Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Art of Trimming the Christmas Tree






Sure, you can just wrap some lights and slap some ornaments up and check "Trim The Tree" off your To Do list, but wouldn't it be more fun to show your style and have the tree say a little something about you and your family?

Two ideas to jazz up your tree and eight tips to make the trimming go easy.

IDEAS
IDEA #1:
Theme the Tree:  Pick a color, storyline, style or topic for the decorating. If nothing comes to mind, look at these resources for theme ideas: http://www.bhg.com/christmas/trees/christmas-tree-themes/ or http://www.hgtv.com/decorating-basics/15-christmas-tree-decorating-ideas/pictures/index.html  This year, our theme is "things that fly"… birds, butterflies, insects and airplanes are featured on the tree.

IDEA #2:
More is More.  You just can't have too much going on in the Christmas tree.  Layer it on-- but do so with some law and order to the trimming.





TIPS1.  Put the tree in a place that shows it off:  Don't just stick the tree in the first spot that comes to mind.  Think about where everyone will enjoy it most and where it will look the prettiest.  This may involve  some furniture rearranging.  Think of the tree as a piece of art and be sure that it is shown to it's best advantage and is placed wherever it will look best.
2.  Put whatever is going on the tippy top on BEFORE you put the tree up.  While it is on it's side and you are getting it in the stand, put the star, angel, decoration on top and avoid the old tottering on the ladder routine.
3.  Start the lights at the bottom and work your way up, from the inside (near the trunk, to the outside).  Test each strand of lights to be sure it works before wrapping the whole tree.

4.  Largest ornaments on the bottom, smaller as you go up the tree.  This is a general guideline that you should follow for about 80% of the ornaments.  The remainder you can mix in.
5. Work on a section at a time, usually easiest to start from the top down so you aren't hitting ornaments as you put new ones on.

6.  Put the larger ornaments on first, looking for the natural holes in the tree, to fill in those blank spots.
7.  Think Layering. After ornaments and garlands are on, do you want to add in some natural or artificial sprigs, flowers or branches?
8.  Water the tree regularly.  It doesn't just take care of itself.
9.  Local Greenwich Spots for Ornaments: Hoaglands of Greenwich, MacArdles, Greenwich Orchid

For more tree ideas, see my Pinterest board, http://www.pinterest.com/rkencel/  Happy Trimming!

Rabbit Hill Estate in Scarborough, NY




Bird's Eye View of Rabbit Hill with Hudson River views
It takes a lot to get me excited when it comes to architecture so it speaks volumes that I was shuttering away at the famed Rabbit Hill estate in Scarborough, NY yesterday.  Rabbit Hill was designed by architect Mott Schmidt and built in 1928 for William Lambie, a NY banker who worked his way up from bank clerk to financier.  Schmidt has a client list that is the "Who's Who" of the gilded age, having designed residences for the Astors, Rockefellers and Morgans amongst many others in this small Hudson River community and elsewhere.  

The sprawling 13,000+ brick Georgian sits high on its 16 acres.  It is adjacent to Sleepy Hollow Country Club, is on the road that inspired the headless horseman tale by Washington Irving and across the street from Babette Rockefeller's country home, complete with a herd of cows.

The detail in the home is exquisite and attention to detail of a level you just don't see today.  Here,
is marble molding that runs up the curved main staircase, a layer of opulence that you wouldn't think of.  This is just the smallest example of the sort of detail that graces every space throughout the residence.

The decorating finishes are equally special.  This billiard room,
off the main hallway of the first floor just past the living room, has walls covered in wallpaper of the tiniest feathers.  The warming benches that run around the room's perimeter are thought to have been church pews, retrofitted for the home.






William Morris an Morris-style wallcoverings are featured in every bedroom. What captured my mind is the multiple use of wallpapers and how successfully blended they are, as shown in the master bedroom. Tough to see in the photo perhaps, but there is actually two contrasting bands of wallpaper at the crown, in addition to the paper on the walls.

Much effort was put into updating the decorating of the main floor rooms, such as the living room.  The walls, once in a deep jewel color with heavy draperies, was lacquered white, giving it an entirely different vibe and showing off the magnificent marble mantlepiece and molding details.  The property is being offered at $9.8 million and can be seen through Houlihan Lawrence by contacting David Turner


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Some Nice Big Property Sales in Greenwich Last Week

It was a busy week for Greenwich real estate, which is a bit surprising since typically we see activity quieting down once Thanksgiving arrives.  Fourteen single family sales closed in the past seven days along with five condominiums/co op sales.

The least expensive single family property to sell last week was a 1,570 square foot home at 21 High St. in Greenwich.  With 3 bedrooms and 2 baths, this home is in Byram.  It sold for $530,000.

