INSIDE STORIES BEHIND AREA REAL ESTATE DEALS
HoJo No Mo'
These days, everyone's an A-Rod, J-Lo and Li-Lo. For their trendy monikers, they all have Howard Johnson—better known as HoJo—to thank, that cheery purveyor of orange-and-blue-hued hospitality. And while many of us have a nostalgic affection for the vintage chain of hotels and eateries, HoJo appears to have worn out its welcome in Greenwich. Investors in the Delamar Greenwich Harbor—a luxury waterfront hotel—are looking to transform the old HoJo in Riverside into an eco-friendly, 85-room inn, complete with a Blue Smoke steakhouse, outdoor fire pits and "water features." Sounds like a fun place to visit.
Talk of the Towns
Even when the market's flat, real estate always generates good gossip. The biggest buzz these days is about why Bolton is bolting—that is, why singer Michael Bolton is selling the Westport home he shares with Desperate Housewives' Nicollette Sheridan. Is it the neighborhood? While Bolton's circa-1988 Mediterranean-style home has a gated drive for privacy, it is located in Old Hill, a gorgeous, desirable, but not especially celebrity-packed area. Indeed, Old Hill is not unlike Desperate's Wisteria Lane, with kids on bikes, sidewalks that people actually use and the occasional block party (though no hunky plumbers have been sighted of late, regrettably). By contrast, most of Westport's big names reside in the grand, waterfront homes along Beachside Avenue—Don and Deirdre Imus and Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue have lived there, for instance. And Beachside fairly bustled with glitterati last winter when movie mogul and Halston-brand revivalist Harvey Weinstein wed fashion designer Georgina Chapman in the waterfront home they now share. In attendance were Rupert Murdoch, Renée Zellweger, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Anne Hathaway and Cameron Diaz, per the New York Observer.
Meanwhile, back on Old Hill, Bolton's $11 million estate oozes glamour. Called Dalle Acqua, the six-bedroom, six-bathroom home has all the amenities you'd associate with a singer of easy-listening ballads: a pretty pool and terrace with views over Nash's Pond, a tennis court, English gardens, a guest house and a six-car garage. Inside, there's a screening room and fitness center. Dalle Acqua is listed with Billy Nistico of William Raveis (203-682-0897).
To be brutally honest, while balladeer Bolton is loads more famous, architect John Johansen is the kind of celebrity who makes our hearts flutter. The only living member of the group dubbed the Harvard Five—which also included Philip Johnson and Marcel Breuer (we're really palpitating now)—Johansen is now in his 90s and lives across the New Canaan border in Pound Ridge with his wife Ati, who also happens to be Walter Gropius' daughter (move over Michael and Nicollette!). We mention them here because a Johansen-designed residence just popped on the market in New Canaan. Called the Bridge House because it's built across water, the home is sited so that the Rippowam River bisects the lofty living room in a way that perfectly aligns with a vault in barrel-vaulted ceiling. Cooler still, the ceiling is gold leaf that has burnished to a bronzy, autumnal tone that reflects the glints and dappling of the water below. Johansen built the home in 1956 for the people who are now selling it, which is good news for the preservationists among us: Johansen's vision for the place—which he once called his favorite house—is intact. On five landscaped acres, the 4,500-square-foot Bridge House has six bedrooms, four full bathrooms and a gorgeous stone pool and pool terrace and is listed for $5,000,000. Broker Rita Kirby, with William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty in New Canaan, can be reached at 203-966-2633.
September Savings: The best deals on the best homes
While it's true that prices have softened, there are deals—average homes at below-average prices—and then there are steals: fantastic listings that, for a range of reasons, are at their lowest-imaginable asking prices. When we canvassed top realtors to nominate their best and best-priced homes, the results were winning. Spoiler alert: When home prices drop as low as these, frustrated sellers often decide to pull up their for-sale signs and take the listings off the market. So look now if you're house-hunting as these listings may disappear before the holidays.
