Last week was a busy week for talking to reporters about Greenwich real estate.
You can check out In Greenwich, luxury rentals might be hotter than sales in the Real Deal by Suzannah Cavanaugh. Rentals have been particularly tight this year. For houses our inventory is down, but that hides a 60% increase in listings for 2021. It’s just those sales listings have been going off the market as fast as they are coming on. In the rental market, we haven’t seen a big increase in listing, but demand is up so the rental market is even tougher than the housing market.
In the Greenwich Time and the CT Post check out From Greenwich to Lyme, which CT towns are leading the real estate boom?, This is a really interesting article analyzing all of the municipalities in Connecticut. Greenwich was the big winner in most categories. One of the advantages of Greenwich is that it is the first town in Connecticut making for shorter commutes to NYC and for New Yorkers, they can hop across the border and still see their old friends knowing they are paying a fraction of the property taxes their New York friends are.
Home prices continue to surge in Connecticut, where real estate is already red-hot by Alex Soule – We are seeing real, and significant price increases in Connecticut. In previous years, what was characterized as a property increase in reality was often mostly just a desire for bigger houses. In 2021, we are seeing a clear drive to bigger houses in Greenwich and all Connecticut, but size independent price stats such as sales price per square foot and the sales price to assessment ratio are seeing double digit year over year gains. No matter how look at house prices are up.
May is Another Record, but is This the Inflection Point?
May 2021 was an interesting month in Greenwich. We had the same sales in May as we had in April at 88 sales. Our 10-year average for April sales is 47 sales and for May it is 61 sales, so both month’s sales are well above average. In fact, April and May are all time records for their respective months going back to 1999 when the GMLS records start. Townwide we are still at a ridiculously low 3.5 months of supply down 11.4 months from last May when we were in the heart of the pandemic shutdown. However, when you look at the details, our market seems to be going from very hot to hot.
When you look at weekly transactions our high this year was the first week of May with 85 transactions, (sales and contracts). By the last week of May we were down to 45 transactions in that week, which looks like a big drop until you look at contracts. Our contracts are at their highest level all year with 267 contracts up from 242 contracts at the beginning of May and only 136 contracts at the beginning of 2021. The number of contracts is like a bucket with a hole in it. For the level of contracts to go up, you have to fill the bucket with new contracts faster than the number of sales is draining away contracts.
Personally, I think part of what we are seeing is people breaking out of their Covid induced home confinement. In May, my wife and I went on a 4-day vacation, the first time we’d been on a plane in 15 months, we went to an indoor wedding (with an outdoor dinner), had my brother’s family over sans mask and I just went to a friend’s funeral indoors at the Hyatt. Things are getting back to normal.
The result has been a market that slow down a little in May, but even at the end of the month it was still well above average. We are very likely to see sales go up in June as the number of contracts waiting to close says May was probably a pause for people to celebrate the beginning of the transition to normalcy.
If you go back to May of 2018, our last year with somewhat normal sales, we are
Inventory is down 361 listings or 53%
Contracts are up 133 or an increase of 101%
YTD sales are up 170 or 83%, and
May 2021 sales are 35 sales greater than May 2018 or 66%
We barely saw a rise in inventory in March and April; months when the spring market listings normally cause big jumps in inventory. In May our inventory has been flat. We started the month with only 328 listings, and we finished the month with 326 listings. On the contract side we started with 242 at the beginning of May and by the end of the month we were up to 267 contracts. Both of these numbers are “holey bucket” numbers that are pushed up by one factor, new listings and contract signings and pulled down by another factor, contracts and closings.
When listings are rising, we are seeing more houses come on the market than are going to contract. In years past, we also had a fair number of listings expiring unsold pulling down the number of listings. We are not seeing as much of that this year. Last year in the first 5 months of the year we had 92 listings expire. This year we have had 69 listings expire or a drop of 25%. This proves that even in the hottest market you can still overprice a house.
What’s amazing is how contract signings this year have been matched by the number of new listings coming on the market, and that continued in May. We are actually up 60% in listings this year, but our increased pace of contract signings and closings have kept our inventory from rising. With the number of weekly transactions falling May, I would expect that we will start seeing our inventory rising.
Of course, we could see listings fall, to balance out the reduced transactions, but there is no inherent reason why listings should match contracts, in fact the reverse is true. Our market has a major seasonal factor with listings rising in March and April, contracts being signed in April and May and sales peaking in June and July. None of that happened last year. In 2020, the whole market froze, both listings and contracts from the middle of March to the middle of May. We then started climbing through the middle of July.
Most of those first half sales were our family market. We didn’t start seeing significant increases in our high-end market until July, when the unrest in New York City spurred people to look for a second home. We continued at a high sales rate through October, when we saw some seasonal drop in activity, but we were still well above what we normally saw in the months of November and December.
This year we started off at high level in January. We had an excellent February and transactions accelerated in March and April. May has been busy, but our transactions dropped back though the month, but still at well above average levels. June will tell whether May was an inflection point or whether it’s just indicative of our volatile market.
I expect that our sales will continue high as WOOFH (Working Occasionally or Often From Home) continues to be a major factor shaping our housing market. It is clear that the U.S. is not going back to doing business the way it was done pre-pandemic. Companies have seen that they don’t need their employees altogether every day from 9 – 5 pm. As a result, space needs are declining in the office market and increasing in the home market. Until we reach a new equilibrium between office and home space our sales will continue to be elevated, but the question is just how much.
Greenwich is sometimes characterized by outsiders as a land of white picket fences and colonial-style houses. These outsiders are mostly wrong about the picket fences and more than half wrong about the colonial houses. Since 1999 when the Greenwich MLS records start, we have sold 14,251 houses and less than half, or 47%, were described on the listing as a colonial-style house.
Greenwich however is much more modern than that. Since 1999 we have sold 581 contemporary and modern houses in Greenwich. We’ve actually sold many more than that, but agents often take the safe way out and stretch the definition of a colonial a lot. A good example of a house that many agents might list as a colonial is my listing at 26 Parsonage Road. This house was built by Phil Ives for his family in 1948. Phil was a leading proponent of the International style and his firm, designed the famous Pan Am terminal at JFK.
One of the things that identify the house as a non-colonial are the windows. The house at 26 Parsonage is sited on 3 acres in a one-acre zone and overlooks a sweeping lawn and some of the most amazing landscaping you will see in Greenwich. The windows are large and square and in three rows of three in the living room. This lets in lots of light.
With all of this light, siting and design become particularly important in a contemporary house. The house is designed with roof soffits that are wider than usual. What this does is to shade the upstairs windows in summer, but due to the siting and precise design lower winter sun lights up and heats the upstairs in the colder, darker months.
