Saturday, December 2, 2017

What Your Real Estate Agent Should Be Telling You

New to the Market, Contemporary in Greenwich $3.6 Million

The dual nature of Greenwich real estate agents is unlike most other professions. A medical doctor who is a family physician in the morning doesn’t switch hats and become a surgeon in the afternoon—any more than a lawyer who pleads in court for a defendant can decide to become a prosecuting attorney that afternoon.
On the other hand, Greenwich Realtors® may begin any single day in negotiations representing a seller, then spend the afternoon escorting a buyer client through a series of Greenwich home showings. I’m happy to say this isn’t evidence of a split personality disorder. It’s perfectly normal: the Connecticut real estate agent’s license I carry specifically permits me to perform as either a buyer’s or a seller’s agent. That’s noteworthy because each of the agencies carries distinct professional obligations.
The subject of the duality of being a real estate agent came to mind this week when I happened across an article on the topic of the 3 things a buyer shouldn’t talk about with a seller’s agent. Namely: how much you like (or dislike) a house; the size of your budget; and (well, the last one wasn’t specifically what not to talk about)—the advice to buyers to “let your agent do the talking.”
I can vouch for all three, and would add: the same real estate agent advice works for sellers, too. Your agent is there to expertly gather and dispense relevant information, at the same time not doing anything that might weaken your side of the coming bargain. Doing so-- while maintaining a positive, upbeat tenor,  is an art, and one that sharpens with practice. For sure it’s one place where there is no substitute for experience.
There are end of the year opportunities in play and the spring market is almost ready for it's early January jump.  A good time to begin to think about any chances in your real estate world.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

What They Never Told Us About Thanksgiving Turkeys

If ever your Greenwich Thanksgiving preparations cause you to go online seeking some Thanksgiving-related recipe, it will be hard to resist one of the sites that will probably pop up: the Smithsonian Institute’s “14 Fun Facts About Turkeys.” 

There are several new turkey insights among the 14. And when it comes to one assumption about the first Thanksgiving that’s probably shared by most everyone in Greenwich, Fun Fact #4 is there to correct the record.  Most of the details of that first Thanksgiving aren’t in question. The Pilgrims had survived the ordeal of the journey and had bonded with the helpful native Americans. So after the first successful harvest, everybody thought it was time for a joint celebration as a neighborhood kind of thing. The most bounteous crop had been corn (which the Indians had shown them how to grow). Dried corn was on the menu which included venison, clams, pumpkin, squash, etc..

And, of course, turkeys—which are native to the Americas—which would have been brought to the feast by the Indians.  Not!

It is entirely likely that the most noteworthy turkeys to grace the first Thanksgiving table were ones that had been brought by the Pilgrims. From Europe.  If that possibility causes many Greenwich heads to do double-takes, it may be because we haven’t given much consideration to the length of time between Christopher Columbus’ voyage and the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock.  Between 1492 and 1621, there had been 129 years of discovery, settlement, and back-and-forth between the Americas and Europe. They may not have had jets to speed the trips, but after 129 years, there had been quite a lot of those back-and-forths. That was why it was possible for the first Indian to greet the Pilgrims in English. (Squanto had spent five years in Spain and sailed twice to England). But back to the turkeys: 

Yes, the estimable bird is actually native to North America, but the subspecies (Fun Fact #3) that is most successfully domesticated is a variety the Aztecs developed in southern Mexico. The Spaniards brought those turkeys back to Europe, and by the early 1600s, they had become gastronomic hits. My guess is that they probably graced many an English baron’s table. Quoting the Smithsonian, “The Pilgrims then brought several of these domestic turkeys back to North America.”

So the rest is Thanksgiving history. Both the Indians and Pilgrims would have hunted and brought to table the eastern wild turkey—but they don’t taste nearly as good. So it’s probable that the Pilgrims were able to impress their native American guests with some European turkey one-upmanship. 

While all this turkey fun fact talk is interesting, what the holiday is really all about (as we know) is gratitude.  For more on how to increase the gratitude quotient in your life, take a look at this 2015 NY Times article on gratitude.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Homeowners Predicting Gains in Home Values

Greenwich, CT: Extraordinary stone manor home set on 9.4 acres, $8,9 million
More than half of U.S. homeowners expect their home’s value to rise in the coming year. For Greenwich real estate watchers who track public sentiment as a market indicator, the news comes as a welcome addition to other reports of rising consumer optimism regarding the economy as a whole.

