Daily Archives: September 23, 2009

Human immorality, on the other hand, is already here

Futurist: human immortality twenty years away.


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It’s only worth half, now



That dreadful woman who cheated on her husband and had an affair with Bernie Madoff has now discovered, thanks to the FBI, that he was really the pits, man. So having sold her scrawny body for his lucre twenty years ago she’s out now hawking her family’s honor and her own shame via an already-in-the-remainder-bin ” stupid moron housewife tells all” expose and, as of today, this genuwine picture of the Madester back when he had hair and money. Opening bid is $2,500 and I’d expect it to fall from there.


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Pricing decisions

718 North Street

718 North Street

This is a nice house, in need of renovation, perhaps, that was bought for $3.583 million in 2001, relisted for $4.350 in ’04 and slowly whittled down to $3.2 before being yanked today and put back on at $3.3 million. Okay by me, what the hell – nothing else seems to be working.



43 Doubling

43 Doubling

This optimist on Doubling Road paid $5.155 in April 2008 and has got it back on for $5.2. Nice house, if you like that front-loader-garage sort of look – I don’t, but that’s just my taste. I’m thinking that the market has declined since last year but again, no one says you can’t try. Perhaps the owner drove a shrewd bargain back last year.


Finally, another property that had dropped below half its original asking price suddenly jumped $4 million today. Why? Perhaps the owner has come into cash and can now afford to wait for a good price. Or, possibly, he’s setting up a short sale and is receiving too much traffic to convince a bank that he’s cooked. If the latter is the case, and if it works, look for massive price increases to appear all over town. Wouldn’t that be amusing?


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Price reduction on Gilliam Lane

Whip me, beat me, buy my house!

Whip me, beat me, buy my house!

Dupont heir and Internet sex dupe Steven Dent has dropped the price of his house at the end of Gilliam Lane from $14.5 million to a mere $11.9. That’s a good idea, but for a 1920’s house, pretty much untouched since Prohibition (bad word to use in the Dent household) and land that was chopped up, sold off and cut off from the water, I think it’s still a little pricey. Assessment is $4.6.

UPDATE: This may account for the need to move: Recession hits sex doll market. Even Dupont money can only go so far.


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In case we don’t have enough firebombs aimed at this office

My no-good demmerkrat office mate Fudrucker has penned his own op-ed in the Greenwich Time (only posted now or I’d have written about it earlier. As a lawyer, there isn’t much I’m unwilling to do but paying for the Greenwich Time is one of them) pointing out that the Representative Town Meeting is a useless collection of bored citizens disenfranchised and led by the nose by a handful of semi-professional bloviators.

This is news to no one who has ever served on the RTM or had to deal with that body but every time someone of either party – Jim Lash was the latest one to try – suggests cutting it down to a workable size, he’s shut down, crucified and set afire. Why? Because, as Fudrucker points out, a tiny handful of people run the thing – he claims 40, I’d guess 30 – and the road to charter revision runs through them. Or doesn’t, in this case.

A few days ago the same paper looked at the attendance record of RTM members and discovered, not surprisingly, that many members had full lives and little time to hang around on Monday nights rubber-stamping decisions already made for them by their “leaders”. And, while no one among us does not love Chris Von Keyserling, are there minds strong enough to stay alert and attentive through four hours of his monologues? I suspect not. Von Keseryling’s perfect attendance record, and that of Carl Carlson, tell you all you need to know about both men and the RTM.

The annual town meeting in East Holden, Maine, was a different animal. Seventy-five voters might show up and they’d discuss and vote on every item in the budget. Did our constable Eugene Winchenbach really need a new cruiser? He was the only law in town and surely we appreciated that, but that car had just 350,000 miles on it and it was, after all, an Oldsmobile – should be good for another couple of years, at least.

So Eugene had to wait for a new car. Real voters, real power. Not so in the configuration down here, where 2,179 stupefied citizens sweat in uncomfortable chairs and pretend to know what’s going on and pretend to care. Time for a change.


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My God, Walt, maybe you can start unpacking your bags

Turns out that half of Bernie Madoff’s “victims” pulled out more than they put in, and the total loss is a mere $13 billion, not the $50 billion that caught our attention so rivetingly. Of course, the other half of Madoff “investors” lost money, but there you have it: life is unfair: you’re born a lamb, cared for by little children, then packed off to the slaughter house.

Now the question is, how much of Walter Noel’s $7.5 billion was really lost and how much represented merely the loss of paper profits? Our Walter (ours meaning this blog’s Walter) has been saying all along that he made his investors feel good for years and they lost no more than they would have had they bought into an index fund. Perhaps he’s right.

If you end up keeping  the villa in Mustique, Walt, can I come visit? Let bygones be bygones and all that?


