Wednesday, April 10, 2019

First Quarter 2019 Real Estate Market Reports for New Canaan and all 16 Towns of Fairfield County, Connecticut

New Canaan - Closings are up 20% this quarter. Pending sales are down by the same amount. First quarter sales have dramatically increased for the past 3 years. 42 may be the new normal, up from 20 to 34 in years prior. Average price is down to $1.338 million, about where it was in 2012-2013, and  now equal to Darien. Condo sales, 14% of the market, usually consistent, are down 42% from normal levels of 12 sales. Inventory is level with last year, 301 houses and 41 condos.

Riverside - 7 closings versus a range of 13 to 19 in the last 8 years. Average price of $2.1 million is the low end of an 8 year range of $1.8 to $3.6 million. Inventory is level with last year, 89 houses. Riverside is performing consistently with the larger Greenwich market which is also starting late and also down to an average price point of $2.3 million. 

Rowayton - 11 closings in the quarter, same as last year, within an 8 year range showing between 8 and 15 closings. Prices of $1.17 million are up 12% but sit in the middle of an 8 year range of $960,000 to $1.32 million. 

Stamford -120 closings, down from 153 a year ago. Last year was exceptional and 120 is in the middle of an 8 year range of 93 to 153. Average prices ($565,000) are down for the second year in a row and are the lowest they’ve been in 8 years. Condos ($340,000) are at the high end of an 8 year range between $274,000 and $355,000. There was only 1 house sale over $1.5 million and 3 house sales over $1 million while 2 condos closed over $1 million. 

Weston - 27 sales vs. 23 a year ago and the best year of an 8 year range of 17 to 24. The average price is down to $640,000, the fifth straight year of price decline from a high of $1,015,000 in 2014 and a low of $628,000 in 2012. Sales volume is up despite very low inventory of 140 houses. 

Westport - First thought is "wow". 46 sales versus 84 a year ago, a 45% drop. Westport is struggling with the lowest total in 8 years by a substantial margin and the lowest average price they've seen in 8 years, $1,291,000, a number which has dropped for 4 straight years. The absorption rate is up from 10.2 months a year ago to 11.8 months of inventory now. Note, in the categories below $1.2 million the absorption rate has gone down. 

Wilton - is looking good with a 17% increase in sales, 40 versus 34 a year ago and 15 additional sales pending, same as a year ago, despite a modest rise in inventory (10%) to 208 houses. Those 40 houses account for the second best quarter in 8 years (Each of the last 3 years has been above average.) Prices steadily climbed from $794,000 8 years ago to a peak of $944,000 in 2016 before returning to 2012 levels, currently $768,000. Wilton has much inventory and sales in the $500,000 to $700,000 category with 2 sales over $1.5 million in the quarter (same as last year) and 4 sales between $1.2 and $1.5 million (which is double that of last year). 

Cos Cob - 9 sales in the first quarter is the worst start in 5 years, down from 18 and 14 the previous two years. However, Cos Cob is one of the few towns that experienced an increase in the average sale price, up 4% to $1,520,000 which is an 8-year high. Prior to this year the average price ranged between $1,209,000 and $1,489,000. Cos Cob has one of the lowest absorption rates at only 7.4 months of inventory, down 32% since last year. 

Darien - Steady in sales, 42 is up from 40, and the 3rd best in 8 years, but like her sister New Canaan experiencing strength in the lower price categories bringing the average sale price down 8% to $1,335,000. The hope is that Darien has a late selling season like last year but the fear is that the 37% decrease in pending sales (20) is a harbinger of things to come. 

Easton - The 21 sales versus 23 is unremarkable, as is a 10% increase in average sale price ($605,000). What is worth noting is the 26% decrease in inventory to 76, by far the biggest change in inventory levels in Fairfield County. The steady decrease in Easton's absorption rate (-30%) in a year to 7.7 months of inventory is impressive, and we note they have low absorption rates the top of the Easton market, over $1 million. 