The finding comes from a national telephone and online survey conducted earlier this month by the Rasmussen Reports organization. It signals an acceleration in a year-long trend of rising expectations among U.S. homeowners. A year earlier, fewer than 40% had predicted that their own home values would rise in the coming year. In this latest report, that number has increased to 53%—a leap of 12% over the March finding. According to Rasmussen summary, this amounts to “a record high” in optimism about future home values.

Greenwich homeowners who plan to list their own properties in the immediate future have reason to welcome measures of positive expectations. When most people expect Greenwich home values to rise, buyers are apt to view current market prices in terms of their investment potential. This can prove to be important—especially when values have been on the rise for a while.

This latest Rasmussen finding was all the more impressive in that it marked the first time in eight years that a majority of those sampled expressed optimism about future home values. It is in sync with a heavy majority of industry prognosticators who predict home value increases in the coming year.  It’s always good news when there is general agreement that Greenwich home values are expected to continue to rise.  If you would like a complimentary market assessment or are in the market for a home,  contact me.

Monday, October 16, 2017 Now Offers Homes?

Amazon has invaded the realm of real estate— in a tiny, but maybe forward-thinking way.
Last week the improbable news arrived that the web’s 400-pound gorilla had made its first foray into the realm of real estate. Since Greenwich real estate (like all real estate) is by definition local, its very nature would seem to preclude the buying and selling of homes as a mail order enterprise. But since has succeeded in other industries where failure had been assumed (high-end fashion, for instance), could local Greenwich real estate soon be monopolized by a tsunami of Amazon Prime home sales?
It turned out that Greenwich real estate was not likely to be overcome anytime soon. The Amazon listings that showed up are hard to find, and not likely to tempt many Greenwich home shoppers. The few listings were only searchable when you entered “tiny homes”—and the few homes being offered were sandwiched in between how-to books about designing and building very small cabins . (Here, a note for Greenwich residents who aren’t familiar with the “tiny homes” phenomenon…they are what the name says: structures smaller than 400 square feet…although some can be as microscopic as 80 square feet, most are in the 300-350 range). 
You may not find too many tiny homes in Greenwich, but the movement is nation-wide. And the concept is not as far-fetched as it might seem. Anyone who has taken weeks-long vacations in campers or lived for any stretch of time on a pleasure boat knows that you can reduce your living space to a slender minimum if you plan carefully.
Back to Amazon. The lead-off listing was a pre-fab tiny home converted from a shipping container. Like any good Greenwich real estate listing, the details pointed out key selling points (in this case, the shipping container was new). Price was a thrifty $36,000, which would be even more thrifty if the “$0.00 estimated tax” turns out to be accurate. The customer reviews were mixed, with one in particular naming a possible sticking point: meeting Connecticut and Greenwich building codes. Additionally, Amazon Prime members who revel in their free delivery perk were bound to be disappointed: the tiny home wasn’t eligible (they’d have to pony up another $3,754 in shipping fees).   Looking for a property a bit bigger than what Amazon offers?  Call!

Robin Kencel, Associate Real Estate Broker and Global Advisor
The Stevens Kencel Group at Douglas Elliman Real Estate
Greenwich, CT      203-249-2943

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Obamas Latest House Buy?

The Obamas are at it again-- house shopping.  

This time, according to the NYPost's page six, they are eyeing 10 Gracie Square.  This upper east side white glove service building has been called home to many illustrious people, including Gloria Vanderbilt, conductor AndrĂ© Kostelanetz and New Yorker critic Alexander Woollcott.  Most important-- and surely on the President's "wish list" is an indoor basketball.  An apartment in the building recently went to contract in the $10 million range.

Message to Mr. and Mrs. President before the Gracie Square deal is consummated: You could have a truly presidential property just 28 miles north of the Big Apple.  

Check out 15 Reynwood Manor.  
Located in bucolic, gorgeous, sophisticated Greenwich Ct.   Reynwood Manor is the same era as 10 Gracie Square, way more square footage, no comparison on the land, and boasts indoor and outdoor pools. At $8.9 million, you have plenty of left over money to build a basketball court and a first rate gym.   Think about it-- and call me. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Is Game Theory Relevant in Real Estate Negotiating?

