NOVEMBER 2019 GREENWICH REAL ESTATE MARKET – $6.5 – 10M Market Sales up, Inventory Down

Taxes, Locked Up Capital Gains, & Opportunity Zones

Taxes drive a lot of the Greenwich housing market. The general consensus has been that the higher priced the house the more taxes are a consideration in buying or selling. This market however is showing that the 2017 tax cut and SALT limitation may actually mean that tax consideration are having a greater impact at the low end.

As for sales, November was a little better than our 10 year average with 40 house sales compared to our 10-year average of 38 sales. After the bad start we had in the first half of the year any improvement, even 5% bump in one month is a nice plus. This bump up in sales in November sales was somewhat expected since October contracts were up 4% compared to last year.

This is the third year in a row that our November sales have beat our 10 year average. This may be indicative of sales happening later in the year as many financial firms no longer pay bonuses at the beginning of the year. This is the second year that our peak sales month was shifted later by a month. This year and last year, July and not June, were our highest sales month for the year.

If this trend continues, the result will be that the first half of the year will look weaker as sales shift to the second half of the year. I won’t be surprised to see articles in the first half of 2020 about a weak Greenwich market, when it is just sales shifting to later in the year.

As of 12/02/2019 Inventory Contracts Last Mo. Solds Last Mo Solds+ Contracts  YTD Solds  YTD+ Contracts Mos Supply Mos w/ Contracts Last Mo. Annlzd
< $600K 5 1 4 5 21 22 2.6 2.8 1.3
$600-$800K 23 5 2 7 31 36 8.2 8.0 11.5
$800K-$1M 22 4 6 10 44 48 5.5 5.7 3.7
$1-$1.5M 61 12 8 20 100 112 6.7 6.8 7.6
$1.5-$2M 62 14 6 20 79 93 8.6 8.3 10.3
$2-$3M 108 11 5 16 106 117 11.2 11.5 21.6
$3-$4M 84 11 4 15 46 57 20.1 18.4 21.0
$4-$5M 50 3 1 4 23 26 23.9 24.0 50.0
$5-6.5M 32 3 3 6 18 21 19.6 19.0 10.7
$6.5-$10M 45 0 1 1 16 16 30.9 35.2 45.0
> $10M 28 1 0 1 6 7 51.3 50.0 #DIV/0!
 
TOTAL 520 65 40 105 490 555 11.7 11.7 13.0

 

It looks like a stronger second half will not make up for the weak first half of 2019. We have 490 sales so far this year which is down 50 sales year-to-date or 9% lower sales. With contracts presently down by 12% we are very unlikely to catch up to last year’s 593 sales by the end of December.

But back to those taxes I was talking about before. You might expect that the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Acts’ elimination of the deductibility of the state and local taxes (SALT) over $10,000 would have their greatest impact at the high-end of the market, but that is not what we are seeing. Our median sales price so far this year is $1.89 million, which we’ll round off to $2 million for this analysis. If we look at sales, contracts and inventory below $2 million we see that sales are down 23 houses, contracts are down by 8 deals and inventory is up 20 listings. Below $2 million we are seeing a weaker market this year than we saw last year.

This is particularly bothersome below $1 million where we are usually supply constrained. Last year sales from $800K to $1 million took a big jump as for once we had enough inventory to meet demand. The result was that sales were up 49% to 64 sales in that price category last year through November 2018. This year we only have 44 sales in that price range.

If we go back one more year to 2017 under the old tax law our sales are about the same, but our inventory was less in that pre-tax cut year. It seems we have more people that want to sell and fewer people that want to buy in 2019, making for a weaker market.

Our under $2 million single family home market is primarily a young family market with some Westchester downsizers also. Both of these groups are particularly sensitive to increased costs from the loss of SALT deductibility. (BTW: If you want to do your own analysis of any of this, all of the monthly tables and charts, that can’t be fit in the Sentinel, are up at my blog, GreenwichStreets.com, going back to 2013.)

So, the 2017 TCJA may be making our under $2 million market weaker, what is it doing above that price? Just above that price, our $2 – 3 million dollar market is a transition zone where sales are up 7% and inventory is down 5%.

Above $3 million sales are down by 23 houses and contracts are down by 8 deals, but inventory is also down by 20 listings. It looks like not as many people are looking to move in, but also not as many people are looking to move out as last year.

Without talking to lots of the buyers and sellers it’s hard to say what’s driving these two markets. We are seeing lower sales across the board with two notable exceptions. Under $600,000 sales are up 47%, from 12 sales in 2018 to 21 sales in 2019 YTD. This shows we still have good demand for houses under $600,000 in Greenwich. Interestingly, this is also the price range where many buyers will be below $10,000 in SALT so they won’t be affected by the cap.

The other price range that is doing better this year is the $6.5 – 10 million price range. In that price range sales are up 78% from 9 sales in 2018 to 16 sales in 2019. Here what may be driving sales are some very large price drops in what were houses that would previously have sold for over $10 million.