There is a very cool, mini-country club, contemporary at 665 River Road with a pool and tennis court. The house has lots of windows, some in non-traditional locations. The owner said, “Everyone who visits remarks, somewhat longingly ‘it is so … peaceful.’ We attribute that to being flooded with natural light and surrounded by nature. This is made possible by doors that open to the outdoors from every room, high ceilings and endless windows. “
Another example of how contemporaries use windows in unusual ways is my listing at 15 Laub Pond Road. This house has an indoor pool on one side and a breakfast nook off the kitchen on the other side. Both have semi-circular walls with large vertical windows. This gives the indoor pool an outdoor feel and the breakfast nook a panoramic view of the yard and the woods in the morning.
In most of our contemporary houses in Greenwich, this panoramic view only works one way from the inside out. Owners tend to put contemporaries on larger lots and use natural features; trees and landscaping to provide privacy. The classic example of this is Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan. From the close in photographs, some wonder just how private a house, with mostly glass walls, could be. What the photos don’t show well are the surrounding trees and the distance to the neighbors.
In Greenwich you see this need for larger lots, when you look at a map of 22 years of contemporary sales. There are very few sales in our smaller zones such as Byram, Pemberwick and central Greenwich. Where you do see contemporary sales are along our western and northern borders with New York State. Westchester County has a lot more contemporaries than we do and downsizers from there often stay true to the style of house they raised their kids in. You also see a lot of our contemporaries along the shoreline, where the beautiful views are better enjoyed with larger windows and openness of contemporaries.
It’s not only New Yorkers, that like our contemporaries. Most of the showings that we have had for 15 Laub Pond Road have been couples where one or both members are internationals and some even from California. They grew up with these styles and our diversity of housing stock makes for a diversity of residents.
Contemporaries do better in good economic times. In 2000, over 5% of all home sales in Greenwich were contemporaries. This dipped to only 2% in the recession year of 2009 and has risen since then, hitting 5% of all sales in 2019. In the pandemic, contemporaries percentage of sales dropped, but the absolute number of contemporary sales increases as our market surged.
Contemporaries have a lot of sub-categories. In fact, even using contemporary for all these sub-categories can be controversial, but it’s what the GMLS uses. Owners love their sub-category and will go out of their way to seek them out. With the rebound in the economy and the loosening of Covid restrictions you can expect more eyes looking at contemporaries of all types.
BTW: Meghan Lynch who grew up in the pool at 15 Laub Pond Rd is trying out for the U.S. Olympic swimming team next month at the age of 17 after just graduating from GHS this with multiple pool and state records, let’s all wish her luck.
I recently put on 26 Parsonage Road. It’s a very special property. It’s over 3 acres in a 1-acre zone and the house was designed by Phil Ives; the same architect who designed the Pan Am terminal at JFK. The property is close to town and has some world class garden. It is listed for $4.3 million. Check out the video.
First Week of May may be Best Week Ever in Greenwich Real Estate?
Back in April 1999, we sold 67 houses in the month of April. Since then, we’ve had a couple of Aprils where our sales got to the low 60’s, but we’ve mostly been around our 10-year average of 38 sales. This April we broke out of the 60’s, zoomed past the 70’s and almost made it to 90 sales. We ended the month at 88 sales, 132% above 10-year average and 31% above a record that had stood for 21 years.
So far, May has been even better. Last year, we had two weeks where in one week, we had 68 transactions, the total of sales and contracts. Not surprisingly, these two weeks were in our biggest sales months, August and September 2020. Two weeks ago, in the third week of April we matched the 68 transaction in one week. Then came the first week of May and we had 85 transactions. To show how much the demand there is, only 28 of those 85 transactions were sales. The other 57 transactions were contracts evidencing better sales to come in the months ahead.
A Very “Green” Spring
So far this year, we have sold 288 houses up 153 sales from last year, when we sold just 135 houses. Sales are up 113% from April 2020 and April 2020 sales were up 25% over April 2019. In total, sales are up 167% in two years.
I find trends easier to visualize when I color code a spreadsheet to showing the differences from the previous year. I use green for pro-seller numbers; higher sales, lower inventory and pink for pro-buyer changes. I have not been using much pink and none for this April’s numbers.
A quick glance might tell you that April sales and contracts for houses listed under $600,000 are down by 75%. That might seem pretty pro-buyer, until look over at the inventory numbers. The reason April sales and contracts are down this year is because we have no inventory, nada, zip, zilch, the bagel. Rising prices have pushed our lowest price range houses, of which there were never a lot under $600K, out of existence.
2020 vs 2021 Months of Supply Tells the Story
If you want to see just how tight a market is check out months of supply. This tells you how long the present inventory would last based on the monthly sales demand so far this year. From $3 – 4 million dollars last year we had 16 months of supply. This year we have 4.6 months of supply or 71% lower. Throw in the 46 contracts that we have and assume they will the contracts close in a month and half and we have 3.0 months of supply. This is houses costing as much as $4 million, not for $300,000 condos. (BTW: We do have 4 listings under $300K, one studio apartment and 3 boat slips on River Rd. in Cos Cob. It even costs money to just float in Greenwich waters.)
We have not seen such low months of supply at such high price ranges possibly ever. The one slight area of concern are sales over $6.5 million. In April, we only had 3 sales and none over $10 million. However, you don’t need to worry about the market from $6.5 million to $10 million as we have 23 contracts waiting to close. This is up 1,050% from last year when we only had 2 contracts between $6.5 and 10 million. Our high-end sales have shifted to the 3rd and 4th quarter so I wouldn’t worry too much even over $10 million unless the Connecticut legislature passes some of the soak rich bills that are still circulating in Hartford.
If the legislature really wanted to increase tax receipts rather than just stick it to the rich, they could lower our top rate from 6.99% to 6.5%. The resulting influx of high-net-worth individuals would more than make up for the cost of lowering the rate by 0.49%.
We clearly saw this, when the Greenwich BET held our mill rate flat in 2018 due to the Trump $10,000 limit on SALT taxes passed in late 2017. Unlike the rest of the metro area, our house sales actually went up in 2018, as property tax refugees from NY jumped the border. With NY deciding to raise the income tax rates on their millionaires, a little top-end tax cut in Connecticut could raise a lot of tax dollars from a lot of new residents.
A Deep Dive into the Inventory “Problem”
While we have high demand for housing, it’s the persistently low inventory that has led to these record low months of supply. However, if you look at listings over time our shortage of inventory is not as bad as the charts make it appear. As of the beginning of May, we only have 328 single-family home listings. This is down 185 listings from this time last year.
But our inventory is even lower than it appears in the year over year comparison. In April 2020, we were in the middle of the first lockdown from Covid. Everyone was staying home, and we were seeing minimal new listings, hence listings dropped to 513 single-family homes. If you go back two years to April 2019, we had 693 listings, which means that we are actually down 291 house listing from 2019 or -53%.
