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. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Why Greenwich Listing Now Might Be Shrewd

If this is going to be a year of upsets, the rules for when Greenwich listings are best initiated might be primed to fly out the window. There’s no guarantee that 2017’s Greenwich listing performance will bend the rules, but if the National Association of Realtor’s® news site is right, it’s a definite possibility.

The history has long demonstrated that the most opportune time of year to add your home to the Greenwich listings is during the peak spring and summer seasons. When you look at the volume of home sales through most years, those months do look inviting. There are exceptions, but for the most part, spring and summer regularly excel in sales volume.
Last week, the Realtor® website ran an article in their Trends area headlining that “This Year, Sellers May Benefit from Listing Early.” Their reasoning was short and sweet—citing recent facts, then drawing a conclusion that’s the opposite of what they seem to indicate. Here are the facts:

1. Supply. It’s a fact that from one end of the country to the other, the residential inventory (supply) is starkly reduced; even Greenwich levels are beginning to decline.  According to the NAR, “Inventory levels at the beginning of 2017 are at multiyear lows.” 

2. Demand. Even though the late fall and winter months have traditionally shown weak demand, the threat of mortgage rate hikes—then the actual rises—may have been all that was needed to instill a growing sense of urgency among buyers. Early results reflect buyer demand that’s “abnormally strong” for this time of year.

3. Optimism. With consumer confidence at a 15-year high, once the spring buying season gets going in earnest, Greenwich buyers might find themselves in “buying competition” that will “get fierce.”

These trends are all well-documented. Yet at first blush, they seem to argue against listing your home now. After all, wouldn’t it still make sense for to follow the traditional dictum—to hold off until that fierce competition takes hold? The answer that flips such a conclusion is found in the fourth fact:

4. Sellers Will be Buyers. Overwhelmingly, national surveys suggest that the homeowners behind most Greenwich listings will also become buyers once they have sold. In fact, an estimated 85% of American home sellers plan to buy another home! If that’s correct, it’s not surprising that they’ll be grateful if they are quick to sell into this winter’s market. That will not only help them get a jump on the crowd come springtime—it will also lengthen the odds that they can cash in on mortgage rates before they rise substantially. All of a sudden, the net advantage to listing early could be substantial! 

The short takeaway is that simply accepting the old common wisdom warrants a second look in 2017. If you are one of our Greenwich homeowners who automatically presumed the wisdom of waiting a while longer to join the Greenwich listings, it might pay to reassess. Give me a call if you’d like to discuss how your plans fit into today’s broader residential picture—and how to take maximum advantage of this year’s market!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Asking Price: To Drop or Not To Drop? A Critical Greenwich Real Estate Question

For more than a year, the average DOM (days on market) for residential properties have been increasing in Greenwich. It’s a “speed of sale” measure—one that most Greenwich home sellers hope will reflect that it won’t be long before they are handing the keys to happy new owners.

There are some ruling considerations that go into establishing a winning asking price. One is psychological: thinking of a buyer’s frame of mind, most people don’t want to be the only ones who are interested in a house. When a slightly lower-than-comparable asking price is part of the marketing message, it draws a crowd. Another consideration is the search bracket. Knowing how buyers tend to bracket price range parameters for similar Greenwich homes is something I can help with. If comparable homes have been selling in a range that tops out at $400,000, asking $410,000 (so you can discount it in later negotiations) is a mistake: your property won’t even appear on search results you’re aiming for.  

My philosophy is that pricing is an ongoing discussion—particularly if the buyer activity level is less than expected. In every dissertation, oration, article, comment, FAQ, and essay about successful house sales, the dictum is the same: if the place doesn’t sell, first check the asking price.

