Monday, February 20, 2017

How Does the White House Compare to the Average U.S. House?



President's Day.  The day we remember the indispensable contributions of Washington and Lincoln and other Presidential patriots. When you compare today’s typical Greenwich house with the one-room log cabin of Lincoln’s birthplace, the reality of where we have been, where we have gone and what makes for a home, is striking.

Last week, as the nation prepared for this year’s President’s Day, the NAR put out a novel kind of civic-minded observation. “In the spirit of President’s Day,” they had a stab at chronicling today’s Chief Executives’ official digs with our own—their fellow citizens’ residences.

“How Does the White House Compare to the Average Home?” didn’t deliver a warm and fuzzy “we’re all in this together” kind of takeaway—but the average reader probably didn’t expect that it would. The high points were presented in an infographic with colorful boxes and circles loaded with small print facts about the White House and the “Typical House.”
In fact, the White House has virtually nothing in common with the Typical House, which was represented by a picture of a nicely-painted row house. Most typical Greenwich houses aren’t row houses, but if we ignore that for the moment, there were some interesting tidbits:

The Typical House was built in 1991, so it’s newer than the White House which was built in 1792. (Not mentioned: the alterations made by the British when they torched it in the War of 1812).
The Typical U.S. detached single-family house as purchased is approximately 1,950 square feet.  The most common size home sold in Greenwich in 2016 was somewhere between 2,000-3,000 square feet.  Whether you live in Greenwich or other parts of the country, we're betting your home is a good deal smaller than the White House, although the square footage isn’t listed anywhere(maybe it’s classified?). What is detailed is the White House’s 132 rooms. They include a jogging track, swimming pool, movie theater, billiard room and bowling alley-- all amenities that can be found in some Greenwich homes.
The Typical House in the U.S. has a median of 3 bedrooms and the average number of bedrooms in a Greenwich home that sold in 2016 was 4. The White House has 35 bedrooms. 
Nationwide, the Typical House’s tenure with the typical owner is 12 years, whereas the White House’s inhabitants will have to call the moving vans after just 4 or 8 years.
  So it turns out that the White House isn’t really a lot like most normal houses. And let's not forget that besides square footage, number of bedrooms and amenities there are those six flights of stairs that you need to carry laundry up and down.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Positive Sentiment Boasts Greenwich Real Estate

Owning your own home is, for most of us, a goal that’s been with us so long we don’t even question it. In addition to the economic advantages that come with Greenwich real estate ownership, there are a host of corresponding emotional benefits—the sense of security and “belonging” within the community are just two.

So it should be no surprise that the real estate industry is bound to be at least somewhat affected by changes in the public’s emotional outlook. After all, when people start feeling good about the country and their own circumstances, they’ll be more likely to see the future in a positive light. More businesses will be started; more couples will decide it’s time to grow the family—and in Greenwich real estate terms, more homes will be bought and sold.

Last week, Greenwich real estate observers didn’t have to look hard to find a number of optimism-signaling items in the media. If local sentiment is in line with what was being reported nationally, it has to boost confidence in the commercial outlook for both Connecticut and Greenwich. For real estate matters in particular, optimism ruled.
The first wave arrived on Tuesday when Fannie Mae published its prognosis on “housing attitudes.” The quasi-governmental entity reported an abrupt turnaround in their Home Purchase Sentiment Index. This is the comprehensive sampling that measure various consumer sentiment on six components related to residential real estate. Most notable (actually, sort of astonishing!) was the component that measures consumers’ optimism regarding their own personal financial prospects and the economy. It registered the highest level in the history of the Index.

The percentage of those who say they feel now is a good time to sell a home rose, as did those who reported higher income in their own households. And the number of those who also believe home prices will rise in the coming year grew by 7%—which could explain why potential buyers might be increasingly eager to buy sooner rather than later.

The following day, RealtorMag® quoted a 1,000-consumer survey which confirmed that conclusion. It tracked those who “consider homeownership as a priority” and are considering buying a home in 2017. Undaunted by rising real estate prices, consumers are saying that they are more willing to sacrifice other priorities to save for a down payment. USA Today listed some of those “other priorities” as saving for emergencies or retirement—clearly signaling an increase in positive outlooks.