Brand-new Greenwich estate
Why it's a deal:
In any town but Greenwich, $6 million won't sound like a deal for an estate of any size. But in this town's best neighborhoods it's tough to find a move-right-in, every-amenity-in-place property for this price. And this stone-and-clapboard Colonial on 2.45 private acres has anticipated even the pickiest buyer's every whim and want: There are six bedrooms, seven bathrooms (and two half-bathrooms), double islands in the kitchen, a two-story family room, a wood-paneled library and even an elevator. And we love the grand master suite with its double-sided fireplace, sitting room, balcony and giant walk-in closets. Better still, the seller is willing to offer an owner-financing package to help buyers caught in the current credit crunch. If you're interested, call Edward Mortimer of Sotheby's International Realty in Greenwich (203-618-3160).
Belle Haven Carriage House
Why it's a deal:
Two words: Belle and Haven. Easily the most exclusive coastal neighborhood in all of Greenwich, this pricey enclave has been home to ex-presidents and their kin (Bushes, Kennedys), entertaining types (Diana Ross) and a host of hedgies, most notably Paul Tudor Jones. Price-reduced from $6,195,000, this circa-1925 carriage house was beautifully renovated in 2003. At nearly 5,500 square feet, it now features four bedrooms, including a master suite with a private courtyard, and a Christopher Peacock kitchen. The grounds are exquisite, too, from the cobblestone courtyard to the pretty gardens and pool and pool house. It's listed with Sally Maloney of Greenwich Fine Properties (203-962-2100).
Circa-1930 New Canaan Colonial
Why it's a deal:
A tucked-away location but close to town. An old house but entirely updated. Private acreage but on a family-friendly cul-de-sac. Buyers put these often at-odds attributes on their wish lists only to find that in their price range, they have to choose among them—either an in-town locale or multiple acres, but not both, for instance. The value added in this listing is that it has it all: Over five acres on a privately owned street that's fewer than one-and-a-half miles to town and the train. The circa-1930 house has been tastefully updated and expanded to 4,770 square feet and now offers five bedrooms, four full bathrooms and two half-bathrooms. It also boasts a pool and pool house, which is equipped with an exercise studio, full bath and sauna, and an enclosed hot tub. Rachel Walsh of William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty in New Canaan has the listing (203-655-8234).
Priced reduced from $4,250,000, this circa-1912 lodge-style home was designed by architect Ehrick Rossiter, who built many of Litchfield County's great estates. This one is a true lodge-style dwelling with a handsome stone-and-clapboard exterior. At about 4,000 totally renovated square feet, it offers four bedrooms, four bathrooms and a total of six fireplaces. The grounds include a pool, pond, guesthouse with its own kitchen, and a barn-style garage with a caretaker's apartment on 28 acres. It's listed with Seymour Surnow of Sotheby's International Realty in Washington (860-868-6900).
Family Friendly in Fairfield
A classic five-bedroom, five-bathroom home is actually harder to find than you would think. The truth is that many families need this kind of space for kids, guests and an au pair but can't always find it in a home that's not several million dollars. This circa-2002 Colonial puts its nearly 3,300 square feet into the kinds of rooms families require, including those bedrooms, plus the all-important kitchen and great room space. Better still, it's on a family home-lined cul-de-sac off Mill Plain Road, close to schools and shopping. It's listed with Bonnie Paige of William Raveis Real Estate in Southport (203-255-6841).
Sharon Barn-style home
With their clean lines and soaring spaces, the classic New England barn home has more in common with an urban loft or modern dwelling than it does its closest cousin, the farmhouse. Barn-seeking buyers tend to be a small but dedicated bunch: You're either crazy about them or can't imagine why any mammal that does not have cloven hoofs would want to live in one. This 6,300-square-foot Sharon barn home has the kind of earthy elegance that makes barns so appealing. On the earthy end: huge expanses of hand-hewn beams, lofty ceilings, a 30-foot granite fireplace and barn-style doors that slide to reveal multi-paned French doors. As for elegance, there are four bedroom suites (the home has a total of five bathrooms, plus one half-bathroom), a gorgeous new kitchen with its own brick hearth, and manicured gardens set amid 10 acres with views of Berkshire hills ridge lines. It's listed with Andrew Gates and Todd Cole, both of Sotheby's International Realty in Salisbury (860-435-5924 and 860-927-7720, respectively).