Game theory is a seriously studied logical field that mathematicians delve into. Interestingly, when you study how to develop successful negotiation tactics—Greenwich real estate negotiations included—you can look at them via game theory.

There is a problem, though. The further you get into the subject, the more it tends to become more and more abstract. It isn't too long until you begin to wonder what the practical application is.   Because Greenwich real estate negotiations are anything but academic exercises, I can’t recommend spending hours studying “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” or any of the other highly touted game theory games.  And you don't need to.  In fact, you can start with one basic pre-condition necessary to develop a winning game plan. It is this precondition that has to exist in order to execute any winning game plan. In game theory, this is called the assumption.

So here it is:

The assumption that’s necessary for developing a successful negotiation strategy is that all the parties must be rational. They have to be trying to make decisions (game moves) that are intended to benefit themselves. In Greenwich real estate negotiations, that usually consists of paying or receiving the least or most money in the most favorable timeframe.
So the takeaway from game theory’s application to Greenwich  real estate negotiations is both simple and useful in the real world: 

1. Remain rational yourself.   In the course of negotiations, if your thoughtful proposal isn’t accepted, don’t get mad—even if it’s maddening. Stay cool; acknowledge that you’ve considered the response, and develop the best counter that is in your interest. 
2.  Foster rationality in the other party.  Even if they fly off the handle for what seems to be no reason, assume there IS a reason—but it may not be one that’s rational or even directly connected to the bargain under discussion. It can even be due to misconstrued communication. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to forget that emotions can block self-interest—but even fiery emotions can be quelled when met with calm and reason. 

Your realtor should be setting a tone of quiet confidence, competence, and ease around the transaction.  The stronger the rational front is that you both extend, the greater the chances that the other party will fall in line with the same manner of thinking and operating.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Latest on Greenwich Mortgage Rates

A couple of weeks back, the ultimate authority on Greenwich mortgage rates hadn’t minced words. That was Freddie Mac, whose opinion about mortgage rates constitutes the final say in the matter. Freddie isn’t modest about its preeminence (Freddie’s trademarked corporate slogan is “We make home possible”). Together with sibling Fannie Mae, the quasi-governmental entities stand behind 60% of U.S. mortgages.

Each week their PMMS survey collects data snapshots from thrifts, credit unions, banks, and mortgage lenders to gauge of the direction of the home loan market. Future Greenwich home hunters and the homeowners whose properties are found in the current listings are constantly affected by those ups and downs.  Naturally, the rate averages vary from lender to lender and state to state—but it’s the direction in which mortgage rates are headed that can be a spur for buyers. Either direction can cause activity. When rates rise quickly, buyers can be incentivized to lock in rates before they get out of hand. When they fall, that inducement disappears—although a shrinking monthly payment number does create an increasingly affordable scenario. Low rates create an encouraging “price is up, but cost is down” situation.

The week before last, Freddie’s headline had been an unequivocal piece of favorable news for Greenwich buyers and sellers:

“30-Year Mortgage Rate Hits Another 2017 Low.”

But last week’s follow-up failed to live up to the expected slight rebound . Freddie’s headline on Thursday was neither fish nor fowl, up nor down. It was the third possibility, where mortgage rates don’t go anywhere: they just sit there, deadpan as a professional poker player, revealing nothing.

The U.S. weekly average was still 3.78%, tying the low for the year. For Greenwich  buyers who may have missed out on locking in the previous week’s home loan bargain rates, the reprieve was welcome news. Whether the expected rebound is on the way remains to be seen.  With rates holding at historic lows, it creates an undeniably auspicious market opportunity in Greenwich.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The 1-2-3-4's of Home Buying

What a simpler world it would be if Greenwich home buying could be reduced to a simple 4-Step process. Even better if those were four easy steps. Actually, without coming out and saying so, that’s the tantalizing prospect hinted at on radio financial guru Dave Ramsey’s website’s “Home Buying Process Made Easy.”   Ramsey is the likable media expert in household budgeting and financial planning. A good deal of his guidance could be summed up in just 2 steps:

1) Get out of debt (except for mortgage debt) as soon as humanly possible; then, 
2) Stay out.

