Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How To Avoid Costly Pitfalls when Selling Your home

How can you best prepare your home for sale and avoid common mistakes in the process (and fetch the maximum return for your investment)? 

I will be leading a panel of experts in two Adult Continuing Education classes to discuss all elements of the preparation process.  These classes will take place at Staples High School in room 1036 on Wednesday, February 4 and the following week on February 11th, from 7-9 p.m. Registration online is at, or by calling 203-341-1209.

Included among the panel will be a Real Estate Attorney, Professional stager, Building inspector,
Organizer, Appraiser, Mortgage Broker, Appraiser, Surveyor and Family attorney. 

This information should be applicable for those looking at the short or longer term.  Hope to see you there.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

October-Prices Holding Steady/Late autumn activity

There was increased monthly activity in all towns compared to October of 2013. Westport saw the biggest jump with 45 homes going to escrow in October vs 32 in the previous year, a 40.6% increase.

Yearly sales figures are still behind 2013 levels though.  Westport is nearly 15% behind last year's levels, followed by Weston which is a little over 10% behind 2013 levels, Wilton -5.8%, Fairfield -5.7%. 

Though volume has decreased, median home prices have increased at a rate slightly above the cost of living in Westport & Weston, with median prices of $1,325,000 and $807,000 respectively.  Wilton and Fairfield have seen almost no movement, with median prices of $800,000 and $573,000.

Going outside the Mid-Fairfield towns that I usually discuss, there has been something interesting happening in Easton.  There have been 105 homes that have gone to contract in this small rural-feeling town, which represents a 40% increase over last year.  The median sales price in Easton progressed by 6.4% with a median sales price year to date of $592,000.  Easton had at one point been a part of Fairfield. 

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Current State of New Construction in Mid-Fairfield

I usually speak about Westport as the locomotive that drives Mid-Fairfield.  This is particularly true of the new construction segment of the market.  There were 53 new homes that have sold in the past 12 months in Westport at a median price of approximately $2,600,000.  In addition, there are currently 22 additional properties which are under contract and under construction (in various phases of completion).  These figures are based on Multiple Listing Service figures.  There is also a smaller number of homes either being built from scratch from the aftereffects of Sandy, or simply custom built homes that do not enter into those figures. 
There are now 69 active single family homes proposed as new construction in Westport. If we take the homes sold and those under contract and consider that figure, 75, to represent a year's worth of new homes sold, then we currently have close to a year's supply of inventory.  There is clearly an affinity by many buyers for new construction, and based on the median price, is attracting many well-heeled buyers.
 Based on the CMLS figures, there were only 14 new spec homes built in Greenwich in the past 12 months. While not privy to Greenwich MLS figures, I would not be surprised if these are fairly accurate figures for spec homes, as the once 'closed' Greenwich market
has opened up considerably to the Consolidated Multiple Listing Service for its homes, including
new construction.  Also worth noting is that there are currently 20 new spec homes listing for sale
in Greenwich, so it appears that the builders are returning to that market. The median asking price of
those homes is $4.5 million.
Fairfield has also had an active market with 45 new homes sold in the past 12 months and an additional 12 homes under contract.  The median price for those sold homes was approximately $999,000.There are currently 62 new homes being offered, which would be approximately equal to a year's worth of inventory, but with a median asking price of about $1,170,000 is less likely that this
market would be affected by economic downturns than say the Westport or Greenwich markets, since
there is a much larger buyer pool for these homes.
Weston & Wilton had a very modest number of new construction offerings, with only 3 having sold in Weston and 6 in Wilton.  The median prices of those homes was similar, $1,399,000 in Weston and $1,350,000 in Wilton.  The builders who work in these towns also seem to be optimistic with
10 new homes being offered in Wilton and 8 in Weston.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

