“Suddenly, A Teardown Doesn’t Sound So Bad”

When it comes to real estate agents, the glass is never half, or even completely, full. It’s always overflowing.

A walk-in closet becomes a “unique home office.” The train tracks in your backyard are transformed into “walk to the station!” I actually saw an Old Hill Road property that touted “beach access.” Sure — buy your sticker, like everyone else.

But a recent mailing from KMS Partners caught my eye. The principals — experienced professionals all, and longtime Westport residents — did what realtors seldom do: They addressed a continuing land-use debate head on.

Impressed by their willingness to confront the issue of teardowns, I asked if I could reprint their message on “06880.” I warned them that our commenters can be a frothy bunch, and there might be some criticism.

Go ahead, KMS said. We welcome the discussion. So read what they had to say — and feel free to add comments at the end. Real names, please!

In any town in Fairfield County, the topic of new construction homes creates a lively discussion. At KMS Partners, we have found you either love it or hate it. But no matter what your opinion is, new construction is the hottest market niche in the majority of towns across Fairfield County.

Many buyers want new homes, like this one.

Many buyers want new homes, like this one.

What makes new construction so popular? Buyers’ behaviors, plain and simple. Today’s buyer wants ease of transition: the latest trends in amenities, the most efficient systems, design teams to help select decor and finishes, top-of-the-line appliances, builders’ warranties, smart home technology, low maintenance, fresh paint and gleaming finished floors — for starters.

What happened to the “fixer-upper buyers”? They are the minority these days.

With all this demand for new homes, across various price points, builders naturally search out properties to meet the demands of their clients. The result is increased competition for land. That drives up land values, to the point where land is sometimes more valuable than the house the land sits on.

A charming 50-year-old colonial, lovingly lived in yet in need of updates,will not attract an end-user buyer as much as a builder (assuming the land is suitable for a new construction home). Yep, your house could be worth more as a teardown.

Some houses -- like this at the beach -- are worth more as a teardown.

Some houses — like this at the beach — are worth more as a teardown.

While these are broad statements, it is best to consult an experienced agent to ascertain the full potential of your property.

For those who loathe another “teardown of the day,” consider this scenario. An agent or builder approaches a homeowner with a legitimate offer to purchase the property. Cash, “as is” or with minimal contingencies, closing at your convenience and an attractive purchase price for the property.

The house is tired, in need of repairs and not appealing to buyers today. This is your nest egg. You are ready to move on to the next chapter of your life. It’s an easy sale. Suddenly a “teardown” doesn’t sound so bad.

But what about the character of our towns? And who will be able to afford to live here? There must be some balance to this phenomenon.

The oldest home in Westport -- located on Long Lots Road -- took years to restore. (Photo by Larry Untermeyer)

The oldest home in Westport — located on Long Lots Road — took years to restore. (Photo by Larry Untermeyer)

We agree. We work with clients who have strong opinions on all these points. For our sellers, we honestly advise how they can maximize the potential of their property. Not every “resale house” is a teardown. To the surprise of many of our resale clients, their homes are attractive to today’s buyers.

For our buyer clients who do want new construction, we are always in search of land and will navigate them through this process. When builders ask our opinions, we are not shy to express them.

We love our towns and the characteristics unique to them. We encourage builders to strike the balance of new and New England when creating their projects. We also encourage our new construction buyers to do the same. We would love to hear your opinion on this topic.

23 responses to ““Suddenly, A Teardown Doesn’t Sound So Bad”

  1. Cheryl McKenna

    Written very well but too simplistic. Most agents push those older tired home owners to never try to sell to a young couple or a downsizing couple.
    They tell them just sell it to my developer less stress easier and done.
    Easy for the agent too. What they fail to understand is the diversity of Westport is at stake.
    So be it the market says ….
    As a longtime Westporters shame on them .

  2. Don Willmott

    The only way to protect the “fabric of the town” from market forces is with laws, so you must vote for people who will pass some sort of zoning law to prevent teardowns. Then, get ready for that letter from Town Hall to arrive: “We’re sorry, but we won’t let you sell your home to that person at that price. Please find a preservation-minded buyer and try again.” It would be interesting.