Over $6.5 million we have had 29 house sales this year. This is up from 5 houses from last year. (To be clear, 5 of those 29 houses listed above $6.5 sold for less than $6.5 million) For these 29 sales, the median sales price to original list price ratio was 82%. This ratio is lower than the 89% for the whole market, but it is actually better than historic high-end SP/OLP ratios where high-end original list prices were often set with extreme optimism.

Of these 29 high-end sales the median year built was 1990 and only 2 of them were new construction. It’s a tough time to build high-end spec houses as we have 73 competitors and a couple of years of supply of houses on the market.

So, what’s likely to happen? Based on contracts being down, December has a good chance of being a mediocre month leading to sales for the year being down and also prices being down, though not as much as the pundits thought in their mid-year reports.

One wild card is that the new Qualified Opportunity Zones give people who have huge capital gains locked up in their houses or in the stock market a way to shelter these gains. For most people in Greenwich who bought before 1990, the Obamacare additional capital gains tax of 3.8% will kick in on the sale of even a modest house. A QOZ fund or QOZ company is a way to delay this tax for 7 years while not paying any capital gains on the return on their investment. QOZ funds may start playing a bigger factor for our downsizers allowing them to sell earlier.

One of the more innovative QOZ funds was created right here in Greenwich by Belpointe Capital. Their Belpointe REIT is publicly traded on the OTCQX with minimum investments of $100. You’ll still need to hold your investment for 10 years to get all the tax benefits, but it does provide a low entry price, low load and liquidity. Downsizers may not want to lock up their funds for a long time, but it is one solution for those folks that previously might have waited for the step-up in basis granted under the estate tax, which helped their heirs, but not the homeowners themselves.

As to the new year, recession fears seem to be fading so 2020 is looking up at the moment.

BACKCOUNTRY GREENWICH, CT SALES UP 29% IN 2019

Average Price/SF & SP/Assessment Ratio Up

By Mark Pruner

November 19, 2019

Last year 45 homes sold in backcountry Greenwich. This year it looks like we will end the year with around 58 sales. We already have 49 sales so far this year. With 9 contracts waiting to close including one with a list price of $12 million dollars the last month and half of 2019 should be a good. All 9 contracts might not close by year end, but for each one that doesn’t close we may well get an all-cash deal that isn’t presently under contract that will close before year end.

2017 2018 2019+Contr % change 17-18 % change 18-19
Sales 45 45 58 0% 29%
Average  $ 3,769,350  $   3,441,086  $   3,223,806 -9% -6%
Median  $ 2,680,000  $   2,675,000  $   2,327,000 0% -13%
Avg. $/sf  $           509  $             509  $            553 0% 9%
Med. $/sf  $           431  $             459  $            453 6% -1%
Med. OLP/SP 80.0% 89.0% 86.0% 11% -3%
Med. SP/Assmt                  1.110                    1.260 1.285 14% 2%
Med. SF                  6,097                    5,495                     5,713 -10% 4%
SP/Assmt % of ’15                    0.78                       0.89                       0.90

For the people that actually like good news, our average price per square foot is up 9% in backcountry. Our sales price to assessment ratio is also up 2% compared to last year’s ratio. None of this get’s reported in the Wall Street Journal, the National Review or even in the Greenwich Time’s front page article entitled “Sales still slumping for backcountry homes”. All three stories came about because Regis Philbin bought a beautiful home in 2008 for $7.2 million dollars and he has recently listed it for $4.595 million. This one property has come to define the market to readers outside of Greenwich, but anecdotes don’t make a market.

 

Had these reporters really wanted to bash Greenwich, they could have used the drop in the average sales price over the last two year, which is down 14.5% from $3.8 million to $3.2 million. Our median sales price is down 13.2% from $2.68 million to $2.33 million, both of these numbers are indicators, but not good indicators of what prices are doing in backcountry Greenwich.

The reason they are not good indicators is that higher sales in backcountry have brought average prices down, since the increased sales are mostly from $1 – 3 million. The result is that increased sales of below average homes are bringing down both the average and the median sales price in backcountry. (These houses are not otherwise below average houses, but more about that later.)

So, prices are down, and sales are up, which is basic supply and demand. Prices have reached the point where people are seeing good bargains in backcountry and they are buying. I’ve sold three houses in backcountry this year compared to none last year. Among the three houses there were 8 offers in total. None of the sales were easy and several times I was glad I’d been a real estate lawyer for 14 years before becoming a real estate agent. Buyers are driving hard bargains and you have to know when to push back. On the other side, I had two buyers walk away from accepted offers, when the inspection showed more work than they had planned for when they visited the house. If buyers are going to buy in backcountry, they really like the house to be in good shape.

Half of all the high-end houses in Greenwich are in backcountry, many of which are owned by well know people. These are the ones that get the attention in the national press. The oft repeated shibboleth is that we have a mismatch between what today’s buyers want compared to what was built in the go-go digits decade of this century. There is some truth to that, living large in a big English manor house or Georgian is not as popular as it was before the recession. Having said that, these houses sell better than old high-end houses. In the last three years we have had 22 houses sell for more than $5 million in backcountry of those 22 houses, 12 or 54% were built in this century with only 5 being built after the recession.

