Monthly Archives: March 2013

Spring madness

Midget Castle

Midget Castle

Brother Gideon picked up a sale I missed, 128 Riverside Avenue, that just closed for $105,000 more than its asked-for-price of $995,000. It’s a house in a good section of Riverside, I suppose, albeit a bit cramped and a difficult structure to expand.

UPDATE: On reflection, and after reading a comment below, I realize that I missed what this house sale really illustrates: not necessarily a hot market, although this market is indeed sizzling, in this price range, but two different phenomena, one uncommon, the other not.

The uncommon event is that “the right buyer” showed up. We realtors hate this phrase because it’s usually used by owners of overpriced homes when we’re arguing for a price reduction. “All it takes is one buyer”, they whine, and we point out that if the right buyer hasn’t shown up after a year, he never will – drop the goddamned price!

But that seems to be what happened here. This is a lovely house, perfect for one, maybe two people (and I said as much when I first reviewed it). That’s not the usual buyer in Riverside these days, but of course they exist. In fact, if I’d had the money I’d have been happy to buy it myself. I’m single, don’t need a lot of space and this is a great, convenient location.

The second, more common event, although one that still strikes me as odd, is the sudden appearance of two different buyers for a house that has sat on the market for months with no one interested in it at all. This happens all the time, much to the consternation of buyers and the delight of the seller. Its occurrence here was undoubtedly helped along by the fact that $995,000 was not at all a crazy price, and even $1.105, given recent sales in, say, Havemeyer, was still a relative bargain.

So hot market? Yes, but here, I think “the right buyer” scenario is a more accurate description.

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Keep him away from the bad influence of Democrats and Bob Horton makes sense

(a different) Robert Horton

(a different) Robert Horton

Bob looks at the next boondoggle forming over at the skool adminstration building, “digital learning” and doesn’t like what he sees.

Before the school board leads Greenwich Public Schools through a $20-million, multi-year “digital learning” initiative, one question needs to be answered: What will success look like?

If we cannot answer that question with specific goals and measurable outcomes, then the town is doomed to spending the money, declaring victory in five years, and moving on to the next initiative without really knowing what, if anything, was accomplished.

Consider how much the description of the digital learning program has changed since Schools Superintendent William McKersie floated the idea a few months ago.

….

The new, new plan has as its “leading purpose” to “advance the transformation of teaching and learning in the Greenwich Public Schools in order to accelerate the academic achievement and personal well-being of all our students.”

It’s tough to argue with improving student performance and well-being, but aren’t those the vague objectives of just about everything schools do?

But the plan does not even begin to answer how digital learning will accomplish the desired transformation. Nor does it really define the changes needed or explain just what a digital learning environment is. That is why we need a definition of success before this program begins.

The school board may find the program too ambitious to be governed by one plan or accomplished by one initiative. Instead of trying to boil the ocean, as one CEO I know once said, it should consider dividing the project into more manageable pieces.

One critical component that needs immediate work, according to a consultant’s report, is the GPS Internet access and hardware infrastructure. While digital learning may seem new, in truth many Greenwich teachers have used elements of it for some time. But they are greatly frustrated by the slow speed and unreliable internet access in school buildings, which is at its worst during peak usage times, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. That seems like an easily defined problem with an easily measured solution, and probably a good place to start our digital revolution.

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And global warming is just one manifestation

From InstaPundit:

QUESTION ASKED: “Why do the young vote for dependency—when the essence of youth is a quest for independence?”, Robert Tracinski asks at Real Clear Politics.

“The answer is dogma — a belief system that transcends reason,” Dennis Prager wrote last year, adding that “You cannot understand the Left if you do not understand that leftism is a religion. It is not God-based (some left-wing Christians’ and Jews’ claims notwithstanding), but otherwise it has every characteristic of a religion. The most blatant of those characteristics is dogma. People who believe in leftism have as many dogmas as the most fundamentalist Christian.”

