Tuesday, December 9, 2014

100 Happy Days: Day 5 Doing Something You Love

Nothing like Vegas to make you wonder about urban planning.it's a virtual city of a million lights.   It's also a city where nothing turns a head.. not even trying out the dance moves on the walkways in anticipation of a fabulous dance day at the Holiday Classic ballroom competition.

Doing what you love and working to get better at it....... such good, clean fun.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

100 Happy Days: Day 4 Birds of a Feather

Airports can be like Greenwich Avenue in the height of the holiday season--busy, noisy and no one looking out for the other guy.  Finding something that fit the 100 Happy Days criteria was a decent challenge, until I landed next to a a retired couple happily settling into their seats in the plane with not only matching sweaters, but matching sweatshirts as well.

They were clearly happy to be a matched set and their enthusiasm for just about everything, from the warmed nuts to the toddler twins that kept spilling into their arms, was uplifting.  So... here's to Day 4 and matching sweater sets...  or just one big sweater for two!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

100 Happy Days: Day 3 Slow Your Inner Self to a Dead Stop

Day 3:  My daughter asked if I actually could sit still and let my mind go blank.  Try it!  Find a quiet, comfortable spot and flat line your mind.  Very restful.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

100 Happy Days: Day 2 Trying Something New

The older I get, the easier it is to get in a groove.. and not a cool groove, upbeat kind of groove but a stuck-in-habits, needle going around and around the same track kind of a groove.  Dangerously close to a rut.

Decided to try a new sport to stretch myself.  Happy point number 1:  The anticipation of doing something I never tried before.  Happy point number 2:  Having the fellow manning the water sports kindly offer to stay past his shift so that he could teach me the basics of paddle boarding.  This after yesterday, when he expressly told me NOT to try and stand on the board and after 5 minutes of paddling on my knees I thought, "Forget that!", stood up and promptly went overboard.

With Erwin's help today, I managed to get up and stay up.  Happy to be in the ocean and trying something new! Wonder if I can do this at Tod's Point?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

#100 Happy Days : Take Two

It's Thanksgiving and seems like a good day to try that 100 Happy Days challenge again,but with a twist.  Looking to find one thing of beauty, kindness, happiness, or anything of meaning and value for 100 straight days.  I can't imagine if we keep our eyes peeled on this challenge, that it won't change us just a wee bit.

So.. today's #100 Happy Days:  It's morning and most folks are asleep.  There's a light rain but it's warm and sunny.  These two gentlemen, which I'm sorry I didn't capture with better lighting, were cheerfully raking grass and fussing with the grounds.  An earnest "Good Morning" was called out.  No distraction with cell phones or rushing about.  A moment of peace and true goodwill.  So nice to slip away from Greenwich for a bit and the faster pace there.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

#100HappyDays: Day 1: Watching this Grooving Grandpa Shake It Down

Has #100HappyDays made it to you yet?  A young Swiss man started The #100HappyDays movement when he realized he was racing around chasing life and wasn't thinking about, or even recognizing what made him happy.  He felt that the internal and external chase of life left him no space for being or acknowledging happiness.  He started to record his happy moments in photos and the fever caught.  

All sorts of buyers pass through.  Many buyers today are very, very concerned with their home as an investment, and they rightly should, given that it takes up such a large portion of their assets.  That said,  sometimes I wonder if they even like the house as it's tough to see much of a response.

So, when I saw this mature gentleman, let's call him Al,  boogying at a ballroom dance studio's evening practice party it struck me straightaway.  Joy. Pure and real.

Making me think…. whatever big decision is occupying your time at the moment whether it be a new home, sale of a home, change of job, or something that is causing worry or loads of thinking time, maybe take a few minutes for the #100happydays challenge.  And think of Al. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cold, Broke and Miserable

I can't get the image out of my head.  Broadway and 65th this past Saturday night.  On one side of the street, 14 police cars roaring down the street, stopping short at Lincoln Center and lined up to whisk Mayor DeBlasio out of the theatre.  On the other side of the street, a young man, wrapped in soiled blankets and torn contractor garbage bags holding the usual cardboard sign.  Four arresting words: COLD, BROKE AND MISERABLE

His face was resigned with a wear that was many years beyond his age.  