Backcountry Sales 2018

We actually have more of a problem selling 20th century houses that need work than we do selling, 21st century houses don’t have today’s homier, open floor plan. Now having said that they are still a tough sell. High-end houses, with lots of square footage, that need work, or don’t have today’s style in the backcountry are difficult to sell and are selling at a big discount to what they were sold for at the peek of market prices in 2009. For the old timers who have lived here for many years, they are seeing sales prices that are multiples of what they paid for their house originally.

Backcountry sales and contracts as of 11/19/19

You also can’t paint backcountry with a broad-brush. Even in backcountry houses over $5 million only represent 28% of the inventory. Under $1 million we have only one house, which means that 71% of our market is between $1 and 5 million. Much of that market is seeing good buyer activity at today’s lower prices. (Parkway school had to add another kindergarten class recently.)

As mentioned before these houses are not below average. What you can get for $1.8 million in backcountry compared to $1.8 million in downtown or Old Greenwich is amazing. Many people who grew up on larger properties really appreciate having more room for their activities and family. These houses are such values that they compare very well to building from scratch. Having said that people who really want their own home are building exactly what they want in backcountry where issues like siting, amenities and guest houses are much easier to get through town departments.

Right now, backcountry is going through major changes, which are often wrenching changes for those that bought in the late digits. Buyers however are finding great bargains and interestingly some of the most distant houses along the New York borders are attracting people due to the resurgent night-life in Armonk and an excellent community theater in Bedford. In a couple of years some folks will be kicking themselves that they didn’t buy when they could.

 

The Greenwich October Real Estate Market Report – Another Good, Average Month

October was our fourth month in a row that was “average”. In fact, compared to last October’s 37 sales, this October’s 40 sales are up a little, and is only one sale below our ten-year average of 41 sales. From July to October, the four “good” months, we have sold 223 single family homes compared to 222 last year and a ten-year average of 225 sales. The problem with 2019 has been the first six months. In those first six months, we only sold 226 houses, down from 275 houses last year, which was down from our 10-year average of 287 houses.

October2019.2017-2019.111219

For the entire year, we are down 9% in sales from 492 sales last year to 449 sales this year. And, the problem with our last four average months is that so far, we are not making up much of that first half shortfall in sales. On the good news side, inventory is down by 22 houses to 587 single family homes and our 40 October sales were up from last October.

As of 11/08/2019 Inventory Contracts Last Mo. Solds Last Mo Solds+ Contracts  YTD Solds  YTD+ Contracts Mos Supply Mos w/ Contracts Last Mo. Annlzd
< $600K 3 3 2 5 17 20 1.8 1.7 1.5
$600-$800K 28 7 3 10 29 36 9.7 8.9 9.3
$800K-$1M 22 7 1 8 38 45 5.8 5.6 22.0
$1-$1.5M 71 13 11 24 91 104 7.8 7.9 6.5
$1.5-$2M 74 17 7 24 73 90 10.1 9.5 10.6
$2-$3M 120 14 11 25 101 115 11.9 12.0 10.9
$3-$4M 98 15 2 17 42 57 23.3 19.8 49.0
$4-$5M 56 4 2 6 22 26 25.5 24.8 28.0
$5-6.5M 38 3 0 3 15 18 25.3 24.3   –
$6.5-$10M 48 3 1 4 15 18 32.0 30.7 48.0
> $10M 29 1 0 1 6 7 48.3 47.6   –
TOTAL 587 87 40 127 449 536 13.1 12.6 14.7

A couple of areas stand out; from $2 – 3 million our inventory is down 10% and sales for year are up 12%. The other stand-out area is from $5 – 6.5 million where inventory is down 32% and sale are up 40% from only 8 sales last year to 15 sales this year. The problem with this jump in high-end sales can be seen when you compare the sales price to the Tax Assessors 2015 assessment. Last year that ratio was 1.52 this year it is 1.41 or a drop of 8%. When you look at the $/s.f. that has slipped from $994/sf last year to $822/sf this year or a drop of 17%. The sales price to original list price is also down and the days on market is up.

Oct2019vs2018.Spreadsheet.mp.110819

For the glass half-empty and falling pundits this shows a weak and declining market. To me what is shows is a market adjustment that is likely near its bottom. Prices have dropped significantly in just one year, but sales are also up significantly. Three of the houses that sold between $6.5 and 10 million were on for an average of 1,265 days or 3.5 years. These three houses sold at 67% of their original list price, but they sold for a total of $24.2 million and an average price of $8 million. Buyers are swooping in to pick up these bargains as our 40% jump in sales show.

The Wall Street Journal has continued their Greenwich bashing with an article last week headlined, Television Host Regis Philbin Lists Greenwich Home for a Big Loss. The reporter sites her own previous article, Wealthy Greenwich Home Sellers Give In to Market Realities for support. This is her third Greenwich bashing article and is in contrast to her article on our neighbor Bedford, NY which is entitled, The Small Westchester Town That Draws Hollywood A-Listers and Billionaires. As I wrote above sales are down and prices are also down and I think that should be reported, but the reporting needs to be balanced to give an accurate picture of the market. The Wall Street Journal with her article President Trump’s Onetime Greenwich Estate Relists for 29% Less gives a one-sided and slanted view as I wrote in my article about today’s day-glo journalism.