Inventory is just a picture at a point in time. It is like looking at a picture of a river and trying to guess how much water flowed by in the last month. Our inventory is a very dynamic process. We have new listings constantly coming on, pushing up our inventory, while at the same time other listings go to contract or expire pushing it down.
Inventory reductions from sales and contracts get most of the attention, but so far this year, we’ve had 58 listings expire. Now you might ask how in what is possibly the hottest market ever, a listing could expire unsold. Most of these expiring listings are over-priced, but they may actually comp out based per acre or dollar per square foot basis. They may not have sold at a “comparable price” because they are next to one of our highways, or the property could have lots of wetlands, or it’s a funny shape, or it smells like cat pee (seriously we have listings that do) or the house could need lots of work.
Alternatively, houses can be over-priced because the owner, or one of them, doesn’t want to sell. In both estate situations and divorces, the resident owner may want to stay and doesn’t want the house to sell. You see the same thing with foreclosures and financially distressed owners. One of the more interesting listing is a situation where the bank foreclosed and has title to the property, but the former owner refuses to leave. The property is listed, but you can’t go inside to see what condition the property is in.
Another way that listings shrink is through cancellation and being taken off the market. So far in 2021, we’ve had 65 listings this year that have been cancelled or are temporarily off the market. Last year, we saw a big jump in listings that were temporarily off the market, since owners didn’t want to show their houses during the height of Covid. This year most of our 48 cancellations are for properties that had been doubly listed as “for sale” and “for rent”.
Our rental market is actually hotter than our sales market, so the odds are good that if an owner lists a house for sale and for rent that they will get more offers and sooner for the rental listing. When my clients want to test both markets, I suggest giving the sales market at least a month, before putting on the rental.
But, back to why we don’t have an inventory shortage, or at least not as much as people think. So far this year we have had 498 listings come on the Greenwich MLS this year. This is up a huge 63% from last year’s 305 new listings. Of those 498 listings, only 187 are still active. We have 96 closed already and another 187 have gone to contract. Only 2 have expired and 26 have been withdrawn or cancelled.
Interestingly, of the 498 new listings in 2021, we have the exact same number still active as have gone to contract. We have 187 listings still listed and 187 contracts. (To be clear, this doesn’t count the 291 listings that we began 2021 with.)
Our inventory is a swan, on the surface the swan is moving serenely at a nice and steady pace, but underneath there is a lot of churning activity.
How many houses could we sell this year? Based on our 10-year average, the first four months of the year average 24.4% of our yearly sales. If you take our 288 sales so far this year and divide by .244 you get 1,180 in 2021, which would break last year’s record of 863 sales by a lot. It all depends on the number of new listings we get, and not whether our inventory stays low.
Last year, Covid drove lots of people, and particularly families, out of New York City. Initially this resulted in a hot rental market and an amazing summer rental market. We had dozens of houses renting for more than $20,000, $30,000 and several at $50,000/month. These summer rentals also extended into the fall. Local families with beautiful houses, that I never thought would consider renting, once they saw what they could rent for were only too happy to take an extended summer vacation and come back with extra money in the bank.
Having said that we had a huge shortage of summer rentals last year. I rented one house with a pool for $25,000/mo. in five hours with multiple offers. I was able to find another renter a summer rental, but had four clients that I couldn’t find a summer rental for. This summer we still have very good demand and lots of the folks that rented last summer are renting the same place again this summer. We have good demand, but this year we are seeing, or better said, we are not seeing new summer rental inventory.
Our rental market then, as now, became very active, but lots of people decide it wasn’t renting, but buying that they should be doing in Greenwich.
Home Sales – Five Quarters and One Month
The year 2020 started out pretty normal. In the first quarter of last year, the Greenwich real estate market had a typical first two and half months with transactions (sales and contracts) building week by week. Our first quarter market proceeded normally with little thought that a virus spreading from a wet market in town most people hadn’t heard of was going to upend the entire world including Greenwich starting in the third week in March.
From that third week in March 2020 until the first week of May our market took a major Covid-induced pause with transactions eking along at about 20 sales and contracts total per week. Then came the second week of May with transactions shooting up to 33 transactions and followed by 43 transactions the next week. By the end of June our transaction hit 64 in one week.
3rd and 4th Quarter 2020 Sales Take Off and Stay High in 2021
Then the third quarter of 2020 came along and we have not had a slow period since, particularly if you seasonally adjust the numbers. Our sales peeked in September with 118 sales, a new record for September sales. This record September had followed a record 108 sales in August 2020, which was 41 more sales than normal. Our sales did fall in October and November, but they were 58 and 53 sales respectively higher than our 10-year average.
This activity continued into the first quarter of 2021, where we averaged 30 sales higher each month in what is normally our slowest quarter of the year. Our 193 sales in the first quarter of 2021 is almost as much as we had in the whole first half of 2019.
April 2021 – It’s All About the Inventory
In the second half of 2020, even as we were setting new sales records monthly, our inventory was down only a little bit. Our shadow inventory was constantly resupplying fresh inventory, so we had enough inventory to sell. Then came January 1, 2021 and inventory dropped like a rock. We went from 378 listings at the beginning of December 2020, already a very low number, to only 287 listings on January 1, 2021. A drop of 24% in one month, now that’s a little dramatic, since we always get a lot of listings expiring on December 31st and we get several listings that start on the first business day of the new year. In 2021 that barely happened.
By the end of the first week of January 2021 we had only recovered to 293 listings. We just don’t see inventory numbers in the 200’s, but we did this year. We didn’t break 300 listings until the third week of March this year and it wasn’t until April that our inventory was able to stay above 300 listings, which is just absurdly low>
So far this year our weekly inventory numbers have varied between a low of 273 listings at the beginning of March to last week’s high of 317 listings. (On Tuesday, 4/27/21 we actually jumped up to 332 listings only 35% lower than last year’s 517 listings at the beginning of May. 2020. However, it is 52% lower than the 693 listings that we had at the end of April 2019.)
2021 Inventory – A Dynamic Equilibrium
Given our increase transactions our inventory should be dropping, but so far this year our market has been like the fraternity trash can punch (Green Machine punches at Dartmouth). As fast as the seniors can drink the punch, the freshman are filling the punch bowl. Though in Greenwich, a better analogy would be that the freshmen with their younger families are taking houses off the market while our seniors are supplying the inventory and downsizing to condos or moving south for the winters.
Is April the Beginning of the End or the Beginning of a New Trend?
So far, we’ve had 61 sales in April 2021. If you monthlyize them (there has to be monthly equivalent of annualize that doesn’t involve the word “gross” as in gross up) you come up with an expected 68 sales for the whole month, which is a record for April, but it is only 21 sales above our 10-year average for April sales. This is down from an average of 30 sales above our 10-year average in the first 3 months of the year.