The temptation to feel better by wondering why he wasn't taking advantage of the city's social welfare system and any of the shelters that are made available in NYC did not take away the chill of the words.  They were not a complaint.  They did not appeal to sympathy or guilt.  They shared what he felt like.

No words about the real estate market today.  No tips or advice.  Just a reflection on the basic need for shelter and a prayer, to whomever you pray to, for that young man and all the homeless.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Buying A Home Sight Unseen Isn't Always A Blind Move

One of the unusual situations that sometimes crops up in Greenwich real estate is one where the buyer purchases a house without ever seeing it. This may sound nuts—but there are circumstances (more than you’d think) where it can be the only practical solution.
Investors, for instance, sometimes simply haven’t time to visit every property they suspect is a great investment. Other times, buyers might be relocating to Greenwich from out of the country under a timetable that doesn’t allow them an extra visit—or even a first visit! According to the latest full-year data from the National Association of Realtors®, home sales to foreign buyers amounted to $68 billion!
As you’d guess, the risks of purchasing a house sight-unseen when relocating remain stark. Nonetheless, there are ways such buyers can protect themselves: 
Adding a contractual walk-through contingency—one which allows a final walk-though before signing at closing—is the surest protection. Sellers aren’t obligated to accept such a contingency (and in a competitive market it’s less likely to be acceptable), but if it’s allowed, it’s also a sign that the property is likely to pass muster. 
The odds of a good “sight-unseen” result when relocating to Greenwich grow significantly better when you present your agent with a clear list of requirements. Some important factors outside of specific house metrics could be the location within Greenwich, access to I-95 or the Merritt Parkway, or school district.
It is especially important to hire a first-class home inspector.
When you can’t visit the property yourself, your inspector can be the trained eyes that prevent your inheriting unneeded maintenance issues. If the listing doesn’t give you a clear idea of how the home is laid out, requesting a video of both interior and exterior of the property is a good idea. If one isn’t available, don’t be shy about asking your agent to make a walk-through video for you. 

For anyone relocating to Greenwich when a ‘sight-unseen’ home purchase is necessary, choosing a top-notch realtor and inspector couldn’t be more important. After all, they become your ears and eyes on the ground!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Property Owned By Former Yankees Pitcher David Cone Sells for $11.9 Million

A home with magical details sold this week.  Situated in Conyers Farm on 10 acres at 16 Hurlingham Drive, the house has an indoor pool that sticks in my mind, despite the fact that I haven't seen it in four years.  With a looming rock formation, the pool is nestled at the end of the lower level, very private.

The house is 11,980 square feet and sold for $11,980,000.  It was owned by David Cone, two owners ago.

It was a quiet sales week:  Two other single home sales, the lowest being $670,000 at 561 River Rd. in Cos Cob.  A 5 bedroom,  2 full bath house renovated in 2000.  After 1164 days, 29 Cliffdale (4.3 acres and over 11,000 sq. ft.) sold for $4,725,000.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What's That Pair of Pantyhose Doing On Your Roof?

Sharing a recent dinner with very good friends who are house aficionados, the conversation turned to pantyhose.  The wife said they spent an afternoon brushing snow off the roof of their house, concerned that the weight of it after these one-too-many snowstorms would cause havoc.  She then shared a tip that would make Heloise proud.  

How do you prevent gutters from damming up?  This is a real concern.  When snow starts to melt it runs down gutters.  That is, until the temperature drops and the water turns to ice, filling up the gutters.  The trapped water/ice may begin to thaw and has no where to go.. except creeping in under the roof and eventually your ceiling.

Enter stage left: Pantyhose.  Fill the pantyhose with snowmelt or salt and line the gutters with it.  This may seem a little overkill to you.  I mentioned it to my husband after dinner and he declined my invitation for a rooftop gutter lining date.

Fast forward to the weekend.  I came home from work to find a large cooking pot teetering on the sofa, catching water from the ceiling.  Where are my tights when I need them?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Is A Tennis Ball Dangerous in the House?