One of the aspects of day-glo journalism is that other writers take a sensational article and further sensationalize it, often with a loss accuracy. We saw this with this week’s National Review article, Who Wants to be a Millionaire in Greenwich. That article opens with the inaccurate statement that Regis Philbin just sold his house, rather than just listed it. The article goes on to say that “sellers routinely have been taking losses of $1 million or more” Given that our median sale price is $1,900,000 this isn’t very likely. It is true of many high-end houses that were bought in the backcountry bubble from 2006 – 2010, but generally not true for folks who bought more traditional homes outside of north Greenwich.

Oct2019.MoS.110919

So, what have prices done this year? Well our median price is up 4.6% from $1,816,250 last year to $1,900,000. This is due not to a shift in values in Greenwich, but is due to a slight increase in the percentage of sales above the median price. A better indicator of what prices are doing is the sales price per square foot where prices are down 2.5%. The sales price to assessment ratio is also down 5.3% Clearly, the change in federal tax deductibility of state and local taxes have affected Greenwich prices just as they have done in NYC and the northeast.

On the good news side, sales in backcountry are up 48% from last year with 49 sales so far this year. (I’ve had 3 of those sales.) Sales are up, because prices are a bargain. There a couple of listings that I think are just amazing. If you are looking there give me a call. Most folks are now adjusting their price expectations to the new reality and people are buying in backcountry. Our least expensive house in backcountry went for $600,000; an 1829 house on 0.64 acres located on Riversville Road and our most expensive house went for $14.87 million; a 2011 house on 5.7 acres on John Street with 12,368 square feet.

Oct2019.Sales.Inv.Cur.Ks.110919

Overall our market is better, but still challenging. Correct pricing is crucial and houses that need work are tough sells. This has become such an issue with today’s picky buyers that I’m actually talking with builders and owners about renovating their properties before the sale and splitting the increase in value.

Our 87 contracts show a tilt to the higher end. This is a trend we are seeing post-recession with more sales above the median happening later in the year. As a result, our median sales price at year end may be even higher than it is now and thus even higher than last year.

Our market tends to change three times a year, so we are due for one more change before year-end. In Greenwich, average never lasts for long.

Oct2019.4Pie.110819

 

 

 

Sleazy practices in real estate offers, bad square footage numbers & wetland soil types

Over four decades as an attorney, business owner and Realtor, I’ve learned some hard lessons about negotiations and who you can trust in negotiations. In the Greenwich real estate market, we have over 1000 members of the Greenwich Association of Realtors, but there are probably only about 200 that do the very large majority of all the deals each year. We all know each other, or at worst know somebody who knows the other agent’s reputation for honesty and fair negotiating.

The Greenwich real estate community’s reputation for fair dealing is self-reinforcing in that the Realtors that are known to be sharp dealers are actually at a disadvantage as other Realtors don’t take what they say at face value. This means that even when they are actually being truthful, the other agent still has her doubts. As a result, deals that could be done if there were more trust between the parties don’t get done.

Let’s look at some of the tactics and situations to be aware of when negotiating a deal.

I.        The Phantom Second Bidder

Buyers tend to make higher offers and quicker counter offers when they are competing against another buyer. No one likes to get beat out for the house that they want and our surfeit of Type A personalities in town just hate “losing” period. If it’s a hot house in a hot market, multiple offers are to be expected. Unfortunately, the other bidder is not always real, or their level of interest may not be as high as represented. This is when having a good broker can be very helpful, to help determine just how worried a buyer should be about the other buyer.

II.      The Off-Market Buyer

Some buyers want particular neighborhoods or a particular type of house. In such cases, agents may contact owners whose properties aren’t listed inquiring whether they might want to sell their house. Every year several houses are sold this way. The problem comes when an agent purports to have a buyer for a property as a tactic to get a listing. One easy way around this for homeowners is to sign a listing agreement with the agent, but limit it to that one showing.

III.    Simultaneous or Concurrent bidding

Buyers sometimes make offers on two or even more houses at once, trying to play one homeowner against another or just to hedge their bets. It’s a risky strategy as one seller or both may decide they don’t want to get involved in such a negotiation and decide to pull-out. If the agent reveals that there are simultaneous bid, then everyone is on a level playing field.

Where this is a problem is when there are multiple offers on one house and the simultaneous bidder doesn’t want their offer tainted by the fact that they are bidding on another house. The simultaneous bidder can win the bidding war on house “A” and then turn around and accept an offer on house “B”.  The owner of house “A” can then find that the other bidder for their house has moved on. One way to fight this is to simply have your agent ask by email if the other party is making simultaneous offers. Very few agents, will want to misrepresent something in writing.

IV.    Basements, Attics & Square Footage

In Greenwich we can only use the house square footage from an architect, builder, or most commonly the square footage of the house on the tax card. The problem here is that this square footage may or may not include the basement depending on whether the basement is a walkout basement or is underground (and it’s even a little more complicated than that.) Lots of our financial types like to look at cost/square foot to figure out whether the house is fairly priced or not.