Posted at 5:57 pm by Ed Driscoll 

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Or maybe Michelle will be a shoo-in

S&P hits all time peak, recovering all losses sustained since 2008. A harbinger of good time to come or a sell signal? I wouldn’t know, but I find it a bit curious that nothing that’s so worried Wall Street these past few years: record unemployment in Europe, the pending collapse of the Euro, etc., has improved. To the contrary, things have gotten worse. But heck, I’m no financial guru and I’d much rather sell houses in a boom rather than a bust: it’s easier.

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God save us from ambitious spouses of failed politicians

 

Proud to be an American

Proud to be an American

Michelle Obama in Chicago drumming up support for a senate campaign in 2016? My guess is that by then, four more years of her husband’s stewardship will leave her less of a chance of succession than Jeb Bush had in 2008. In which case, another recession will prove to be a bargain.

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Nothing much on the open house tour today

No soup for you, today

No soup for you, today

Between private school vacation, the Easter holiday (“even” the board is closing early, a nearly unprecedented event that we haven’t seen in at least 21 days) and whatever else may be going on (Passover? I can’t keep track) nothing worth going out to see. A couple of retreads, a new listing down in a hollow off Stanwich – tough sell – and a 1961 house listed as land as well as residential, asking $2.7 million. I believe, given its location, that’s overly ambitious and I’ll wait until next year to see it, when perhaps the owners will have gotten real.

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So who will our own sovereign nation turn to for its bailout?

 

Mashantucket "Indians" march for dimes

Mashantucket “Indians” march for dimes

Having burned through all their money, Connecticut’s two faux-Indian tribes turn to United States of America for handouts.

According to the Associated Press, the once billion-dollar Pequot casino empire has, in the past, distributed stipends of more than $100,000 annually to adult tribe members. Now, however, the Pequots join other gaming tribes, including nearby rival casino Mohegan Sun, in the pursuit of more federal aid. The pattern is getting the attention of those who opposed the law that allowed Indian tribes to develop casinos, since the law was promoted as one that would assist tribes in becoming financially self-reliant.

What can’t continue, won’t.

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The useful idiots got their wish

No BloodRemember how Iraq was supposed to be all about the evil duo, Bush – Cheney and their thirst for oil? It’s all China’s now, and, just as the demonstrators wanted, our asian friends didn’t shed a drop of their blood to get it.

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Big sale up in Conyers

 

1987 sales pitch

Is fame of former owner a good sales pitch?

16 Hurlingham has a contract. Asked $13.9 million 688 days ago, dropped to $12.950 and presumably will sell for less than that. This house sells every couple of years: $12.0 in March, 2007, $12.4 in June of that year (if the GAR history is correct), $12.225 in July, 2009, and now again. I’m not sure anyone’s actually lived in it since David Cone bought it new with his Mets money back in 1998. It’s now one tired, dated house and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it ends up being scraped, either by whoever buys it this time or when it next hits the stage in, say, 2015.

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He probably thought it was a nuclear bomb

Sequester now!

Sequester now!

TSA agent finds object on ground, aims it at his fellow agents and pulls trigger to see what happens.

Six TSA agents hospitalized after being pepper-sprayed by, ah, a TSA agent.  For some unknown reason, the TSA didn’t mention this incident until the NY Post heard about it and investigated. Feel safer now?

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Attention, Riverside shoppers

 

19 Terrace Avenue

19 Terrace Avenue

19 Terrace Avenue dropped its price again today and is now asking $2.495 million. I really like this house and the street it’s on. Beautiful renovation work, its one drawback might be that it’s more vertical living than horizontal, in that its space is spread out over three floors rather than sprawling over the (smallish, admittedly) yard. But it works for me and I think it would work for many families. Its first price of $3.495 back in 2008 was kind of silly but at a million dollars less, it looks very attractive. Certainly worth checking out.