The pessimists can argue that we may see a continued drop in sales as the vaccination rate goes up. Per Senator Kasser’s weekly email, 66% of Connecticut residents have gotten at least one shot and an amazing 90% over the age of 65. (Let’s hear it for us seniors, but particularly for our governor and the government employees who made this process run pretty smoothly. And, thanks to all the hospital and charities and their personnel who have taken the risks to make this happen. It’s really nice when things actually work in Connecticut as well as Greenwich usually does.)
For our optimists, the key thing is that our inventory has been coming on fast enough to meet most demand for housing. If not, inventory would have dropped and the last three weeks, it’s been going up like it is supposed to do in our spring market. At the same time, it’s combat-buying out there. Nine of our 61 sales so far this month went for over list and another 15 went for list price.
That latter number is actually deceptive as 12 of the 15 sales at full list price never made to a public listing. These sales were FRPO’s [not to be confused with FSBO’s (for sale by owner]. FRPO’s are listings that appear on the GMLS “For Reporting Purposes Only”. These properties sold in private sales and are always reported as being sold at 100% of original list price. An increase in FRPO’s mean that sellers can more easily find buyers due to their number and motivation to buy.
WOOFH Will Drive Sales for Many Years
In the second half of the year, we are going to see a lot more people who buy houses for WOOFH’ing. These are the folks that are “Working Occasionally or Often From Home”. Some businesses are reporting more production from having people working from home, while other businesses in the same industry are pushing to get employees back in their offices. It’s not clear just exactly how much people will be WOOFH’ing, but it is clear that there will be lots more WOOFH’ing post-Covid than pre-Covid. The need for two and even three offices and home schooling rooms are pushing both New Yorkers and Greenwichites to buy larger houses.
High-End Sales to Get Even Better?
I also expect that high-end sales will pick up, as in one of New York’s dumber moves they just raised taxes on very high income people to 15%+ when NYC taxes are added in. This at a time when huge numbers of high-net worth people had already relocated to low tax states and Connecticut’s lower, but low taxes. Greenwich is just looking better and better for New Yorkers.
We have lots of forces pushing Greenwich sales and inventory in both directions. Will we beat last year’s 863 single family home sales. In this over/under bet, I’m taking the over, but I think it’s an even bet at this point.
Stay tuned the second quarter will probably set the tone for the rest of the year.
Real estate sales in backcountry Greenwich started off with a bang in the first quarter of 2021. So far this year, we have sold 22 houses north of the Merritt compared to 11 in the first quarter of 2020 or a 109% increase. That’s impressive, but what’s really amazing is the growth in contracts up from 6 last year to 23 contracts this year or a 283% increase. At the same time inventory has contracted from 83 listings last year to only 55 listings this for a drop of 34%. It’s a tight market, and buyers are moving fast and keeping us Realtors very busy.
Based on last year’s rate of sales and this week’s inventory we are down to the aforesaid 6.5 months of supply. The tight part of the market is from $1 – 5 million. (Can you have a tight market if you have no inventory and hence no sales from $1.5 – 2.0 million?)
Contracts are doing even better. If you add in our 23 contracts in backcountry (and assume they will close in 45 days) then the months of supply drops to 4.4 months for backcountry houses. This is a hot market, just about anywhere, but it’s truly amazing in an area where the median sales price is $2.6 million dollars. To see just how remarkable this market is let’s go back 22 years and look at how we got here.
Until last year our highest number of sales in backcountry was 90 sales in 2000. For much of what people thing of as the heyday of backcountry, sales actually fell from 90 sales in 2000 to 62 sales in the peak year of 2007. That year we sold $306 million worth of houses in backcountry with an average sales price of $4.93 million. If you look at graph of the period, you see a big rise in sales volume while the number of sales is actually dropping from 2004 to 2007. That’s a pretty good definition of a bubble.
In 2008, the bubble started to burst with the number of sales dropping from 62 in 2007 to 34 in 2008 and sales hit their nadir in 2009 with only 27 sales. Sales volume dropped from $306 million to $163 million in 2009. We actually had a pretty good recovery going from 2010 to 2015 when sales grew from 45 to 61 houses.
At the same time, our sales volume and median sales price bounced around. We reached our post-recession low price point in 2012 as our backcountry median sales price dropped to $2,012,000 only to all most match that number three years later in 2015 with a median of $2,043,000.
We didn’t start to see a real recovery until the 3rd quarter of 2019. At that point, prices in backcountry started to look pretty good compared to what you could get in say Riverside. In 2019, backcountry sales were up 31% in while they were down 11% for the town overall and Riverside saw a drop of 23% as the $10,000 limitation on local tax deductions finally hit Greenwich hard. (Not to worry Riversideans, you can feel pretty good about this year’s sales.)
In 2019 our days on market dropped from its post-recession high of 475 DOM in 2017 to only 220 days on market in 2019. In 2020, after a slow first half of the year DOM dropped steeply to 145 days on market. For the first quarter of 2021 we are looking at about the same DOM with 143 days on the market.
It’s easy to over analyze this market. There is a lot of Brownian motion in the numbers as the law of small numbers means that one sale like Tommy Hilfiger’s house selling for $45 million throws off the averages. Take out that sale and the backcountry average sales price drops from $4.94 million to $3.03 million, which is still a pretty good average.
What is clearly remarkable is the number of sales we had in backcountry last year. Our 102 sales last year is 13% better than our previous high of 90 sales all the way back in 2000. If you really want to make a “gee-whiz” graph, you can annualize our first quarter sales on a weighted basis. Most years the first quarter represents only 18.2% of our sales for the year, so, if you take our 22 sales so far this year and divide by 18.2% you get an expected 121 sale this year. This would be an increase of 19% in sales on top of our 73% increase in backcountry sales of in 2020 over 2019.
Will we get to 121 sales this year? I don’t think so, our inventory is much tighter than it was last year, and we’ve got a good chance of sales being supply constrained. We are however continuing to see some shadow inventory in backcountry that was mostly used up in 2020 in the sub-Merritt Parkway areas of the town. Our inventory is down 34% this year, while its down 45% for the town overall.
Additionally, backcountry has always being synonymous with larger houses, but when you look at the numbers that what we are seeing. Our median house size peaked in 2009 at 8,300 s.f. For the last three years, our median house size has averaged around 5,600 s.f. So far in 2021 our median size is actually down to 5,400 s.f. Our median house size for the town over all is 4,200 s.f. or 1,200 s.f. smaller than the median in backcountry.
This lower median does indicate one issue in backcountry, which is that sales are distinctly slower when you hit $5 million. Over that price we have 3 sales and 7 contracts compared to 29 listings in inventory. Not to worry too much as the majority of high-end sales have shifted to the 4th quarter.