Fairfield - The number of sales has steadily risen in Fairfield for 8 years in a row to 142, up 8%. This year we saw a 5% decrease in average price to $724,000, 3% fewer pending sales, and an 8% increase in inventory. Condo sales also rose from 21 to 26 and now represents 18% of sales. 

Greenwich - They say Greenwich will be the first to come out of the slump. Well, not this quarter. With only 39 sales, down 35% from a total of 60 a year ago, we are looking for good news and not finding it. Average price is down 15% to $2.466 million, pending sales are down 34%, inventory levels are up 10%. The reason is simple: there is far less inventory available in Greenwich at every level under $2 million and 7 fewer sales under $1 million. And, despite dramatic increases in inventory (34 houses) at every level above $4 million we had 11 fewer sales over 4 million than a year ago. The good news in Greenwich is that condo sales are steady at 24 while condo inventory has dropped 9% and the average condo closing has risen 27% to over $1.05 million, a new high water mark. 

Norwalk - The number of houses sold is down a little, 5%, but is down two years in a row and is below the 8 year average. Prices went up a very small amount to $578,000, the highest point in 8 years. Condo prices are also at their highest point in 8 years, now $334,000. Norwalk only saw 2 sales over $1.5 million but the $1.0 to $1.5 million band was up from 1 sale to 7 sales, a 600% bump. The ratio between list and sale price is the highest in Fairfield County, 97.7% of asking, peaking in the categories below $500,000. where they sell at 99% of asking. The greatest number of active homes are in the $600,000 to $800,000 level where the absorption rate is 9.4 months of inventory, down from 12.4 months a year ago. 

Old Greenwich - Up 35% in closings from 14 to 19. Prices unchanged at $2.4 million. Inventory unchanged at 73 homes available. Condo prices and inventory also unchanged with a year ago. The 19 closings are a new 8 year high over a previous range of 9 to 16 sales. The average sale price of $2.4 million over the last three years is also significantly better than the previous five years which ranged from $1.5 million to $2.2 million. 8 pending sales tell us that this energy will continue into the second quarter. Old Greenwich is one of the few towns seeing steadily increasing inventory peaks over the last 3 years, enough to stimulate sales but not enough to disrupt pricing confidence. 

Redding - Down 4 sales to 17 and down 15% in price to $455,000, but poised to make up for it immediately with 17 pending sales, up from 10 a year ago. Inventory is down from 95 to 84. Redding has had 4 solid years previously and we expect a rebound. 

Ridgefield - 48 sales each of the last two years, and about average for the last 8 years. Prices are up 5% to $706,000 while inventory is down 5%. The number of listings in each category is consistent, year to year, while the sales came at the top and bottom of the price range. What is interesting is that condo sales which currently make up 45% of the Ridgefield market are down 26% and prices declined 15% while condo inventory Rose 39% 

Fairfield County - At the end of March the supply of active single family homes was almost identical to the supply at the same time last year. Rowayton and Easton had the greatest price increases while New Canaan, Weston and Wilton saw the largest sales increases.
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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Chairman's View: Cap Town Spending for Three Years (Mar. 28, 2019)