At the high end of the spectrum, two homes sold in the $6 million range, which is terrific news.  The most expensive home to sell last week was 717 Riversville Road, which sold for $6,500,000.  At 9,068 sq ft and sitting on 5 acres, it has 6 bedrooms and 9 full baths.  Further good news is that it wasn't on the market all that long-- just 212 days, a little above the average and it is in backcountry Greenwich.  Looks like my prediction that backcountry is going to be coming back is sticking.

If last week's sales are any indication along with the level of showings and general activity that I, and my colleagues at Houlihan Lawrence are seeing, it's going to be a healthy end of year for real estate.  

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Think An Accepted Offer is a "Done Deal"? Think Again

Rates are starting to rise and the Dodd Frank Act is just around the corner, promising to make the mortgage approval process just a little bit tougher.  The market is heating up even more as would be residents try to squeeze in new purchases.  You have survived a bidding war and have heard the three sweetest words your realtor can say to you,
"You got it!".  Time to get your lawyer on board, get contingencies looked after and bring this deal to an executed contract.   

Don't screw it up now, whether you are a buyer or a seller.   Outsmarting yourself will accomplish nothing.  Four guidelines to keeping the transaction moving smoothly-- and by the way, are good operating instructions for life anyway.

Be Reasonable.  Unless you are buying a spanking brand new house, where everything is supposed to be "perfect", there will be things that are not right nor perfect found in the building inspection.  Expect this.  The questions to ask yourself are:  Is this normal wear and tear, is it dangerous, is it as it was presented in property disclosures and marketing materials?  The answer to these questions gives you insight into who should pay for remediation.

On an accepted offer in the inspection phase this week, the building inspector found that the jets in the spa of the pool weren't working.  
Never in the showings nor marketing materials, was there an indication that anything wasn't working.  When the owners' learned of the non-working jets, they had no problem having this $500 item replaced.  They understood that if you advertise a pool and spa, the buyer assumes it's working.

At this same inspection, one of the chimneys was found to have some bricks that are going to need repointing.  Shifting of bricks on the chimney are normal wear and tear.  The buyer will be handling that one.

In the septic inspection, the septic company noted that the traps which access the pipes in the leeching fields were loose and several broken, allowing soil and leaves to seep in.  To replace the traps and clean them out will be $1,500.  This issue could be argued either way I suppose but here, the owners immediately said they would take care of it.  They are "that kind" of people.  They want to have a transaction where everyone feels it was fair and there is no animosity.  

Have a Compromising Mindset.  What can you live with?  What seems equitable for both sides?  Look at each issue from the buyer and seller side, regardless of which one you are on.  

Follow the Lead of Your Attorney and Realtor.  These are your quarterbacks.  They have had a lot more experience in real estate negotiating than you probably have.  Assuming they are competent and level headed, they can guide you through the process and any sticky wickets.

Leave the Drama Out Of It.  This isn't the stage nor big screen.  Stay calm and Breath deeply. Like most things in life, no one will remember the details but they will remember how you handled them.


NOTE:  For those of you who read last week's post on the Bidding Wars my clients were under, they had an accepted offer and the inspections and contract preparation process couldn't have gone more smoothly.  To see that blog go to: http://www.robinkencelblog.com/2013/12/three-questions-to-ask-yourself-if-you.html

Monday, December 2, 2013

Bidding War Rights and Wrongs

Last week was a rough one.  I have been working with an absolutely lovely family, looking to relocate to Greenwich from Westchester county now that the last of their children will be entering college next year.  Like many, they are attracted to Greenwich's low tax structure, the vibrancy and diversity of the town, and the ease in getting to New York City.  After a thorough search, they found a property that hit all the marks for them and presented a bid.  There was the usual back and forth with offers and counter offers, as well as tweaking of terms, until an agreement was reached and the offer was accepted.  Inspections took place in record time, with accommodating professionals working over the weekend to get them completed.  

Then, a hiccup occurred.  
Another offer was presented to the owner.  We are seeing multiple bids with increasing frequency in Greenwich, and particularly in Old Greenwich and Riverside.  No one likes it, but it happens.  After a painful three days, which culminated with the owner's decree that the "first signed contract wins" and two contracts sent out at once, my clients lost the house.  Is "shopping a bid" and pitting one buyer against another ethical, fair or right? 

You can put yourself in the Buyer #1 and Buyer #2 shoes as well as the owner's ,and come to your own conclusion.  When you do that, don't leave out the part where Buyer #1 has spent a few thousand dollars on inspections and been told that their offer has been accepted.  The above process surely didn't show Greenwich to it's best advantage and sure made it look like money trumps all else.