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The road less travelled

14 Peck Ave

14 Peck Ave

I could have saved that tag for something on Frost Lane but Peck Avenue will do. Here’s our only sale today, a house in Byram that started at $569,000 in 2007 and sold for $383,000. Assessment is $474,000, if that merits your attention. Give listing agent Steve Archino credit; when he describes this place as being “close to train and major highway”, he means it. No sugar-coating for Steve!

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Lyon Farm – “I’m staying put while blowing my kids’ inheritance”

406 West Lyon Farm
406 West Lyon Farm

That bumper sticker may be the new automobile fashion accessory among owners at this, the town’s first condominium project if sales trends continue. This unit started at $1.8 million back in 2007, dropped all the way to $799 this year and finally has a buyer. What do you think, maybe $745? Ouch.

The only other contract of note today is a nice old farm house on Buena Vista, asking $599,000. That’s not going to cheer up any spec builders sitting on $9 million homes.


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Oh this is too fine a story to leave in Bovina



Courtesy of the Bovina Bloviator (I ripped it off, actually, but I’m sure he’d have granted permission had I asked) comes this tummy-filling tale of young minds rebelling against their idiot parents.

LONDON (Reuters) – A group of schoolchildren who reared a lamb from birth and named it Marcus has overridden objections by parents and rights activists and voted to send the animal to slaughter.

Marcus the six-month-old lamb has now been culled, the head teacher of the primary school in Kent confirmed on Monday, after the school’s council — a 14-member group of children aged 6 to 11 — voted 13-1 to have him killed.

The decision has provoked fury among animal-loving celebrities, animal and human rights campaigners and the parents of some of the children, and led to threats against Lydd primary school and its teachers, according to a member of staff.


[O]pponents branded it heartless and cruel, with animal rights campaigners asking why Marcus could not have been used to teach the children about wool, and human rights campaigners worried about the emotional impact of Marcus’s death on the children.


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Thibodeaux, Fontainbleau, the place is buzzing

Evangaline - Greenwich realtors move to Acadia

Evangeline - Greenwich realtors depart Acadia

Or it may be down on the Bayou, but not here in Greenwich. No sales today, no new listings of note, a scattering of price cuts and one lonely contract, a scrap of land on Orchard Street that was marked down from $550,000 to $315,000. That would qualify as a big whoop, I believe.

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WSJ: Luxury homes going cheap, even in Greenwich

No kidding! You know, someone ought to start a blog about this.

Falling real estate prices are becoming as much a feature of high-end neighborhoods as ocean views, infinity pools and four-car garages.

While the latest data suggests prices for mainstream homes may be stabilizing after several years of pain, the news for luxury homes isn’t looking as good.

That’s bad news for sellers, naturally, but anyone in the market for a home listed for $2 million or more will find deeply discounted asking prices—and may be able to command even lower prices.

On Tuesday, data from the Federal Housing Finance Agency showed that average home prices ticked up 0.3% nationwide between June and July, including a 1.6% bounce on the west coast. The gains are modest, and they are partly influenced by the season—higher-end homes tend to sell better in late spring and early summer, as families try to move before the school year. Analysts are disappointed the rise was not higher.

Nonetheless, prices have now risen three months in a row. And compared with the disastrous events of the past few years, anything other than Armageddon is apt to raise spirits.

But these numbers only relate to homes purchased with conforming loans backed by the FHFA—in most areas, that describes mortgages of up to $417,000, or up to $713,000 in the country’s most expensive regions.

Bloomberg NewsA stone patio surrounds the pool outside a spec home at 38 French Road in Greenwich, Conn. The city is seeing the worst home-sales market—and deepest discounts—in decades.

That overlooks luxury and high-end homes, where the outlook remains bleak.

“I would say we’re 40% off 2007 prices for everything,” says broker Chad Rogers, who covers the area from Malibu to Hollywood Hills for Hilton & Hyland, a Beverly Hills real-estate firm. “We’re now seeing prices consistent with where we were back in 2003.”

“The $10 million to $30 million properties are on the market for a very long time,” says Cathy Wood, a real estate broker covering Beverly Hills and surrounding areas for realty firm Gibson International. “They’re seeing a lot of price reductions.”

Realtors, she says, “are now selling $500,000 condos, when they used to sell $5 million homes.”

Across the country in hedge-fund haven Greenwich, Conn., local broker Eric Bjork at Prudential Real Estate finds a similar effect. “There’s a new level of value being set,” he says. “The $8 million [homes] are selling for $6 million, and the $10 millions are selling for $8 million. When you do the math, it looks like an adjustment of 20% to 30%.” [ There goes Eric, destroying the market! Ed]

You’ll find similar anecdotal data in several high-end markets. But real estate Web site Trulia.com, which tracks listing prices on multiple listing services across the country, took a look at what’s happening to listing prices for homes over the $2 million mark.