Our median price per square foot so far this year is $521/s.f. It’s a lousy number to use as it does not take into account; the size of the lot, the presence of wetlands, or whether the basement is included. If you do want to use that number, always ask if the basement and/or “attic” is included in the square feet. Even better go see the house and decide whether what is there works for you. Houses with identical square footages can feel spacious or cramped depending oh how they are laid out.

V.      Soil Types, Wetlands and Maps

Wetlands serve a vital purpose in protecting our natural resources and controlling flooding. State law mandates their protection and we have a town agency with a hardworking staff and well-educated board members to hear matters involving wetlands. We also have a town GIS department that puts out very useful maps showing where wetlands are located. Wetlands however are defined by soil types which can only be determined by a licensed professional. As a result, the wetlands shown on the Town GIS maps don’t always coincide with what a soil scientist would map out.

The presence of wetlands can greatly affect what you can do on a property. Also, the wetlands don’t have to be on your property to affect what you can do there. The presence of wetlands on the property in the area can prevent or cause modifications in what someone can do with a property. As a result. the FMV will be different depending on where and how extensive the wetlands are.

Both wetlands and the allowed above ground square footage (FAR) change the value of a property and some agents may not make this info readily available so if you are thinking of buying a property that might be affected by wetlands or if you want to expand a house that is already near it’s FAR limit, you want to do your own homework on this matter. The people at the at the Tax Assessor’s office and the IWWA can be very helpful.

 

A Guide to Using Real Estates Statistics to Your Advantage

What Statisics are Useful and which Statistics are Misleading

by Mark Pruner

There are a lot of statistics in real estate and they can be manipulated to tell different stories. Gleaning the gold from the lead is not always easy.

Overall house sales by month

One graph you see quite a bit in my Greenwich Sentinel column is the number of single-family home sales by month. The graph I usually use has home sales for each of the last two years, the current year and the 10-year average. What is not included in, but you often see presented elsewhere are sales numbers that include all types of real estate; co-ops, condos and sometimes even multi-family and land. If you are the Town Clerk and you want to see if conveyance taxes are going up or down the whole market is fine, but it’s not so good if you want to know how each type of property market is doing.

Condos, land and multi-family all have different types of buyers with different demand curves. There is some overlap, but generally house buyers don’t look at condos and families looking to buy land and build a new house don’t look at multi-family investment properties. Lumping them together muddies the state of the house market, and due to the size of the house market size, the other markets stats are overwhelmed by the housing market. So, when you see a sales number check and see what types of property are included.

The other thing you often see are month over month comparisons. These also are not very useful as we have a major seasonal element to our sales as you can tell by the 10-year average line for single family homes in Greenwich. The odds are very good that nearly every year in your lifetime, May sales will be higher than April sales and that November sales will be lower than October sales. Saying that sales are up or down from the prior month generally doesn’t tell you very much, because of this seasonality. If the change is different than the 10-year would predict, then something likely is happening. A good example are our July sales this year. This year and last July sales were higher than June sales and not just by a little.

If 2020 is the third year with higher July sales than June sales, we may well have a new sales curve and this may be to our detriment. If sales are moving to later in the year as they did this year and last year, then pundits are likely to see the market as weaker than it is by assuming second half sales will be similar to the first half of the year.

It’s going to be harder to say just how well the market is likely to do for the whole year by the end of the first half of the year. In 2007 56% of our sales were in the half of the year, while in 2018 it was only 46%. A 10% difference doesn’t seem like a lot, but it means that sales as a percentage of the whole are down 20% in the first half of 2018 compared to the whole year percentage in 2007.

As of 9/30/2019 Inventory Contracts Last Mo. Solds Last Mo Solds+ Contracts  YTD Solds  YTD+ Contracts Mos Supply Mos w/ Contracts Last Mo. Annlzd
< $600K 4 4 4 8 15 19 2.4 2.2 1.0
$600-$800K 24 5 4 9 26 31 8.3 8.1 6.0
$800K-$1M 22 4 5 9 37 41 5.4 5.6 4.4
$1-$1.5M 65 15 8 23 80 95 7.3 7.2 8.1
$1.5-$2M 90 11 9 20 65 76 12.5 12.4 10.0
$2-$3M 122 16 6 22 90 106 12.2 12.1 20.3
$3-$4M 105 7 2 9 40 47 23.6 23.5 52.5
$4-$5M 55 3 4 7 19 22 26.1 26.3 13.8
$5-6.5M 49 2 1 3 15 17 29.4 30.3 49.0
$6.5-$10M 53 1 2 3 14 15 34.1 37.1 26.5
> $10M 33 1 1 2 6 7 49.5 49.5 33.0
                   
TOTAL 622 69 46 115 407 476 13.8 13.7 13.5

Pundits are going to be making dire prediction in early July unless they adjust the 1st half sales up to account for our shift to second half sales. This will be particularly so as our sales over $5 million shifted to later in the year several years ago.

