GREENWICH’S GATED COMMUNITIES

by Mark Pruner

203-969-7900 * mark.pruner@compass.com

Privacy & Community & Amenities

Greenwich is lucky in that we have a variety of communities. We have duplexes in the R-6 zone in Pemberwick. We have mid-rise apartments in downtown Greenwich and a variety of condos, but what usually gets the national press are some of our largest houses, selling for prices that can get into 8 figures. We have two areas that get particular attention along these lines, Belle Haven on Long Island Sound in the south and Conyers Farm in the north that overlaps the New York border.

Surprisingly, these two large, gated communities are not the gated communities sales leader in Greenwich. Milbrook has had by far the most sales over the last two decades with 195 sales from 1999 to 2021 (which is as long as the GMLS has kept electronic records.) These 195 compare to 139 sales for Belle Haven and only 61 sales in Conyers Farm.

If you look at total sales dollar over the same period, then Belle Haven with its combination of the second highest sales number and very high average sales has total dollar sales volume of $854 million compared to Milbrook’s $440 million, which shows just diverse Milbrook housing is with homes ranging from 1,700 s.f. to 10,000 s.f.

              Our hidden away gated communities

In addition to the big three of Milbrook, Belle Haven and Conyers Farm, we have some really nice, gated associations tucked away in areas where many people don’t see them as the drive by or that are down a long road. Classic examples of the latter are Partridge Hollow in north central Greenwich and Harbor Point in Riverside. Both are at the end of long roads with manned security stations.

They provide lots of privacy and also great places to walk and meet your neighbors. I was lucky last year to represent a seller in Harbor Point and a buyer in Partridge Hollow. They are both great places to live. In fact, they are such great places that people don’t leave. Partridge Hollow has had 23 sales on the GMLS in 22 years and Harbor Point has only had 20 sales in the same period.

Part of the reason for this is that there are a lot of intra-community private sales. While many gated-community homeowners love their community, they often have their heart set on that one perfect house in their community. They let their neighbor know, that when it’s time to sell, they’d love the first option to buy. In my Partridge Hollow purchase my clients had been looking for the perfect Greenwich house for two years. Fortunately, we found the perfect community for them and closed on the private sale, before it got to market.

              Sales history

Gated communities are special and there aren’t a lot of them. Most years we have 15 to 30 sales in these communities; and then came the pandemic. In 2020, sales in gated communities jumped to 44 sales and in 2021, sales further increased to 53 sales. This was a jump of 150% in sales over the prior 10-year average of 21 sales.

The pandemic encouraged people to seek out more privacy and space, the increase in crime in NYC during the pandemic also strongly encouraged, interest in these gated communities with security gates and/or patrolling security.

Paradoxically, the outdoors amenities of Milbrook, Conyers Farm, Belle Haven and the other gated communities also drew buyers to these communities. There are probably few sports that are better for social distancing than golfing at Milbrook, sailing at Belle Haven or horse riding at Conyer’s Farm. Of course, the beach and it’s own picnic island at Harbor Point isn’t bad. Nor is a walk at Mead Point or Field Point Circle with it’s beautiful water views and no traffic to speak of.

Clearly, the club house, dining room, tennis, paddle and water views at both Belle Haven and Milbrook bring in a lot of people. They also make for a congenial crowd of neighbors from a wide range of backgrounds and nationalities. There is nothing like a couple of sets of paddle tennis, a drink afterwards and having spouses join you for dinner to make for a relaxing evening in a world that can seem very complicated. Of course, a lot of folks say that about Greenwich as whole.

              Renovations and additions

There is one issue with what might otherwise seem idyllic places; they aren’t making any more of them. The youngest gated communities are the Chieftans in western Greenwich and Conyers Farm on the New York border. Both of these “newbies” were carved out of two of the Greenwich’s great estates in the eighties, while Belle Haven goes back to the 19th Century and Milbrook was founded in the 1920s.

As a result, they both have a variety of older houses that are great candidates for renovation, which is just what they owners did at 113 Woodside Drive in Milbrook. It’s hard to believe it is the same house. The original house they purchased in 2015, sat on a wonderful lakefront lot, but was an older colonial with half a second floor and a 2-car garage stuck on the side.

