INSIDE STORIES BEHIND AREA
REAL ESTATE DEALS
Deeds & Don'ts loves an optimist—and a reason for closing a hard year on a hopeful note. We hear good things are stirring in our coverage areas, and we wish sellers in Connecticut, Westchester and the Hamptons—and you, faithful readers of this magazine—hearty holiday cheers!
Yes, real estate brokers have been selling homes lately, some at close to or above asking prices. The biggest sales story this fall was out of Bridgeport. On November 6, the local press reported that the home owned by former Congressman Chris Shays changed hands for $1.55 million. The waterfront Colonial is located in the lovely Black Rock section, and its sale marks the first time a Black Rock home has closed at a price above $1 million since 2006. Shays bought the four-bedroom, three-bathroom home for about $500,000 a decade ago, after he was elected to Congress for the first time. He now resides in the Chesapeake Bay town that is also home to former VP Dick Cheney. "It is nice to be closer to where you work," says Shays. "The taxes are high and we are not really in a position to keep it."
More good news: Heading into the fall selling season, the National Association of Realtors reported that pending home sales had been on the rise for the five preceding months. One notable sale was recorded in Wilton for a Bear Paw Builders spec home that not only closed above its asking price of $3,999,000, but was also the first spec property to break the $4 million mark in that town, according to listing broker Todd Gibbons with the Gibbons Group of William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty in Wilton. The 10,000-square-foot manse on more than four acres is one of a four-home subdivision being built on what was once a hay and dairy farm.
Perhaps signs of an improved market are what encouraged Starwoods Hotel & Resorts honcho Barry Sternlicht to raise the price of his 5.8-acre Greenwich estate to $5.95 million, an 8.3 percent increase over the prior asking price. "We felt like we were giving it away" was the rationale offered by Sternlicht's broker, Jean Ruggiero of William Raveis Real Estate in Greenwich.
On the market for the first time in 20 years, this 6,000-square-foot clapboard home sits on two pretty acres in the best neighborhood you've never heard of: Coleytown in Westport. Straddling the Westport-Weston line, Coleytown's claim to fame is that it's Mr. Newman's neighborhood—the late Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward have a charming, barn-red antique on Coleytown Road. Around the corner on Mystic Lane, this Center Hall Colonial was updated a few years ago and now offers six full bedrooms (plus two half bathrooms) and a pool. Dorothy Salisbury and Mindy Wolkstein of Weichert Capital Properties & Estates in Greenwich have the $2,177,000 listing, (203) 536-8904 and (203) 216-1287.
This circa-1929 Gothic-style home has the grandeur of an English manse. When it was expanded to 10,500 square feet, the architect sourced matching stone that was salvaged from an old church. The addition features a new kitchen opening onto a family room, a second-floor master suite with French doors onto a slate balcony, a home theater and a wine cellar. On the grounds is a pond and footbridge to a small island, tennis court, pool and pool house and a 1,400-square-foot guest retreat. It's listed with Carol Hollyday, (203) 536-2032, and Rita Kirby, (203) 984-7665, both of William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty in New Canaan.
OLD GREENWICH WATERFRONT
This circa-1725 home started life in Greenwich – Greenwich, Massachusetts. In the '30s it was disassembled and relocated to its current Old Greenwich lot with views of the Sound and 105 feet of private waterfront, best enjoyed from the terrace, with its swim station and cabana. The nearly 3,600-square-foot antique retained its centuries-old features, including wide hand-hewn antique wood floors and wall paneling, a handsome living room with a wide-mouth wood-burning fireplace and a gracious formal dining room. There are five bedrooms and three bathrooms (plus one half bathroom). Ed Mortimer of Sotheby's International Realty in Greenwich has the listing, (203) 869-4343.
No man is an island, but for $8.9 million you can buy one of just four homes on a private island in Larchmont, just 31 Metro North minutes from Grand Central Station. Cedar Island is home to a 9,300-square-foot Tudor-style estate designed by architect Walter Pleuthner. Waterfront amenities include a private dock, expansive terraces and a pool with pool cabana. Notable interior amenities include a great room with wet bar; wine cellar; billiards room, gym and seven fireplaces. The renovated kitchen features a LaCanache stove, breakfast room with a live reef aquarium and butler's pantry. There are six bedrooms and seven bathrooms (plus one half bathroom). It's listed with Candy Steiner of Houlihan Lawrence in Larchmont, (914) 833-0420.