And then, just yesterday, the lead story in the real estate section of the Greenwich Times interviewed several realtors who concurred that the market is "on fire."

Some people grumble that roses have thorns; others are delighted that thorns have roses. When public sentiment begins to see more roses than thorns, Greenwich real estate is bound to be among the biggest beneficiaries. 


Thursday, February 16, 2017

How To Make Your Kitchen Appear As Large As Possible When Selling Your Home

 
One of my kitchen renovations, featuring antique flooring, Italian marble countertops, custom hood and Le Canche cooking center
When I see a feature with a title like 25 Ways to Make Your Kitchen Feel Bigger, I’m all in. Making any Greenwich kitchen feel bigger would be a definite plus for any home sale. On the scale of ideals, it would be right there next to cleanliness.


Increasingly, today’s Greenwich homebuyers think of the kitchen as a center of family entertaining—the center of gravity where everyone hangs out more than anywhere else. If another room features a giant TV entertainment center that might be serious competition for the family’s attention, but otherwise, it's the kitchen. It's in the kitchen where family members spend the most time and which gets the most scrutiny when it comes to a home sale.

There’s no question that a claustrophobic kitchen can slow an otherwise appealing home’s sale. Hiring an architect, contractor, pulling permits, etc. to physically expand a kitchen is a major undertaking that runs the risk of costing more than it returns. So finding ways to make your kitchen feel bigger without blowing out walls and tearing up the property for months on end, well—that’s definitely worth looking into.

To cut to the chase, most of the Feel Bigger Ways aren’t magical: they turn out to be design ideas that maximize storage efficiency. To achieve positive Greenwich home sale results, the idea is to systematically substitute suffocating kitchen clutter with eye-pleasing open space. Here's some easy ways to accomplish that:

1. Make the Most of Your Kitchen Island-The space beneath is ideal for “smart” storage solutions. Google "smart storage" for how to best do this.

2.  Get rid of Overhead Cabinets-- Abandon one of Greenwich most popular design ideas of bygone eras: the overhead cupboard. In most layouts, those utilitarian storage solutions assail kitchen occupants’ sightlines exactly where it will do the most harm. When you remove those overheads, a whole lot of claustrophobia goes with them. Unfortunately, a good deal of storage space goes with them.  That brings up two other tried-and-true alternatives. First, placing shelving on unused wall space can solve some of the storage dilemma—most pleasingly, when it’s some variety of open shelving. Kitchen design publications are filled with examples of appealing open and glass-windowed shelving.
Second is what could be the most useful, least expensive, and easily adopted insight for making your Greenwich kitchen fell bigger: just get rid of excess kitchen stuff! It’s simple but true. Removing unused utensils, pots & pans and kitchenware can work miracles. For the gourmet-pleasing cooks who can’t get by without a lot of exotic cookery aids, the solution is an off-site storage solution in the garage or dedicated closet. The minor inconvenience will be worth it if a quicker home sale results.

I have a background in kitchen and bath design which can be helpful as you prepare your kitchen and home to put it on the market.  Feel free to reach out.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Moving Do's And Don'ts

Just Sold on 10 Barnstable-- A Picture Perfect Moving Program

Sold your house and in that 30-90 day window between accepted offer and closing when everything has to be packed and moving organized?  First things first.  Take a deep breath, close your eyes and recall the best, most positive moments from past moves. 
Okay, if there aren’t any of those, take a page out of the 14 moves that I have put my family through in our 31 years of marriage:  Two bad weeks and then it's behind you.  With all these moves and watching the approach to moving of many clients, I've learned a thing or two on preparation.  Here's the Do's and Don'ts:

DON’TS
Don’t procrastinate. The best movers can be booked up months in advance, especially if you think you’ll be moving near the end of the month. Research movers, within Greenwich and beyond.  Get on-site written estimates.
Don’t buy just one black marker. You WILL set it down somewhere and lose it as soon as the packing gets ferocious (which is when you most need to mark the cartons with where they’re going). 
…and my favorite:
Don’t move boxes you haven’t opened since your last move. If you haven't used it, give it away and take a tax deduction or sell it.  