203 Clapboard Ridge Farmhouse with Modern Addition
Since that’s not bad advice, the promise of home buying in 4 steps seems almost reasonable. After all, his millions of listeners have undoubtedly benefitted greatly through the years (once they’ve figured out a way to act on the advice).  And in fact, his 4 home buying steps are actually not far off-target—although I think they’re out of order:

1. Put your finances in order before home buying-- which should lead you to know what you can afford.
2. Do the cash flow math. Ramsey thinks your Greenwich home’s monthly mortgage payments should be no more than a quarter of your net income.
3. Get a home loan. Make this a 15-year fixed rate mortgage to minimize total interest paid.
4. Use a good real estate agent-  To make sure you are paying at or below fair market value and deal with any “unexpected home buying hurdles.”

Realistically, Greenwich home buying has a bit more involvement than these 4 steps and Step 4 should actually come after Step 2, and Step 3 (getting a mortgage) should come after you have zeroed in on your target Greenwich  home.

On a practical note: the 15-year mortgage structure automatically results in a higher monthly payment that, when combined with a 25% of net income budget cap, could yield an unrealistically limited budget target. Being financially conservative also means being realistic. A growing family, for instance, might find that they have wasted money if they have to move to a larger home after only a few years. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Five Ways The Real Estate Marketplace Changes In September

New To The Market: 203 Clapboard Ridge, Renovated and Expanded Farmhouse $3.195 Million

A while back, Forbes noted what they called “The Four Ways the Real Estate Market Changes” after Labor Day. Between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, Fall's change of season alters the house hunting landscape.

In Greenwich, Forbe's  broad brush proposition that a great number of house hunters throw in the towel after Labor Day is simply not true, in fact, it is our second strongest selling season-- right behind the Spring market. I suggest that there are five market changes  supporting a healthy Fall selling season-- and reason to list your property now. 

1. More of a buyer’s market. Buyers who have held off through the prime Spring selling season are more apt to find sellers who are more open to negotiation. 
2. Action increases for second homes. This is prime time for out-of-towners to consider a home that puts them near New York City and the beach.  Greenwich has 28 miles of coastline and a spectacular beach, Tod's Point.  What's more, it's just 48 minutes by train or car to Manhattan.  Those who have battled the drive to the Hamptons all summer are discovering that Greenwich is a viable option for beach, luxury amenities, and quick access to the Big Apple.   
3. Price dips. House hunters find that asking prices, like the autumn leaves, fall.  Sellers who have been thinking of a price reduction and have held off during Summer, come back at Fall market time with a price reduction, hoping to make a sale before the holidays.  
4. Open-ended house hunting. Time pressures (like having to be moved in by the first day of school) will have vanished by Labor Day, so many Greenwich house hunters tend to adopt a more leisurely house hunting attitude. There may also be something about crisp autumn days (and they’ll be here soon enough) that helps contribute to a more relaxed atmosphere—at least until the holidays loom! 
5.     New Inventory.  Many savvy realtors hold back new inventory after Memorial Day, knowing the summer is the quietest season, and introduce properties right after Labor Day.  My team has 6 terrific new properties coming to the market in the next few weeks.  This means more choices and fresh selection for buyers.

Every Greenwich buyer has specific and individual goals and expectations—and of course, the same is true for sellers. But it does seem to be true that post-Labor Day, Greenwich listings tend to include an uptick in price reductions—as well as some withdrawals that, as Forbes might have it, “will sprout anew” come springtime.

If your busy summer included activities and travel that kept you fully occupied, now may be an opportune time to inaugurate or resume your Greenwich focus. And contact me if you would like to a pre-market glimpse of what our team has coming.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Property Insurance-- Three Tips That May Reduce Your Cost

For most area homeowners, the 110-decibel wail of nearby fire engines may not be a sought-after feature when selecting the ideal neighborhood. Nonetheless, according to The Wall Street Journal, living close to a firehouse has its advantages. Safety is one. A reduction in your homeowner’s insurance bill, another.