Question:  Seems impossible?  How can a tennis ball possibly cause a fire?

Answer:  When a dog rolls the ball into your roaring fire and your back is turned.  Unfortunately, since the desk faces out the window and it was a very long paperwork day, I didn't notice that Riggs rolled his toy tennis ball into the flames until the smell of rubber caught my attention….

Lesson learned and to be shared.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Any Sweet Deals in Greenwich Real Estate This Valentine Week?

It was a quiet week for property closings in Greenwich, perhaps a reflection of two snow days interrupting the work week.  Three single family homes and two townhome/condos sold.

On the single family front, 46 Chapel St. in Riverside was the lowest price property trading at $560,000.  A very sweet 3 bedroom/2 bath home in nice condition, it wasn't on the market long (under 3 months) from list date to sale date.

The highest price home selling was 150 Clapboard Ridge, a 1996 french style home that was renovated/updated in 2012.  With 6,595 sq. ft. on the first three floors, and additional 3,400 sq ft in the lower level, the house sits on 2.5 acres.  It sold for $4,023,000 and started out at $5.1 million.  It was on the market 144 days.

Monday, February 10, 2014

What Drives Up Home Prices?

When it comes time to sell your home, you know most of the factors that determine Greenwich home prices. The location within Greenwich (waterfront, Riverside and Old Greenwich are all selling above the average price per square foot right now), number of bedrooms, updating (or not) of the kitchen and bathrooms, style of home, quality of construction, age and condition of the home, acreage and quality of land: these are some of the key factors that influence final home prices in Greenwich.
But what are some of the lesser-known factors that can drive up Greenwich home prices?
Some of them are truly surprising—
The words “Place”, “Way” or “Avenue” sound somewhat more prestigious than the humble “Street” or “Road” ,so you may not be totally surprised to learn that home sales for properties with these address suffixes are higher. According to a massive (10,000 sales) Trulia study, houses located on a “Place” were 30% higher than a “Street” and “Way” was 24% higher. It’s enough to make someone want to go out and paint over the corner street sign…
Politicians have made smoking an ever-more-expensive habit. Now we can add on its effect on home prices. A Canadian survey conducted by Event One found that homes with at least one regular smoker may result in a predictably lower price. Forty-four percent of the agents surveyed thought that there was at least some effect on home prices, with two-thirds of them placing the amount between 10%-30. A “whopping” 88% said it’s more difficult to sell homes with resident smokers. Cigarette smoke is not the only odoriferous culprit: I would have to agree that dampness, pet and cooking smells can all have an effect on Greenwich home sales.
Homes within easy walking distance of schools, shopping, parks and other amenities will draw higher prices. A recent survey “Walking the walk: How walkability raises housing values in US cities” looked at 94,000 real estate transactions in 15 different markets. Homes were rated on a walkability scale of 0 to 100. A score of 70 meant you could get by without needing a car. It was found that (at least in metropolitan areas) a single point increase in the score correlated with a rise in home prices of $500-$3,000.
If you are about to sell your Greenwich home, you won’t be able change the address suffix or make it more walkable (odor control is another matter). That said, I have been spending more and more time using my interior design background to do the kind of quick hit updates, furniture rearranging, and readying of homes to make sure each property is presented in the best way possible.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Week Where Pricing Right Pays Off

The picture perfect kitchen at 26 Beechcroft
This past week saw four single family home sales in Greenwich, two being in Riverside (the area that showed greatest gains in all of Greenwich in 2013).  The theme for the week is (once again) the importance of pricing:  There is nothing to be gained by pricing your property out of sync with what the market is currently supporting.

Take the two properties that sold in record time and the two that sat much too long on the market and their final trade prices:

6 Lita Drive: Sold in just 30 days with a list price of $1.395 million and traded at $1.271 million.  This 1957 ranch home sits on .31 and was owned by a wonderful woman, Eddie Beck, who was the first female doctor in Greenwich, having received her medical degree from Yale in 1948.  I was lucky enough to have known Eddie, who was a familiar face and active at First Presbyterian Church.