  3. Sheila Flinn

    How about free markets? Do we really want the government to tell us who we can sell to and for how much? Sorry, it’s my property and I’ll make the decision! Sorry, ms. Mekenna, not “shame on them”, they are running a business, that’s what free capital markets are all about. Oh, this is America right?? They are going with supply and demand, plain and simple. And yes I want the most for my house when I live this idealistic, well preserved town some day. Great article, KMS, it’s reality.

    • Mike Petrino

      Westport is full of sanctimonious meddlers who would force their will on others. The meddlers claim that only their vision is worthy of consideration. They are closed minded people who would take by force that which they do not own in order to make their vision a reality. On the other hand, the meddlers do not want any limitations on their actions, because they are doing what is best for all of us. The non-meddlers are clearly not able to figure out what sort of town they should want to live in so the meddlers must protect them from their ignorance.

      The reality is that people reveal their preferences through exchanges in the market place. The meddlers wish to prevent people from acting on their preferences; for their own good.

      I have lived in Westport for 35 years. I have seen the rise of the meddlers; they are the “new people”.

  4. Bruce Fernie - SHS 1970

    It’s all about ‘The New People’…

    • Cheryl McKenna

      I come from a real estate family and understand this market very well..
      My point is let the market and an open listing decide which buyer will pay more a young family that will fix up or a broker/ builder just talking the seller into an easy sale…. I bet if they tried the seller would get more money with an individual’s family or a downsizing person like my family.. I will renovate I do not want new!!!

  5. Cheryl, I invite you to attend an open house, Sunday 8/10, 1-3 at 6 Daybreak Lane. This is the perfect colonial for a “down sizer” or “1st time home buyer”. Built in 1961 and ready for the next homeowner to make it their home…..

  6. The issue isn’t the tear down, it’s what it is replaced with. Developers tend to “over build” stretching the legal limits of height and coverage. The small beach house they refer to could, given current regulations coupled with FEMA rules, end up being over 40 feet in height or higher when adding cupolas and chimneys. It’s not the tear, it’s the greedy nature of most builders and developers to maximize profits. New construction should equate to better, more efficient homes not the traditional McMansions that almost always follow a tear down.

    • jerrymacdaid

      It isn’t about greed so much as what the market wants. They wouldn’t build them if people didn’t want to buy them.

  7. Don Bergmann

    The topic is not about free markets, e.g. zoning regs.,and FEMA flood insurance alter the free market, as do nefarious acts of some builders who, I am told, “trick” elderly people by telling them they will preserve their lovely house but only if the sale price is right. The house is sold, the oral “promise” is ignored and the house is torn down. A crucial element is our Zoning Board of Appeals, Jim Ezzes is the Chair, which grants variances contrary to CT law, particularly for tear downs in zones that have many non conforming lots.. A related issue is the adverse impact of new, expensive houses in modest neighborhoods on the real estate taxes of the person living long in the neighborhood.in a “modest” house. For such long term residents some tax relief resulting from increasing land values could be considered. That might delay the tear down and also support seniors “living in place”. Good people can disagree on these issues, but there are concerns.
    Don Bergmann

    • Mike Petrino

      So long term residents suffer an “adverse impact” if the value of their real estate increases. That is an interesting argument. Perhaps the P&Z can establish policies that will make real estate values decrease so long term residents do not suffer the adverse impact of rising real estate values. No one wants rising real estate values.

  8. We owned the house pictured above at the beach. Having lived in town 40 years we decided that we would not sell it to anyone who wanted to use it as a teardown.
    Unfortunately hurricane Sandy destroyed a house and made it a demo. As a result my son purchased it and his building a much larger house. With three daughters it would’ve been impossible for him to live in the existing house. So now a nice family is at the beach and will be again part of the neighborhood.
    That would not have been possible in the existing house even as a fixer-upper.
    So I guess the choice was a nice old house or nice new family. We didn’t have a choice, hurricane Sandy made it for us.

    • Elizabeth Thibault

      Lovely neighborhoods are made of the people in them, even when the houses don’t match. It sounds like by making a choice to also raise his family in the same location, your son already knows this. Good luck to them!

  9. Sandy Soennichsen

    Tom, please quit referring to me as Hurricane Sandy….thank you.

