Is posh Greenwich, CT in a real estate slump?

400 SOUND BEACH AVENUE: A historic, six-bedroom Victorian house in Old Greenwich currently on the market for $2.395 million. 

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Greenwich is known as a lush, idyllic enclave, close to New York City and to the countryside and beaches, a rarefied neighborhood that, according to a Greenwich Time, has the twelfth priciest real estate market in the nation.

But those stratospheric prices may have to start coming down soon: Bloomberg reports that sales in the posh, historic town 30 miles from Manhattan have slowed way down. Appraisal firm Miller Samuel recently released a report that shows the number of sales that closed in Greenwich has declined over 18 percent since this time last year; closings on condos and luxury properties are down significantly as well.

Back in 2007, New York magazine covered a Greenwich market that was seeing excess inventory of new homes that would cost between $2 and $25 million, though the worry hadn't set in yet; these properties were expected to lure ex-Manhattanites seeking luxury, greenspace, and excellent schools for their children, as well as appeal to employees of the many hedge funds that had set up shop in the area.

David Haffenreffer, manager of Houlihan Lawrence's Greenwich branch, says all of that still stands. "Greenwich is a gold standard town," he says. "You have great parks, it's close to New York, there's great shopping and dining, and a great school system, so it holds a lot of value over time." 

So what happened? Some attribute the decline to the state’s steep property taxes, which the Hartford Courant estimates are the sixth highest in the country. (Neighboring Westchester County's are even higher, though.) Another hypothesis is—believe it or not—lower salaries in the financial sector, which in the wake of the recession may have discouraged Wall Streeters from investing in Greenwich properties. 

Haffenreffer also emphasizes the importance of sellers pricing their homes correctly, citing studies that indicate when listings require just one price reduction, it can extend the amount of time a property is on the market by over a year. "This is not the type of market where you can be fishing for a particular price," he advises. "You have to position your listing in a way so that your house can shine against the competition and make it a clear choice for a buyer when they come into the market."

Another reason for the sales slump could have to do with that much-maligned group, the millennials. According to NPR, young people are pushing urbanization throughout the U.S. in their quest for quick commutes and proximity to amenities like bars, restaurants, and retail. Living in Greenwich, however, entails a bit of a journey to jobs in the city—it can take between 40 to 60 minutes to reach Grand Central—and a sleepier pace of life, particularly in its back-country submarket, which offers bucolic beauty but also isolation. Last year, Greenwich Time reported that this neighborhood in particular was struggling with a lack of interest from buyers. 

Millennial buyers do often prefer to put off a move to the suburbs for longer than previous generations, Haffenreffer acknowledges, but at the same time, the market for starter homes in Greenwich costing up to $2 million remains hot:  "People are getting into bidding wars, and it's hard to find a house because there's so much activity going on in that area. The pending deals in that price range are up more than 80 percent compared to a year ago," he says.

Overall, though, Haffenreffer thinks now is a good time to buy in Greenwich. "The market we’re in could be construed as an opportune time for buyers to be here in an effort to find deals in town. Inventory is up 8 percent, which is good in regards to the fact that buyers have a lot to choose from," he says. 

And for New Yorkers ready to relocate, Greenwich has plenty of vibrant corners, he adds, that are walkable and convenient to the train. "New Yorkers like to move to smaller lot areas like Cos Cob, Riverside, and Old Greenwich, where there's a real, bona fide sense of community," Haffenreffer says. "There's that interactivity that they’re used to having in NYC that helps them through that move that, if you're coming from Manhattan, probably feels like going to the moon." 


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