Chairman’s View: Cap town spending for three years

Town income is dependent on real estate values and the taxes they generate. Our revenues currently grow at 1% per year.
I propose that we cap spending at 1.50% per year for three years, beginning now. We must limit our spending growth more closely to our revenue growth. The town budget is growing 1.43% while the school budget grew 1.85% ($1.4 million). My proposal means cutting $340,000 from a $91 million Board of Education budget. This is not a criticism of the school budget or their priorities. It is simply the recognition that 2.8% average annual growth we’ve seen for the last 10 years is unsustainable.
The reputation of top-performing schools causes school-age families to move in. The No. 1 reason people move out is affordability. That is particularly true of our empty-nesters and seniors whose taxes developed the school system that we all currently enjoy. It’s the responsibility of the Town Council to make sure we maintain that balance between excellent schools and long-term affordability. We cannot ignore the effects SALT deductibility, revaluation, and pressures from Hartford have had on property values. We must cut spending growth in all budgeted areas to a level New Canaan can sustain.
New Canaan currently plans capital spending of $17 million, $18 million and $18 million in the next three years while retiring only $11.5 million to $12.4 million of debt per year. Those figures don’t meet the needs of our Police Department or library, but they do include a $500,000 fire rescue truck, $210,000 ambulance, $550,000 school planetarium, $6 million Waveny restoration, $200,000 Irwin House restoration, $250,000 Nature Center restoration and $3.2 million in the selectmen’s budget to buy land for new parking lots. We must get serious about re-prioritizing our capital needs within the $13 million cap. Doing so will result in debt service savings of $282,529, $426,047 and $842,239 in the next three years and is necessary if we are to decrease debt service toward the 10% guideline set by the Board of Finance in the fall of 2018. If we don’t limit new capital spending below $13 million, then we will never reach the 10% target.
Two years ago, New Canaan and Darien both claimed mill rates in the 16s. This year, Darien has a mill rate of 16.08 while New Canaan’s will grow from 16.96 to 18.11 and possibly exceed 19 in two years. We need the mill rate to return to levels near that of Darien and Westport, our closest rivals. I am confident that with proper planning we can do this while maintaining school excellence and the current level of services. And, as a Realtor, I am confident that real estate prices will recover and when they do we will be able ease the caps.
John Engel is chairman of the Town Council. The views expressed in this column are those of the chairman, not necessarily the entire council.

Chairman's View: New Canaan's Fourth Estate (November 15, 2018)

Op-Ed: New Canaan’s Fourth Estate

We live in challenging times for news. The Internet and the information age, professional pundits, fake news and 24-hour news cycles disrupted the old paradigm of trust and integrity in news organizations. Morley Safer of ‘60 Minutes’ said, “So much crap passes as information that not only does the audience sometimes miss the distinction between news and crap, the editors sometimes miss the distinction.”
To be a successful editor you not only have to find the story, you have to get it right. People have to want to read it, and they must trust it. We have been very lucky with the New Canaan Advertiser. As an essential source for all aspects of local news, the Advertiser has thrived under Greg Reilly’s editorial leadership.
For almost 100 years the New Canaan Advertiser was the only source for local news. No longer. To get our attention and break through the clutter of available news sources requires the skills of a great editor. Greg Reilly has lead with trust and integrity throughout his tenure at the Advertiser. 
Greg comes by it honestly. He has been a reporter, editor or publisher since high school. He studied Journalism at Syracuse University and when he saw a need he created New Canaan Matters. He honed his craft running the Stratford Star before returning to run our beloved New Canaan Advertiser with great distinction for the past three and a half years.
Greg has in many ways been the voice of New Canaan. As our editor, he has been our chief storyteller, a steward of our town culture, and a voice of the people –– using his power as editor for checks and balances with Town leaders. He is often the last one in the room late at night when an important public meeting takes place –– asking tough questions and getting the story right before returning to his desk to put the weekly edition to bed.
Greg has never been afraid to take a position, but he has never been a contrarian. His great gift, as evidenced by his hosting the packed Friday morning Advertiser Coffee, has been listening to the people. He has promoted awareness of every important organization in town. He has moderated debates. He has been a pillar of the community. 
Greg Reilly has held himself to the highest standards of journalism, held people to account and at all times he has embodied and celebrated what is best about New Canaan — Community. And we are better because he was here for a time.