The new purchasers transformed it into a Tudor, one of the traditional designs in Milbrook. They created a full second floor with extra height ceilings and four bedrooms. The first floor and lower level were totally redone and to balance out the design, a second 2-car garage was added. So far. we have had 10 showing requests and the house isn’t even officially on the market. You can stop by the public open house on Sunday from 1 – 4 pm to see the transformation yourself.

Since they aren’t making any more gated communities, it’s not a bad place to consider investing give the limited supply and high demand.

Condo Market Soars in 2021

Sales Up 24%, Inventory Down 47%

Last year was an amazing year for condo and co-op sales in Greenwich. We sold 272 condos in Greenwich in 2021 and this was up 52 sales or 23.6% compared to 2020. If you want to go back to our last pre-Covid year of 2019 sales were up 71%. Condo sales did not fare well in the early days of Covid. Buyers didn’t want to move out an apartment in NYC into an apartment-like condo in Greenwich. Buyers didn’t want the same shared elevators and hallways that they had in New York City.

As the first wave of Covid trailed off in 2020, this reluctance fell away, and condos sale picked up going from 159 sales in 2019 to 220 sales in 2020 and then to 272 condo sales last year. (In this article references to condo numbers include co-ops, since co-ops trade similarly to condos.)

              2022 sales shrink under $600K due to excess demand

Our 272 condo sales increase got no help from the lowest price range. Sales under $600,000 actually went down from 82 sales in 2020 to 74 sales in 2021. This drop in sales was not due to any drop in demand from buyers. In fact, it was excessive demand from buyers that drove down sales under $600,000. Lots of demand at our lower end, resulted in price appreciation, pushing list prices above $600,000 into the next higher price bracket.

Sales up 61% from $600K – $800K

Last year our 79 sales from $600,000 to $800,000 represented 29% of our sales, our largest percentage of any price range in 2021. As discussed above, this price category benefitted from more listing prices appreciating into this price range. Many of the sales in this price range were in Putnam Park, central Greenwich and along River Road in Cos Cob.

              Lots more inventory needed

If we had more inventory, at the lower end, we would have had more sales. Under $1 million all three of our price categories have less than 6 weeks of supply. Right now, we only have 47 condos available for sale. Of those 47 listings, only 17 are priced less than $1 million. Under $1 million represents 60% of our sales in 2021, but only 35% of our inventory.  

If you do a static analysis, then it’s hard to see how we could get to 190 condo sales under $1 million in 2021 with only 17 listings on the market now. The good news for buyers, who’d like to buy a condo in Greenwich under $1 million, is that last year we had more than 227 condo listing come on the market under $1 million. Of those listings, 190 were sold last year, another 20 are under contract now and 17 are left in inventory.

We actually had more than that, as some of the condos were listed for rent and rented before they were sold. In addition, another 19 listings under $1 million expired unsold. One condo listed for $620,000 was on for an amazing 1,196 days, before expiring unsold. The ever tighten market and increasing prices got it to contract in September 2021 in only 21 days.

It’s not just our under $1 million market where we need more inventory. The only place where inventory is not tight to ridiculously tight is $2 – 3 million where we had 16 sales last year and have 12 condos in inventory. Of course, if you want to live anywhere else but 89 River Road in Cos Cob, you’ll find the market is very tight. That address, which has some beautiful new condos represents 8 of the 12 listings between $2 and $3 million.

I have three clients that are gridlocked. They would love to buy a nice downtown condo in that price range, but we only have one listing in downtown Greenwich. Of course, if they would like to live south of I-95 there are three more choices, but they want a short walk to Greenwich Avenue and preferably not an uphill. (If anyone knows of such of a downtown listing coming on, please let me know.)

              Our high-end condo market is also tight

With the big shift of most white-collar jobs to a work from home model, our high-end sales have done particularly well. Our median sales price in 2021 was $1,052,917, so sales over $2 million are certainly, the high-end of Greenwich condo sales. In 2021, we had 31 condo sales over $2 million, with our highest sale being $4,900,000. The prior year, 2020, was also a good year for high-end condo sales with 28 sales. Compare these two years to 2019 when we had only 12 sales over $2 million and 2018, when we had 16 sales.

Part of this increase in high-end sales can be attributed to several beautiful new developments that hit the market at the right time. Of our 28 high-end sales in 2021, 8 of them were new construction. In 2020, 11 of the 28 high-end sales were new construction.