Sometimes that truism can seem indisputable. If a property’s asking price is higher than comparable Greenwich homes that have recently sold—and no outside factors have slowed all area sales- the asking price is probably the stumbling block. A homeowner can quite reasonably object that their property has unusual qualities that make direct comparisons with other Greenwich homes inexact, but that logic may not be powerful enough to counter the market figures that buyers can see (remember that they don’t want to be the only ones who are interested). Sometimes even for a home that shows spectacularly, lowering the asking price can be the simplest and quickest route to a sale.

In the case of those Greenwich homes where the asking price conformity isn’t the issue—as when there simply are no other properties that are at all similar—if lowering the asking price is not indicated, it will simply become a waiting game: waiting for the buyer who appreciates the special character of the property. The good news is that there IS a buyer out there for every property; the bad news is that unique properties attract unique buyers—as in, there are fewer of them. But there is some second good news: when they do show up, they are apt to fall in love with the place!

Pricing is part math and part skill, both art and science, and since the market is constantly changing, it’s a skill that rewards experience tempered by consistent monitoring. I monitor Greenwich real estate full time and love a roll up the sleeves analysis.  If you need that kind of in the trenches representation, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at robin.kencel@elliman.com. 

Graphic Credit: Parkland Real Estate

Monday, January 16, 2017

Winter Weather Means Opportunity Knocks for Greenwich Real Estate

Greenwich saw it's first snowfall of 2017 on January 2nd and I managed to suffer a major car accident as a result of a driver texting and driving behind me AND get three bids placed on properties during the storm on that day.  Showing a home in bad weather might seem to be a blueprint for disappointment, but sometimes that’s not what happens, as my January 2nd experience proves. 

Now, it’s true that when you stick the word “bad” in front of anything, you can bet it will stifle enthusiasm. If you’re trying to promote something, it’s hardly the go-to adjective. “Let’s try out that new Chinese restaurant—I hear it’s bad” isn’t a quorum-builder. That’s why “let’s schedule some serious house hunting; it looks like the weather will be really bad,” isn’t likely to spur a lot of enthusiasm—even if a deadline looms and people need to find a house.

When the wind is howling, and Mother Nature lets loose with one of the many ways she has of transforming water into a treacherous adversary, any showings that aren’t canceled can become unique opportunities for both the hunters and homeowners. 

For the house hunters, there’s a chance to see how impressively the property holds up in less than ideal conditions. In that sense, it’s an opportunity to go “backstage” to experience how solidly built the place comes across in the midst of a storm. That experience can’t be duplicated on a mild spring day—and it can result in a valuable insight, no matter what the verdict. 

For the seller whose property stands up well to the challenge, this is an opportunity to demonstrate that convincingly. Remember how great it is to feel the warmth and comfort of home as you curl up on the couch with a good book? Anything a seller can do to amplify that kind of welcoming feeling—from lighting a crackling fireplace to setting out cups of hot cocoa—can make it that much easier for visitors to see themselves as the safe and secure owners of the property.  

House hunting in Greenwich—which is often a truly pleasurable outing in spring, summer, or fall—takes on a different aura this time of year. But even when the weather behaves the way it has been recently, don’t think that Greenwich house hunting expeditions are out of the question until spring arrives. They are happening—and winter sales are the frequent result.  

If you are a buyer, bundle up and hit the housing trail while everyone else is indoor playing Scrabble.  And if you are a seller, be sure you are salted and sanded and ready with fires going.


Monday, January 9, 2017

Getting the Lowest Mortgage Rates in Greenwich, CT

 In Spanish-speaking countries, a bribe is known as mordida. In Italy, spintarella; in parts of Asia, baksheesh. Baksheesh can also mean a tip, which is perfectly legal and ethical in a restaurant, but not so much in a bank or government office.

Here in Greenwich, CT, we have a pretty inflexible attitude about bribery: we don’t like it. When we discover it, we go further than that—we fine, jail, and otherwise make its practitioners wish they had turned bribes down. More than one mayor (Chicago comes to mind) has learned or is currently learning that the hard way.