DO'S
Do start collecting cardboard boxes early. All sizes come in handy. There can’t be too many of the small boxes for fragile items: well bubble-wrapped, they’ll fit inside the larger ones.
Do use colored sticky notes: one color for items being moved, another for items being sold, another for items that will be given away, and another for items being thrown away,
Do take your time when it comes to unpacking. It is not a race!  And you may need the help of professionals-- either organizational specialists or decorators who know just where the furniture will look best.

Some people put off hunting for a new home because of the dreaded packing and moving that goes along with a change of digs. But if your family’s lifestyle has outgrown your current residence in Greenwich-- or anywhere for that matter, most of the trauma of moving can be avoided by a little pre-move organization. 

Yesterday, clients of mine closed on their property in the Burning Tree section of Greenwich.  It wasn't an easy pack up-- three buildings on the property and 21 years of residency.  Their moving process started the day after the contingencies were lifted.  We worked closely, sharing resources and planning out the process from A to Z.  And it paid off.  The closing went off without a hitch; the home was left in beautiful condition.

My background in renovations and interior decorating has yielded many trials, errors and learning in the most efficient and effective way to tackle moving-- a key part of the selling and moving process.  It's a part that I am very familiar with-- my family would say TOO familiar.  I'd be happy share what I've learned that has worked, and hasn't.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Is A Saltwater Pool for You?


A new pool completed the renovation of one of the pre-war homes I owned and fully renovated.

Question: What do saltwater pools and saltwater aquariums have in common?
Answer: Water.

That’s about all. When some house hunters see “saltwater pool” in Greenwich listings, the first thing that may come to mind is that last trip to the ocean seashore or swaying palm trees.  Visions of having their own playful pet dolphin in the backyard might flit through their consciousness (training: easy; maintenance: not so easy) before the practical questions begin to intrude— like having to rinse salt off after every dip, worrying about salt spray wrecking the lawn. Ultimately, the question would probably be, who in their right mind wants a saltwater pool instead of freshwater?

 The answer: some practical-minded Greenwich homeowners might. Saltwater pools aren’t filled with seawater.   The “saltwater” moniker refers to the way the fresh water is filtered and recirculated. There is a slight amount of saltiness to the water, but nowhere near what’s found in the oceans.

In a way, it’s really a shame that the name is what it is—especially when it causes potential buyers to make the connection with saltwater aquariums. People who’ve dealt with one of those know how difficult they are to maintain needing to keep all sorts of chemical balances in equilibrium—and that takes constant vigilance. 

Saltwater pools sidestep that drawback. They use electricity to manufacture the chlorine needed to battle microorganism growth—then continually monitor the result. These systems automatically start the pool pump when needed, resulting in less demand for homeowner monitoring.  

That same convenience has a downside, however, because pool pumps have to run longer than they do in manually chlorinated pools. The reason is a complicated technological explanation having to do with the difference between the filtration systems (electrolysis vs. added cyanurates)—the long and short of which is fewer expensive chemicals (traditional) vs. higher energy costs (saltwater systems).  You can learn a lot about salt water pools on the internet at sites such as Research Funding or by talking to your local pool company.  Haggerty Pools in Stamford helped me make the change to a saltwater pool a few years ago and are very knowledgeable.

With a background in project management in the residential building industry and being a real estate broker in Greenwich CT,  I am happy to talk to you on the impact of home improvements on future resale value—even if that future sale isn’t an immediate prospect. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Why Greenwich Listing Now Might Be Shrewd

If this is going to be a year of upsets, the rules for when Greenwich listings are best initiated might be primed to fly out the window. There’s no guarantee that 2017’s Greenwich listing performance will bend the rules, but if the National Association of Realtor’s® news site is right, it’s a definite possibility.

The history has long demonstrated that the most opportune time of year to add your home to the Greenwich listings is during the peak spring and summer seasons. When you look at the volume of home sales through most years, those months do look inviting. There are exceptions, but for the most part, spring and summer regularly excel in sales volume.
Last week, the Realtor® website ran an article in their Trends area headlining that “This Year, Sellers May Benefit from Listing Early.” Their reasoning was short and sweet—citing recent facts, then drawing a conclusion that’s the opposite of what they seem to indicate. Here are the facts:

1. Supply. It’s a fact that from one end of the country to the other, the residential inventory (supply) is starkly reduced; even Greenwich levels are beginning to decline.  According to the NAR, “Inventory levels at the beginning of 2017 are at multiyear lows.” 