Fast forward to yesterday.  My buyers found another property that they like.  It has an offer on it already (do we have a knack for this multiple bid thing, or what?).  Here's how this seller's realtor is proposing to handle it.  Highest and best offers will be submitted to the seller's attorney.  I like this.  It feels fair and impartial.  I am particularly impressed with this realtor in that the other offer is from within her brokerage.  Thank you Ms. Realtor for showing my buyers what I think of as the "real" Greenwich and it's people.  

For buyers who find themselves in this uncomfortable situation, I'd offer the following:

1.  Determine Your "I won't feel bad to have lost the house" Bottom Line Price:  Ask yourself at what price would you be okay knowing you lost the house.  Will that extra jump or two really make the difference six months or one year down the line or will the time it takes to find another property that you like result in higher market prices since we are in an appreciating market?

2.  Understand How the Property Sits, Value-wise, in the Current Market: Look at 3 and 6 months comparable sales in terms of location, square footage, lot size, amenities, condition, style of house, layout of floor plan and construction quality.  

3.  Don't Underestimate What You Will Need to Spend if Renovation or Updates are Needed:  If this is a property that is going to take some work to get it to the place that you need it to be, be sure that a builder or professional looks at it and gives you a sense of what this will cost.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fun Facts and Straight Talk on Water Closets (aka toilets)

Straight Talk On Toilets: The average guy will spend 3 years on a toilet in his lifetime, according to a March, 2012 article in Men’s Health.  So shouldn’t it come with a little something to do and built in fun, not to mention be comfortable?

In recent years, the talk on toilets has focused on water efficiency, with the Japanese company Toto having been the leader in offering High Efficiency Toilets (HET).  To be HET, a toilet must use 20% less water than mandated and only need to flush.  Since Toto’s entry, other manufacturers have entered the HET market and at varying price points.  Other features that have become popular for standard toilets are elongated seats and seat height.

In my years of work in renovation and design, Toto, Kohler and American Standard are the three brands that I like for design, care, price/value and performance.  But what if you want something more than just a nice toilet?

The Most Expensive Toilet in the World: 
Feeling like your bathroom or powder room needs a little oomph?  How about dazzling your guests with an unexpected pizzazz a la the toilet, or water closet as we like to say in the real estate and decorating worlds.

Nothing says opulence like gold:  First up, is the most expensive toilet in the world.  Made in Hong Kong, it is solid 24 carat gold.   It’s not meant to be used; it’s really just a conversation starter and apparently effective public relations for the company that is showcasing it , Hang Fung Gold Technology Group.  When gold hits $1,000/ounce the toilet will be melted down and the gold sold for a cool profit. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-tdwx1ZVco

A Toilet that Entertains:  Kohler’s Numi looks like a giant lego piece but that’s about the only thing that’s negative about it.  Well, that and the price, which is about $6,600. “I think amenity number one in any bathroom I’ll design for myself is music,” says Matt Muenster from DIY Network’s Bath Crashers. “You can’t just make things look pretty— you’ve gotta create an atmosphere.”  I guess in the photo below, the toilet is doubling as a piece of art?


The Numi automatically flushes and lowers the seat, all sensor driven.  It does everything but makes your morning cappuccino.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thinking 20 Years Out and Not Scared to Admit it? Luxury turnkey community in Greenwich CT


Add 20 years to your current age and ask yourself how much you are going to like stairs.  And climbing them several times a day.  Since the baby boomers are headed towards their late 60s and 70s, it seems like that question is gaining popularity.  At least based on the response to my new to the market listing yesterday in Greenwich's elegant gated community, Chieftans.


There are 27 custom built homes that sit on 97 acres which was the property of the Gimbel family (owners of the famed Gimbel's that once rivaled Macy's on Herald Square).  With round-the-clock security, landscaping care and maintenance, snow removal and more, the community is well manicured and maintained.

The property just brought to market was the home to a couple with a serious passion for art and beauty.  The custom detail and design work seen in everything from mosaic floors to marble bathrooms speaks of their love of architecture and decorating.

The public rooms are gracious and the first floor master bedroom suite just as it should be with two bathrooms and two generous dressing rooms.

With a second floor family room and three generous bedrooms with en suite baths situated around an open gallery, there is a wonderful sense of privacy without being isolated.