Covid really bailed out these projects, because while these were beautiful units with lots of amenities and located close to town, many were hitting the market at the same time. Much of this was a result of Planning and Zoning reducing the R-6 to multi-family zone to a two-family zone. Developers rushed to get in under the old rules, resulting in a bulge of high-end units coming on at the same time. Of course, when you are talking about Greenwich downtown condos, this “bulge” was only a few dozen units. Several of these projects could not be built under today’s rules.

              What about prices?

Our condos are spread out in multiple neighborhoods and multiple price ranges. Having said that the large part of our condo sales are within a half-mile of the Post Road, albeit, literally stretching from the Port Chester to the Stamford border.  So, take the following with a grain of salt.

As noted, before, the median condo sales price in 2021 was $1,052,917. This was up 6.3% over 2020’s median price of $990,137. In 2020, condo prices were up even more with median prices increasing 9.4%.

While mathematically accurate are those price increase representative of the market. Much of these price increases could be in the mix of what was selling. One way to check this is to look at other measures of price appreciation. If you look at price appreciation by square foot, then some of the effect of price changes driven by higher priced units, or in 2019 more lower priced units, is reduced. The price/sf price increases are similar to the median sales price increases.  

Year Median Condo Price% YoY changeMed $/s.f.% YoY changeMed. SP/Assmt% YoY change
2018 $           967,502$  4691.58
2019 $           904,872-6.5%$  425-9.5%1.55-1.9%
2020 $           990,1379.4%$  4669.6%1.571.3%
2021 $        1,052,9176.3%$  5037.9%1.665.4%

However, when you look at the change in the sales price to the assessment ratio, the appreciation is much more focused in 2021 and the drop in prices in 2019 and the increase in 2020 is not as dramatic. It looks like the much of the “price appreciation” was driven by more high-end units selling driving up the median and the price/s.f. While the price changes are not as dramatic, the price changes are in the same direction; down in 2019 and up in 2020 and 2021.

What does mean if you are buying or selling? Actually, not all that much. You shouldn’t determine your list your house based on town wide averages, nor should you make your buying decisions off these price increases. You want to check the half dozen best comps for your condo, who your competition is and what buyer demand is.

              What to expect in 2022?

Demand is likely to hold up in 2022 at least for the first half of the year. We still have lots of New Yorkers looking to move to Greenwich as commuting times are way down, when you only have to go into the office once a week. At the same time, the condo market is much more sensitive to changes in mortgage rates, so the market may shift towards a more balanced market, but it would have to go a long way to be considered a buyer’s market in 2022.

 Stay tuned, we just might get some more inventory in the upcoming spring market…

Good News! Inventory is at Record Lows, but it’s not Dropping Even More

You know you’re in a tough market when you’re actually happy, that while the inventory is at extraordinarily low levels, it’s not going down even more. We presently have 155 single family home listings on the market, this is down 46% from last year and down 66% from January 2020 one of the last pre-COVID months. The good news is that that, unlike the last six months of 2021, inventory is not in a steady decline. We have stayed above 150 listings all month (except for a couple of days which don’t count).

To use a gardening analog, we are seeing some of those early blooming snow drops, but the crocuses are still a few weeks away. The week after the Super bowl is traditionally the beginning of the spring market but if you look at the buyer demand it’s already well underway. I put on a new listing at 5 Anderson Rd at 2:00 AM this Wednesday morning and by 9:30 I had seven inquiries and two scheduled showings within 10 hours of it going public on the Greenwich MLS.

BTW: Realtor.com continues to get changes within minutes of them being made on the Greenwich MLS. They are an affiliate of ListHub, which distributes the vast majority of the IDX (Internet Data Exchange) feeds from multiple listing services. Zillow was getting their feed via Listhub sometimes, hours after Realtor.com. To get around that, Zillow actually created their own Zillow brokerage firms so that as a broker/member of each MLS, they could bypass ListHub and get a direct feed from the MLS. Of course, they were also using the Zillow brokerages in their iBuying programs and using their own Zestimates to set prices. After running up a half-billion dollars in losses, in a rising market, they figured out that was a bad idea. If you believe the Zestimate, I’m sure Zillow still has a few houses they would like to sell you.