This has not stopped some folks from rolling some really big dice in backcountry. Of those 29 listings in backcountry, 3 of them are new construction with prices ranging from $23 million to $40 million.
Aquarion’s 2 4-acre tracts surrounded by a 72-acre park
In addition, Aquarion is selling two 4-acre tracts at 45 and 49 Cherry Valley for $1.45 million and $1.395 million respectively. These lots were retained by Aquarion, when the town and the Land Trust bought72 acres from Aquarion to create new Convers Brook Park on Lake Avenue just north of the Merritt Parkway.
It’s very likely to be a good year for backcountry; inventory will determine just how good.
In the first quarter, we sold 195 houses totaling $581 million dollars. This compares to the first quarter of 2020 when we sold 101 houses totaling $217 million. So, sales are up 93% and dollar volume is up 167%. The increased sales volume is driven by a major shift to higher-priced houses. As discussed last week, the work and schooling from home changes in lifestyles has meant that lots of the homes that people live in now are too small for the new 24/7, multiple offices and multiple schoolwork areas lifestyle.
We are seeing not only people moving from NYC to Greenwich for more space and much less crime, but lots of Greenwich folks right-sizing. For most families that means moving to larger homes with more rooms, more land and more amenities. As always though we have many folks, that have retired and are empty nesters, moving to central Greenwich to condos, co-ops and apartments. These senior buyers are coming from both Greenwich and Westchester County. The problem is that we don’t have enough people leaving these downtown units, leading to the pipeline clogging up.
The demand is there, but the supply until this week was flat. Finally, this week we saw inventory actually go up by 9% from 285 last week to 311 listing this week. The only problem is that we should be around 550 listings, not 311 listings. Part of this increase in inventory, may be the result of increased prices that we have seen, which will be discussed at the end of the article.
But let’s look at how the Greenwich neighborhoods are doing ….
Our sales numbers in the first quarter for several neighborhoods are just weird. Normally, we see a set of descending stair steps, as we have more inventory than we have sales for the for first three months and more sales than we have contracts. Byram, Pemberwick, Glenville and South of the Post Road, think downtown, Chickahominy and Belle Haven, illustrate this typical first quarter pattern.
Our weird neighborhoods are Cos Cob, Old Greenwich, and particularly weird is the pattern in Riverside. We actually have more sales in Riverside the first three months of the year than we have inventory, and we have more contracts than we have sales. The result is that we only have 2.3 months of supply in Riverside and if you add in contracts it goes from ridiculous to unthinkable at least if you are buyer.
If you are buyer looking in Riverside, because of the excellent Riverside School (nice job Mr. Weiss and teachers) and you are looking between $2.0 and 2.5 million, you have choice of four listings and one of those came on yesterday. For all of Riverside you only have 34 houses on the market. Now that sounds bad, but at the end of March you only had 19 listings for the whole neighborhood.
At the other end, is backcountry where we had 65 listings at the end of March with 21 sales in the first quarter and 20 contracts.
Backcountry has been slower this year than the rest of the town, but one place where it blows away every other neighborhood is for the highest sale so far this year. If you look at the chart, the maximum sale in backcountry goes to the top of the chart and then it keeps going one and half more times to $45,000,000. Our next highest sale is $13.3 million in mid-country.
We have Tommy Hilfiger to thank for taking a great backcountry property and making it even better. He bought it at $31.3 million in 2010 and made a lot of improvements. Over the years, he has done that to several property. I used to regularly see him walking on Buckfield when I had a listing at 37 Buckfield. One of my regrets is I never thanked him for what he did for high-end sales in Greenwich, but then one of the things you get in Greenwich is privacy.
The other things to note is how some areas have a relatively small gap between the lowest priced sale and the highest, while other areas have big gaps. For those areas with big gaps your averages are going to jump around every time there is a high-end sale, so take changes in averages in these neighborhoods with a grain of salt.
A little more than halfway up the months of supply chart is 6 months of supply, the traditional dividing line between a buyers and a sellers’ market. Only backcountry goes over that line into a buyer’s market. One of the reasons for that may be that we still have some shadow inventory left in backcountry, whereas in most of the rest of the town, those folks who wanted to move and had waited years, listed their house and got it sold last year.
For our larger neighborhoods, Riverside is leading the pack with 2.3 months of supply. Now this is really amazing when you consider that the average sales price in Riverside is $2.39 million dollars. For most Connecticut town, that average price would be the high sale for the year and for many towns, the high sale for the decade.
Townwide we have 4.4 months of supply and most neighborhoods are between 3 and 5 months of supply. If you are coming to buy in Greenwich, you need to come with an underwritten pre-approved mortgage or have cash.
As you might expect with sales prices in the first quarter for single-family houses going from $520,000 to $45,000,000, we have widely varying prices per square foot. At the moment, South of the Post Road has the highest sales price/sf at $728/sf followed by Old Greenwich and backcountry. Normally backcountry wins this category, but this year we need more high-end, high $/sf sales. Backcountry is actually much better than we have seen it in many years, just not as good other sections are doing.
Part of that is the one area where are seeing enough supply is our over $10 million market. Luckily, Governor Cuomo, has really taken an interest in supporting Greenwich’s high-end real estate. With the help of the NY Legislature, NY state will now have the highest state taxes in the nation even exceeding California. For high earners in NYC, combined city and state taxes can be almost 16% compared to 6.99% in Connecticut.
I expect you’ll see some rather impressive high-end sales later in the year. In fact, post-recession most of our high-end sales have happened in the 4th quarter, so trust in Cuomo and be patient.
One of the best indicators of sales appreciation in Greenwich is the ratio of the sales price to the tax assessor’s assessment. Our chart for the first quarter of 2021 is remarkable in that every neighborhood, but Banksville has a SP/Assmt ratio that is up from the last revaluation in 2015. (I also wouldn’t worry about Banksville, that price drop is based on only three sales in the first quarter.)
What’s really remarkable is that for all the press that Old Greenwich has gotten for price appreciation, the best neighborhoods to put your money in back in 2015 was Byram where sales prices are up 45% from the revaluation that was effective 10/1/2015. This all the more remarkable, because Covid has hurt Byram and Pemberwick in particular due to their higher density in the last year.
The other nice thing to see is backcountry and midcountry with SP/Assessment rations in positive territory. This is actually good news for front country, since we are going to have another tax revaluation this year. With prices coming up in northern Greenwich, the shift of the tax burden to front country will not be as great as it would have been had the numbers in 2019 been included.
Overall, the SP/Assmt ratio is up 15% in the last 5 years. If your assessment percentage increase goes up more than the townwide average, you can expect your taxes will being going up. If you live in a neighborhood that has appreciated, but less than the townwide average your taxes are likely to go down in 2022 when the new assessments will be used to calculate taxes.