18 Shoal Point Lane, Riverside: Priced at $5,195 million and selling 73 days later at $5 million, this 5,702 square foot waterfront home with dock is on .58 acres. 

100 Club Rd, Riverside:  2 waterfront acres on the road that Riverside Yacht Club is on, this land started out at $6,995 million and sat for quite a while--515 days to be exact.  It wasn't until the property was reduced to under $4 million that the market took notice and sold at $4,250 million against its final list price of $3,995 million. 

26 Beechcroft: Designed by New Haven architect Sam Mitchell, this home was something special in design and construction quality.  It started out 865 days earlier at $7.95 million and traded -23% off it's list price at $6,123,800.   I am pretty sure that it took every bit of the original list price to design and build such a special home but the market is the market.     

Friday, February 7, 2014

Do Online Home Search Sites Serve Buyers Well?

I listed for rent a mid century modern three bedroom home in mid country Greenwich yesterday.  I know the word "organic" is so overused these days but this time it fits.  Raised on feet so it's arching over Putnam Lake, this Frank Lloyd Wright-esque house features walls of windows and sleek architecture.  So I wasn't surprised that a young urban and her fiancĂ© called today to come view it.

What did surprise me was what she was looking at online when she called me to view it.  She found the listing on her own, using one of the top real estate websites (Zillow, Trulia or Realtor.com).  On the listing that she saw were OLD PHOTOS from when the property was listed prior to my owner's purchasing it.  

Somehow, the website had taken our new listing and paired it with what they had "in the can" from last year.  With 88% of buyers starting their home searches on line, we realtors hear, "But (take your pick here: Zillow, Trulia or Realtor.com) said…" .  And while online sites can be a very easy way to do a broad search, they are not a realtor nor do they have all of the tools available to realtors.  

So the wrong photos was yesterday morning's scramble to the online site.  Today, I went on their site and discover NO photos of my listing.  Back to the customer service help line at 9 a.m.

One last note if you are a buyer coming unrepresented, having seen a listing on your own online:  Realtors are all about making your experience as positive as it can be and we will do everything we can to be helpful.  We are not representing you so we cannot give you our opinion of value, thoughts on the property vs. other options available, etc. unless you authorize us to represent you as well (this is called dual agency)   When a buyer or renter comes without a realtor, he/she is not always doing  himself the best service.  A good realtor can bring a lot to the table: experience, market knowledge, negotiating strength.   

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Vacation Home: Indulgence or Shrewd Move?

For many Greenwich homeowners, it sounds more like a pipe dream than a carefully thought-out investment: getting your own vacation home—a refuge where you can put your feet up, relax, and tune out the stress of daily life.
True, if you look only at the expense of a second home, it sounds like a pretty costly indulgence. But in many cases, stepping back to take in the bigger financial picture, it could wind up being one of the shrewdest financial decisions you can make!
1.    Vacation savings. Using your vacation home more than once or twice a year can easily result in annual six-figure savings. The resort hotels and eateries’ loss is your gain when you and relatives and friends are able to enjoy your vacation getaway. 
2.    Extra income. One of the motivating factors for many vacation home owners is the possibility to create a new source of some extra income. When you consider renting out your vacation home when you’re not using it, your occasional renters can cover some of the property’s mortgage and operating expenses. Also, renting your vacation house increases the proportion of time that it’s in use, reducing the kinds of maintenance issues that can develop when minor problems go undetected—especially during winter months.
3.    Tax advantages. A vacation home can become significantly more attractive when you take advantage of the considerable tax advantages. Consult your licensed financial advisor to confirm the details: in general, if you rent your second home for 14 days or less, it qualifies for the mortgage interest tax write-offs you get for your primary residence. And if you rent it out for more than 14 days in a year, a proportional amount of upkeep expenses can be deductible, as well.
4.    Retirement prep. If your  vacation home winds up becoming your home base for retirement, having acquired it early on as a vacation home now can be a terrifically wise move in the long run. By retirement, you will have built the kind of equity that reduces your mortgage debt, freeing up your retirement income stream for more pleasurable expenditures, like gambling, sumo wrestling, or even taking one of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic rocket rides to an asteroid.