And it has something I have not seen in Greenwich yet-- a garage bay specifically built for a stretch limousine.  Now that's living!  $3,100,000 .   rkencel@houlihanlawrence.com

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Michael Jordan's Latest Real Estate Conquer

Jordan's New North Carolina Home Purchase
Looks like basketball isn’t the only place where NBA legend Michael Jordan is good at negotiating lay ups.   Mr. Jordan just completed a sweet deal on a 12,310 sq ft home on Lake Norman (North Carolina) for $2.8 million, in what appears to be a bank sale.  The home has a fitness center, two story great room, pool, spa, boat slip and sits on the seventh hole of The Peninsula Club, according the Charlotte Observer.

Jordan is still trying to sell his mammoth home in Chicago’s north shore Highland Park,

which is currently on the market for $29 million.  It will be auctioned on November 22nd by Concierge Auctions, www.conciergeauctions.com.  The 59,000 square foot home is set on 10 acres and has everything you would expect to entertain His Airness:  15 bedrooms, home theatre, cigar room, huge pool and spa, gym, basketball court (natch) and more.

Hey Michael, we know you are busy with the Bobcats, but if you need home theatre, pool and spa, fitness center, Greenwich has just the property for you—and we’ll throw in a multi sport court and 52’ indoor turf field for free which could easily be converted to an indoor golf simulation space, another hobby we know you are working on.



Why keep all your properties in the south and miss the four seasons that New England and Greenwich have to offer? Think it over and get back to me.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Who Owns the Largest Land in America and In Greenwich, CT?

While the wealthy are seeing the value of adding more land to their investment portfolio, it looks like those that are doing so have ties to the areas of the country where there is lots of land to be had, and where land is a fundamental part of life in those areas.  Ranches and horse farms are common reasons for adding more and more land to holdings.

The two individuals that made the top 100 list that are closest in proximity to Greenwich are #46, Cassidy Heirs with 212,985 acres spread between Maine and Florida and #88, Roxanne Quinby with 119,000 acres in Maine.  
Roxanne Quinby
Unlike many of the top 100, who's land has been handed down and added to for generations, Quinby had no ties to land when she arrived in Maine in 1975 as a 24 year old in a VW bug.  She happened to meet Burt Shavitz, a beekeeper, and soon was joining him to sell honey out of the back of his pickup truck.  It was a small jump from truck to farmer's markets and soon the two where adding to their product line of what they called Burt's Bees products.  As the product line grew, Quinby bought her first land--- 8,000 acres of it to be precise.  When she and Shavitz sold Burt's Bees to Clorox in 2007 she made $350 million.  And with it, bought acres and acres of more Maine land.

The Original Burt's Bees Line
The Burt's Bees Lip Balm Line today, owned by Clorox



The number one private landowner for 2013 at 2.2 million acres is Connecticut native John Malone, the media titan. Malone, who grew up in nearby Milford, Ct ,has land holdings that span the country from New Mexico to Maine and include forests, ranches, deserts, islands and ports. Just to put it in perspective, that amount of acreage is equal to two times the state of Delaware. 

Looking a little closer to home, I thought it would be interesting to take a peek at some of the larger land holdings in Greenwich that are currently on the market. First up is Copper Beech Farm, the 449 Indian Field Rd. Mead Point property set on 50.6 waterfront acres which is currently on the market for $140 million. It is the largest waterfront property to be available in the last decade and was the home of the Lauder Greenway family, co-founders of U.S. Steel, who moved into the 19th century Victorian house in 1904. The property has two mainland parcels, two islands and one mile of shoreline. 

The other large property currently for sale is 124 Old Mill Road, north of the Merritt Parkway. This property is 75.70 acres and has on it a 1926 elizabethean inspired manse designed by renowned architect, Charles Lewis Bowman. It is being offered at $33 million. Other large land holdings in Greenwich that are not on the market, but interesting to know about are: * Calf Island, owned by the Town of Greenwich-At 31.5 acres, this is the largest off-shore island in Greenwich.
  
As for the largest single parcels of town owned lands in Greenwich:  The top five are:

1.  The Babcock Preserve, North St. (it has great hiking trails which are gorgeous during this time of year) :  297 acres
2.  Griffith Harris Golf Course: The town owned golf course at 1323 King St. : 154 acres 
3.  Tod's Point: Old Greenwich : 147 acres (You can read about the history of Tod's point in past newsletters at my website www.robinkencel.com
4.  The Goodbody Property, Cognewaugh Rd.: Another nature preserve: 110 acres
5.  Montgomery Pinetum (which has the Greenwich Garden Center within it), 101 Orchard St. 76 acres 
 For a review of the top 10 landowners, click here Top 10 landowners in America




Holy Cow! Modern Day Bonnie & Clyde Showed Up At My Open House

Last Sunday I ran an Open House for a property in Greenwich that I am representing.   The Open House was announced on all the big real estate online services-- Realtor.com, Trulia.com, Zillow.com and more.  The Bills were playing the Steelers at the exact time of the Open House, and since the Bills (whom I do adore but seriously, can't those guys get it together.  I mean, what was up with Goodwin getting in the way of his teammate's catch the week before?) are rather unreliable, I figured, a combination of great weather, advertised sweets and no good football games would bring out some buyers.