Overall, things are looking up for Greenwich real estate. The one major fly in the ointment is half a dozen bill in Hartford including a proposal for state-wide mansion tax.
Work from Home (WFH) Drives 427% Increase in High-end Sales
In the first quarter of 2021, Greenwich home sales were up 93% to 195 sales compared to 101 sales in the first quarter of 2020, and it’s going to get better. Our contracts are up 115%, so you can expect that April 2021 will be much better than last April. The first quarter would actually have been even better than that if we only had had more inventory.
At the high-end, transactions (sales and contracts) over $4 million are up 427% from 11 houses last year to 58 house this year. Homeowners at the high-end are adapting quickly to the Covid-driven once in a century change in work patterns and lifestyles. Changes that were already underway in the work/life balance that would have happened over the next 10 years happened in one year.
March 2021 Inventory, Contracts, Sales and Months of Supply
WFH is driving home buyers at all price levels to upsize their houses and if the buyers can do an all-cash deal this transition happens a lot faster. This trend will likely continue for years as millions of homeowners rightsize their living needs. We are seeing Covid driven buyers who are moving from the high-density, and unfortunately high crime rates in NYC, to the suburbs, but also lots of buyers in town that just need more space as everyone is home most of the time. Buyers want more space, more land, more rooms and more amenities.
Change in Inventory, Contracts and Sales from 1st quarter 2020 to 1st quarter 2021
INVENTORY IS WAY DOWN
I used to lead with sales, now it’s inventory, since that is determining sales. We had 508 single family home listings as the end of March last year. This year inventory is down 45% to only 282 listings. While we added 23 new listings last week, we also had 46 listings go off the market for a net shrinkage of 23 listings. We lost twice as many listings going off the market as we saw come on the market. We normally would be adding dozens of net listings every week at this time of the year.
Last year, we started the year with 432 house listings and by March 31st we were up to 508 listings or an increase of 17.5% in the first quarter of 2020. This year we started at 293 listings and by the end of March we were down to 285 listings a drop of 2.7%. If there is any good news in this, it’s that the drop isn’t greater. Our inventory has been essentially flat since the beginning of the year. What this means is that our new listings, for the moment, are essentially matching our demand.
A TOUGH TIME TO BE A BUYER, BUT MAYBE NOT QUITE AS BAD AS YOU THINK
The low inventory makes for a very challenging time to be a buyer. When you are ready to buy, there is a good chance that what you want won’t be there, so you have to wait for new listings to come one. So far this year, we’ve had 302 listings come on the market, which is actually up 4.1% from last year. So, all the harping by agents that we need more listings have gotten us 9 more listings. The result is a very tight market with only 4.3 months of supply down from 15.1 months of supply last year.
As a buyer in this market, you wait and check the new listings multiple times a day and finally something comes along, that while not perfect looks pretty good. You call your agent and start driving hoping that he or she can set up an appointment to see this rare, though slightly flawed, gem. Your agent amazingly is able to set up an appointment in only 2 hours. You meet your agent and find out they are running behind and it’s going to be another hour before you can get in. You get in line with the other buyers’ cars and wait your turn.
You have 10, maybe 15, minutes to walk through the house and to make a million dollar plus decision with your agent. It’s a tight market and who knows when something else this good will come along, so you decide to put in a bid. Your agent checks with the listing agent, who informs her that yours was the 10th showing and they already have 3 offers. You decide to up your bid from full list to 108% of list. (The kids cannot stay in that apartment another year.) You scribble out your offer on the offer form your agent brought. She hands it to the listing agent who glances at it while showing out the people behind you and showing in the next people. The listing agent tells your agent that at 108% of list you are in second place and he has 15 more showings, two more than when you arrived.
THE ODDS OF GETTING INTO A BIDDING BATTLE
The whole experiencing is exciting and dreadful all at the same time; and it’s mostly not true. Even though our inventory is down 45%, and we do have bidding wars, only 22 of our 195 sales so far this year have gone for over list price. We have had another 38 listings go for the full list price. This means 60 listings or 31% have gone for full list price or better. Of the 22 listings that went for over listing price only 4 went for more than 5% over list price. For those with particularly nervous spouses, it’s actually a little bit better than that.
If you look at the original list price, then we are down from 60 sales at list price or above to only 53 at original list or above which is 27% of our sales. The odds are almost 3 out of 4 that you aren’t going to get in a bidding war on a new listing. You are even less likely to get in a bidding war if you are looking over $4 million. We have had only three houses go for over original list price above $4 million. In all three cases, these houses had been on for months. One had even been on for 1,356 days.
Also, to provide more reassurance to those who see the glass as half empty and draining fast, 11 of the 34 sales that went for what appears to be full list price actually were for “reporting purposes only”. These sales were private sales that are posted on the GMLS so we can point out to our fellow agents that we did it. They are also very helpful to me, and everyone else that follows the market closely, to know what things are selling for in these private transactions.
After all that, how many of our 195 sales this year went for (a) over list price, (b) without a price reduction and (c) were in contract in less than 21 days? (hey, some of these negotiations, inspections and due diligence really drag out.) The answer is 6, only 6 of our sales were super-hot and even for these hot houses the median amount over original list price was only 4% over list price. So, don’t panic.
OUR INVENTORY IN THREE SEGMENTS
When you look at our inventory overall:
33% of our listings have been on for less than 30 days (86 houses)
37% have been on for 30 – 180 days (105 houses)
30% have been on for more than 180 days (86 houses)
So two-thirds of our listings have been on for a while. You can probably wait till the weekend to see many of these houses, but make a phone call first as I frequently find, that properties listed as active have accepted offers. This is not a time for a slow and measured pace, move quickly, but most of the time you have time, if the listing has been on for a couple of weeks.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s a tight market our months of supply are ridiculously low. If someone lists a nice house in a desirable neighborhood at a good price it will get a lot of showings and probably also multiple offers, but the statistics so far say that happens less than half the time. Also, what the above analysis can’t see are houses that are priced fairly and have a bidding war, but none of the bidders go over list.
These bidding wars can also happen at any time and it’s not unusual to have a house sit on the market for several months and then have a bidding war when the price is reduced. So being prepared, particularly if you don’t like what is on the market is crucial. My article on how to be the winning bidder in a hot market is one of my most popular articles.
What I am saying is we have a hot market, it’s just not the market that you often read about in the press, not everything is going for over list with multiple offers. For sellers, this means that if you significantly over price your house, it’s going to sit on the market even in the hot market. Our buyers today are very knowledgeable about price and know when something is too high.
WHAT ABOUT CONTRACTS?
Contracts also show that a little anxiety is due. We have 195 sales, but we have more contracts waiting to close and we won’t know until they close just how competitive the market is right now. Last year at this time we only had 94 contracts. Our contracts have more than doubled and of those 202 contracts, 51 or 25% were on the market for less than 21 days and 34 were only on the market for 14 days or less. For all practical purposes listings that went to contract that quick were only on the market for days. Over list price sales are going up when we finally seen these price close.