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Time to hire Mike Finkbeiner

It occurs to me that homeowners in the newly expanded flood zones should probably order up a new survey prior to listing their house for sale. Get the bad news out front and most important, have readily available the information a buyer’s going to want and need before making a decision to purchase. Uncertainty kills more deals than almost anything else I know. Mike’s the guy who’s been so graciously interpreting all this stuff (and truth be told, warning FWIW’s readers what was coming for years now, but did we listen? I didn’t). Here’s his link, which is also permanently posted over on the right.

And buyers, if the owners of a property you’re interested in haven’t done this homework, I’d add a Finkbeiner flood assessment survey to other contingencies, like a building inspection.

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Here’s an example of the new flood zone recalculations.

68 Willowmere Circle

68 Willowmere Circle

Just because its around the corner from my own house and. like my own residence, will see a significant increase in its base flood elevation, I thought I’d pick 68 Willowmere Circle in Riverside, on the market at $2.995 million, and look at the complexities coming our way.

The house was built in 1957 and renovated in 2007. It’s not direct waterfront, it’s across the street on a knoll and I’d guess that, like my own house, it’s never flooded, not one drop, since it was built. Which is irrelevant. What does matter is that according to the town table listing base flood elevations (BFE), the land at 68 Willowmere had a BFE of 11′ in 2010 and as of July, will now have a BFE of 15. In other words, whatever could have been built here three years ago at one height will now have to be four feet higher. Was the house in compliance – above the 11′ BFE in 2010? Probably not, given its 1957 building date. If it wasn’t, then improvements/repairs will be limited to 50% of the building’s value – more than that and everything, must be raised to 15′. The town appraises the structure here at $300,000, so allowable improvement would be limited to $150,000, including the costs of that 2007 renovation. My guess is that this house has used up its allowance already.

Even if it was in compliance back in 2010 there’s not much relief offered, because the full allowable improvement allowance is still just half the buildings’ current value, and even the full $150,000 won’t go far – not in Greenwich.

Please understand that I am not singling out this particular house as one uniquely affected by the new flood rules. To the contrary, I picked it at random because so many houses near the water are now similarly afflicted. And $3 million for a half-acre building lot in Willowmere Circle may be a fine price, or buyers may fall in love with this newly renovated home exactly the way it is and be content. The point of the exercise is to illustrate the information buyers now need to compare and evaluate houses: what is its elevation? What flood zone is it in? How much has been spent on improvements since 1986? Was the house in compliance with 2010 flood zone rules? How many coins in my pocket?

Etc.  Things just got tougher.

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Testing the Old Greenwich waters

Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 1.09.33 PMNot the flood waters, the prices. 13 Irvine Place is listed today for $2.195 million, after selling for $1.743 in 2010. I’m guessing that they’ll get close to asking price, in this market. I don’t believe Irvine is in either of our two flood zones, but it occurs to me that our Greenwich MLS listing sheets ought to start including flood zone information just as it now includes zoning. If anything, it’s even more critical information than the zone the land sits in.

But speaking of zoning, how is it that this house, built in 1998 when FAR regulations were already in place, is 2,771 sq. feet, not including the finished basement of 1,100? Lot is 0.15 acre, FAR for the R-12 zone is 0.315, so doing the math: 43,560 X 0.15 X 0.315 = 2,058, it seems that 700+ square feet has materialized from thin air. I’m not at all implying that there’s something funny going on here, just confessing that the application of FAR rules leaves me baffled.

 

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Back again

275 Round Hill Road

275 Round Hill Road

275 Round Hill Road has returned to the market at $5.575 million after a year lying fallow. This is a 1726 house, sort of, last remodelled in 2004. Owners paid $4.7 for it in 1999 and asked $8.4 million in 2008. That didn’t work as expected during the ensuing years that saw five price cuts and almost as many brokers, and it finally expired at the end of 2011 at a price of $5.995. And as noted, now it’s back at $5.575.

