large to be sustained. Or, as a liberal commenter on this blog put it, “the Soviet Union happened to fail.”  That reader is obviously the product of modern education and immersion in a culture saturated and shaped by the media, a culture that vilifies the right and can provide no insight into events that occur as the result of policies they detest and failed principles they cherish.

The collapse of communism was hastened by Reagan, but his ever-increasing pressure on the soviets was described, routinely, as naive at best and more commonly, “war mongering”. Similarly, conservatives who said economies based on collectivism could not survive were ignored, until the Berlin Wall was torn down – “fell”, in media-speak – and the evil empire was destroyed – or, excuse me, “self-destructed for unknown reasons.”

Convenient lies and omissions, masquerading as truth. The communists may have invented propaganda, but our media perfected it.


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