I was correct and had a steady flow of visitors.  The last folks were a family of four.  A very pregnant mom, let's call her Sue, about 34, the dad, let's call him Dave, about same age and two boys approximately 4 and 6 years of age.  They said that they were moving from Los Angeles, had been in NYC for a bit and now were trying to decide between Westport and Greenwich.  They were very jazzed up about the house and life in general and said that timing was critical.  The baby was due by C-section on December 6th and they would really like to be in a house by then.  Every time they made an offer on a new construction home, it got held up by an incomplete Certificate of  Occupancy so they were now looking at homes in good condition but not brand, spanking new.  

There were lots of enthusiastic thumbs up as they toured through the house, with Sue exclaiming that the massive third floor would be perfect for Dave's trading business.  He beamed saying that his firm had an office in NYC but he worked out of the home.  I asked the boys where they went to school and they told me that they were being home schooled to which the mom replied, "That's ending Monday when the tutor starts."  Dave said that the boys were just accepted at Buckley and I looked at him puzzled (the only Buckley I know is in NYC) and he said "Yeah, it's on North St.  It's a Montessori School."  I corrected him that it was Whitby which he was thinking of.  Odd but, oh well.

I asked for their names and email so that I could send them any follow up information.  The email bounced back.  I did a little Googling to see if I spelled their names wrong. What popped up next was a series of blogs and articles about this couple.  The articles and supporting documents showed a range from unpaid hotel bills, non payment for renovation services, and misrepresentations in a number of real estate related transactions.

All to say, it's always good to have your antennae up.  If these folks had made a bid, I would have let my client's lawyer take a look at the internet information, just to be extra careful.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

What's Hot In Homes? Marble, Booze and Views

Wondering if you should really take on that new dream project?  How your bathrooms stack up to today's trends? Or what features and amenities are most compelling these days to a buyer?

To get some insights into these answers, I looked at two studies: one by Trulia, which  analyzed the words and phrases used in luxury listings for two years to see what home features are trending up or down and the second, a survey by Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate among luxury property homebuyers purchasing between May-June, 2013.  

Here's the topline:

Fabulous Amenities Trumps Square Footage:  Buyers want as many fabulous amenities and upgrades as they can get in their new home, rather than more square footage.  In fact, a whopping 94% of those surveyed by Better Homes said that they would rather have a lifestyle feature that they want, rather than 1,000 more square feet of space.  The most popular features mentioned? Better neighborhood, having a house with "character", more land, proximity to restaurants and entertainment, and shorter commute time.

"Smart" Home Wins Over "Green Home": Who wants a home today that isn't tech-friendly?  What "wired" means however, has about a two year life cycle, so flexibility and adaptability in your technology systems choices can be important. (to be discussed in my year end Market Report)

What's Hot? Marble, Booze and Windows

The Sumptuous Bath: The more luxurious the bath, the better, and marble is the "wow" factor.  Marble floors aren't enough to say luxury anymore.
 Sinks and shower walls in marble are expected in a luxury home, and those baths that have brought it onto the walls are considered to have gone the extra mile-- a finding that I have I have seen in both my real estate and decorating worlds.  













Every Room With A View and the Bigger the Better: Windows that are oversized, floor to ceiling windows, and windows that offer expanded views are features that are trending up in Trulia listing mentions.  Except for the rare hermit, buyers who spark to a house that is dark and has poor natural light are rarely found.  The house that has been sited to take advantage of sunlight throughout the day, has an advantage.


Wine Rooms-- They Just Get Fancier:  
First, it was just having a room set aside for your cases of wine.  Then it was the temperature controlled room with special racks.  Now, wine rooms are an expected luxury, the latest  being built with dual temperature control to make sure your whites and reds are both chilled to perfection.

A few other home luxuries that are trending up:

Home Gyms-- No signs of fitness going away any time soon. Wait, let me just put this donut down so I can finish blogging.

Outdoor terraces, kitchens, pools and tennis courts and ponds-- Being outdoors just gets more thumbs up.  A backlash from all the time we spend hunched over computers?


And What's Up WIth Kitchens?  Could it be that the huge kitchen has seen it's hay day?  There is some evidence that eating out continues to be on the rise, making the gourmet kitchen with a thousand appliances a bit out of favor.