Why it's a deal:
In seemingly recession-proof Westport, $1.5 million is the threshold for a good—but not a grand—home in a sought-after location. So this nearly 4,000-square-foot house offers a lot of square footage in the coveted Old Hill area. (Forget what we said about Bolton boltin' Old Hill: if you're not a Grammy-toting crooner seeking an estate district, Old Hill is a fine place to live.). This listing also boasts similarities to our other "celebrity" listing, Johansen's Bridge House: it's a mid-'50s, terra-cotta-colored modern sited along a brook with clean geometric lines and a pool and pool terrace. It's listed with Alexander Chingas and Barbara Bross of the Riverside Realty Group in Westport (203-226-8300).
Cool Old Greenwich Cottage
Why it's a deal:
This should be obvious: Old Greenwich for less than $1.3 million? To that, add a mile's bike ride to the beach and walking distance to school, train and shops, and you have a solid family home in a village-like setting. The size of the cottage keeps its price low&mash;at around 1,900 square feet it offers four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Ellen Mosher of Coldwell Banker in Greenwich has the listing (203-570-0275).
Why it's a deal:
We haven't seen a decent Darien home listed for less than a $1 million since, well, we can't remember when. In fact, there are currently four nice homes priced between $975,000 and $995,000 but this circa-1890 clapboard Colonial caught our eye for its Victorian styling and pretty, landscaped lot of a little more than a half acre, within walking distance of train and town. At about 2,500 square feet, it features four bedrooms and two full bathrooms (and one half-bathroom). Nancy Dauk of Wheeler Real Estate in Darien has the listing (203-656-6501).
Greenwich at a Glance
Greenwich real estate is as secretive as it is exclusive. Homes are bought and sold by trustees and LLCs, with no names publicized. Some require sellers to prove their purchasing power before they're allowed in. And you'll never, ever see a for-sale sign stuck in a front yard, as they're forbidden here. Come to think of it, you're unlikely even to see a front yard at all, what with the imposing stone walls and winding mile-long private drives. It takes some sleuthing to uncover the boldface names behind the big properties. The late Leona Helmsley's Dunellen Hall, for instance, isn't marketed as hers: It's "the most famous of all great estates," listed with David Ogilvy & Associates for $125 million. Mel Gibson's Old Mill Farm on over 75 acres is on the market for $39.5 million, listed with Sotheby's International Realty. Sotheby's also has Tommy Hilfiger's Stone Hill estate, listed for $27.9 million.
In Greenwich, no one neighborhood has a lock on "the best." Coastal Belle Haven (Diana Ross, Paul Tudor Jones) is a posh, pristine collection of manses that's also one of the town's most convenient, just a short drive away from the trains, town and Interstate 95. By contrast, living in Back Country means expansive, equestrian spreads, where even the horses decamp for Palm Beach before the snow begins to fly. Mid-Country features the so-called Golden Triangle of residential neighborhoods from Round Hill Road to North Street. And south of the Post Road in Old Greenwich and Riverside is where you'll find picture-perfect, family-friendly neighborhoods with charming Victorians, loads of new shingle-style manses and the occasional vintage Colonial (albeit none under $1 million). Says Bonnie Paige of William Raveis, "If buyers are thinking of living in Greenwich as a good and long-term investment, they should call their agent before it's too late."
Greenwich by the Numbers
- Population: 62,000
- Current estimated median house value: $2,000,000
- Land area: 47.8 square miles
- Incorporated: 1656