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March/April 2009


REAL ESTATE

Deeds & Don'ts
By Lily Oliver
Photographs by {Photographer, if one}

INSIDE STORIES BEHIND AREA REAL ESTATE DEALS

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THIS WILL KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF
You don't see grandeur like this very often. Starting with a 210-acre spread with sweeping views over the Litchfield Hills, this 10,127-square-foot stone manor has the most ornate detailing we've ever seen in a private residence (this side of Windsor Castle, that is). There are hand-carved limestone fireplaces, marble staircases, rooms lined with rich chestnut paneling and 14-foot celings, also carved and coffered. Plus: 10 bedrooms, seven bathrooms (plus two half bathrooms), a 75-foot-long pool, tennis court and castle-like playhouse with a pretend jail and hand-carved gargoyles. Peter Klemm of Klemm Real Estate in Washington has the $8,495,000 listing, (860) 868 7313, ext. 24.

Just how bad was Connecticut's real estate market in 2008? Let's just say that the year-end wrap-up that arrived in February was no Valentine, with all indicators sliding to their lowest levels in years. The single-family-home sales volume was a real heartbreaker, dropping nearly 28 percent from 2007 totals, the steepest decline recorded since 1988, according to the Warren Group. And as a town, Darien was hardest hit, with a sales-volume decrease of more than 40 percent. The pricing report also showed no love: $268,000 now buys the median-priced home in our state, a four-year low. And condominiums fared even worse with both sales and prices plummeting more precipitously than any year since 1990. Connecticut's median-priced condo is now less than $200,000 (down from $250,000 in 2007) with sales volume falling 33 percent from 2007 totals. That's the bad news. The good news belongs exclusively to what has become a very rare breed indeed: the buyer. When the frigid weather finally broke in February, we ventured out to the first of 2009's open houses and found some awesome listings at terrific prices. And while one of those events featured the forced cheer of a lonely broker--at 3 p.m., we were her first visitors--the other homes fairly bustled with shoppers shuffling around in their socks. (If you're tempted to drop into a few yourself, note that no-shoes policies are strictly enforced from now through the end of mud season). Here, the best of the bunch, from beach cottage to country castle.

VINTAGE BEACH COTTAGE
ST. MARY'S BY THE SEA
$774,500
This sweet beach house inspired us to buy a lottery ticket (we've really been feeling Cash5 these days). And we wouldn't need to win a very big purse to become the next owners of the circa-1920s three-bedroom home, new to the market in February. If we're wrong we'd love to hear from you, but at $774,500, we deem #95 Seabright the best-priced piece of Connecticut's Gold Coast real estate currently on the market. The 2,077-square-foot home is right on a public beach--just cross the little street and your bare feet are in the sand. Its unobstructed views take in Black Rock Harbor and its lighthouse and the Long Island Sound, best appreciated from the Juliet balcony off the pretty master suite. Owner and interior designer Lorraine Ward has renovated every inch of the place, creating a gorgeous kitchen with a marble island and vintage beadboard, replacing the entire second floor and investing in a steam shower, spa bathrooms and high-end hardware and fixtures. Why it's not for everyone: St. Mary's by the Sea is in Bridgeport, not the most golden of the Gold Coast towns, although the neighborhood will lose its tarnish for good when the long-in-development train station and office complex, just minutes away, is completed. Laurie Crouse of Coldwell Banker in Westport has the listing, (203) 221-9961.

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VINTAGE HOME ON RIVER LANE
WESTPORT
$1,750,000
Built in 1923, #6 River Lane is a fabulous family home, beautifully cited high above the Saugatuck River, with views from nearly every window. The heart of this vintage house is the double-sized living room with a massive stone hearth, vaulted ceilings, wide-planked floorboards, picture windows over the river and access to a wonderful slate-floored porch. Upstairs there are five bedrooms, including a huge master suite; the sixth bedroom with its own bathroom is off the kitchen. River Lane is one of Westport's most convenient neighborhoods; just a few minutes drive to the Merritt Parkway and the town center, and less than 10 minutes to the train station, it remains a quiet and family-friendly enclave. Elaine Arnow of William Raveis Real Estate in Westport is the listing broker, (203) 227-4343.

RIDGEFIELD VICTORIAN
$1,149,000
This is one of those homes that elicits an "Oh, I love that house," from nearly everyone. And it has been that kind of place since 1880, when it was one of the first homes built in the Branchville section of Ridgefield by the Morehouse family, who would hand it down through the generations for 100 years. Called a Folk Victorian, the style looks more Arts & Crafts than the more typical Queen Anne home, with its ornate (and sometimes overwrought) flourishes. The couple that renovated it brought all of its details back to life, a long list that only partially includes a cool turret; fanciful rosettes around the ceiling light fixtures; intricately carved balustrades; pumpkin-pine floorboards; and even the original outhouse (now a potting shed, with an old toilet-roll holder the only reminder of the structure's original purpose).

In all, the 3,152-square-foot, three-story home has four bedrooms and three bathrooms (plus one half bathroom) with additional finished space in the five-story red barn, which houses five cars, and a new flexible-use brown barn. Laura Freed of William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty of Ridgefield has the listing, (203) 438-9531, ext. 304.

THE COOPERAGE
ROXBURY
$1,165,000
For listing broker Wayne Piskura, this 1812 farmhouse has been a labor of love. Back in the 1980s when Piskura was in the business of renovating homes, the "fixer upper" had been derelict for years, with a collapsed kitchen wing and a wire poked through a propped-up window--serving as its sole means of electrification. But Piskura saw potential and rebuilt the place, salvaging as much of it as he could, including its hand-hewn beams, wide floorboards and stone walls and hearths. He sold it to people who, happily, only improved upon it, moving an antique barn onto the property and adding a lovely pool and pool terrace. The handsome home is again on the market, offering 4.7 private acres that are "pure Roxbury," says Piskura, who is something of an expert: he was raised in town and now runs one of the few businesses in the picturesque village center--his real estate office--that also boasts a market and a post office. But don't let its rural ways fool you. Tiny Roxbury has long been home to arts and entertainment luminaries, including William Styron, Arthur Miller, actor Richard Widmark and now Daniel Day Lewis and Denis Leary. Ask Piskura, of Tierney Realty, to show you around, (860) 354-3263.

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BELLE HAVEN ESTATE
GREENWICH
$17,950,000
If you've never been to Belle Haven in Greenwich, it's worth a trip--and is a trip, actually, with its jaw-droppingly awesome mansions in plain sight. As compared to "back country" Greenwich where homes are hidden on dozens of private acres, the lots in this coastal neighborhood are smallish and there are real sidewalks lining the narrow streets and lanes. An exception is this is a circa-1915 Georgian Colonial that sits on a beautifully landscaped four-acre spread that includes 374 feet of Long Island waterfront. With its double-decker porches, pristine white columns and rows of French doors, this Georgian-style manse is one of Belle Haven's old-fashioned great estates. (And it's worth noting that most of the newer and grander estates have smaller lots: Financier and neighbor Paul Tudor Jones, for example, makes do with just three-and-a-half acres for his Monticello-like manor.) In all, the home offers 10 bedrooms and five full bathrooms (plus two half bathrooms), along with a pretty pool and pool terrace. It's listed with Lee Weld of Sotheby's International Realty in Greenwich, (203) 618-3173.

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