Might work – certainly a good location and the house retains much of its beauty, but lovers of old Round Hill Road houses might want to see what’s happening with Walter Noel’s place at 175 Round Hill. It’s rumored to be in the hopper, perhaps because, I was just surprised to learn, that the law suit brought by the town of Fairfield’s pension fund was withdrawn against Walter and his partner Tucker last August 16th. A quiet settlement, perhaps? Whatever’s going on, it seems that the Noels are getting ready to shake the mud off their golf spikes and vamoose.

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Stop me before I shoot again!

Another Mayor Against Guns arrested for drunk and disorderly. Bloomberg’s anti-gun campaign might do better restricting itself to the only people Mayor Mike claims to know who do have guns – his armed bodyguards – rather than recruit mayors worried about their own proclivity for mayhem and violence. Projection is a terrible thing, especially when practiced by politicians with the power to impose their fears onto the rest of us.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns member and Democratic Gainesville, Fla., Mayor Craig Lowe was arrested on charges of driving under the influence and property damage after police found him asleep in his car at the scene of a crash last Thursday.

Police said Lowe appeared intoxicated and his Honda Civic was badly damaged, according to WKMG in Orlando.

“I regret that my actions Thursday morning have disappointed so many friends, supporters, and citizens of Gainesville,” Lowe said in a statement. “I hope that in the future I will again prove worthy of the public’s trust and confidence.”

The Gainesville Democrat faces a mayoral runoff election on April 16. His arraignment is scheduled for April 11, according to the Florida Alligator.

Lowe was one of 30 mayors featured in a recent ad released by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a gun-restriction lobbying group led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Lowe is the latest member of Mayors Against Illegal Firearms to have a run-in with the law.

Marcus Hook, Pa., Mayor James Schiliro (R.) was arrested for reckless endangerment and other criminal charges last week after he allegedly fired a handgun inside his home during a booze-fueled argument with a 20-year-old man. Schiliro had allegedly served the minor alcohol and demanded sexual favors when the dispute broke out.

Other members and former members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns have previously been charged with felony corruptionassault of a police officer, and child sex crimes.

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It’s not just the English health care fiasco Obama wants to import

Green energy costs soar in the snowbound isle and Obama and his new energy secretary nominee have already promised to impose the same results here, for the same reason: “efficiency”. 

Families will be paying almost £300 a year in green energy taxes by 2020.

The levy will more than double until a quarter of every pound spent on electricity goes on wind, solar, nuclear or home insulation schemes.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey insisted last night that households will be better off thanks to the benefits of electricity-saving initiatives.

But families will be able to claw the money back only if they buy more efficient domestic appliances and boilers.

The average power bill is now £1,267 – with £112 of that going on green taxes, including an £18 wind farm subsidy.

By 2020, green taxes will have risen by more than 150 per cent, ensuring each family contributes £286, according to the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

Connecticut has its own program in place to drive electricity rates up by at least 25% and coupled with Obama’s determination to triple that cost, we’re facing trouble here in the Nutmeg state and throughout the country. The Progressive movement, which is to say the Democrat Party, is determined to force all of us under its rule to follow its dictates: when the Democrats vision of utopia arrives, when factories are closed and unemployment spreads across the land that for them, that’s not a bug, it’s a feature. When everyone is dependent on the central government for survival, the real power will have arrived.

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Dollar Bill’s cohort turns on NPR

Who knew? Fellow lefties now claim that National Public Radio is part of a vast, right-wing conspiracy! They sure had me fooled.

Media Matters [a wholly owned subsidiary of the Koch Brothers George Soros] is scrambling to discredit a much-discussed report on America’s disability program by journalist Chana Joffe-Walt that was featured on Chicago’s Public Radio This American Life and National Public Radio’s (NPR) All Things Considered.

Media Matters researcher Hannah Groch-Begley attacked NPR by breathlessly warning that a “misleading NPR report has become fodder for a right-wing media campaign to scapegoat federal disability benefits, despite the fact that the rise in disability claims can be attributed to the economic recession and demographic shifts.”