But when it comes to negotiating with Greenwich mortgage lenders, there is a perfectly legal way to bribe them into seeing things a little more your way. As the Greeks say, you can slide them a fakelaki (“little envelope”) to lower the monthly interest payments on your new Greenwich home. You can sneak them what the Chinese call chaquian (“tea money”), and it doesn’t even have to be under the table. The U.S. mortgage industry has developed a perfectly ethical system for arranging a better deal. We call it points.

We don’t have to worry about being clandestinely recorded when we discuss how the system works. I’m going to put it out for everyone to see, right here:

When you are at the decision point in arranging the kind of home loan you want, you first decide on how quickly you wish to pay off the balance. All things considered, that usually boils down to how much you can comfortably afford in a monthly payment. As you’d expect, a 15-year term creates significantly higher monthly payments than does a similar 30-year payoff—but you wind up paying significantly less interest in the end. Likewise, if you choose more than the minimum down payment, the loan amount is smaller; hence payments are lower, less interest, etc.

In 2017, nobody has to troop down to the banker’s office to find out exactly how changes in each factor yield larger or smaller monthly payments. The web has dozens of calculators that let you monkey around to see exactly how each affects the bottom line. So where, exactly, does the baksheesh come in?

At the bazaar, of course! 

In internet terms, the closest thing to a bazaar is the line of commercial sites that list “today’s mortgage rates.” Just as when you’re sauntering through the bazaar in the Casbah, it pays to keep a hand on your wallet—so don’t give out too much personal information to see the rates. But the good sites post lenders’ latest rates for Greenwich mortgages, which is where the baksheesh comes in. It’s in the small print beneath the APR percentage, shown as “a rate at X points.” A point is shorthand for 1% of the loan amount; so, 1 point on a $200,000 loan is $2,000: that’s the bribe! The lender across the table appreciates it when you to slip him a little wink-wink, and will arrange a lower monthly payment amount if you “come to an arrangement.” A 2-point loan gets you a lower monthly payment than a 1-point loan. That’s the way of the world, after all…

Whether paying points makes good financial sense in your own situation is just one topic we might discuss when you give me a call. As always, there’s no cost—and no obligation—when you give me a call to consult about some of the ways you might take advantage of today’s Greenwich market and gain access to some top notch mortgage bankers and lenders that I have had the pleasure of working with for many years.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Greenwich Real Estate Figures into Some New Year’s Resolutions

 For most Greenwich celebrants, the holiday season hasn’t been a single non-stop flurry of activities (even though that’s what sticks in our memories). In fact, the holidays usually include more stretches of free time than we generally experience. Probably because our regular schedules get shredded over the holidays, you can usually count on injections of unclaimed time—whether spent in airport departure lounges or at home, awaiting waylaid deliveries or overdue guests.
Such moments provide a disguised benefit. Especially this week, as we begin our voyage into Greenwich’s New Year, there is no more apt time to steal the moments needed to consider what fresh initiatives might be possible.
It is New Year’s Resolution time, after all—and if a change in Greenwich real estate matters could be due, that’s something that probably belongs near the top of the list. With that in mind, here are the most frequently named real estate-related subjects in popular New Year’s resolution lists:
1. Make extra mortgage payments — even a single extra payment a year makes a surprisingly large financial impact
2. Downsize — recognizing when family living space requirements shrink can mean significant cash savings as well as property maintenance time and effort
3. Upsize — sometimes the extra elbow room yields major quality of living gains
4. Tackle Deferred Household Maintenance Items — for efficiency and pride of ownership
5. Buy an Investment Property — a thoughtful Greenwich real estate investment can yield both cash flow and long-term growth benefits
6. Get Organized — de-cluttering is a near universal New Year’s resolution
7. Get Efficient — cutting energy consumption and/or water usage by converting outdated household systems should result in net operating outlays
When it comes to Greenwich real estate initiatives, a list of your own New Year’s resolutions may be minor or monumental. If it’s the latter (and a possible change of residence is nearing) you might add one item to your New Year’s to-do list: call me!