Months of Supply

Months of supply is also another very useful way to look at the overall market and at particular segments within the market. The good thing about this metric is that it includes not only sales, but the current inventory. It sets out how long it would take to sell our present inventory based on the prior sales rate. For an easy example if we had sold one house a month so far this year and you have 9 house in inventory then you have 9 months of supply.

You can also look at months of supply in different ways; such as only actual closed sales, sale and contracts, or just last month’s sales annualized. If I am representing the seller, I like to see each of these number decline. For example, our September closed sales numbers show that from $600K – 800K we have 8.3 months of supply, not particularly good for an under a million-dollar price range in Greenwich. That however includes the poor first half and the good third quarter.

When you add in contracts and assume they will all close in 45 days you get 8.1 months of supply. A little lower, but the buyers aren’t as active as we’d like given the inventory we have on the market. The good news is that when you annualize the four September sales in this price category you are down to 6 months of supply so as of September this part of the market is looking up even though inventory is up 50% over last year.

Days on Market

Months of supply sometimes gets confused with days on market. If you total up the number of days each house was on the market and take the average, you get days on market for the whole market. If each house came on the market and sold on average in 45 days, then you have 45 days on market (DOM). The lower the days on market, the hotter the market, as buyers snatch up houses within weeks of coming on the market.

If you had 45 days on market for the average time a listing was on the market you would have a very hot market. Right now, we have 141 days on market for our sold properties and 169 days on market for unsold listings. This is generally pattern as the well-priced, nice house sell quicker than the over-priced houses that sit on the market.

Curiously, the average days on market initially goes up in a hot market as houses that have been on the market for months and years are finally finding buyers. This is a number where the difference between the average and the median can be quite large. All you need is for a couple of houses that have been on the market for 1,000+ days to sell and the average days on market will jump while the median will barely budge. (BTW: In the prior paragraph I didn’t tell you whether I was using the arithmetic average or the median for the 141 DOM sold and the 169 DOM inventory. The better number is the median and that what these number area. The median is as affected by the long tail of days on market. The average DOM for solds is 238 days on market and the DOM for our inventory is 262 days. We have some people that have listed their houses for a really long time.)

Days on market varies significantly by price range. The lower the price range the lower the days on market. We also see the same effect in months of supply. The rough rule of thumb is that months of supply under 6 months are a seller’s market, but your get over $5 million and sellers start feeling good when months of supply drops below 12 or ever 18 months. (Sellers haven’t been feeling good for a few years now in those price ranges.)

So, if you are thinking about listing your house or considering buying, what numbers should you look at? Here’s a quick 5-point check list:

  1. Overall are sales and inventory up or down?
  2. How are sales and inventory changing in your area and your price range?
  3. What is the months of supply for sales, what about with contracts and for the prior month annualized?
  4. What is the difference in median sales DOM and inventory DOM? Is it getting better or worse?
  5. How is your market doing on a year over year basis and against the 10-year average?

For the seller, months of supply and days on market are significant factors in how aggressively you have to price your house. When these numbers are high you want to be at the lower end of price per square foot and have better staging than your competition. For buyers, you can afford to be more aggressive in your negotiating, particularly where you have  other options that are satisfactory.

But numbers are just numbers, when it comes down to one-on-one sales negotiation. When you are negotiating you want to know the needs of the other persons, there personalities and their stress tolerance. In negotiations these are often more important than how soft or weak the market is. Knowing the numbers and knowing how to negotiate in the Greenwich market is what gives you the best result, a sense of control and can even make buying or selling a house fun.

Greenwich, CT Sales Looking Good Particularly Compared to NYC

Inventory Down, Contracts Up, Sales Unchanged

by Mark Pruner

The market for homes in Greenwich in the third quarter was good in Connecticut particularly compared to a major slump in sales and prices in New York City. We had 181 home sales in the third quarter of 2019 which was about the same as 185 home sales in the third quarter of 2018 and 184 sales which is our ten-year average for home sales in the third quarter.

Our inventory was down a little bit, 3% lower, as of the end of the third quarter. We had 622 listings down from 643 listings at the end of Q3 2018. This is after we had a poor first and second quarters in 2019 where inventory was up, and sales were down in Greenwich.

On the sales price side, the median sales price for a house in Greenwich, CT is up 2.7% to $1.90 million from $1.85 million last year. At the same time the average sales price for a house in Greenwich is unchanged at $2.43 million. I wouldn’t however get too excited about this sales price increase.

Lots of people like to focus on these numbers as indicative as to what the value of individual houses are doing, but as I have written before the main thing that drives changes in the average and median prices is not a change in house values, but a change in the mix of what is selling.

The sales slump in the first half was more concentrated in the under $2 million market. As a result, median prices went up, while at the same time prices for high-end houses in mid-country and backcountry are continuing to see resistance from buyers. The result in higher end house prices have declined while our median price has gone up.

