The Buzz About Real Estate

There’s a buzz in the Westport real estate market. It’s both real (the sound of new construction) and metaphorical (a swarm of buyers).

My anecdotal observation of the market — watching what’s going on around town, scanning sales numbers and prices — was confirmed by Karen Scott.

Karen — of KMS Partners at Coldwell Banker — is one of Westport’s savviest, energetic and experienced realtors. (Full disclosure: She’s also a friend. I have coached her 2 sons on the Staples soccer team, and am a huge fan of the entire Scott family.)

Karen says there’s a reason the local real estate market shows life for the first time since the tumble crash of 2007-08.

Interest rates are low, and should remain so for a while.

Some buyers are tired of renting. Others are tired of searching, and willing to commit.

Even the weather helps. Our North Carolina-ish winter has not only encouraged people to go outside and be active; it’s also kept them away from the ski slopes, giving them time search homes on the internet, then drive around to actually see them.

This Nantucket Shingle-stylel residence "captures water views from nearly every room." It's listed at $8,850,000.

In past years, the “spring market” — often the most active of the year — has taken place in May and June. This year, Karen says, it’s already begun.

Agents, mortgage lenders, buyers and sellers — all sense an increased level of activity” since New Year’s. “People are negotiating and making offers,” Karen says. “They’re no longer sitting on the fence.”

New construction is hot, particularly in the $2 million range.

“Westport has a love/hate relationship with new construction,” Karen says. “But for a while, there was no construction at all. It’s back, but with smaller homes and on smaller pieces of property” — 5,000 to 6,000 square feet, finished on 3 to 4 floors. The footprint is smaller than before, and there’s more interest in energy efficiency.

Westport remains attractive to New Yorkers and transferees from other parts of the country, Karen notes. We continue to attract global clients, with Chinese buyers new to the mix.

Like other buyers, they come for the schools, the proximity to New York and places like Yale, and the amenities.

Looking to enjoy the "Compo Beach lifestyle"? This house can be yours for $1,849,000.

“People love Compo and Longshore, the arts, the sports, everything for kids,” she says. Among the hot areas: the beach, and neighborhoods like Evergreen and Imperial Avenue that are close to town.

Saugatuck — with its new restaurants and other construction — is also drawing attention from buyers.

Tax rates too are very favorable — particularly in comparison with Westchester.

Sellers include empty nesters and homeowners downsizing, as well as the converse: young, growing families looking for bigger digs.

Westport has some foreclosures — though, Karen says, not on the scale of other places.

Prices have been fairly stable. Karen characterizes less-than-$1 million homes as “very hot.” The $1 million to $1.5 million range is “competitive.” Those between $2 million and $3 million are “tough sales.” The upper end — $5 million and up — has seen good recent action.

This "exquisitve Victorian farmhouse" recently sold for $2,495,000.

Despite the renewed interest, Karen is realistic. “Buying and selling in Westport is still a big financial transaction. People are cautious. They’re doing their due diligence more thoroughly than ever before.” Some good news: From a lending standpoint, Westport is considered a stable market.

Real estate is one of Westport’s favorite games. For several years, we’ve been on the losing end of that game.

Finally, it seems, buyers and sellers are playing ball again.

17 responses to “The Buzz About Real Estate

  1. Considering that one local attorney tells me that all his clients are nearly two years in arrears in mortgage payments and awaiting foreclosure, Mrs. Scott’s forecast may be premature. But the low range, 500-800,000$, are now available for the first time in many a decade. And that means young family buyers which is good for Westport.

    • New young buyers are good for Westport, but new people usually bring changes which will start all sorts of whining and moaning by those who prefer to look backwards, and each new child will bring with him/her a $20,000 per year price tag in the Westport school system. So if I were selling real esate here, I would not lean too hard on the low tax angle.

      • The entitled whine encrusted buyer is less likely to complain when they are gettting a home for well under a million in a market that has not seen such prices in 40 years. In the 80’s, the young families disappeared from Westport and they closed many of the elementary schools. The tax base went up as a result.

        • I have been here since 1978. The political class decided at the time that young people would never move to Westport, so they closed the schools; so much for planning ahead.

          • The Dude Abides

            Well, Emma, if you believe in the free market, the Reagan recession early years did not affect market prices here in Westport and thus kept out the young families with kids. Thus, the closing of Hillspoint, Greens Farms, Burr Farms, Saugatuck (Riverside) and Bedford. An economic reaction of too much supply and not enough demand. Economics 101.