Two final creative vacation “home” ideas: I have seen several Greenwich families who have swapped homes, allowing a family to stay in their home and going to that family’s home during the same time period.  I have also seen families who go on vacation for an extended time and rent their Greenwich home to others, finding renters through word of mouth often.  

Interested in offering your home for summer rent?  If you’d like a valuation on what your property might rent for please contact me at rkencel@houlihanlawrence.com

Monday, February 3, 2014

Why Greenwich Smart Homes Aren't Such A Dumb Idea

With cars, TVs—even watches—getting connected through WiFi and wireless telephones, it’s small wonder that “Smart Homes” in Greenwich are gaining popularity. According to Forbes, companies offering smart homes technology will be a $35.6 billion industry within just three years. They already offer Greenwich homeowners an array of connected appliances, security systems and even HVAC systems.
From what I’ve seen, their marketing has highlighted the convenience factor—but if that seems to be more sizzle than steak, here are some surprisingly substantial reasons why you might consider upgrading your own place into a smart home:
Your current security system gives you peace of mind whenever you’re out of town. But have you ever wondered whether you remembered to lock the back door? Smart homes let you click a function on your phone that commands the home to lock itself! The same app can also send you a live video feed of the interior and exterior of your home.
In addition to securing the premises, smart homes can help prevent home accidents. Smart appliances can be controlled via mobile apps which allow you to turn off ovens, stovetops, microwaves and even washing machines from anywhere you establish a WiFi connection. This minimizes the risk of the kind of home fires that can be caused by unattended appliances. (If you’re thinking that homeowner insurance premium discounts may soon be offered for connected homes: the Wall Street Journal reports that they already are!)
Major manufacturers GE, LG and Samsung have introduced complete lines of connected appliances controlled via mobile phone, eliminating the need to physically get up to adjust settings. Think how, especially for the elderly and handicapped, this would meaningfully enhance their quality of life—maybe even extending their ability to live at home without assistance. For all age brackets, being able to effortlessly control lighting, heating and air conditioning at the touch of a device screen will inevitably result in practical energy savings; and that raises perhaps the most important selling point for smart homes technology—

Increasing the value of  homes when they come up for sale. The practicality of smart homes is already especially appealing to the growing number of tech-savvy buyers.  My experience and work in interior design, listening to what Greenwich homeowners are seeing as important, as well as hearing what tech features are most valued by today’s buyers, is information that can be helpful if you are contemplating putting your house on the market.  Contact information: Rkencel@houlihanlawrence.com

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Best Walk Through and House Closing Ever

It was the kind of experience that every buyer and seller hope for.  The listing realtor said it best when she sent me this note after the closing, "Thank you for sending us such nice buyers."  In this market, reaching a price that is agreeable to all and getting through the building inspection feels like a monumental feat in and of itself.  Buyers and sellers can get downright cranky as the line becomes blurred between real issues and nit picking on both sides.

Not lost on the attorneys or realtors for both sides was the fact that the building inspection, discussion on what was included in the sale and what wasn't (funny how sometimes buyers confuse buying a house with buying the furniture that is inside the house), and the resolution of a few important issues were accomplished with reasonableness on the part of the buyer and seller.

So when it came to the final walk through we expected it would go well.  What we didn't anticipate is how the seller would think of EVERYTHING to make the buyer's move to their new home go smoothly.  In the kitchen pantry were cleaning products as well as a case of Gatorade for the buyers' movers.  Throw rugs were at the front and back doors, anticipating winter weather and movers' shoes making for a messy entrance.

Fresh wrapped bars of soap were in each bathroom soap dish.

Logs were stacked in each fireplace.

Then there was the nuts and bolts of home care.  A binder of appliance manuals were at the ready as was a typed list of service providers.