QUEEN ANNE VICTORIAN
Built around 1900, this Queen Anne Victorian was expanded to 7,523 square feet in 2007, resulting in a charming antique with new interiors. The kitchen has Cararra countertops, a farm sink, two Bosch dishwashers, Sub-Zero refrigerators and a butler's pantry. There's a conservatory, gym, sauna, 5,000-bottle wine cellar, five bedrooms and four bathrooms (and one half bathroom). The two-acre lot features a pool, pool terrace with built-in grill, children's playground and wisteria-covered gazebo. Anita Zander of Houlihan Lawrence in Katonah has the listing, (914) 232-5007. – L.O.
As summer 2009 heated up in the Hamptons, agents say the real estate market finally followed suit. Beginning with promising spring rentals, the season closed with an upswing in land and home sales between $2 and $5 million. In less than 30 days, Town & Country Real Estate's Theresa Eurell listed and sold actress Tuesday Weld's Montauk beach house for $6.75 million, while Corcoran's Susan Breitenbach moved $40 million in inventory in just three weeks.
"Last winter, the gloom and doomers suggested the Hamptons were done. But come late spring, the summer renters appeared as they always have," says Prudential Douglas Elliman's Tom MacNiven, senior managing director of sales in East Hampton. "Rental prices were a little lower than in the past, rental terms were a bit shorter and agents worked longer and harder to put deals together—but the rental season was a strong one."
At Sotheby's International Realty in Bridgehampton, senior vice president Beate Moore insists that competitive auctions can occur in today's economy, provided properties are priced ahead of the market. "After the long winter with little activity, people were ready to enjoy themselves again, and it reflected in a surprisingly strong rental market," she says.
Summer renters often become fall buyers, and that is proving true again. "Smart buyers took advantage of reset sale prices and sales volume spiked markedly," says MacNiven. "This volume rebound was led by the lower price ranges, but the high-end rebound was substantial, as well."
Still, it was a slow start. "The summer began just like the weather: cold and damp," says Town & Country's Judi Desiderio. "But when the sun came out in late July and early August, so did the buyers—with cash in hand."
The overall sentiment, Desiderio says, was that the housing market on the East End has hit bottom. "This reflects three trends: One, the buyers in those price ranges feel confident we've hit bottom and are ready to jump in. Two, those buyers are secure about their financial picture and job security. Three, buyers who would have been in higher price categories are opting for less expensive second homes and will trade up with the market comes back." Things have nowhere to go but up.
Still, inventory remains high. Many sellers will wait to get the price they feel their property deserves. "I think we have two or three years of inventory to absorb before we see a shift to a sellers' market," says Corcoran's Diane Saatchi.
As luxury homebuilders prepare for a rebound, there have been steady vacant land sales among several Corcoran brokers. "As the summer progressed, even into the fall, buyer confidence seemed to improve. Properties went into contract and offers were being made in many sectors of the market," says Corcoran's Gary DePersia, who saw four of his eight Sagaponack Greens land listings—all 1.5 to 2.3 acres between $5.25 million and $5.75 million—into contract this summer. Another of his land listings, at Cross Highway off Middle Lane, went to contract and quickly sold for $5 million.
With renewed interest in Hamptons real estate, agents expect continued activity across the board in 2010. "There's a lot of pent-up demand being satisfied," says DePersia, adding that buyers and sellers have come to the realization that "this is the time to buy. The market may go up again and the inventory, although large, may not include the best homes they are seeing today." Buyers looking for steals, in other words, will need to act quickly.
"People are buying in the lower ranges south of the highway where they possibly couldn't afford a couple of years ago," says Corcoran's Breitenbach. "The stock market is up, there will be some good bonuses on Wall Street, interest rates are down and consumer confidence is up! That all equals a good selling season in the Hamptons. It's still a buyers' market and people are acting on it." – A.D.