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February 2009


Deeds & Don'ts
By Lily Oliver



Going, Going, Gone!
The winter market's cold, dark days were illuminated by a lighter, brighter $10 million residential sale in Westport—a closing price that was gratifyingly close to its $11.9 ask, especially when compared to the fire sales burning elsewhere across our state. And talk about timing! This just so happened to be the highest-priced property to sell in Westport in 2008. Anthony Rizza of Columbus Circle Investors in Stamford is the reported new owner of the spectacular property, located at the very tip of Stoney Point, a dramatic peninsula with 180-degree views of the Sound. The listing agent for the house was Debra Gailhard's Waterfront & Estate Properties of Westport, now affiliated with the Higgins Group/Christie's Great Estates, (203) 221-7721.

In the final weeks of 2008, the real estate market slid from dismal to dire, dragging down sectors that were once considered recession-proof. Property values in mighty Greenwich, for instance, where wealth had been fueled by hedge fund profit, have dropped, especially commercial real estate. Up to 80 percent of all office space is occupied by financial services firms, Greenwich Time estimates. "It's a bit of a one-horse town," said a source quoted in the newspaper, who predicted that half of those companies would be looking to back out of their leases or sublease space in the next six months. And when the hedge fund horse limps, so does the residential market, with built-on-spec estates standing empty and even unfinished, now that fresh waves of billionaires are no longer washing up on the Greenwich coastline. Another alarming indicator in "it can't happen here" Greenwich: the number of foreclosure proceedings in town has increased by 42 percent over 2007, again according to Greenwich Time, as compared to the eight percent increase in foreclosure activity reported statewide.

Greenwich brokers say they are fielding inquiries from one-time titans who are forced to "start the conversation about putting their homes on the market," now that their fortunes have evaporated. ("It's a good thing the town of Greenwich doesn't allow homeowners to put up for-sale signs," said one. "Or it would look like a mass exodus.") A closely watched property that brokers speculate may soon hit the market: the Old Greenwich home belonging to Andrew Madoff (son of Bernard) and his wife, Deborah, who served him divorce papers on the same day Madoff père was arrested.

Because the media is so often accused of reporting only the grimmest real estate news, we'd like to buck the trend with this more cheerful note: Billionaire Steven Cohen of SAC Capital Advisors in Greenwich appears to be weathering the financial storms unscathed! He recently applied to Planning & Zoning to add 500 square feet to his 32,000-square-foot home. Seems it lacked proper a "his" dressing area. Permission was granted. And Walter Noel, whose Fairfield Greenwich fund lost $7.5 billion with Bernard Madoff, was forced to cancel Christmas in his Mustique estate—but on the bright side, he was able to rent to rent it out for $55,000 for the week, the New York Post reports ("Ponzi Pal Pimps Out House").

More good news, especially for buyers who (for whatever reason) have the wherewithal to invest: the wealth of listings is astonishing, especially for this time of year when the MLS tends to look a little thin in advance of the spring selling season. There's a whimsical lighthouse, a wonderful waterfront spread, a condo that comes with a free car, a coastal property that comes with a free boat—and so much more. Here, a few of our favorites.


Harbor Lighthouse
Now here's something you don't see every day: A bona fide antique lighthouse that was built in 1881 and remained in service until the mid-1950s, when it sold for $1 to a former Stamford mayor. The lighthouse sold again in the 1980s—this time for $230,000—to a banker who thought the decommissioned structure would be an excellent and "cheap place to park my boat." He spent a reported $300,000 on renovations, which included a new kitchen and dock. Today, the 28-foot-high, cast-iron lighthouse, also known as Chatham Rock, has again hit the market, advertised as a "one-bedroom loft" just a 3,600-foot dinghy ride away from the mainland, accessed via a private, floating dock. While it appears to lack certain amenities (there is no bathroom, for instance) its views are unrivaled—the Stamford and Manhattan skylines and sunrise and sundown seascapes. It's listed with Doug Werner of William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty in Darien, (203) 962-2601.

Waterfront Estate
$17.8 million
Wow! This winning waterfront property has it all. Sited along the Long Island Sound, the recently renovated home offers a lovely pool and spa with water views, a deepwater dock, rolling lawns, extensive gardens and even an engineered fairway and putting green. The 6,240-square-foot interiors boast seven bedrooms, six bathrooms and a 500-bottle wine cellar. The 2.78-acre property includes an extra waterfront building lot. Barbara Wells of Prudential Connecticut Realty in Greenwich has the listing, (203) 637-6226.