  10. James M Graves

    We bought our house in the Old Hill historic district 16 years ago and undertook a major renovation. We are well aware that old homes (ours was built in 1856) appeal to a limited market, but we like to know that the neighborhood will stay the same. We will not get top dollar on a sale, but feel it is a small price to pay to keep the neighborhood intact.

  11. Without stronger preservation laws, we are looking more and more like Stepfordville…. or Scarsdale. You wouldn’t tear down an antique in Essex, CT without a huge fight.
    On the other hand, a friend’s home (tear down worthy) was purchased by a developer and torn down without ever hitting the market, making it easier for her to move on.

  12. When we bought the domain teardowns.com for our brokerage many years ago…we were too scared to use it. Then my 80 year old father said…”just tell the people what you do and how you do it”. It’s been a good decision since.
    In order offset the strength of the teardowns brand, we did buy the “lite” version as well …valueinland.com – a softer and gentler take on the phenomenon.
    Either way…IMHO, infill redevelopment will be a part of our housing evolution for the foreseeable future…and as mentioned above, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, unless of course, “you” (and you know who “you” are) don’t like what goes up. In our experience, that’s usually where the tension comes in 🙂
    A matter of taste really…..
    Nice read.


    Brian Hickey

  13. Keeping properties off the market before they’ve had a chance to be tested by the buying public, might not be the best thing financially for homeowners. Before putting your house out there.. to an agent saying they represent builders, or to a builder directly, make sure your property is properly evaluated. Ask questions like “was this evaluated for land value only?” There are lots of folks out there looking to make a place their own by fixing it up so it might not be a bad idea to try to market it first. If it’s a teardown, then the market itself will tell you.

  14. Amy Steiner Schafrann

    I recently had an experience with this issue having to sell my parents’ home in Westport. I have to compliment Karen Scott of KMS Partners who raised this issue in Dan’s blog. I contacted Karen for information as I did several other brokers. Karen presented both sides — selling as is and selling the land. She also spent an hour going through the complex process of the tests builders perform and town process for a teardown. She had several other agents look at the house and give their opinion. This was in contrast to several letters I received directly from builders who had seen the obituary and those who also contacted our attorney directly to offer to sell as a teardown after reviewing the probate records. As a long time Westporter, of course I would rather have seen my past home still standing. (I am still getting used to the new location of Westport Pizza where I spent my junior high school years!) But while it is a difficult decision sometimes there is not a market for a home that needs major repair and updating.

  15. Lisa Johnson

    I would like to think all agents represent the best interest of their sellers. However, friends of ours attepmted to purchase a “tear down” next door to them to keep a large house from being built. It had gone to a builder/developer under some intersting circumstances. On the same day it listed, our friends offered to top the purchase price of any developer. He was told it sold to a developer 4 hours later, and guess who has the listing of the new build?
    Full disclosure: We purchased our home last August and are renovating it. Thank you to the wonderful people who gave some thought to actually hearing all offers on the property or it would have been a teardown.

  16. Sara Dworken Braunstein

    Everyday I drive up Prospect Road and look at the ENORMOUS construction (compound, there actually appears to be more than one structure going up) that someone if building directly behind Cumberland Farms. My pre-teen year old thinks it’s cool. He thinks if we lived there, he could walk to Sakura, Cumbie and McDonalds anytime he wanted (as if). I just think the same two things 1. WTF are they thinking?? and 2) Why doesn’t someone buy my house (with a cul-de-sac, great large flat land, but fabulous views of I95 in the winter) knock it down, and build something equally as bold, bizarre, and out-of-place for the neighborhood? I could be totally down with that. Other than neighbors we love, our sentimentality to this house is zilch. We’ve made memories here and have raised our son here. It is the only house he has ever known. I still don’t care about the growth chart etched into the kitchen wall. I want out. I get other peoples’ feelings about leaving their homes and preserving them. I personally don’t feel it is anyones right to say what happens to a home once they have chosen to sell it, but I can respect the feeling of wanting something you have loved and cared for to remain. Can you can equally respect that there are those of us who really would like to just move on?
    Let the builders raise the roof on this joint. I would love to buy someone’s cherished antique barn and live peacefully in the woods away from the hum of 95.