Such homes only account for about 2% of the properties listed on the site, but represent 25% of the total price reductions by value. Overall, sellers listing homes for more than $2 million have dropped their asking prices by a total of $7 billion, with an average price reduction of 14%. The average for all properties tracked by Trulia is only 10%.

Chip Case, economics professor at Wellesley College and one half of the Case-Shiller index duo, says that some of these markets may be finally catching up to the wider housing market crash. “That level was more in the hold-out category,” Mr. Case says. “Up until recently the foreclosures weren’t hitting that level .But they are now. There’s no question about that. You’re seeing some contagion from the prime level to the luxury end.”

Bottom line: At the high end, it’s a good time to be shopping for that dream home.

During—and after—a bubble, investors often hope that “quality assets” will hold value. It’s usually a vain hope. Just ask people who owned luxury condos in Tokyo after 1990, or investors in Cisco Systems (CSCO) after the tech-stock bubble popped. Real estate is not that different.

Sooner or later, even rich homeowners need to sell. They get divorced. Their company collapses. They relocate or retire. And, when they get tired of waiting, they cut their price. Factoring in taxes, upkeep and the opportunity cost of keeping money in a non-performing asset, an empty luxury home may be costing owners a lot just by sitting there. That gives them a powerful incentive to make a deal.

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Shadow Inventory

The Wall Street Journal reports today on “shadow inventory” houses that will eventually end up as foreclosed properties but are currently still off the market. Between borrowers fighting off the inevitable foreclosure to banks delaying foreclosure while they try to strengthen their balance sheets, there are millions of houses poised at the starting gate, (almost) ready to tumble into your neighborhood and pull your own home’s value down.

The size of this shadow inventory is a source of concern and debate among real-estate agents and analysts who worry that when the supply is unleashed, it could interrupt the budding housing recovery and ignite a new wave of stress in the housing market.

“There’s going to be a flood [of bank-owned homes] listed for sale at some point,” says John Burns, a real-estate consultant based in Irvine, Calif. When that happens, Mr. Burns believes, home prices will fall further, particularly in markets with large numbers of foreclosures. Overall, he expects home prices to decline 6% next year.

Ivy Zelman, chief executive of Zelman & Associates, a research firm based in Cleveland, believes three million to four million foreclosed homes will be put up for sale in the next few years. The question is whether the flow of these homes onto the market will resemble “a fire hose or a garden hose or a drip,” she says.

Analysts who track the shadow market have focused primarily on the gap between the number of seriously delinquent loans and the number of foreclosed homes for sale by mortgage companies. A loan is considered seriously delinquent, which typically means it is headed to foreclosure, if it is 90 days or more past due.

As of July, mortgage companies hadn’t begun the foreclosure process on 1.2 million loans that were at least 90 days past due, according to estimates prepared for The Wall Street Journal by LPS Applied Analytics, which collects and analyzes mortgage data. An additional 1.5 million seriously delinquent loans were somewhere in the foreclosure process, though the lender hadn’t yet acquired the property. The figures don’t include home-equity loans and other second mortgages

Moreover, there were 217,000 loans in July where the borrower hadn’t made a payment in at least a year but the lender hadn’t begun the foreclosure process. In other words, 17% of home mortgages that are at least 12 months overdue aren’t in foreclosure, up from 8% a year earlier.

Some borrowers may be able to catch up on their payments or receive a loan modification that helps them keep their home. There has also been an increase in short-sales, transactions in which at-risk borrowers sell their homes for less than the loan amount, with the lender’s approval. In some cases, lenders have decided not to foreclose because the home’s value is so low. These factors could mean fewer foreclosures.

Foreclosed homes are partly responsible for the recent increase in home sales. But foreclosures also push down home values. According to Collateral Analytics, a housing research firm, homes that have been foreclosed on typically sell at a 10% to 50% discount.

For now, the delays have led to what is probably a temporary drop in the supply of bank-owned homes in California and other places where investors and first-time home buyers have been competing for bargains. In Orange County, Calif., the number of bank-owned homes listed for sale dropped to 322 in early September from 1,404 in November 2008, according to Altera Real Estate.

But the number of foreclosures is expected to increase in the fourth quarter as mortgage-servicing companies determine who is eligible for a loan modification and who isn’t. “We are going to see a spike from now to the end of the year in foreclosures as we take people out of the running” for a loan modification or other alternatives, says a Bank of America Corp. spokeswoman. Foreclosure sales had dropped to “abnormally low” levels in response to government efforts to stem foreclosures, she adds.