On the kitchen counter was a "Welcome Home" note from the sellers and a book with a shared interest of buyer and seller.  Now that's the way to leave a house for the next owner.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Values Going Up in Luxury Home Markets

Good news for luxury towns such as Greenwich, according to researchers at DataQuick--  the number of homes sold at more than $1 million rose nationally by 37% in the first half of 2013. Last Friday, the Wall St. Journal headed its Mansion section with “the recovery in high-end real estate,” and Bloomberg reports that luxury home prices in the biggest four cities that had fallen nearly 46% during the downturn have now more than doubled.
If the formerly-missing luxury home buyers have been buoyed by record-breaking Wall St. returns, it’s not surprising that they’re now ready to come out of hiding. For some owners of luxury homes in Greenwich, that’s what they’ve been waiting for.
Of course, marketing a luxury home in our town takes a deft hand. Selling any product in the luxury category requires some familiar skills: since the price tags are top-tier, the buyers require service and goods to match. The buyer is someone whose time is at a premium; they are likely well-schooled in discerning quality that goes beneath the surface and who won’t hesitate when it comes to making important decisions.  In short, selling high-end properties requires highly focused, top tier marketing.  Three insights into my marketing approach for these sorts of properties:
Our marketing efforts are targeted, focusing on a very narrow segment of the population. We go where the buyers are, centering on websites and in luxury publications that they frequent. Placement in elite publications enhances a property’s perceived value by association.
When people purchase a luxury property in Greenwich, they aren’t just buying a house, they are reinforcing a lifestyle choice. That means the community should be a prime selling point.  Knowing Greenwich intimately for over 20 years, allows me to speak to it with buyers, which helps more confidently picture life in their new community.
Successful people usually regard themselves as standouts because, well…they are! It’s hard to find the luxury home buyer who wouldn’t choose a distinctive property over one that, even though luxurious, isn’t special in some way. That’s why positioning a property, telling a story about it and creating a feeling is important.

 If you are preparing to sell your Greenwich property, having a realtor who is keyed to the community, has strong relationships within the realtor network and is marketing-driven is critical.   Doing your homework on the front end will make life easier down the road.  If you would like a market assessment of your home, please contact me at rkencel@houlihanlawrence.com

Monday, January 27, 2014

Renovating or Building a Home? An Interview with Hobbs Construction

 Fixed Price vs. Construction Management Fee

An Interview with Scott Hobbs, Hobbs Construction, New Canaan, CT  203-966-0726

RK: Your firm has received national awards for building and are known in our area as an exemplary building firm.  Hobbs has been in the business for over fifty years and you have been part of the company for the 22 of them.  
Let's say you are about to undertake a renovation project or want to build your dream home.  Take us through the first steps of the process.
SH:  Most people come with a list.  Typically, they will sit with the architect and develop that wish list, answering questions from the architect that can give him/her a better sense of what is important, likes and dislikes.  Clients most often give the architect a budget number.  I would say that two things are critical in this first step: 

1.  Be honest about what you want, and can, spend on the project.  Beyond the construction cost, there are likely to be other costs, such as landscaping and decorating.  Be sure you identify all elements of the project and have a contingency, as well.

2.  Think through what your programming priorities are.  Not what others think they should be, but what matter to you. As odd as this might sound, there are many times that I hear homeowners recite things that they want that are reflections of what they think they should want, instead of what they really want.  That's a big mistake.  At the end of a project, you don't want to turn to the architect or builder and say, "I should have spent more for X, and it really didn't matter about Y".  Let's take windows, for example.  When I show you a window, are you the sort of person that says, "Wow, look at that view!" or do you sit there and admire the materials, the construction and the hardware of the window.  That tells you something right away about your priority on windows. 