          • I prefer to think of it as the Carter stagflation; prices were rising at double digit rates as the economy sank into recession in 1980, this was something that was not supposed to happen, unless of course you studied with Milton Friedman, and then you got the joke. BTW we were a young family when we moved here in 1978, so I could not see the logic in the no new families argument. Having figure out the joke, I bought as much house as I could with as litte down as possible; Bill Miller’s monetary policy was good for borrowers, and leverage was a good thing.
            .
            The problem was not anticipating the need for schools. Anyone with insight would have realized that the baby boom echo was about to materialize. Renting schools for $1 dollar per year was not too bright,and knocking them down was even less bright. The inability of public officials to manage capital investments was one of Friedman’s major arguments against public schools.

  2. Arthur B. Champlin,Esq.

    The banks are still calling the shots in the real estate market. Many here are still “under water” on their mortgages and attempting short sales. The banks also determine the buyer for if the house does not appraise for what the asking price is, no go. Rentals are in demand and rightly should be. The only ones back on their feet are the Wall Streeters who never skipped a bonus check. As my father-in-law once said: “Never trust a realtor”. He was married to one.

  3. Westporter4ever

    A.Cox…don’t be too sure about that…my house has been on the market since June and it has been an ABSOLUTE NIGHTMARE! I have been nit picked and nickle and dimed!! My house is a great bargain (under 600K) I have dropped the price 3 times because i need to get it sold…I had 3 offers when my house went on the market and lost my solid offer because the dummy’s went for an FHA and screwed up their credit right before the final approval. (Wells Fargo are a bunch of crookes BTW) I now have another buyer who is draggin their feet 1 week in between each couter offer. we are on week 4 now…. So all these reports saying the market is good for buyers and sellers…I wish i could agree, but i’m not seeing it. I wish a nice young couple would ake interest in my house…some have looked but no takers. I’m a young person myself with 2 kids…and i just cannot afford my hometown anymore.Good luck to those who can…or who think they can!
    P.S…..Rentals are not that in demand..(maybe if your within walking distance to the compo)..and if they most cannot rent to cover their mortgage! I considered that too!

    • Jimmy Carthridge

      Sorry to hear of your misfortune but if it makes it any easier, everyone is going through the same thing. Buyers are low balling and sellers are trying to maintain some resemblence to their value in. It gets nasty though. One client saw 140 houses in the area before low balling at 1.3 when they were asking 1.7. Buyer so pissed that they refused buyer’s UPS shipping the day before the closing. Rentals in Greens Farms are doing well although you are right, Compo is the bullseye. Incredible rental prices however. 50 grand for the summer? Wow!

    • I didn’t say the low market is selling but it is available for the first time in a long time. The real problem is that if the house is listed at $600,000 and the bank appraisal comes in at $535,000 and you owe $580,000, it ain’t gonna happen unless you are willing to take a hickey. Good luck. Actually, Wells Fargo is one of the good ones. Try working with Chase!!!

  4. The Dude Abides

    Yes, 4Ever, the Professor here seems to paint a rosey picture of an improved real estate market in Westport via his BFF, the realtor. The high end was never really affected with average market priced improved for 2011 along with decreased inventory. But the bubble may have not burst completely with noted potential foreclosures looming because many can not dump their devalued home at the price one desires. Prediction is 2014 for complete recovery. I would stick with that. But can folks hang on that long?? Otherwise, another bubble burst.

  5. Westporter4ever

    Dude I think you are right…and I think the professors friend is in the business of buying and selling house..and at westport prices getting a 4 to 5% commission…I would be looking through rose colored glasses too!! However I am not…I’m a working class resident that got kinda screwed…laid off, divorced and blindsided by Wells Fargo who kept telling me they wanted to help me…like the Gambler…I wish i could hold em’ buuuut I know I have to fold em!!. After spending my whole life in Westport, I now bow out gracefully, but will continue to be Westporter4ever…from Monroe! (hopefully soon! no word from potential buyer yet!)

  6. Interesting article detailing one of the largest homes in Westport.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203889904577201043455977600.html

  7. For new construction … wouldn’t it be wonderful if architects designed houses with CHARACTER?

    (Although I suppose one person’s eyesore is another’s character.)