A reader sent along the link to this Greenwich Time article, “Abandoned Backcountry: record number of homes aren’t selling.
This has been the subject of an ongoing conversation here for several years, but all of those homes that aren’t selling are brokered by the local real estate firms whose advertisements, coincidentally, are keeping the paper afloat. I’m a bit surprised that the story has finally emerged in the local paper.
Pretty accurate summary of the situation, but here are a couple of paragraphs that should prove disheartening to backcountry sellers. Before we get to them, however, one additional point: although the article mentions 14 unsold homes in Conyers Farm, but when I was up there for a political meet and greet for Paul Ryan a few years ago (I was a guest of Cliff Asness, not one of those paying $10,000 for the privilege), the talk around the dinner table, from Conyers Farm residents, was that there were even more homes not publicly listed, but on the market nonetheless, listed privately and quietly with some of the big name brokers. They weren’t selling, either.
[M]any of the backcountry homes on the market are selling for less than when they were last purchased, a stat considered highly unusual given most of the estates are renovated multiple times in the period they’re owned. Additionally, land values have risen in the past decade, and so has the value of the dollar. Yet the average list time for these properties is 300 to 400 days, and [Elizabeth] Douthit said even in that amount of time they’re not selling. They’re being taken off the market.
“Often you’ll see them come up as a new listing six months later, but they’re not a new listing,” Douthit said. “They just didn’t sell the first time so the owner took it off the market and is trying again, usually at a lower price.”
There are 14 homes currently listed for sale in Conyers Farm at prices ranging from just more than $5 million to $60 million. Douthit has worked in Greenwich real estate for nearly 30 years and said she’s never seen that many homes for sale at one time in Conyers Farm, and she hasn’t seen a property for sale in the $5 million range since the parcels of land were selling with no home on them yet. One home in the exclusive gated community has been on the market for 600 days [since 2005, actually – the numbers have been fudged a bit – ED] and is for sale for $13 million, down from the original $19 million asking price.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in all my time in real estate,” Douthit said. “It’s really amazing.”
Douthit said there are a couple of factors driving people out of backcountry, while not attracting new owners.
First, she said many young families may be moving out of the city and into Greenwich, but they aren’t ready to give up the convenience of having everything they need within a few-block radius.
“They want convenience over land and they want everything to be new, new, new,” Douthit said. “A lot of these young families are two-income families, so both people work and they don’t want to spend time on the house. They want everything to be done and updated, so the construction businesses are incredibly busy right now.”
And at the same time new Greenwich residents aren’t interested in buying, many current residents are trying to downsize. As a result, the luxury condominium and townhouse market is flourishing, with an average price point of $3 million to $5 million selling the fastest.
Condos and townhouses on small pieces of land also mean closer neighbors and greater community. While the tradeoff is less privacy, Siciliano said having that community is especially nice for raising children.
“You’re able to have trick or treaters, it’s easier for the kids to get to school or their friend’s house, it’s quicker to get to the grocery store, I spend less time driving and more with my family … those are just some of the advantages,” Siciliano said.
But it’s not just this trend of wanting something smaller with less upkeep and more amenities driving people out of the backcountry, Douthit said. Many people are projecting into estate futures and they’re not optimistic about the state’s tax situation, she said.
“As sad as it sounds, they don’t want to die in Connecticut — it’s too expensive,“ Douthit said. “So they’re not leaving Greenwich altogether, but they are maintaining a much smaller residence here.”
Douthit said she’s been in the real estate business long enough to know that it’s cyclical — trends will change, and what people want today may not be what they want tomorrow.
But she’s not convinced the young people seeking luxury condos today will ever want a sprawling backcountry estate. So while it might seem like a good investment to purchase a backcountry property when prices are low and wait for demand to shift back to large estates, Douthit said she can’t say for sure whether that will happen.
“I’m just truly not convinced young people want that anymore,” Douthit said. “