Not all homes in Greenwich can have the advantage of being next door to a firehouse, but just about everybody knows that having the proper insurance is important to protect not only the structure itself but also the valuables within. Here are three possible actions you could take this month, any or all of which might reduce the cost of your homeowner’s insurance premium:

Shop Around – We are much more likely to spend our time “liking" photos on social media than in contemplating advanced insurance plan strategies. A visit to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners website can help identify important nuances when selecting a vendor. Example: review complaints. 
Reduce Coverages - Most people insure their homes for the full amount they paid at the time of purchase. If you bought your home in Greenwich for $1.6 million, you automatically insured it for that amount. But in the event of a loss event like a fire, you don’t necessarily need the full purchase price to rebuild the property—remember, that purchase price included the cost of the land. This idea should be weighed realistically against today’s costs. Take care not to go light on the replacement cost of your belongings (many folks do). A new inventory can help in that department. 
Just Ask! - While discounts vary with each insurer, the following details might qualify your home in Greenwich for a discount if you just go ahead and inquire: 
Multi-policies with the same company.
Length of time with the same company.
A smoke detector or sprinkler system.
An alarm system, deadbolt locks, or other security measures.
You have not made a claim in recent history.
Your household doesn’t include smokers. 
You qualify for a senior discount.
Your credit score has improved.
While not all of us are willing to move next door to a firehouse to save on our home insurance, there are multiple ways to whittle down policy premiums. Ask what can be done to bring down your premiums.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Does Owning A Pet Impact the Sale of Your Greenwich Home?

 Pets and Greenwich real estate have a love/hate/love relationship—a strong one. For prospective Greenwich buyers and renters who own pets, a home’s suitability can be a make-or-break element in their decision. But how the home sellers handle their own pet wrangling is another matter entirely.
The statistics give us a glimpse into just how consequential the issue has become. The majority (61%) of American households either have or plan to have a pet in the future—and of those who answered a real estate survey this year, 81% said it would influence their choice of residence. If you know many dog or cat owners (or are one yourself), that comes as no surprise. Ninety-nine percent consider their animals to be part of the family.
For Greenwich homeowners who are contemplating selling, there is a seemingly contradictory takeaway when it comes to all of this. There’s little doubt that if they have successfully created a safe and comfortable home for their own pet, it should be a plus for the 61% cited above. After all, it’s living proof that their own dog or cat will be right at home with minimal fuss, right?
Yes and no.  I never hesitate to point out the pet-friendly features of a property—especially when the prospective buyers have indicated that it’s on their own wish list. It’s a hallmark of 21st century Americans that whenever the subject of dogs or cats comes up, the ensuing conversation will quickly turn to the personality quirks of the current menagerie (if it doesn’t, those folks are petless).
Sooooo, you might assume that if a homeowner’s Greenwich real estate encompasses comfortable quarters for their own cat or dog, it would be a plus to have said creatures on display as part of a showing. But just about every Realtor® on the face of the planet will agree: not so! The near universal recommendation is to not only to send the family animals off for a temporary field trip anywhere else, but to put some effort into erasing the evidence of their recent presence—most particularly, odors! Lose the dog beds! Pack the kitty beds off somewhere in the garage! Pick up the dog toys! Stash the water dishes!
The fact is, the idea that dogs and cats can be comfortably housed on a property is a plus—but the actual dogs and cats themselves are a minus. Too distracting. Too personal. A major goal in showing a home is to enable the potential buyers to project their own personalities onto the property: to see themselves living there. A strange dog or kitty roaming around inhibits that. And there is another reason: people can be counted on to respond to the pet (especially dogs) one way or another—it’s quite likely to become the most powerful memory of the whole outing!

Monday, May 22, 2017

How To Maximize Property Value In Appraisals

You’ve probably heard the wry old saying: “Nothing clears the mind like the prospect of being hanged at dawn.” For some homeowners, you could add an equally wry modern Greenwich real estate version: “Nothing clears the mind like having a real estate appraiser drop by for a look-see.”