2. Demand. Even though the late fall and winter months have traditionally shown weak demand, the threat of mortgage rate hikes—then the actual rises—may have been all that was needed to instill a growing sense of urgency among buyers. Early results reflect buyer demand that’s “abnormally strong” for this time of year.

3. Optimism. With consumer confidence at a 15-year high, once the spring buying season gets going in earnest, Greenwich buyers might find themselves in “buying competition” that will “get fierce.”

These trends are all well-documented. Yet at first blush, they seem to argue against listing your home now. After all, wouldn’t it still make sense for to follow the traditional dictum—to hold off until that fierce competition takes hold? The answer that flips such a conclusion is found in the fourth fact:

4. Sellers Will be Buyers. Overwhelmingly, national surveys suggest that the homeowners behind most Greenwich listings will also become buyers once they have sold. In fact, an estimated 85% of American home sellers plan to buy another home! If that’s correct, it’s not surprising that they’ll be grateful if they are quick to sell into this winter’s market. That will not only help them get a jump on the crowd come springtime—it will also lengthen the odds that they can cash in on mortgage rates before they rise substantially. All of a sudden, the net advantage to listing early could be substantial! 

The short takeaway is that simply accepting the old common wisdom warrants a second look in 2017. If you are one of our Greenwich homeowners who automatically presumed the wisdom of waiting a while longer to join the Greenwich listings, it might pay to reassess. Give me a call if you’d like to discuss how your plans fit into today’s broader residential picture—and how to take maximum advantage of this year’s market!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Asking Price: To Drop or Not To Drop? A Critical Greenwich Real Estate Question

For more than a year, the average DOM (days on market) for residential properties have been increasing in Greenwich. It’s a “speed of sale” measure—one that most Greenwich home sellers hope will reflect that it won’t be long before they are handing the keys to happy new owners.

There are some ruling considerations that go into establishing a winning asking price. One is psychological: thinking of a buyer’s frame of mind, most people don’t want to be the only ones who are interested in a house. When a slightly lower-than-comparable asking price is part of the marketing message, it draws a crowd. Another consideration is the search bracket. Knowing how buyers tend to bracket price range parameters for similar Greenwich homes is something I can help with. If comparable homes have been selling in a range that tops out at $400,000, asking $410,000 (so you can discount it in later negotiations) is a mistake: your property won’t even appear on search results you’re aiming for.  

My philosophy is that pricing is an ongoing discussion—particularly if the buyer activity level is less than expected. In every dissertation, oration, article, comment, FAQ, and essay about successful house sales, the dictum is the same: if the place doesn’t sell, first check the asking price.

Sometimes that truism can seem indisputable. If a property’s asking price is higher than comparable Greenwich homes that have recently sold—and no outside factors have slowed all area sales- the asking price is probably the stumbling block. A homeowner can quite reasonably object that their property has unusual qualities that make direct comparisons with other Greenwich homes inexact, but that logic may not be powerful enough to counter the market figures that buyers can see (remember that they don’t want to be the only ones who are interested). Sometimes even for a home that shows spectacularly, lowering the asking price can be the simplest and quickest route to a sale.

In the case of those Greenwich homes where the asking price conformity isn’t the issue—as when there simply are no other properties that are at all similar—if lowering the asking price is not indicated, it will simply become a waiting game: waiting for the buyer who appreciates the special character of the property. The good news is that there IS a buyer out there for every property; the bad news is that unique properties attract unique buyers—as in, there are fewer of them. But there is some second good news: when they do show up, they are apt to fall in love with the place!

Pricing is part math and part skill, both art and science, and since the market is constantly changing, it’s a skill that rewards experience tempered by consistent monitoring. I monitor Greenwich real estate full time and love a roll up the sleeves analysis.  If you need that kind of in the trenches representation, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at robin.kencel@elliman.com. 

Graphic Credit: Parkland Real Estate