ECONOMICS 101 FINALLY AND INCREASING PRICES
Is the hotter market and these bidding wars driving up prices? Definitely and also, it’s about time. We actually didn’t see much price appreciation in 2020. Yes, our average and median sales prices went up for single family homes, but that was mainly because of a big increase in sales of high-end homes, pulling these averages up.
If you look at the price/sf in 2020, it went up from $501 at the end of the first quarter to only $525 by the end of the year. This was an increase of only of 4.7% in possibly the hottest Greenwich real estate market every. We’ve had many years where the appreciation was in double digits. Lots of shadow inventory coming on market in the second half of 2020 kept the amount of appreciation down last year.
This year it looks like there is not much more shadow inventory left to go through. High demand with low inventory means prices increase. Our median price/sf is up 9% from the first quarter of last year and is up 4% from the end of 2020. Does this mean we are going to see 16% appreciation this year (4% x 4 quarters)? Last month I would have said that’s too high, but it’s not looking so crazy now.
MAY YOU LIVE IN INTERESTING TIMES
We are seeing a once in a century lifestyle change. Not since the invention of the car, the telephone and the radio are we seeing so many changes in the home. The work from home movement is not going away, even when Covid does. WFH means that people need bigger houses; at the moment they need much bigger homes because of remote learning and remote work. People also want more amenities and more property as well as more rooms.
This plays right into Greenwich’s forte. Our 4-acre zoning I believe is the largest in the state. We have more houses with more rooms. We have a great hospital and excellent schools all factors that bode well for us. I do think we will evolve from WFH to WOFH where the “O” stands for either “occasionally” or “often”. Even after Covid is gone, people will still want a home office.
The concept of the home office is also evolving. It’s no longer just a desk and some bookshelves. It now comes with a whole set of accoutrements. You have copiers, scanners, supply closets, and printers. The old 3-in-1 device is just too limited. People who can afford it are not going to scan a 20-page document one page at a time.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE MASTER OFFICE SUITE
We are also going to see Zoom rooms for video conferencing. You should not negotiate $100 million deals with barking dogs and crying babies in the background. I think we’ll also see more assistants work in the home office and not just remotely. The next step is a master office suite and also guest offices. I can even see the Biden administration giving carbon credits to businesses for people not to commute. (At the same time, former presidents with lots of commercial office space being freed up will need excellent deal making skills.)
The Covid era is not like Hurricane Sandy or 9/11. The world pretty much went back to a gradual evolution, after a year or so had passed. Covid could have been like that, but ubiquitous connectivity, smart phones and a whole series of technologies that were just maturing allowed us to quickly morph to new ways of living and working. At the same time, people really want to get back together to facilitate teamwork, I just don’t see them doing that 10 hours a day, 5 days a week as many workplaces had become.
While the future is rapidly evolving around us, let’s wear masks. Covid is at another inflection point, which really needs to be a downward inflection this time. Having a low Covid rate is a real competitive advantage.
Mark Pruner is a Realtor in Greenwich, CT with Berkshire Hathaway. He can be reached at email@example.com or 203-969-7900.
How to Actually Create Affordable Housing in Greenwich
I’ve been looking into the very controversial SB 1024 and believe that it will destroy more affordable housing than it creates, while causing lots of damage to towns and cities across the state. The one group that will be greatly aided by the bill if enacted are developers of mid to large size developments.
We have lots of good local developers who work in a difficult environment
Developers get a bad rap. They are entrepreneurs with a vision who put their own money at risk to build something better. The system they work under, particularly now, is difficult and risky. Yes, they usually make a profit, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. The good thing is that our local developers generally want to build something good for the community. Multiple times in meetings, I’ve heard developers say, “I can build that, and I’ll make money, but it’s not what I want to be known for. Building cheap and lowering values is a negative sum game for them.
The system these developers work with is too expensive, takes too long, is too balkanized, too adversarial and is way too uncertain. All of these factors drive up costs, and lots of these costs don’t give value to buyers. Amazingly, SB 1024 makes things much easier and will result in something much worse. It’s proponents actually think that this bill will only make small incremental changes and can’t seem to see what the big deal is. They make the false assumption that if we build more units, more supply will drive prices down and lower prices will lead to greater diversity in towns and cities.
The problem with this approach is that the New York City metropolitan statistical area is 20.2 million people according to the census bureau. So, Greenwich’s 62,000 people represent 0.3% of that population and an even smaller part of the residential units in the NYC MSA. We have essentially insatiable demand for houses. Adding a few hundreds or even thousands of unit in a desirable area in this sea of 20 million potential buyers is not going to satisfy this demand.
21st Century blockbusting
What this bill does is give major financial incentives to developers, and particularly out-of-town developers, that can build big, cheap and fast, to build quick and move onto another town where they aren’t known.
These developers are not going to build affordable units and SB 1024 doesn’t require that they do so. It should really be called the OverDevelopCT bill. These developers are going to build as big as they can, with as many units as they can. The result is likely to be a brief glut of high-end apartments, that instead of renting for $12,000 – $15,000 per month will rent for $9,000 – 12,000 per month, not most peoples idea of affordable apartments.
The one way that the proponents could accomplish their goal would be through the uglification of Greenwich, which I call legal block busting. In this 21st version of blockbusting, the developer goes in and tells all the folks on the block that he’s about to build this big, apartment building, or two or three of them, right next door to them on their block. He points out that once these are completed, the streets are going to be blocked with cars, since under SB 1024 there is little or no onsite parking required under the bill.
While he says that’s the bad news, the good news is if you sell now, I, the developer, can pay you a premium, since I now can build multiple units on your lot in what was a one-family zone. Unfortunately, if you don’t sell to me now, the 50% limit on this type of development is going to kick-in and you’ll be stuck on a congested street, surrounded by over-sized apartment buildings with no ability for you to do the same. Your house is going be worth less, as no one will want to build a nice house in this soon to be congested, neighborhood, so sell now and make more money.
Loss of affordable and historic homes
The other issue is that many of these houses and duplexes that are going to be torn down are presently some of our more affordable units. The effect of this bill would therefore be to decrease the number of affordable units, while creating a glut of high-end units. We are likely to many older, and often historic homes, torn down and see a fall in value of the ones that aren’t torn down. Bottomline, more high-end rentals, fewer moderately priced houses and duplexes, historic homes torn down for new multi-family rentals and more traffic congestion in already congested areas.
Some proponents are calling such visions alarmist, but the economic incentives are in the bill and I don’t see any limitations other than a preliminary injunction from the superior court to temporarily stop this kind of development. The bill gives developers approval as a matter of right and requires development of at least 15 units per acre. I don’t see any legal impediment to dozens of these projects starting up this year.