I’d like to counter that notion—there’s really not much to worry over when the Greenwich real estate appraiser is scheduled to make an appearance. The stress level can be lowered by keeping a few simple ideas in mind:

1. Appraisals aren’t showings. Sure, you want to have the house as spruced up and orderly as you would for any visitor. But your property doesn’t have to present the kind of perfection it will for an open house or prospective buyer showing. Experienced Greenwich appraisers aren’t looking for a 100% clutter-free, immaculate show-stopper of a home: they will be concentrating on physical details like square footage and structural and mechanical features. They are more like backstage workers than audience members—but neatness can’t hurt!
2. Paperwork is a plus. If they are available, dig out any floor plans or location plats you may have filed away. Also, the age of your home is one thing, but updated features can boost the end appraisal value. If you prepare a list of improvements and the years in which they were completed, it will make the appraiser’s job that much easier—and your Greenwich home’s appraisal that much better.
3. Curb appeal is the exception. Appraisals aren’t showings, but no one—even the professional who prepares your Greenwich appraisal—is immune to the “first impression” effect. Condition is a factor in any appraisal, so it will be worthwhile to be sure the front lawn is mowed and plantings trimmed. If the front doorway is in need of a paint refresher, it will be effort worth making.
4. Consideration helps. The appraiser’s job is part physical, so being considerate of that part of the appraisal process will be appreciated. Be sure that obstructions are cleared, that rooms are appropriately heated and cooled—and that Lassie and Garfield aren’t allowed to pester.
5. New good news is good news. If there have been positive changes in the neighborhood, it can’t hurt to let the appraiser know about them. Greenwich may be part of a rising market, but appraisers don’t speculate on future values. Supplying some positive neighborhood developments can be persuasive. 

There is another “nothing clears the mind” quote, too: Nothing clears the mind like buying property. That saying isn’t wry at all: it’s absolutely true! If you are setting out on your own Greenwich house hunt, I hope you’ll give me a call to help focus your search. And if you’re readying to sell your own Greenwich property (which puts you in the soon-to-be-visited-by-the-appraiser category) the same applies. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Power of Staging Your Home

The living room at 70 Sumner Road Greenwich CT, newly painted and staged.

The family room at 70 Sumner Road.  Edited accessories and staged.
Showings—whether here in Greenwich or anywhere else—can sometimes succeed or fail as a result of quite minor details. Appreciating that fact isn’t hard to do when you relate showings to their first cousins: live theatre. In important ways, they are quite similar.

Think of what happens when you attend a play. The audience finds their seats, settle in, and wait for the action to begin. The house lights dim, the stage lights brighten, and the action begins. If all goes without a hitch, the play captures your attention—and it has every chance of successfully casting the spell the author and director intended.

But if one element is jarringly out of place, the whole effort will go up in smoke! If a stagehand accidentally wanders onstage, the illusion is wrecked. Likewise, if a drama’s agonizing death scene is perfectly portrayed—up until the moment when the dying actress' wig begins to slip—the audience will be hard pressed to stay in the moment.

In a different way, the success of Greenwich showings is subject to similar kinds of missteps. The illusion we are after isn’t that of a home that has desirable features and is in great condition—that’s no illusion: it’s real! The illusion part comes when we create the impression that the current owners are not much in residence; that the home—although it may be furnished—presents itself in a neutral kind of way that seems to be awaiting the new owners’ belongings and personal touches.

Showings tend to be most successful if prospective buyers have no trouble envisioning themselves as the comfortable new owners. They may or may not find that the spaces and features will accommodate their family’s needs—that’s not subject to illusion. But showings have the best chance for success if the “stage” is clear of distracting elements. That’s why evidence of pets should be avoided. Strong odors of any kind, likewise (one of my current country listings pops an apple pie in the oven for every showing and I swear it lifts everyone's spirits). Family photos should be removed if at all possible; personal mementos of all kinds stored out of sight, and so forth.

When you appreciate the reasoning behind a showing’s attempted illusion, you can see why savvy realtors advise against decor schemes featuring strong colors. It is also why it’s a good idea for owners to safely vacate the premises with a few minutes to spare. It’s not because the owner is objectionable—it’s that the presence of the owner counteracts the illusion.

The funny thing is that the “illusion” is actually an authentic projection: it’s a mock-up of the reality that will come to pass if the prospect does decide to become the home’s owner.
Part art, part theatre, a little magic.  Putting your best foot forward in every way possible is all part of the selling process.  