10 Projects to Complete Before Thanksgiving

The Farmer's almanac is indicating that we may be having a harsh winter. Although we are now basking in warm temps and winter still seems a long way off now is a perfect time to be thinking about things that need doing around the house, according to Better Homes and Garden magazine. Replace Windows — A professional can swap out your problem windows with more efficient models that will increase your level of comfort while at the same time decrease your heating bills. This type of project only makes sense if you are planning on spending several years in the house, or if you are preparing your home for sale. It will take several years before one can expect to recoup the costs of this type of upgrade.
  Exterior Paint — Fall offers plenty of days that are warm enough to work with exterior paint, and a touch-up can help prolong the life of your siding and trim. A fresh coat of paint or sealer on any surface that will be potentially covered with snow, such as wood floors or stairs, also is a wise idea. Roof Repair — The cold of winter can aggravate even a small roof leak. Any leaks in a home's roof should be fixed in advance of the first snowfall.
  Power Washing — Having your home's exterior and windows power washed won't just make your home look sharp, it also will prevent the growth of mold and mildew that feed on grime. 
Seal Gaps & Add Insulation — Consider a home energy audit that includes a review of your home's caulking and weather stripping. Energy auditors also will likely look inside your attic. If the insulation is at or below the level of the joists, you may be able to keep your home warmer by adding more. A depth of 10 to 14 inches is generally considered optimal.
  Tune Up Furnace — Maintenance from a trained professional can keep your furnace running effectively and efficiently and prevent potentially catastrophic damage to your home from burst or frozen pipes.
  Clean, Repair, and Protect Gutters Inspect and clean your roof's drainage system. Better still; protect your gutters with mesh guards to keep leaves and other debris from causing blockages in the first place.
  Install a Programmable Thermostat — Programmable thermostats save money without sacrificing comfort by using less energy on heating and cooling while you're away from home, asleep, or at any other specific times you select.
Repair Driveways and Walks — Small cracks and gaps in a driveway or walkway can quickly expand during winter's freezing temperatures.
  Winterize Faucets and Sprinklers — Most exterior plumbing in areas with temperatures below freezing must be winterized to prevent freezing and bursting. Winterizing more complex plumbing, such as sprinkler systems or water features, is best left to a professional.
  Fireplace Repair — Proper inspection of a fireplace is vital to ensuring its safe operation, even if it is rarely used. An experienced chimney sweep will check wood fireplaces for flammable buildup (known as creosote) and chimney blockages like bird nests.

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Friday, October 03, 2014

A Warm September

This title can also be applied to the September Real estate market locally. All towns saw a boost of activity when compared to the previous September. We are also seeing housing inventory decreasing-a good sign for Real Estate, although there are some mixed signs still out there, with overall sales still lagging behind 2013 levels. Activity was more robust in the early part of the month, representing perhaps some last minute purchases at the outset of the school year. The median prices in all towns continues to rise slightly, but I still believe this to be influenced by the upper end of the market which continues to increase in terms of percentage of overall inventory. In Westport, for example, more than one third of the current listings are over $2,000,000. In terms of September activity 52 homes went to contract in Westport compared to 33 in the previous year. Housing inventory is at 8.8 months, down 40.5% from 2013. We would love to see those numbers at about 6 months or less. At those levels there is a good balance between buyers and sellers, which makes the market more fluid. At current levels of inventory buyers seem to be having difficulty in making decisions. There is the perception that 'better' or less expensive homes may be coming to the market. Recent reports of likely increases in interest rates may help to change perceptions. Yearly sales are still behind 2013 levels with 292 closed sales year to date, 19.3% behind last year's total. Weston and Wilton are seeing their median prices climb incrementally. 3.9% for Weston and 1.7 % for Wilton. Their median prices are $805,000 for Weston and $815,000 for Wilton. Since new construction represents a very small percentage of the sales in these towns, these are more accurate indicators of what a 'true' median price is than in Westport. Housing inventory is slightly lower in Wilton at 9.3 months versus 9.8 months in Weston, and in both cases this is down over 50% from 2013, a sign that there markets are evening out. Previously the market was clearly a 'Buyer's Market'. We are slowly trending to a more neutral market. Closed sales are off 12-13% in both Weston and Wilton, though both towns saw a doubling of activity in September compared to the previous year. The recent correction in the stock market is another factor which can influence sales activity. What happens in the next months geopolitically can also have an effect on the real estate market. Fairfield, which has a median price of $581,000 is driven more by the lower end buyer. Overall sales were least affected in Fairfield, with 520 closed sales year to date compared to 566 at this time last year. Inventory levels are similar to other towns at 8.9 months and September sales jumped to 80 from 45 in September 2013.

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5 Reasons New Houses Are Getting Bigger

I often speak to local people who are concerned about the sizes of new homes in Westport and surrounding towns. This phenomenon is happening in areas across the country and a recent Wall Street Journal article on September 30th does a good job of analyzing how the Real estate market works: "It’s a strange time for houses to get bigger. The housing bust was followed by sharp criticisms of excesses such as McMansions and started a movement toward tiny houses. Combined with America’s aging, “empty nester” population, increasing environmental concerns and smaller household sizes, you might think the U.S. would want to build smaller houses. We haven’t. As of the last Census, the median house was 2,384 square feet—in between the sizes of a single and a doubles tennis courts. That’s up from 1,525 square feet in 1970, with a rise punctuated only by a brief stall during the recession. Over the last decade the median house size has increased on average about 25 square feet per year, and the share of new homes with 4+ bedrooms and 3+ full baths is going up. Why are new houses still getting bigger?" Here are the 5 Reasons: 1-Glut of Foreclosures: Foreclosures nationally are actually declining, however, in many parts of the country there is still housing inventory for sale made up of these homes which are bank owned. These homes are in good part smaller homes that were purchased with little downpayment. Since they make up a significant portion of the lower end of the market builders have no incentive to build new SMALLER homes. 2-Stiff Mortgage qualifications: Ben Bernanke just told reporters recently that he was turned down for a refinancing of his house. Incredible for someone who can command $250,000 for one speaking engagement, and whose house was purchased in the low 800s. But that incident is a pretty good indicator of how demanding banks have become for home buyers. Those individuals with lower credit scores will not qualify to purchase a new home. 3-Wealthier People are driving the Market: This is certainly true in our area. Wealthier people are looking for purchase larger homes. If they were looking for something smaller than builders would likely follow their desires. In the previous market there were more middle class buyers who could afford new homes. This is less true today. 4-Builders are Following Demand: It logically follows that builders who build speculatively will build to suit the type of buyer likely to purchase their product. 5-Americans Want More: "According to data from both the NAHB and Trulia, Americans usually want bigger houses—17% more space than they have. “As incomes go up, people are able to consume more housing, more entertainment, more tech and everything else,” according to Jed Kolko, Trulia’s chief economist. “We’d expect, as society gets richer—in the long run, not just over a year or a decade—people to live in larger housing.” According to Mr. Kolko, “The kind of thing that could change this is if we got poorer, or if attitudes or policies made large homes less desirable.” For now, big is king."

