I previously wrote about 128 Butternut Hollow but didn’t identify its address. Now that it’s on the market, I figure it’s fair game. Soooeee! Built in a swamp by a local builder, Richard Harris (not the electrician Rick Harris) who went bust, this house is offered by the bank that holds the mortgage. You drive past fields of skunk cabbage to get to it. It’s flanked by a bungalow on one side and a neighbor’s garbage dump on the other side and the combination of swamp, trash, squatter’s shack and the merry burbling sound of Merritt Parkway traffic gives the whole place a hardscrabble, Tobbacco Road kind of ambiance. If you see a third generation harelip carrying a musket or a banjo, watch out.
The house was bent and twisted to conform to the small area of dry land on the site and nothing in its flow makes sense to me. Until recently, I’d have told you that I’d never seen a post and beam house I didn’t like but this makes the third time in a row Harris has proved me wrong. Wonder why he went broke, eh?
Looking past the location, architectural style and design, I would pause before buying a house from a builder who went belly-up during construction. The cynic in me whispers that whoever finished the job was more concerned with getting a c.o. and putting the place on the market than he was in adding those nice, final touches a quality builder might.
But heck, that’s all just my opinion – and this might be just the place for you. It’s asking $3.9 million, which is less than the $25 million asked for 223 Round Hill Road. So at least they’re not asking that.
Driving around in the snow today (my theory about mounting snows on my car keeping storms away let me down, this time) I was struck by the number of new houses still under construction, many of which are spec projects (as an aside, my guide to all things real estate related, Frank Farricker, tells me that those two new houses on the Merritt, one on North Street the other on Riversville, are both owner built. How odd.). I understand that, once you’ve started construction you can’t just stop because market conditions have changed but the last thing we need right now are more new houses on more bad lots and most of these are on bad lots.
So what happens to all these houses no one wants? Some are bound to be bought, eventually, by lucky homeowners who will get something originally priced at $5 million for $1.5 million and live there happily. Others will be tied up in litigation for years as lenders, builders and limited partners duke it out and fight over who should take the loss and some will, I think, never sell. Would you pay $1 million for a house if, as an article I read recently suggested, it was going to cost you $500,000 to heat it and maintain the landscaping? I think not, if you have a $1 million house type of income. And those few remaining rich individuals who are undaunted by that size of bill will insist on, and will be able to get, a house on better land. I think a number of these houses are going down, eventually.
When I mentioned this house yesterday I didn’t remember seeing it and so I was – reserved – in my opinion of value. A commentator who obviously had seen the place took me to task for my mild tone so today I drove by and sure enough, I realized that I had taken did a tour of the house when it first came on. I agree with my reader.
It’s not an awful house by any means, and Lindsay Drive is a good address so this house has some value. I don’t think it’s going to sell for anything close to $13 million, though, and that’s why I didn’t remember it – when confronted with a wildly optimistically priced house I tend to dismiss it and assume I’ll give it fresh attention when the seller gets real. So what should this go for? I don’t know, but I might start at $5 million and see what happens (I’d put that offer in long distance, just in case the builder has a violent reaction). Remember, the seller has another project on Davis Avenue Ridge Street that is “locationally challenged” (the best idea I’ve heard for it’s ultimate disposal? Chop it into four separate units, because it’s already in the R-6 zone) and that financial millstone should, eventually, affect Lindsay Drive’s price too.
Or not – God looks after drunks, fools and builders with solid fiances, so perhaps He’ll send someone out from the city who perceives a higher value here than I do.
A reader informs me that the builder of 45 Upland Drive hosted an antique show/wine party there the other night, hoping, one supposes, to draw potential buyers. A house on Cognewaugh tried the same thing last Sunday. These events draw people, but are those people buyers? It’s possible, I suppose, and it certainly enables the listing agent to show that he’s doing something to move the damn thing but my personal advice is, if you can’t sell your property in two years, lower the price.
From a WSJ “news alert” :
Meanwhile, housing starts decreased 18.9% from a month earlier to a seasonally adjusted 625,000 annual rate, after dropping 6.4% in October. The November decrease was much bigger than expected.
26 Circle Drive has an interesting history. Marshall Heaven, a good builder here in town, owned the land in 2006 but must have changed his mind about building on it because he offered it for sale for $850,000 in November ’06. In July, ’07 the present builder bought it for $712,000 and then he, too must have gotten cold feet because he put it back on in January of this year for $890,000. No third builder could be found so construction on the house began early this year. And now it’s finished.
I toured it today. It’s, okay, as spec houses in this price range ($2.1 million) go, and has a very large back yard (with a drain smack in the middle of it, suggesting the presence of water – then again, drains are supposed to take care of that sort of thing). I think it’s a pre-fab but I don’t have a problem with that. Nice trim work and floors, a cheesy, to my taste, Palladium window in front and a fair bit of noise from I-95; Circle Drive is, as they say, “convenient to transportation”. I wish the builder had spent the extra money to run some steel I-beams in the basement instead of using pillars which break up what would otherwise be a ton of usable space and I have a prejudice against acrylic bathtubs – no particular reason, I just prefer porcelain. All that said, the biggest impression I took away from this house was how the market has changed. Its price just a year ago or maybe two, wouldn’t have seemed outrageous. But as I drove around the neighborhood I noticed at least four more houses under construction all or most of which, I imagine, are spec houses. If so, then there is a lot of competition to this house about to come on the market and a careful shopper can probably find the one builder in the most trouble and get a house here for a really low price. And if that happens, just to reopen the debate we’ve all so enjoyed here on these pages, the other 4 house’s prices will have to chase it downward.
Or that’s what I think. Your opinion may differ.
So I stopped by the place today during the open house tour – nicely done, with decent hardware and trim, but like most houses on that street, not much of a yard, especially with half the rear yard devoted to driveway. I know that south of the Village is always desirable but I do wonder whether it’s desirable enough to induce someone to pay this much. That may prove a challenge.