Have something you would like to know or have me discuss?  Let me know, rkencel@houlihanlawrence.com






Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Least and Most Expensive Properties Sold in Greenwich, Ct During the Government Shut Down

Consumer confidence levels slid to their lowest levels since April, WalMart sales tanked, tourists were kept from visiting national parks and monuments... it felt a little like a snow day in Greenwich, keep your head down, jammies on, and hope that at least the plows were working so you could go get some vital vittles if needed.

So what has sold in Greenwich since the shutdown?

Of the 28 single family homes that sold during the shutdown, the least expensive house to sell between October 1-15, was a home that was on the market for 164 days.  A 4 bedroom bedroom, 2 bath cape cod house on Pilgrim Drive. (Pemberwick section of Glenville) that is 1,441 sq ft and on .23 acres.  Just darling and sold for $520,000.



On the high end, a home that had a starting price of over $17.5 million sold for $14 million after 467 days on the market.  Over 14,900 sq ft and set on 4.52 acres, it had something for everyone including indoor and outdoor pools, a tennis court and more. Nice photos of 135 Taconic Rd.

So, how was the sales activity this year during the shutdown vs a year ago when the government was doing its usual thing?  Funny enough, 28 properties sold during the same time period a year ago.  Go figure.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Halloween Decorating Taken To A Whole New Level

I know-- Big headline that's got you thinking "over promise."  But I kid you not.  I have been waiting for four years to share these holiday decorations.

Saratoga Springs is someplace special, known for horses (Saratoga Racetrack is there of course) and health/wellness (it was once a destination spot to take treatments in its springs), and home to Skidmore College, a liberal arts college.




Palazzo Riggi, named after the owners who built the 20,495 sq ft home about 10 years ago, takes the Halloween holiday seriously.  There are literally mounds of pumpkins and goards artfully heaped on squares of hay.  Cornstalks flank the front gates.  There are no blow up pumpkins or witches, no tiny jack o lanterns hanging off tree branches and no headless ghouls floating in your face.


 The decorations didn't stop curbside. The fall theme was carried right out to the street with street lamps wrapped and cabbage roses and mums at the base. The home is located on Broadway, a main street in Saratoga and on a corner.  Both sides of the house that face streets are decorated, the photo below is the side of the house that faces Greenfield Ave.




Nor are they in the front only.  The property is a corner lot and the side street facade has as much attention given to the fall decorations as the front view.  














The stone walls aren't safe from decoration either.  

And what would a property be without a horse on it, after all, this is Saratoga.  The horse, along with the owners' 30 dogs, will be just fine when winter arrives.  The lawn is heated so that no animals get cold paws when they are out romping around.






Monday, October 21, 2013

5 Night Views of Greenwich CT that You've Never Seen Before

How many times have you driven around Greenwich seeing it but not seeing it.  Same old, same old, right?  Maybe not.  Take a look at what photographer Julien Jarry came up with when I challenged him to shoot Greenwich landmarks at night.

See if you can identify them (the answers are at the end of this post)

Here's a hint on the above.  It makes you ask the question, where does Greenwich really end?  And who has the air rights above your house?  Now, the shot below is of something that is in progress.  It's a building that was constructed in the 1920-30s time period and I would bet that 60% of all Greenwich residents have been in it at one time or another.  Another hint:  It is on the National Registry of Historic Places and sold in 2011 for $15 million Building Sells    Give up?  It's the old post office on Greenwich Avenue, soon to be rented to the retail giant Restoration Hardware.


 The next photo is perfect timing for Halloween... it's spooky!!!!  


And this next photo is somewhere that your kids might often claim they are at--- but not! 

This guy is just taking a quick break from using his brain...must be trying to decide if he should renovate or buy a new house.....

And this is the place you want to know your way around, any time that you are doing work on your house.

All photographs by Julien Jarry, julienajarry@gmail.com

Answers to Above:
1.  The Bowman Observatory, on the grounds of Julian Curtiss School, built in 1940 by Greenwich High School teacher Alden W. Smith,
2.  The Greenwich Avenue post office building, currently undergoing renovation and will be rented by Restoration Hardware,
3.  The Graveyard at Christ Church, Greenwich, CT,
4.  The front steps of Greenwich Library,  Post Rd., 
5.  The statue in the courtyard at Greenwich Library
6.  The town hall of Greenwich, Ct.  This was Greenwich High School until the 1960s.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Selling A House? Don't be Dim About the Importance of Lighting

This week, I was asked to preview a 1950s one story wood and glass house in a woodland setting that is going to be put on the market.  The home is in its original condition, right down to the lighting fixtures.  As we discussed how far to take the updating and how each improvement would impact a potential sales price, the question of replacing lights came up.  This is always a sticky wicket but one that has to be addressed for one reason.  Lighting sets a tone... both in terms of its functional impact as well as its aesthetic value.   Great lighting can be very expensive.  Good lighting can be still be more than you think it ought to cost.  But if I told you the number of times that potential buyers notice and comment on the lighting, you would think again about not assessing it, if you are a seller.  