As of 9/30/2019 Inventory Contracts Last Mo. Solds Last Mo Solds+ Contracts  YTD Solds  YTD+ Contracts Mos Supply Mos w/ Contracts Last Mo. Annlzd
< $600K 4 4 4 8 15 19 2.4 2.2 1.0
$600-$800K 24 5 4 9 26 31 8.3 8.1 6.0
$800K-$1M 22 4 5 9 37 41 5.4 5.6 4.4
$1-$1.5M 65 15 8 23 80 95 7.3 7.2 8.1
$1.5-$2M 90 11 9 20 65 76 12.5 12.4 10.0
$2-$3M 122 16 6 22 90 106 12.2 12.1 20.3
$3-$4M 105 7 2 9 40 47 23.6 23.5 52.5
$4-$5M 55 3 4 7 19 22 26.1 26.3 13.8
$5-6.5M 49 2 1 3 15 17 29.4 30.3 49.0
$6.5-$10M 53 1 2 3 14 15 34.1 37.1 26.5
> $10M 33 1 1 2 6 7 49.5 49.5 33.0
                   
TOTAL 622 69 46 115 407 476 13.8 13.7 13.5

 

So, the third quarter was pretty average for sales, but this is excellent when you see what higher taxes have done to New York City. While Greenwich sales chugged along in the third quarter, New York City saw sales fall 11.5% overall and a huge 31.5% over $2 million according to a report by Josh Barbanel in the Wall Street Journal this week. The median sales price dropped from a high of nearly $1.4 million in the second quarter to $1 million in the third quarter or a drop of 25% in just one quarter.

This is because Gothamites with money are now getting soaked with an expanded transfer tax to once again stick it to their wealthiest NYC buyers. Gordon M. Summer, aka Sting, had signed a contract before the new tax kicked in and didn’t pay any increase in tax on his $65.8M condo purchase. Stanley Druckenmiller, who bought after the new tax kicked in, paid $2.4 million on his purchase of a $53 million co-op according to the WSJ.

We shouldn’t get too self-congratulatory as our own legislature passed their version of a mansion tax that will kick-in on sales over $2.5 in July next year. Even at the new higher rate, we are still talking about only a 2.25% conveyance tax on. This is a fraction of NYC transfer tax on higher end properties. Having said that you can expect that June 2020 will be a record month for high-end sales and July 2020 will be a bust for sales. Still, we are looking forward to welcoming more tax refugees from New York as Greenwich with its extraordinarily low property tax has done for decades.

We may actually be seeing a little of that right now as our sales from $6.5 – 10 million are up 75% compared to last year with 14 sales compared to only 8 sales last year. A significant part of this increase is the drop in prices of houses over $10 million to the next price range down. This has resulted in some real bargains for those at the high-end and who are fleeing NY’s higher taxes.

I like to take a positive, but realistic, view of the market and what I’ve been touting as good sales is essentially unchanged from last year for the third quarter and this is after a slow first two quarters. This looks good in comparison to NYC, NYS and other parts of the state. Still we are seeing the changes of the federal tax law ripple through Greenwich and the rest of the northeast. The loss of the SALT deductions at the federal level and also the limit on mortgage deductibility have clearly had an impact.

You can see the mortgage deduction limitation If you look at the $1.5 – 2.0 million market. Most years our months supply is a smooth increasing curve with very low months of supply under $600K with ever increasing months of supply to the over $10 million market. We have a kink in the curve at $1.5 – 2.0 million. That price range has 1.25 months of supply, actually a little higher than the months of supply from $2 – 3 million. The $1.5 – 2 million price range has lots of young families buying who are particularly sensitive to the loss of deductibility on mortgages over $750,000. Since the mortgage interest payments aren’t deductible for mortgages over $750K, inventory accumulates, and sales are somewhat lower.

Summary

Overall, it’s good being average right now if you live in the northeast. Here in Greenwich, we are also seeing significant building activity. I drove a client down Sumner Road in backcountry Greenwich this week and there are three large houses under construction on this prestigious street just off prestigious Round Hill Road. People are investing some big bucks in Greenwich real estate not only for custom homes, but also for spec homes.

As for October we’ll have to see. Our contracts are up 15% over last September, but it’s only 9 houses to 69 houses. Still our 10-year average for sales in October is only 42 houses so stay tuned to see just how much NY and NYC can help out Greenwich real estate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GREENWICH, CT AUGUST 2019 REAL ESTATE SALES STATISTICS

Good Sales, Better Contracts

by Mark Pruner

We had 63 single family homes sales in August 2019 in Greenwich. This is 2 more sales than we had last year and just 1 less than our ten-year average. We also have 83 contracts waiting to close which is 22 or a third more than we had last year at this time. Both are indicative of our strengthening market. Earlier in the year sales and contracts were not good and there was some real worry about whether Greenwich real estate was going through a paradigm shift that meant we were just going to have a slower market in the new federal tax regime with non-deductible state and local taxes.