Colonial With Car
$2.8 million
Fancy the 2009 Mercedes Benz C300 parked in front of this handsome Stamford home? It's all yours—on a two-year-lease, anyway—with the purchase of the new-construction Colonial on Stone Fence Lane. Like the Benz, the 5,700-square-foot, stone-and-clapboard home comes fully loaded, with four bedrooms, five full bathrooms (and one half bathroom) and an excellent layout for entertaining, including a butler's pantry with a coffee station, wet bar and wine cooler. The listing broker is Barbara Webski of Coldwell Banker in Stamford, (203) 322-2300.

Boat Included
Rowayton attracts seafaring types, so here's a deal with appeal: a wonderful family home that comes with a new boat and boat slip. Built in 2005, the 2,700-square-foot house also offers four bedrooms, three full bathrooms (plus one half bathroom) and a pool. The $1,582,209 property is listed with David Hawes of Wheeler Real Estate in Darien, (203) 656-6521.

Circa-1825 Colonial
This handsome estate, originally built in 1895 and set on two acres with gracious columns and porches and impressive stone walls, has all the charm of an antique. But it has completely and careful renovated in recent years, so much of the construction and utilities are new. The home has been remodeled with great care given to detail; it now features a renovated eat-in kitchen and updated baths with all modern amenities. The home was expanded, as well, and its 5,624 square feet now include six bedrooms and five bathrooms. It's listed with Carol McMorris of the Higgins Group, (203) 247-5891.

Greek Revival
Here is your picture-perfect New England Greek Revival antique located in the picture-perfect town of Ridgefield. Built in 1830, the handsome gray-clapboard home on 1.3 acres was featured on a conservancy tour: its spectacular formal gardens include sculpted hedges and flowering trees accessible via pretty paths ornamented with urns and trellises. Inside, the 3,000-square-foot home offers five bedrooms and two bathrooms (plus one half bathroom). Becky McCrae of William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty in Ridgefield has the listing, (203) 438-9531.

A Steal of a Deal
In Greenwich, it's really hard to find a beautiful "smaller" home—because land is so pricey, developers have tended to build massive estates to maximize their profits. So this 3,600-square-foot home (which is considered small only in Greenwich and a handful of equally golden Gold Coast towns) with four bedrooms and three bathrooms, plus one half bathroom, offers buyers a bargain of less than $1.5 million. It's listed with Edward Mortimer of Sotheby's International Realty in Greenwich, (203) 496-4571.

The received wisdom is that when compared to their Fairfield County counterparts, Westchester homes tend to have a lower asking price but a higher tax bill, leveling out the cost of living between, say, Greenwich and Bedford. Likewise, the health of the real estate market across state lines is similar: slow, sluggish and static. But, as in Connecticut, there are some golden opportunities.

We've reported on Westchester's most celebrated current listing, the 64-acre Briarcliff Manor property that was home to philanthropist Brooke Astor. Called Holly Hill, the circa-1927 stone manor is famous for its sweeping views of the Hudson. David Turner of Sotheby's International Realty in Katonah has the listing, (914) 767-9619. Two additional great estates currently on the market include:

Mott Schmidt Estate
Once home to the philanthropic family of Mott apple juice fame, this circa-1930s brick Georgian sits on more than four acres in Bedford's Guard Hill estate area. The 6,000-square-foot manse offers four bedrooms, including a master suite with a fireplace and his-and-her bathrooms. It's listed with Daniel Ginnel of Ginnel Real Estate in Bedford Hills, (914) 234-9234, ext. 117.

Whelpley Farm
On more than 23 acres, this handsome fieldstone mansion is a fully equipped equestrian property, with a riding ring and outdoor jumping course, as well as a five-bedroom carriage house with a four-stall stable. Comforts for two-legged creatures include a pool and tennis court along with the 8,160-square-foot home itself, designed by architect Phelps Barnum in 1936. Whelpley's interiors feature extensive millwork, 10-foot ceilings and French doors. It's also listed with Daniel Ginnel of Ginnel Real Estate in Bedford Hills, (914) 234-9234, ext. 117.