So, if you are thinking about selling your home, here's exercise number 1.  Walk through your house with a critical eye, and determine if the ceiling and hanging lights are appropriate for the potential price tag of your home, and if they set a mood/tone.... or are they a distraction.  Ask the same of any sconces.  If you don't trust your own taste parameters, ask a friend who does or someone in the decorating business.  


Here's a quick test to see if you "get" the lighting thing. Which of the homes below have lighting that is complementary to the house?



If you said "Neither" , you are correct.  The top photo would be better off having no ceiling lights as the ceilings appear to be low.  High hats (recessed lights) would be the right answer.  And by the way, it would be best to have the furniture taken out of the top room if possible as it is really dating the place.

The lower photo lighting just makes me feel sad.  The lights aren't bad in and of themselves but they aren't made to hang on a wall with cords hanging down (which also make me feel like they are a safety hazard.  A young child could easily get caught in it).  This room would be better off having one center ceiling light or have recessed lights.


Once you take stock of what lights need to be changed out completely because of their outdated style or condition, the best approach is to chose fixtures that are unobtrusive and innocuous, blending in with the walls and ceilings.  Unless you have a modern home or are speaking about a bathroom or kitchen, think about fixtures that have brass trim.  The rule of thumb I use is to take the lead from the hardware, knobs and general colors of a room.  Cool colors such as greys and blues usually call for nickel or chrome finish fixtures; warm colors are most likely going to favor brass trims.


One company that I like alot for moderate priced, classic fixtures is Visual Comfort.
A nice looking ceiling fixture, great for a hallway or small entry
  Many of their fixtures are copies of more expensive brands.  Local vendors that carry Visual Comfort are Greenwich Metal Refinishing in Stamford (who are also fabulous for restoring, polishing, and fixing older fixtures) and The Accessory Store in Stamford.  Greenwich Lighting on the Post Rd in Greenwich also carries a nice selection of lighting fixtures.  If you want to go up a notch, take a look at Restoration Hardware's line (Greenwich Avenue)
Classic kitchen island light from Restoration Hardware
or Waterworks, specifically for bathroom fixtures (also on the Post Rd. in Greenwich).
One of my favorite Waterwork's sconces, especially for a small bathroom
 One of the stores with the largest on site selection is Klaffs in Norwalk; be sure to go up to the bathroom department to say hello to "Press", I am convinced he was a standup comedian in another life.


For lighting fixtures that you are not replacing, be sure that they are cleaned, in good condition, work and are not missing any bulbs.  Lights that have multiple bulbs need to have all bulbs of the same wattage and type in the fixture.  There is nothing worse than fixtures with burned out bulbs, missing bulbs, mismatched bulbs or that are dusty and dirty.


One last note: Why wait until you are thinking about listing your house to take stock of your lighting?  Doing a bulb check and light review annually is good home maintenance.



Sunday, September 29, 2013

Real Estate First Impressions: When The Front Door Opens

This week, I am listing an 11,000+ sq. ft. stone and shingle home that was built in 2005.  It is a sprawling home with family spaces on four levels, including a 30' long game room, dedicated home theatre and more.  When I met with the family seven days ago to discuss getting it to the market, I was surprised.  Though the house "reads" fresh and "today" on the outside, the interior decorating does not.  It is very, very traditional, with a color palette established right inside the front door with a deep burgundy and gold stair runner, yellow living room and wedgewood blue dining room.   

In short, for today's market, I felt a big disconnect between the exterior and interiors of the home and it started right in the entry, which got me thinking about entries and how important they are in what tone is established when selling a house.  With that and having my other career hat on from my design firm, Ellsworth Ford Associates, let's talk about the do's and don'ts of entry halls, foyers and reception areas... which, of course, is the first thing that hits you when you open the front door.

Walking Through A Front Door Should Make You Want to Kick Off Your Shoes and Stay
Look at your entry with a critical eye and ask these questions:

1.  Does my entry give an inviting, warm welcome.  Sure, that welcome is in part established by the person greeting you, but it's also set by the tone of the interiors.  Take a look at the next two photos  -- which one do you think would make a buyer feel more welcome?  Don't get hung up examining pieces and style, just go with your gut reaction.  


What  I like about this first vignette is the white palette, walls and floors.  My concern is regarding the amount of "stuff"-- would clients be able to focus on the architecture and the spaces or would they get distracted in taking in all the pieces?

