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.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Timing Was Everything for the $26 Million Property that went to Contract in Just 4 Days

If you follow Greenwich real estate, than you are well aware that the market has been regaining its footing for some time and in fact, is up +16% YTD in 2013 vs. YAGO sales.  This market strengthening is in no way thanks to the high end, +$10 million and over, segment.  And as for the super high end, things are even more sobering.  In fact, just one house has sold over $20 million since 9/16/10.  That statistic, however, is about to change.

Earlier this week, a nearly 19,000 sq ft. classic brick Georgian home with pool house and garage apartment set on 8 acres was listed for $26,500,000-- and went to contract just four days later.  The property is located in the heart of mid country Greenwich in what is known as the Golden Triangle, which says everything it needs to about it's strong location.  

So what was so special about this property that persuaded the buyers to forgo their commitment to purchase a 1930s stone and clapboard home also set on 8 acres, located in the same area of Greenwich and was half the size and half the listing price?  And what appealed to the buyers about the brick Georgian vs. the other four properties listed in the same price point as the one that they settled on?

A word, first, on what they chose.  The gracious 25 room brick residence was designed by Dinyer Wadia and built by his firm, Wadia Associates www.wadiaassociates.com of New Canaan.  Wadia is considered to be one of a handful of top tier design/build firms in the area.  Set high on a hill, the stately main house overlooks beautiful gardens, a pool and tennis court.  It was decorated by a well known Greenwich decorator and is in excellent condition.
Knowing firsthand, the exorbitant time, resources and attention renovating a vintage home requires, it is not surprising to see the appeal of this property vs. options that would require a multi-year renovation project.
Quick to Contract: Classic architecture, beautiful property and wonderfully maintained


As for the other properties that were on the market in this general price range all are smaller in square footage and most have less land:

  • Two are on the water:  One is in Belle Haven, and sits on 2 acres at 14,967 sq ft.  It was built in 1893 and renovated by another well regarded construction firm, Hobbs Construction.  The second is on Byram Shore Rd., and has 440' shoreline.  At 12,788 and sitting on 3.28 acres, it is a 1916 house that was renovated in 2012,
  • Three are mid-country:  One is on Taconic Rd. and was built in 2012 and is a working horse farm; one is on Clapboard Ridge Rd., located in the desirable association of Khakum Woods and is a 1924 home that was renovated in 2004 and sits on 5 acres, and one is on Mooreland, off of Round Hill Rd., and was built in 2005.
And how does the house that just went to contract so quickly compare to the only sold property above $20 million since September, 2010?  That house was on the prestigious Field Point Circle in Belle Haven, and sat on 2.2 acres with direct waterfront.   The stone home was designed by architect Thomas Kligerman and built in 2003, and featured indoor and outdoor pools amongst many special features and amenities.  The Field Point Circle property was on the market for 627 days before selling for $25 million in February, 2011. Unfortunately, it was for sale in the midst of a very bleak period in real estate. 

So what did we learn about this week's high end success story?  Timing is everything.  For sure.  Classic architecture, strong floor plan, A+ location, top level construction, well maintained home, and beautiful grounds gave one family exactly what they wanted at precisely the time when they wanted it.  Once in a while, it's just that simple in real estate.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Visit to French Farm, the Gentlemen's Farm in the Heart of Greenwich Ct

The original caretaker's cottage of French Farm

September 15, 2013:  It could not have been a more glorious fall day for the open “house” of French Farm.  If you live in Greenwich, then you are most likely familiar with French farm, which is located on Lake Avenue, quite near the intersection of Lake and Round Hill Rd.  Like many, I have craned my head many times as I have driven up or down Lake Ave, usually in admiration of the seasonal displays that often grace the entrance.  It’s most often the gigantic pumpkins that keep me transfixed and I’m suspecting they will be making their annual appearance any day now.

French Farm is a gentleman’s farm that was developed as such in 1906 and consisted of a manor house (since spun off from the Farm and a private residence) with a caretaker’s cottage, carriage keeper’s cottage, greenhouse, barn and silo, chicken coop
Eggs laid by exotic chickens
and garaging added in the early 20th century.  The farm was the first property to be accepted into the National Registry of Historic Places and was done so in 1975.  The application for the Registry, http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NRHP/Text/75001918.pdf,  provides the history of the farm.  Be sure to read the section “Statement of Signifcance” to see why the farm is so important to the town’s history.

The architect for the original manor house,  Henry van Buren Magonigle, has an impressive resume, having trained with Clavert Vaux and Frederick Olmstead, creators of Central Park (Olmstead and his sons were the architects for the Khakum Wood community, developed in the early 1900s as well), as well as the firm McKinn, Mead & White.   The manor house was built in 1906 for the son of well known poet Sidney Lanier, and was sold just one year later to Nathan Allen, a financier who founded the Gypsy Tea House in Boston and who was the secretary of the prestigious Garden Club of America in NYC.  Allen purchased the land next to his home, and had architect Magonigle design the buildings which would allow him to operate his gentleman’s farm of close to 40 acres.
The greenhouse (left side of building) and carriagemen's quarters

In 1972, Allen left the farm, which had since sold off much of its acreage, to his stepchildren, including David Wierdsma.  David was in the advertising and public relations field, and founded the First Report of New York, which was a weekly newsletter that reviewed every gallery opening in NYC.  He was a longtime admirer of sculpture Mary Sister Marcel Duchamp, and when her collection of works came on the market he purchased several pieces.  The later sale of these pieces provided the funds to develop the gardens and purchase art pieces which would punctuate the grounds.

Mr. Wierdsma had a wide network of friends and enjoyed entertaining them with walks around the farm to see his exotic animals and specialty gardens, many of which are still in tact (the gardens that is).  Concerned that the farm be preserved and that it’s cultural and historic aspects are a living link to the past, Mr. Wiredsma provided for the farm to be in a trust, Friends of French Farm.  His wish was that the farm be used for educational programs on farmyards, preservation, culture, and organic landscapes.  Judging by the many of the families and garden lovers that were enjoying plein aire painting, crafts, games, a treasure hunt, garden and architectural tours yesterday, Mr. Wierdsma’s vision has been carried forward.  Many thanks to the Greenwich Historic Society and the Friends of French Farm for a wonderful afternoon.
A painter enjoys a day of whimsy and fun on the one day of the year that French Farm is open to the public