Chairman's View: Advertiser, Hersam's Served New Canaan for a Century (Nov. 21, 2018)

Op-Ed: Advertiser, Hersams served New Canaan for a century

‘A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself’
— Arthur Miller
The New Canaan Advertiser has certainly come to embody that ideal. We are a community talking to itself through our local newspaper. Whether you see evidence of that at the Friday morning coffees, or in our spirited letters to the editor, in the many events and vigils and gatherings has promoted in the paper throughout our town, and in the editorials, the New Canaan Advertiser is part of the essential fabric of our town.
That is why I did not want to let this moment pass without recognizing the soul of a paper which has become the soul of our town, to take just one a moment during this period of transition to new ownership, and recognize the Hersam Family for their success and steadfast stewardship of a newspaper that has not only reflected but formed the soul of our community for well over a century. Since John E. Hersam’s single sheet in 1908 and his motto, “Grow or Go” both this town and our paper have grown beyond his wildest expectations.
Consider the changes that the Hersams have navigated. We may have had a railroad when the Hersams started this paper, but we were nothing special, just another simple shoe-manufacturing town connected to New York City by a branch of the main railroad. No port, no highway. Exactly one hundred years after the Advertiser started (2008) New Canaan would claim the highest median family income in the country, the best public school system in the state and 3rd best in the nation. So much has changed and yet since 1919 we still carol on Gods Acre every year, Rick Franco still shovels his own sidewalk and we all look for the Advertiser every Thursday. 
The Internet disrupted the news business and newspapers in particular, and yet New Canaan has always relied on the Advertiser as the best and most consistent source for local sports reporting. How many of us scan the pages each week for a mention of our children and the familiar names of our friends? So too for most of our lives we’ve relied on other sections School, Obituaries, Opinion, Around Town, Arts, Real Estate and Classifieds as the only way to really understand our community.
In this town you probably aren’t really dead until the Advertiser prints your obituary and the community that loved you can appreciate you and mourn your passing. Your Advertiser editorials have been our collective conscience, prodding us to action for over a century.
We are a community talking to itself and The New Canaan Advertiser, now in its 110th year is by any standard not just a good newspaper but an excellent one, both in the quality and depth of its reporting, the range of topics it covers, and the breadth of its influence on our town.
Thank you Hersam Family for an excellent first 110 years of the New Canaan Advertiser, and we wish the Hearst organization every success in following your example.

Chairman's View: Picking Priorities (Dec. 6, 2018)

Chairman’s View: Picking priorities

“I do have to pick my priorities. Nobody can do everything.” — Ray Kurzweil
We held the first joint offsite meeting among the four funding bodies (Board of Selectmen, Town Council, Board of Education, Board of Finance) in over 10 years, an important step toward approaching our town and school budgets with a spirit of cooperation.
Critical takeaways: 10 of us think that the budget is driven by the Board of Finance, 10 believe we all share it, and nine votes were scattered among Town Council, Board of Education and Board of Selectmen. It’s a shared responsibility but clearly, the BOF is driving the bus. Most of us believe that the budget should come in at an increase of between 0% and 1% this year, a big change since last year’s debates between 2% and 3.5%. We agreed a joint meeting should bookend the budget process every year: November and May. And, support was nearly unanimous for conducting a professional town-wide survey.
We had our last forum on town buildings in April. It is time to listen again. The Town Council is scheduling a public hearing for Wednesday, Jan. 9, to solicit input from the public and discuss our buildings within the context of the 5-year Capital Plan. Why is it necessary and why now? In April the focus was on preservation of important buildings and the need to decrease building expenses. There have been several articles over the last six months floating different possibilities for the Library, the repurposing or demolishing of Irwin House, purchasing the Covia Building, renovating the old Police Station (or repurposing it as housing), selling the Vine Cottage and renting the Outback. These options are interrelated and now we know the costs. Some of these initiatives should be put in the Capital Plan and others removed. We need to get serious and specific about our priorities and make sure they are accurately reflected in the Capital Plan and this year’s budget, reflecting the towns people’s appetite.
The Library was put in the 5-Year Capital Plan for $5 million by First Selectman Robert Mallozzi. It would help the Library board secure additional private funding and allow them to “think big” if we put the Library in the plan for $10 million. That is incredibly hard to do during the revaluation, but if we were to plan for a matching gift, 2-1 behind private donations, and stretch that commitment from three years to potentially five years it works within current Board of Finance guidance. I believe a $10 million earmark has the support from the majority of the selectmen and Town Council. If the Library cannot raise $20 million then Town Hall is not committed. But, by signaling a cap of $5 million in the capital plan, the Board of Finance is essentially killing the project. If you feel strongly that a new library will be transformational to the health of our downtown, let the Town Council and Board of Finance know.

