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.

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: or  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,  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:

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.