RK:  OK, so we have an idea of what we want.  The architect starts developing conceptual ideas around my budget, right? 
SH:  Well, yes and no.  Most architects are passionate about design; budgets and schedules don't get them excited.  While they are usually respectful of budgets, the majority don't approach a design by saying, "Oh, let me design a house that is $400/sq ft."  They just listen to what you want, and then start designing.  The worst thing that can happen is that they design your dream house, only to get it out to bid and find that it is twice the budget.
RK:  That sounds like it potentially can be a waste of time and money, since the architect will have to go back to the drawing board and start cutting and perhaps changing the entire approach.
SH:  Unfortunately, it happens a lot.  That's why I like the idea of a construction management fee approach.  With this approach, the homeowner and architect do their due diligence before the project begins, and bring in a contractor right from the get go.  The decision is based on interviews, recommendations, referrals, reputation, and looking at projects the contractor has done that are similar in scope and materials and getting an idea of what those costs ran.  If you bring in a contractor at the early design phase, they can then be provide continual cost feedback from the earliest stage.  They need little more than conceptuals and basic information on the exteriors, windows and doors, materials for the roof and shell, size, etc. and an understanding of the level of finishes that the homeowner and architect have in mind to provide you with a pricing takeoff.
RK:  That makes a lot of sense but I bet this would make some people nervous not to have a set of plans bid out that they can then compare.
SH:  The majority of our customers actually take the construction management approach.  Think about this.  Labor and materials are about a 50/50 split in construction costs.  Materials are commodities where nobody gets a substantially different price from someone else.  So, if there are pricing differences, they must come from the labor, supervision and contractor profit.  You then have to ask why do labor costs vary?  Are the skill set the same of the laborers for various contractors? Are they insured?  Do they have their proper work papers?  Were background checks completed?  If you are really looking at equally skilled workmen and subs, their costs across a basket of subs (there are roughly 30-40 categories of subcontractors required for a full house project) will be the same.  There just isn't any way around this.  The last two costs are supervision and contractor profit.  The supervisor is the engine of the machine.  Good supervisors run about $100-120/hour and are salaried.  That's the market rate in this area.  No way around that one either.  And profit on a residential construction profit is 10-15% on larger projects, and 15-20% on smaller ones.  Sure, you can probably find a hungry contractor that will take a lower profit percentage, but you want to be sure he has the backing so that if he misbid an item, he isn't suddenly working at a loss on which he cannot afford to make good.  
RK:  Let's say I really just am not ready to tie in with the construction management concept and want to do enough design of my dream house that I can send it out to a number of contractors and get a fixed price.  What's wrong with that?
SH:  That is certainly a viable approach as long as you are prepared to go through some redesign if you find the bids come in too high.  Your architect should give all contractors the same bid set and a guideline as to the categories and way that the bidding should come back.  It's really critical that you see bids side by side, line item by line item.   You should also remember that you are implicitly asking each contractor to come back with as low a price as is humanly possible that just barely can meet the specifications.  Any dollar that they put in that exceeds what is included in the documentation makes it more likely that they will not get the job even though it may have been for something that would have made you happier.  While many people have claimed that the fixed number is not really important to them, our experience has shown that the low bid wins in these circumstances around 95% of the time.

But here's another thing you could do.  You could select a contractor to be involved in the pre-construction phase.  Typically, you would pay an hourly fee for this service.  It both gives you a chance to "test drive" each other as well as get the guidance that is so helpful before to much time and energy is spent on designing.  Depending upon how much time the contractor spends in this process, the dollars spent might be refunded back into the project, if you end up selecting him to build your house.
RK:  Thank you for your time.  As a realtor, I must say that when there is a house that I am showing that is built by Hobbs, there are no questions asked.  Everyone knows that your firm builds a superior home.  Given that, can you share with us one resource that you are consistently impressed by?
SH:  Sure.  Stephen Gamble of Historic Flooring on Lewis St. in Greenwich comes immediately to mind.  Their flooring, stains and finishes for any wood from floors to cabinetry, are in a class of their own.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

This Week's Real Estate Sales in Greenwich, CT Including a Round Hill Road Gem

Despite this week's snowstorm putting a pause in the work week, 11 properties closed -- 9 single family homes and 2 town homes.  The least expensive property to sell was a $610,000 Riverside tudor on Sheephill Rd.  Built in 1928, it is 1,774 sq. ft and sits on .22 acres.  It lasted on the market just 170 days, speaking to the continued strength of Riverside as the fastest growing segment of Greenwich neighborhoods.