Friday, March 24, 2017

Top Ten Signs That Your House May Be Haunted

A writer with The Greenwich Times recently interviewed me on living in old homes.  Having lived in 8 old homes during our married life, my husband and I have some experience in this regard.  The article, This House Has A Soul, speaks to the kind of person that does well living in a pre-war home.  

What it doesn't talk about is a whole different dimension on the topic:  The possible presence of a ghost or ghosts.  A Google search of "ghosts in my house" turns up 6 million results.  

A review of the literature shows some common themes.  Based on that search, here is my list of the Top 10 Signs That Your House Is Haunted:

1.  Lights turning on and off, or up and down, on their own.
2.  Light bulbs blowing frequently.
3.  Unexplained noises – but when you go to investigate, there is nothing there.
4.  Doors and cabinets opening and closing on their own.
5.  Seeing unexplained shadows from the corner of your eye.
6.  Items disappear then reappear or change direction/orientation.
7.  Strange behaviour from your pets, e.g. dogs barking or growling at something you cannot see, cats staring in a particular area as if they can see someone.
8.  Hearing voices of people, whispers, or someone calling your name.
9.  Seeing twinkling lights, mists or unexplained moving shapes.
10.  Sudden temperature drops, especially in one area of the property.

What should you do if you think you have a ghost?  There's 79 million opinions on the Internet, to help you arrive at a plan of action.

Monday, March 20, 2017

9 Terrible Home Improvement Ideas

During these final Greenwich winter days, when the weather has refused to cooperate with outdoor plans, one way to fill the idle time is searching online for home improvement ideas. You may not follow through with any of them—but it’s amusing to review the almost unlimited number of clever and inventive notions people have put online.

When it comes to the kitchen, for instance, there are bounteous home improvement ideas. There’s the herb garden wall (in addition to a green thumb, a powerful sunlamp in the ceiling is required) or the pool table top that slips right over the center island. That one wouldn’t work if your kitchen’s island is plumbed: the water faucet would stick up and ruin everything.
But among the clever and innovative home improvement ideas you will also find some that are totally impractical—or just plain terrible. Here are nine of the silliest I’ve found— 

1. Hammock Over the Stairs. A space-saver, yes. An attractive idea? Just, no.
2. See-through Bathtub. Glass walls for the tub = a housekeeping nightmare (among other drawbacks).
3. Fire Pit Coffee Table. Again: just, no.
4. Ping Pong Door. This one is complicated: the closed door has pins halfway up that allow it to tilt horizontally, whereupon the plastic net is slid into notches provided in the door frame…anyway, it’s a really small ping pong table.
5. Cat Transit System. A CTS consists of 8” diameter tubes running throughout the house just below ceiling level. Exit openings are provided at various points. Added feline-pleasing features: windows cut into the tubes at various key viewpoints.
6. A Wall That Plays Music When it Rains. This is an exterior wall idea. You install metal tubes, funnels, bamboo water chimes and tin pans to route rain water down the side of the wall as noisily as possible to splash and bang through twists and turns and waterfalls. This looks to produce the same quality of music a vacuum cleaner makes.
7. Beach Sand Under Work Desk. Like an on-the-job vacation; facilitates barefoot computer working. But—alas—another housekeeping nightmare.
8. Forest Chandelier. This one is a chandelier that looks like dozens of snakes coiled around one another: when lighted, it casts creepy shadows on ceiling and walls that “turn your room into a forest.” In a bedroom, certain to cause sleepless nights.
9. Glass Floor Over an Open Shaft. This home improvement idea is available only to Greenwich condo dwellers in buildings with abandoned elevator shafts. Since there aren’t any, we’ll never have to experience the horrendous effect.

On a bright note, there are many highly successful Greenwich home improvement ideas that are unique, fanciful and add distinction and value to a property.  Falling in this category is the renovated master bath of a new listing we have at 2 Fairway Lane in Greenwich.  His and her baths that marry the distinction of pre-war architecture with high end modern finishes.  If you are in the market for a special home, renovated from top to toe on a quiet country lane that is only minutes to town, call me to come tour it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Empty Nesters Could Be Force Behind Greenwich Real Estate Boost

 Time Magazine ended last week with a commentary that could foreshadow how this year’s Greenwich housing market might differ from years past. Author Bill Saporito identified a mismatch in the housing market that could bode well for empty nesters. Whether or not the implications will be a perfect fit for our Greenwich housing outlook, the “Big Picture” assessment does seem to gel with what we’re hearing and reading.  Time’s housing market “mismatch” begins with the national assessment that the U.S. is experiencing a shortage of new homes. Even though the latest economic outlook is refreshingly encouraging, new home builders are only now beginning to build the capacity to expand operations. As a result, “they haven’t banked as much land” or filed enough permits to keep pace. It’s also possible that the new administration’s crackdown on illegal immigrants may materially tighten labor availability.