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Summer's End

The mild weather of August was much appreciated by my family and we are a little sorry to see it's end. August began quietly but there seemed to be some momentum build up during the month. All four towns that we regularly follow in Mid-Fairfield had activity (in terms of properties going to contract) that was equal to or greater than in 2013. This was fortunate since year to date activity continues to lag that of 2013. Median prices are showing some signs of improvement, but not of the order that we were hoping for. Westport saw 48 properties going to escrow, the exact same number as in August 2013. Total number of properties going to escrow this year is now at 300 compared to 346 in 2013, representing a 13.3% drop off. The 2.9% decrease in inventory does not explain this decline. It is more symbolic of the general fall off in sales as compared to 2013. It is important to note that 2013 was seen as a breakout year, with volume reaching numbers that were similar to what we had seen some of the busier years during the last real estate cycle. It may turn out that 2013 was the anomaly, and when we compare 2015 to these 2014 numbers that we will have more consistent yearly numbers. Westport did see an increase of 8% in its median price so far this year to $1,369,500. This is still below the median prices seen at the height of the last cycle. Weston also saw its median price increase by a more modest 4.9%. It also experienced a busy August with the same numbers as in 2013. Year to date Weston is still lagging 2013 escrow numbers by 8% in terms of volume. New inventory is down 5.4% current inventory at 11.7 months. This is a decrease of 14% but still above the 6 month number that we normally see in a more balanced real estate market. Closed sales are only off 5.7% compared to 2013, though Weston's median price is still lagging where it would like to be, currently standing at $810,000. Wilton had a month of August that was stronger than Weston's, with 28 properties going to escrow. Inventory has been down 3.7% for the year and monthly inventory of properties stands at 8.4 months. Closed sales are off 12.7%, though accounting for properties that are under contract the yearly totals are at 8.2% below 2013. Wilton was the only town where the median price decreased. It is now at $800,000, 3% less than the $825,000 seen last year. Fairfield's median price of $580,000 has made progress from the most difficult years of this cycle, but it remains the most affordable of the towns that we cover. August saw a large spike in activity, with 86 properties going to contract compared to only 69 in August '13. Escrow numbers are now only off 3.3% compared to 2013, though closed sales have declined 8.2% Monthly inventory numbers are at 8.4 months. The lower end continues to drive the market.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Playing Catch Up

We continued to see positive results in July, though we are still behind 2013 figures. Wilton, which in June had seen the largest increases, saw more modest improvement in July, with 37 properties that went to escrow versus 35 the previous July. Wilton's median price in 2014 now stands at $790,000 which represents a .6% decrease compared to 2014. For the year, Wilton has seen 162 properties go to contract compared to 172 through July in 2014, or a 5.8% decrease. There have been 295 homes that have come to the market vs. 306 through July 2013. In terms of closed sales, Wilton is down 18% compared to the first 7 months of 2013, with 136 closed sales vs. 166 sales through July 2013. Wilton's close neighbor, Weston, saw a big jump in July, with 32 properties going to contract compared to only 14 in July of 2013. This 128% increase was the largest in the area, and brought year to date escrow numbers to 112 compared to 119 properties through July 2013. Closed sales have followed a similar pattern with 94 vs. 102 through July 2013, a decrease of only 7.8%. Weston's median price has also seen gains of 6.8% to $825,000. Westport has also seen it's median price increase to $1,323,204, and also saw a marked spike in escrow activity in July. 54 single family homes went to contract in July compared to 38 in July 2013 (a 42% increase), though the yearly figures are still down 13.4%. Yearly closed sales are down 16.3%, but should see a slight improvement based on recent escrow activity. The largest town in the area, Fairfield, had a solid month of July, with 110 properties going to escrow, a 22% increase. Closed sales are lagging the 2013 numbers by 6.2%. The median price has increased 3.2% to $575,000.

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