Personally, I might take the white chair and put it where the table is and call it a day.  Take everything else away except perhaps the wall art so that the space feels larger.  In this photo, I feel like I would bang my knee on the legs of the chair every time I went up the stairs. 
In this next photo, there is a lot to recommend the space.  
The wall color is warm and neutral, sets a warm tone, and is modern.  The chair and mirror add personality but aren't overwhelming.  Even if you don't like the chair's Biedermeier style  (it's tough to incorporate and not for everyone), it works here and it's a great quality antique.  

2.  Pay attention to the largest surfaces-- walls,ceilings and floor surfaces.  These are big spaces and either opportunities to make a statement or immediately lose a potential customer.  This entry below is dramatic for sure and from a decorating stance has a good composition.  However, it definitely is setting a specific tone and if the buyer doesn't line up with that direction, you may be lose the buyer at the first step.  While most buyers say, "I can see through the .... (fill in the blank: decorating, mess, clutter, style, etc)", having to do so makes them have to work that much harder and puts them at a disadvantage against the next house that doesn't share that challenge.


 3.  Make sure what the entry looks onto is also inviting.  If the entry of the home looks onto another room, look at that next room with a critical eye.  In the photo below, the foyer is very simple if you really study it.  Black and white checkerboard marble floor, glass globe hanging fixture, white walls.  But the pretty apple green wallpapered dining room wall is eye-catching without being overwhelming.





So.. just a few thoughts for you to keep in mind if you are thinking about putting your home on the market.  And below, here is the property in Greenwich, CT that will be coming to the market on Tuesday.  If you would like to see it, contact me at rkencel@houlihanlawrence.com.

Friday, September 27, 2013

If You Love Greenwich's Waterfront and Beaches-- Or Anywhere For That Matter-- Read On

The documentary, Shored Up, was brought to Stamford's Avon Theatre this week by the Greenwich, Darien and Westchester League of Women Voters.  As my family doesn't live in any of Greenwich's waterfront communities-- ie.,  Old Greenwich, Riverside, Mead Point, or Byram-- I must admit that when heavy rains or storms hit the town, I pay only moderate attention.  This film, however, caught my attention and scared the bejesus out of me.  

Below, are the basics on global warming and sea level rise.  One thing is for sure, even if you don't live on the coast.  The impact of this natural phenomenon is far reaching and significant, and putting your head in the sand is not going to make it go away.

Where The Issue Begins
The discussion begins with global warming.  Global warming is a by-product of our growth during the industrial period, where manufacturing, energy, and transportation (to name just a few culprits) emit poisonous gases like carbon dioxide and monoxide into the atmosphere, where the heat is trapped.  The trapped heat warms the air  which warms the seas.  Warmer seas cause massive ice shelves to break off in the Arctic and Antarctic.  
Eroding Glaciers        Credit: Raurek Kaphaira


With millions of tons of ice breaking off and melting, sea levels are rising.

Just today, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) climatechange2013.org released their 6th report on global warming.  The results are consistent with the Panel's first report in 1990 but with far more detail and accuracy.  Humans, are the main cause of global warming since the 1950s, due to fossil fuel emissions and other greenhouse gases.  Using 45 different models that are far more accurate than ever before, the impact and future of our coastlines and climate are detailed in this report and the results are grim.


Rising sea levels impact the world in a number of ways:


  • Rising sea levels cause water levels to increase and invade coastlines, leading to flooding and beach erosion.  
  • There is a threat of extinction of animals and plant life living in cold climates, such as the polar bear and penguins. 
    With man's abuse of carbon dioxide and monoxide gas, the possibility of extinction is real.
  • Rising sea levels cause beach erosion, threatening homes and businesses built on the coastline,
  • Coastal recreation, such as surfing, is in jeopardy if beaches disappear.
But here's the statistic that made my stomach turn:  During the 21st century, it is predicted that the sea will rise nearly 2 1/2 feet and continue to do so.  
A Future NYC?           Credit: Maria Stenzel

Sea levels are rising at a more rapid rate than ever before and where all this leads is to the very real possibility of places we know as our own- from Manhatten to the Hamptons to the Connecticut shoreline, one day being under water.





Shored Up is a documentary that examines hard questions about our coastal communities and our relationship to the land:  What will a rising sea do to our homes, our businesses, and the survival of our communities? Can we afford to pile enough sand on our shores to keep the ocean at bay? This documentary looks at Long Beach Island, New Jersey and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, via interviews with surfers, politicians, scientists and residents as examples of beach rebuilding.  It looks at beach engineering and wonders if this is the only, or best, solution.  It's a compelling piece and well worth an hour of time and bucket of popcorn.