The upshot is to create a scenario where demand for existing homes rises, putting current homeowners in prime position when they decide to list. Bolstering that proposition are some national statistics which peg the supply of existing homes at a scant 3.6 months—and it’s been more than a decade since the supply was that low. 

What that probably means for our local Greenwich housing prospects is what you expect when demand outpaces supply. When those greater conditions combine with the more immediate local factors, the overall takeaway should be good news for empty nesters (and downsizers in general). In addition to the extra energy that arrives with real estate’s traditional spring selling season, the specter of rising Greenwich mortgage costs acts as an extra prod. Time quotes the chief economist of one global group on that score: “…buyers are beginning to realize you might as well get in now.”

The good news for baby boomers, empty nesters, and downsizers of all stripes is that the new housing starts are now disproportionately being designed with them in mind: high service, luxury condos leading the pack. What that means is even fewer new single-family homes are in the pipeline—further raising demand for their existing properties, if and when they decide to list. 

If you have been considering any of the opportunities unfolding in today’s Greenwich housing market, I’ll be delighted to discuss ways I can help you take advantage of them. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

How To Reduce Your Moving Stress

If you go looking for new ideas to make a relocation to or from Greenwich easier, it’s amazing how often the words “stress” and “relocation” appear in the same paragraph.  The simplest way to reduce your stress is to hire relocation professionals-- from professional organizers to movers.  That follows the old adage to let experts do their jobs and who better to help you move than those who do it day in and day out.  

Since one of my roles as a realtor is to help reduce moving-day drama, here are some tips that I regularly use with my Greenwich clients. The first one is something you can get started on long before any move is on the calendar:
1. Stockpile cartons, bubble wrap, padding paper—even those peanut-shaped plastic fillers. More and more, Greenwich residents are buying everyday items online, so the shipping cartons and packing materials inside are a lot easier to come by.  Staples in Old Greenwich, Westys in Stamford or Portchester, or any of the Greenwich moving companies will have supplies, if you prefer to pick them up in person.
2. As relocation day nears, be sure to have the other basic packing materials on hand: those disposable heavy-duty Scotch shipping tape rollers and a couple of magic markers. 
3. Within reason, try to sell or donate everything you can (they’re not called ‘moving sales’ for nothing). Especially if you are moving out of Connecticut using professional movers, the weight saved can make a meaningful difference on the expense side. If you are fond of shopping, there’s even the bonus of replacing shopworn items with new ones at the other end of the move.  Greenwich Hospital Thrift Shop is one of my favorite places to donate anything from mom's old fur coat to the waffle iron that never sees the light of day.
4. Think forward; pack backward. Imagine the ideal order for unpacking (label an “open 1st” box, “open 2nd” box, etc.), then line them up backward, so that the “1st” box will be first to be unloaded and easiest to spot.
5. In connection with that earlier “sell everything” tip, once ensconced in your new home, resist the urge to rush right out to complete every room’s decor. Experts agree that this is one of the most common reasons that relos wind up with expensive cost overruns. Relax for a few low-stress days as you unpack at a leisurely clip. Plan to give yourself ample time to figure out what’s really indispensable in your new environment.
The single extra “Top Tip” that most relocation counselors agree upon? It’s Number 6—to avoid falling into the trap of assuming that a simple Greenwich-to-Greenwich move doesn’t also take some degree of preparation. Above all, pack fragile items as carefully as if they were headed across the Connecticut border!

Moving does not have to be a crazy, frenzied event if you plan well in ahead and take deep breaths along the way.

Monday, February 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Positive Sentiment Boasts Greenwich Real Estate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Moving Do's And Don'ts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 30, 2017

Is A Saltwater Pool for You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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