For alarmist, how about sewer lines and our one sewer plant over-flowing as the bill proposes lower standards for sewer volumes. That I do believe is alarmist, and I don’t think it is likely to happen. In discussions with people in town, we come up with several worse options that this bill would allow, but I really don’t want to publicly disclose these ideas that would cause Greenwich even more problems.
Some reasons we need affordable housing
David Ogilvy, several years ago, when we were on working on a deal together, told me the most important thing is to try to always do what’s best for the town. In the long run everyone is better off. I am a strong believer in more affordable housing. I moved here in 1967 and the town is not what it was then. We are seeing more and more high-end units replacing our more modest homes. Our volunteer fire companies are having trouble finding enough people. The over-scheduling of adults and kids and the lack of really free time for everyone have led to different town.
We are seeing a less diverse range of means, but not along racial and ethnic lines. Check out the United Ways’ just published online 2021 Greenwich Needs Assessment (https://greenwichunitedway.org/needs-assessment). It’s an excellent summary of the issues that are really facing Greenwich. It points out that our minority population is actually up a little.
While we have some very wealthy residents, the United Way has also pointed out that 7% of our residents live below the poverty line and an amazing 22% fall into a group called Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. These are folks who earn more than Federal Poverty Level, but don’t have significant savings and just barely meet their basic needs. They have little money for any emergencies and are unable to handle even a short period of unemployment. In Greenwich, this group is 22% not that far below the state-wide percentage of 27%.
We do have housing for these folks, it’s not always good housing, but people upstate would be surprised that 29% of the residents in “super-rich” Greenwich are struggling to meet even a basic living standard. Many of these folks are the ones that make this town work in town government, local businesses, our charities, religious institutions and volunteering. They are an important part of the town and we need to have affordable housing available for them. They add to the rich fabric of Greenwich.
What is the law now as to affordable housing?
The main statute presently promoting affordable housing in Connecticut is Connecticut General Statute 8-30g. This is the statute that allows developers to appeal denials of affordable developments by local planning and zoning committees, if the town doesn’t have at least 10% affordable housing as defined in the statute. In court, the town can not argue that the development exceeds zoning limitations. The court has to permit the development unless the town can show that the proposed development would endanger, public health, safety, or other matters such as the environment.
The law presently has two problems. First for a development to be considered an affordable development:
(1) 15% of the units must be deed restricted to households earning 60% or less of the area median income (AMI) or state median income (SMI), whichever is less, and
(2) 15% of the units must be deed restricted to households earning 80% or less of the AMI or SMI, whichever is less.
To meet the 80% state median income the renter can’t make more than $42,000 per year and at 80% the lower state-wide income limitation is $56,000. By using 60% and 80% of the state median many projects that would otherwise work in Greenwich don’t generate enough income to be viable commercial developments. These state-wide median based incomes exclude our first-year teachers, firefighters and police officers, since their starting salaries are little above the 80% statewide average.
We should be able to use the local area income, which would allow for much higher rents and make more projects viable. For folks that are resistant to affordable housing, the statewide income standard means that 8-30g has resulted in minimal affordable housing in Greenwich. It’s a feature, not a bug in the law for these folks.
The other problem is that in calculating whether a town has met the affordable housing 10% minimum much of the affordable housing in a town is not counted. The statute only counts (1) government-assisted housing and (2) low-income houses, mobile homes and accessory apartments that are deed restricted as affordable for 40 years.
At the present time 5.3% of our housing qualifies under this restrictive definition. This is 1,371 units out of a total of 25,631 housing units in town. Our Planning and Zoning Commission and Greenwich Communities (formerly called the Housing Authority) are to be congratulated for having this many units that meet the state requirement given the high cost of land in Greenwich.
How do we create more affordable housing?
The high cost of land in Greenwich is the biggest problem to creating more affordable units. The land around the train station and along the Post Road are particularly valuable for commercial businesses. To make units affordable you have to have either, more units per acres, lower land cost, or free land.
Our present affordable housing law, 8-30g, does not do a good job of creating affordable housing. It allows for greater density, but the developer gets 2.3 .regular units for every affordable unit. At the present time we are 1,200 affordable units short under the 10% statutory definition. This means that we would actually need 4,000 units in 8-30g compliant development to net 1.200 affordable units.
Count all affordable housing
To my mind, two things should be done to improve the situation. First, count the affordable housing that every town actually has. I would count all units that meets the 80% local standard should be toward the required percentage. For units that can meet the 50% standard, they should be counted as 1.5 units. This will distinguish towns like Greenwich that a diversity of affordable housing from towns with regulations that prohibit types of housing that would be affordable. This will incentivize town and developers to create more privately funding affordable housing.
All market rate units, whether receiving government assistance or not, should be counted, since some of our rentals in-town actually meet these limits. Also, our accessory apartments, which P&Z just made easier to do, could be built to meet these standards. Property owners that are willing to rent out their properties at these lower limits should get a property tax break.
These affordable units should not need to be deed restricted. The owner should annually certify what the rent is and that it is rented. SB 1024 doesn’t require that the units be rented, so your neighbor can build an apartment in their back yard and deed restrict it, so it’s counted under 8-30g, and use it as guest house. That’s not helping people who are looking for affordable house.
Second, the town should build, or take over, rental housing that is 100% affordable. Why build 2.3 market units just to get one affordable unit. While it would be highly controversial, these units could be built on state or town land saving the cost of the land. A few large developments tucked away to my mind would be a better alternative than lots of mid-sized buildings with one or two affordable units.
For a really controversial proposal, the town could purchase presently existing company housing from the hospital, private schools and other facilities giving these institutions an infusion of cash and us a big boost in affordable housing. (I don’t say it’s likely, but when your write a column or propose legislation you can include anything you want.)
Have the state donate land
We could also get the state to donate the air rights at the Greenwich railroad parking lot and some of the rights-of-way along I-95 for moderate cost housing for local workers that can’t afford the going rates, particularly when they are starting out.
A Housing Trust Fund
Planning & Zoning also has an excellent idea which is to create a not-for-profit Housing Trust Fund to be financed with private money, but available to help assist some public housing projects. Companies could get housing for employees; individuals could get tax deductions and the town could meet its requirement for 10% affordable housing set out in 8-30g.
To be clear there is no 10% goal in the SB 1024, so unless that fails to pass or can be amended to include such a provision, we could still end up with the nightmare of uncontrolled development. This bill has strong support in many cities and some town, which baffles me. Do the local elected officials and town commissions really want to give up control on what can be built in their municipalities.
As I mentioned in my last article this is no time to sit back, if you know someone in these other towns and cities that are supporting, this uncontrolled development, you might give them a call and ask if they know what is likely to happen in their cities and towns.