A noted sale of the week was one of my favorite homes on Round Hill Road.  90 Round Hill Road is known to many as "The Yellow House", and is just barely seen as you drive up Round Hill, on the left.  This 1938 Federal home was expanded in the mid-2000s and renovated in 2010.  It is that rare combination of gracious living that understands how we live today,  with a large family room off a spacious kitchen.  From the moment you step into , you can feel the soul of this home, which is why I'm always a sucker for pre-war homes.  They speak to you.  At 6,484 sq. ft and on 2.5 acres, the property was introduced to the market at $7.35 million and sold 238 days later for $6.25 million-- 15% off it's List Price.  I suspect it is more a story of motivated sellers than anything else as it certainly is a lovely home in pristine condition.  
This coming week will release my Year End 2013 Real Estate report.  Lots of information by price level and neighborhood as well as an interview with Scott Hobbs (Hobbs Construction), the skinny on what folks want in master bathrooms today (and is His and Hers still a must have?) and the history of Greenwich Avenue.  To get a copy write me at: http://greenwichrealtymls.com/contact/

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Luxurious Master Bathrooms for Yourself and for Resale

Are His and Her Baths That Important? And Other Master Bath Questions

A Lady's Master Bath showcasing Sherle Wagner fittings and faucets    Interior Design: Ellsworth Ford
A recent survey by the National Association of Home Builders found that 6% of buyers consider His-and-Her baths essential, and 18% insist on a private toilet compartment.  In Greenwich, the His and Hers bathrooms are a feature that are 95% of the time met with great enthusiasm by prospective buyers.
 According to the NAHB study, men's focus is showers, while women want soaking tubs, often with a whirlpool or air bubbling feature.   Some couples are requesting enormous shower areas with two shower heads and multiple body sprays. Whether it's a shower for two or one, steam is a luxury that is not to be beat.  Seats in showers are desirable, for women I suspect it makes for a convenient perch for leg shaving while men seem to be all to happy to use it for a moment (or two or three) rest before the day begins.  The other upgrade of frequent mention in the study is a vanity or makeup area for women. 

In the 22 years of renovating luxury homes and heading an interior design firm,  I've seen master baths come close to becoming "a destination place" in the home-- or at least a place of retreat and relaxation.  In our decorating practice at Ellsworth Ford, master bathrooms receive much attention.  Options we bring up for consideration include radiant heat flooring, music systems and small televisions that connect to the house's overall system, stylish faucets and fixtures, and a wall mounted magnifying mirror for the woman of the house.  Most often, marble is my material of choice for master baths and plumbing fittings include Sherle Wagner, P.E. Guerin, Waterworks, and Lefroy Brooks.

In my real estate practice, I see master bathrooms and bedrooms as being one of the most considered spaces in high end homes, equal to or just behind kitchens and family rooms.

Thinking of renovating or building a new master bath or baths?
A new master bath in a 1980s Georgian.  Interior Design: Ellsworth Ford

1.  The bathroom should be sympathetic to the architecture of your house:  No problem with incorporating desired bells and whistles but don't create a big style disconnect.  For example, if you have a traditional home, the cabinetry doesn't have to be raised or recessed panels, but screaming contemporary is going to fall funny.  
2.  Think through your priorities but also think resell:  A generous sized shower stall, ample storage, double sinks (if you share the master) and a separate toilet compartment should be top of mind.
3.  Strength of shower spray:  The debate is often between rain head or conventional shower head.  What's right for you depends upon your water flow and water pressure, amongst other factors.  Show your plumber the type of head you are considering and ask how it will perform in your particular home.  That said, every shower head performs differently, with the general rule of thumb that the more you spend, the better the head.  Price does, most often, have a relationship with performance.
4.  Air bath vs. whirlpool/jacuzzi?  Is one more sanitary than the other?  The biggest difference is actually in the kind of massage the tub will deliver.  To learn more about the differences: http://www.watertechtn.com/airbath-or-whirlpool.php
Fifteen or twenty years ago, the focus on room upgrades was the kitchen.  Today, it seems that the master bath is going through that same sort of rethinking.  Bathrooms used to be thought of as purely functional rooms; today, they are seen as another "living space" of sorts.