Joffe-Walt’s six-month investigation into America’s disability program found a record-high 14 million Americans receiving disability checks in a system rife with fraud and dependency-inducing abuse that costs taxpayers $260 billion a year—more than food stamps and welfare combined.

 

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Live blogging the P&Z FEMA session

P&Z. Ogilvy on floor, Gideon refuses to give up his seat Mean.

P&Z. Ogilvy on floor, Gideon refuses to give up his seat Mean.

Bad start- microphones don’t work, commission members too deaf to (a) notice or (care). These are the people who brought us FAR, of course.
Coastal areas only are affected by new FEMA rules.
Base flood Elevation changes- old Greenwich, you’re f’d
Flood zone houses any part of town- “your insurance premiums will go up significantly”. You betcha.
The 50% rule (I’ll explain later) is going down to 30% in the future. Want a new bathroom? Plan on tearing down your house.
David Ogilvy is sitting on the floor(photo later) in direct violation of the FEMA minimum height level.
Question posed(sorry Walt, no answer to amount needed to bribe for a variance) – are these new maps “final”? Answer: it’s the federal government, nothing is final. Build now, regret later.
BTW- your furnace and generator will be joining the rest of your family on those stilts.
Katie Deluca – another politician’s child who’s found employment with the town* –  is not answering a question – incapable or duplicitous? Both?

Wrap up: 466 homes in Old Greenwich are being moved into flood zone with these new maps. Once there, they will all be by definition “non-conforming”, which means that anything done to the existing structure- new windows, new roof, interior walls moved, kitchen updated, etc. cannot exceed 50% of the market value of the house – not the land and house, just the house, less the cost of all improvements made since 1986. If your house is worth $350,000 and you  added a $50,000 addition in 1986, a new $75,000 kitchen in 1996 and $75,000 again in a redone master bedroom bath in 2010, you are already over your limit and should you want to install new storm windows, say, you’ll have to tear your house down and start anew. That ought to send the value of older homes soaring.

Why does our own P&Z go back to 1986 in calculating prior improvement costs instead of using FEMA’s much more lenient policy of a one-year look back? “Because we’ve always done it that way”, explains Ms. Deluca. Pressed for a reason beyond mere tradition, a P&Z member contributes a stirring story of a mother and her infant trapped on the second floor of their house in another town during Hurricane Sandy. That must not be allowed to happen here, she insists (apparently the mother and child were safely rescued, and no reason for their ignoring evacuation orders in the first place was supplied) so Greenwich P&Z intends to force property owners into compliance and damn the cost. Presumably the P&Z will be banning assault rifles on the same “if it saves the life of one child” theory of regulation, but they didn’t bring it up at tonight’s meeting.

So there you have it: if your home was built before July, 2013 and is now or will be reassigned to one of our two newly-redefined and expanded flood zones you are officially non-compliant and must meet the P&Z’s rules for future improvements. What that means is that older homes -I’d guess anything built before 1985-1990 cannot economically be expanded or improved and must remain as they are now, until replaced with the new FEMA House model, which is one built on stilts. Stay put, and you will soon be surrounded by giant homes looming over you and blocking your views and your sunlight. Move, and expect to get the land value of your property and not a penny more. Your house is now officially obsolete. Just like its FAR and lot coverage regulations, the P&Z has just confiscated your property and your wealth and isn’t planning to compensate you for your loss. You will be entitled, however, to use the town dump to dispose of your current residence.

Long range, the goal and the vision of our P&Z and the federal government is a waterfront of homes on sticks, like the quaint native fishing villages seen in old WWII movies. That will be different from what we see today.

*Katie Deluca, I am informed, is the daughter of John Blankley, former candidate for First Selectman, future member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, raising the question, is there anybody working for town government who isn’t related by birth or marriage to a town politician?

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What could possibly go wrong?

As home values recover, home equity lending resumes.

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