From the Founders
Real Estate Review
The Health of Home Sales
If home sales headed down across the country last year, you wouldn’t know it in Greenwich, or in most Fairfield County towns for that matter. The dollar volume of residential sales in Greenwich was up 19 percent over last year and at $2.2 million, the median sales price for single-family homes was up 9 percent. For all of Fairfield County, from Greenwich to the town of Fairfield, excluding Danbury and Bridgeport, sales volume was up 10 percent. Besides Greenwich, the strong markets were New Canaan, Darien, Weston and Fairfield. Not surprisingly, dollar volumes for both Norwalk and Stamford were down, reflecting mortgage credit problems in the lower end of the market.
Greenwich real estate has a record of being the last to enter an economic downturn, but also the first to come out and the most resistant to declining sales and prices. But lest we become too complacent, it should be noted that there have been some warning signs since the fall, according to market watchers, in the form of longer days on the market and softer prices.
Eric Bjork of Prudential Connecticut finds a healthy sign in sales in the one- to two-million- dollar range that had been lagging last year. With interest rates as low as they are, he is cautiously optimistic about the market, and with asking prices more realistic, he feels the time is good for buyers while interest rates remain low.
Ed Mortimer of Sotheby’s International notes that the market was definitely off in January and February. He sees people “hanging on the sidelines, waiting to see what’s happening next.” Yet, with a relatively low inventory, he predicts a 5 to 7 percent rise in prices during the year.
Tom Gorin of Cleveland, Duble & Arnold also sees prices rising during the year — 4 to 5 percent. Like Eric Bjork, he is encouraged by renewed activity in the high one-million to low two-million-dollar range.
Jay Cooke of Preferred Properties says we have perception versus reality: “The perception through the media is that it’s a national disaster in real estate,” and “we [brokers] have to teach them that, like politics, real estate is local. The reality is that Greenwich has been driven for years by Wall Street. Somebody’s always making money, and Greenwich is always going to be one of those options they want to explore.”
Confronting the Threat
In March, the RTM addressed an item of increasing public concern: how to put brakes on the demolition of some of our fine historic properties. The proposed ordinance called for an extension of the stay of execution period from ninety days in the present ordinance to 180 days, and an increase in the demolition appeals period within the stay of execution from twenty to forty-five days.
To obtain a demolition permit an applicant must provide the building department with an affidavit that (a) written notice has been given to adjacent property owners, the Historical Society, the Historic District Commission and any neighborhood associations; (b) a notice has been published in the newspaper; (c) a sign has been placed on the property.
The current time periods have not proven effective in preventing the loss of properties to the bulldozer, therefore it would seem an extension of the time periods was justified. However, there is no assurance that a six-month stay would be any more effective than the present three months. At a meeting of the RTM’s Land Use Committee, Paul Hopper, vice chairman of the Historic District Commission which sponsored the proposed regulations, could not cite the experience of any other community with such an ordinance and whether the extended time period reduced the rate of demolition.
There is no question that we should develop the means to halt the indiscriminate destruction of our architectural heritage. The question is how. Paul Pugliese is an architect, realtor, member of the Architectural Review Board and a preservationist. He opposed the 180-day stay of execution on the grounds that it was “an unfair burden on property owners depriving them of the use of their property for [effectively] up to seven and a half months.”
Placing property in limbo for such a long period can create a financial hardship for the owner. During the appeal time, any disgruntled or troublesome neighbor can file an objection and initiate a stay. And a property need not be a true historical gem. Any home sixty years old or more falls into the historical category, which may include at least a third of the houses in Greenwich. While it is up to the Historic District Commission to determine the historical significance of a house, experience to date would indicate that increasing the stay period will simply postpone the inevitable. Meanwhile, the owner is faced with uncertainty that inhibits his ability to sell at a normal asking price or to develop his property.
The Land Use Committee had voted eight to four in favor of the proposed extension. However, the collective wisdom of the RTM prevailed. After a protracted debate this body voted 96–81–5 in favor of an amendment retaining the ninety-day stay, but increasing the period for filing an objection to forty-five days, giving objectors more time to react. Incentives, rather than penalties, were proposed to encourage preservation. Also, the Historic District Commission should create a definition of what constitutes a historic property and build an inventory of historic homes. — Jack Moffly