As of 9/2/2019 Inventory Contracts Last Mo. Solds Last Mo Solds+ Contracts  YTD Solds  YTD+ Contracts Mos Supply Mos w/ Contracts Last Mo. Annlzd
< $600K 2 6 1 7 10 16 1.6 1.2 2.0
$600-$800K 26 6 6 12 22 28 9.5 8.8 4.3
$800K-$1M 19 8 3 11 32 40 4.8 4.5 6.3
$1-$1.5M 59 17 13 30 70 87 6.7 6.4 4.5
$1.5-$2M 88 14 11 25 57 71 12.4 11.8 8.0
$2-$3M 120 16 17 33 84 100 11.4 11.4 7.1
$3-$4M 93 6 4 10 38 44 19.6 20.1 23.3
$4-$5M 54 6 3 9 16 22 27.0 23.3 18.0
$5-6.5M 43 0 4 4 14 14 24.6 29.2 10.8
$6.5-$10M 48 2 1 3 11 13 34.9 35.1 48.0
> $10M 33 2 0 2 5 7 52.8 44.8 #DIV/0!
 
TOTAL 585 83 63 146 359 442 13.0 12.6 9.3

It may be possible that we are seeing a sales slowdown, but the last two months we have started to pick up ground on last year and on our historical averages. Just as in this month, our contracts were up in July pointing to the better sales month that we had in August. With a higher number of contracts, we are very likely to see a better month in September 2019 than we saw in September last year. However, it’s not like the last two months were stellar, they were just average. Average looks pretty good compared to bad and we’ve had two months of average, so things are looking up.

It’s not only sales that are back to average, but also inventory. Above $2 million we are basically the same as last year, except for $5 -6.5 million where we are down from 51 listings to 43 listings this year. Below $2 million we have a mixed bag. We have more inventory from $600K – 800K and from $1.5M – 2.0M, but less inventory from $800K – $1.5M. These changes in both directions are not small. From $1.5M – 2.0 million we are up 19 listings and from $800K – $1.5M we down the same 19 listings. When you add it all up, our inventory at 585 listings is only 3 more than last year or not even 1% different.

That’s the market overall, but for any one house, you really need to look at the competition on a house by house basis. Buyers are going to compare your house to handful of others and pick one. That’s when good marketing and staging can make a real difference.

Under $600K, you have less to worry about, since you don’t have even a handful of competitors; you only have one other house listed. In this price range your competition is not the other houses in Greenwich, but Stamford, Norwalk and Westchester. I wouldn’t be too worried though as we’ve sold 10 houses under $600K so far this year and have 3 others under contract. This makes for an amazing 1.6 months of supply. As always folks are very interested in getting into Greenwich at that price.

Just above that price from $600K – 800K a lot more people are interested in getting out of Greenwich. Right now, buyers in that price range have 26 options compared to only 13 listings last year. Year-to-date sales are down 13 in that price range, but contracts are up 5 from last year, so we should start eating into that inventory as demand for this price range has grown the later we get in the year.

In fact, that increased demand is true all the way up to $3 million. Just above that price range, $3 – 4 million has fewer contracts and fewer August sales than last year. The result is that months of supply for $3 – 4 million is up to 19.6 months of supply compared to 15.5 months last year.

Above $4 million the market is also improving slightly with a few more sales and about the same inventory, but this masks some really dramatic price drops, that sellers have made to bring their houses in line with today’s market. It’s clear that the 2017 tax law limiting the deductibility of our state income tax and our local property tax has made owning a home in Greenwich more expensive.

As a result of houses being more expensive to own, we are seeing in Greenwich what we have always seen in Westchester County. In Westchester, homebuyers are facing the highest property taxes in the country and as a result home prices are lower than they are in Greenwich on a dollars per square foot basis. Here in Greenwich it’s more expensive to own a house now than it was in 2017. The result is that we are seeing lower prices particularly above $4 million where the state income tax and the non-deductible property taxes make homeownership more expensive. (Alright you can deduct the first $10,000 of SALT, but that doesn’t go far when you have $50,000 of Greenwich property taxes and $100,000 of state income taxes to pay.)

The other tax law change that is having an impact is the lowering of the mortgage deductibility from $1.1 million to $750,000. This has been offset by falling interest rates as people continue to demand U.S. Treasury debt as a safe haven in a turbulent world. This may explain some of the slow down in our market just above $1.375 million ($1.1 million divided by an 80% mortgage.) At the same time, we had significant tax rate deductions, but the NY metro area with its high income and property taxes, seems to be one of the areas where lots of people are paying more federal income taxes even with the new, lower federal tax rates.

The Fall Market

So, what do we have to look forward to in the fall market? Well the easy part to say is that we will have good sales in September. We have the aforesaid 83 contracts waiting to close and our average September sales are 47 houses.

The rest of the market is harder to predict. Inventory will rise in September as it always does, but by a lot or a little is the question. Also, what areas are going to do well. Carline Martin and I are putting on some land in a new development near the Chieftains in western Greenwich, which is an area that has seen more activity as people move from Westchester, but want to stay close to their old friends in Westchester who can’t sell their houses.

Backcountry and Old Greenwich will also probably continue to do well but will the shift in sales to later in the year continue. If so, will there be enough additional sales to make up lost ground from the first half of the year? We are still down 53 sales from last year or 13%. However, if you throw in contracts, we are only down 7% from last year. Stay tuned it will be an interesting fall m