Here in Greenwich, like the rest of the country, the work from home movement is driving a lot of buyers this way. For the moment however the real spur to buyers to move faster is the rise in mortgage rates, which are expected to go up for many months, so buying earlier can save you a good chunk of change in your monthly mortgage bill. One of my listings recently went to contract and the buyer’s agent did an excellent job of pestering me daily to make sure the contract got signed so no one else could come in and gazump her clients, but in this case, the clients wanted to get the contract filed so that they could lock in lower rates for the life of the mortgage.

While our inventory is hanging around 150 listings, an amount, that no agent expected to see in their lifetimes, at least we’re not Darien. Their inventory is up 25% in January, from 12 listings at the beginning of the month to 15 listings month. That sounds tight, but you’ve got a better chance in Darien than in Old Greenwich where we only have 8 listings on the market.

As a result, homebuyers these days are more flexible. They are not stuck on just one style or neighborhood, at least they’re not if they actively want to look for houses because otherwise all they can do is to keep refreshing their screen waiting for a new listing to come up on realtor.com. Actually, that’s not quite true. A good buyer’s agents are out there actively seeking out houses for their clients.

If you’re a homeowner and haven’t gotten a couple postcards asking you to list your house or an agent’s letter saying that the agent has a client who is interested in your house, you should feel slighted. (NB: Take these ready buyer’s letter with a large of grain of salt. The buyer may not be all that ready or on occasion may not even exist. You may be better off talking to agent that you trust, and they can talk to that agent. It’s always good to have someone on your side.)

There are some early hints that the market might be changing. When you look at how this year compares to last January and to January 2020, we may actually be seeing a little price resistance under $3 million. The two price ranges where we saw the biggest drop in sales were $1.0 – 1.5 million and $2 – 3 million. Both price ranges are down 6 sales from 2021 or -38% and -50% sales drop. The price range where we’ve seen a significant jump in contracts is $4 – $5 million where went from 7 contracts in 2021 to 13 contracts this year. Then again this could just be random chatter in sales and contract numbers.

Clearly, if we had more inventory, we would have a lot more sales. From $1.0 – 1.5 million we have 3 weeks of supply. The one area where that may not be quite so true is over $10 million. In that price range, our months of supplies including sales and contract is up from 11.5 months of supply last year to 25 months of supply this year., I wouldn’t worry too much however as this big increase is due to going from 5 sales and contract to 2 this year. Just under the ultra-high end we went from a hot 7.5 months to a very hot 4.8 months, when you include contract. Think about that, we would blow through our 21 listings from $6.5 – 10 million in less than 5 months.

You should always be a little skeptical of January numbers, my brother, Russ, never even did a market report until the end of February, but Beth won’t let me do that. Another problem in a hot market is that traditional real estate statistics don’t necessarily show what is causing the change. You can’t really say for certain, whether sales are down because of lower inventory or because of buyer price resistance due to double digit price increases the last couple of years.

For the moment, you can be pretty sure that it is low inventory is causing the sales drop, however, rising interest rates may become a bigger factor in a slowdown later this year. Rising interest rates often the Fed fighting rising inflation rates, which may encourage people to move money from cash into real estate.

We’re also getting reports of excellent bonuses on Wall Street. In the good old days, those were paid out in cash and people were signing purchase contracts in January and closing in February. Now that compensation maybe deferred to the second half of the year and granted in company stock rather than cash, our biggest months for high-end sales are now in the fourth quarter.

We’re going to have to be patient at least another month to see which way the 2022 market is heading. Inventory is down, which is choking off a lot of sales but we’re not seeing what we saw in December where stellar demand led to sales increases even as inventory continued to drop. We are seeing the snowdrops from an early market showing up keeping inventory at least flat. If you look at Caesar Rabellino accompanying lists of sales and new listings, you’ll see that last week we had 25 new listings and 19 sales. It’s been a while, since we’ve seen a week where the number of new listings coming on exceeded the number of sales going off.

That’s exactly normal in the spring market, inventory comes on in February and March. Deals get made in April and May and our big sales months are June and July. This year we’re getting a little more early inventory, which is really heartening. I, and some other agents, were actually concerned that we might have burned through all of our inventory. But the nice thing is there are still houses is to be listed, deals to be made and certainly the buyers are here and ready to pay a premium. It’s possible that prices may not go up quite as fast as it did the last couple of years, it’s hard to sustain double digit annual price increases and they are not good for the long term health of the market.

Stay tuned, the first quarter is going to be interesting to see which of these trends has the greatest influence on the housing market.