Here in Greenwich, a large percentage of the houses for sale were bought in the past 8 years, meaning many of them are worth less than their owners paid for them. How many of those will be “short-sales” – where the bank takes a haircut on its debt – and how many can still sell quickly because the seller still has cash to make up the shortfall? I don’t know, but judging from the dearth of sales, either we’re entirely in the short sale mode, which means everything is delayed for months while the bank’s position is untangled or we have a lot of sellers still determined not to lose money on their property. Both those conditions will change, eventually.

And banks are still holding off declaring default on a lot of loans. Not, I believe, because they think the market will come back and enable the borrower to get current again but because of the hit they’ll take to their balance sheet once they acknowledge the loss. Again, this situation cannot continue.

So I’m rather pessimistic about the near-to mid-term prospects for our housing market.


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Who knew? Common sense at the RTM

The RTM once again rejected an ordinance which would have barred registered sex offenders from our parks and beaches, sending it back for further consideration of its Constitutionality. On its face, what’s to oppose in a law that keeps perverts away from our children? So the bill’s proponents are angry and dumbfounded.

Child safety advocates are unleashing their fury after a proposed ban of registered sex offenders at schools, parks, playgrounds and public beaches stalled for a second time in the past three months because of questions about its constitutionality.

The Representative Town Meeting overwhelmingly decided by voice vote Monday night to refer the proposal back to its Legislative and Rules Committee to be reworked.

No timetable was set for the proposal to return to the full 230-member legislative body.

Before the controversial vote even took place, supporters of the ordinance blasted the move.

“Let’s not have a sign out in front of town, ‘Welcome sex offenders,’ ” said Sam Romeo, a chief proponent of the ordinance and chairman of the Community and Police Partnership Committee for the eastern end of town. “I’m really at a loss for words here. Something I thought would be embraced by this community has taken on a life of its own.”

I don’t doubt Sam Romeo’s sincerity – his repeated failure to gain higher elective office must have convinced even him that he’s got nowhere to ride this issue – he’s just a moron. Nothing wrong with that; he can have the Carswell seat of the Supreme Court if it opens up. But I’m terribly impressed that the majority of the RTM could look past the sex appeal of a “child offender law” and distinguish between, say, a 39-year-old individual who is on the list because he was convicted 19 years ago of a drunken date rape and a pedophile trying to kidnap small boys. You might be astonished to see the wide variety of offenses that will get someone on the sex-offenders registry and the permanent affect that has on their lives, from where they can live, study or, in Romeo’s Greenwich, swim. Get into a messy divorce? You could end up on that list yourself, placed there by a vindictive wife. Got a kid who plays lacrosse at Duke? His life could easily be ruined.

All of which is to say that an over-broad, overly-punitive ordinance concocted by a Ninth-grade dropout is unnecessary and uncalled for. We can do better, and I’m delighted that the RTM recognized that.


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If at first you don’t succeed …

21 Guinea Road is back with us again, still comprising 5 acres and a 1930’s house and still asking $8.950. It’s a lovely house, as I recall, but the owners have been trying to get this price since 2002 ($7.5 in ’02, $8.950 in ’03) and have failed. Maybe this time they’ll pull it off. I do think the unfortunate name of this road, like the lamented Hooker Lane, doesn’t help prices for its houses but heck, it’s a little late to do much about that now. Enjoy the tradition.

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F.D. Rich condos open in Stamford

The tower of condominiums overlooking Bloomingdales has finally opened. Will it stay open? The developer has sold seventy units, leaving one hundred still to dispose of and as Tom Rich concedes, “the market has changed”. Still, there are supposed to be nice views and it’s right in downtown Stamford, for those to whom that proospect is appealing. Looks like good financing is available: 10% down, another 20% forked over by the developer at 2.5%, so maybe this will all work out. Either way, it’s up now, and it has certainly changed the Stamford shoreline when viewed from the Sound.


In other news, our Greenwich P&Z approved the Church Street expansion of Luca’s Steak House despite vehement opposition from the neighbors. I’m not saying that was inappropriate, but my pal Fudrucker showed up for work this morning in a new Bentley. He claims he borrowed it from Joe Barbieri, so I guess that’s all right.


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5 Acres on North Street

546 North Street

546 North Street

This is a beautiful older house in need of some serious renovation to bring it up to modern standards. It’s got a setting problem: the land it sits on is beautiful and secluded but to get there you drive down a shared driveway that has lesser houses on either side: a turn-off for some buyers.

That said, it didn’t sell at its original price of $7.9 million a few years ago so it’s been dropping and today it’s down to the assessed value of $5.3 million. At some price: maybe high $4s, perhaps lower, it’s a good deal for this much land and this much potential.

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