Chairman's View: Revaluation (Dec. 20, 2018)

Chairman’s View: Revaluation

New Canaan’s real estate grand list fell by $570 million (7.15%) compared to 2017.In the recent revaluation:
  • 4,861 parcels saw average decreases of 11%.
  • 2,308 saw average increases of 13%.
  • For homes worth more than $3 million, the average decrease was 14%.
  • For $2 million to $3 million homes, the average decrease was 10%.
  • For $1 million to $2 million homes, the average decrease was 7%.
Homes less than $1 million saw an average increase of 1%. Multifamily homes decreased 4%. Commercial properties increased an average of 13%. Condominiums increased 9%. 
We will not know what the new mill rate is and the new taxes are until the MuniVal consultation period is complete (this week and first week of January), then the Board of Assessment appeals process is complete (February) and then the (town and school) budget process ends with the Town Council vote April 4, 2019. 
If your revaluation is factually wrong then schedule a meeting this week for early January with MuniVal, the revaluation company and correct the facts (203-292-5500 or If unsuccessful, then you must appeal in person to the Board of Assessment Appeals with facts about your house and comparable sales that occurred between Oct 1, 2017 and Oct 1, 2018. Appointments are given February 1 to 20 and the appeals take place in March. Sales that fall outside of that 1-year window are considered but carry less weight. 
After the 2013 revaluation the Board of Assessment Appeals increased two assessments and reduced 187 of the 285 appeals filed. Some homeowners appeal alone, others take a Realtor or an attorney. Some attorneys charge by the hour. Others work on contingency, taking a percentage of a successful appeal. If an appeal process is unsuccessful, the recourse is a lawsuit. Five years ago, 13 homeowners filed lawsuits against the town. Two were subsequently withdrawn. It takes three or four years to resolve a lawsuit.
Assuming health care rises 5%, town salaries rise 2.8%, school salaries 2.2% and $2.5 million comes from the general fund I expect expenses to increase 1.47% with “level services” and 1.86% if we follow Board of Finance guidance. Therefore, the mill rate announced in May will be between 18.61 and 18.69. That’s up 10% from 16.96.  A homeowner’s revaluation would have to decrease 9% in order to see a drop in taxes. To calculate your 2019 taxes multiply .01862 by your new valuation. (The spreadsheet is posted at
Darien is revaluing now. Their assessor predicted most revaluations within 3% or 4% of their previous valuation. He expects the Darien mill rate to remain close to their current 16.08 rate. Wilton, now at 28.19, will send out revaluation letters in early January. Ridgefield’s grand list rose one half of one percent in their February 2018 revaluation, a 28.78 mill rate. Westport’s mill rate has been flat at 16.86 for 2 years and they won’t revalue until 2020. New Canaan experienced a 3% drop in the 2013 (reval) grand list but gained 1% in most years since (up $84 million, $85 million, $81 million, then $51 million in 2017).

Chairman's View: 11 Resolutions for 2019 (Dec. 31, 2018)

Chairman’s View: 11 resolutions for 2019

When Advertiser reporter Grace Duffield asked for a New Canaan resolution, I could hardly stop at one. Here’s 10 more. We have much to do in 2019.
  1. Bike paths from New Canaan to the Darien beaches. Darien suggested this. Get state permission to paint the bike stripe down South Avenue. What are we waiting for? Also contract to add bike rental racks at Waveny, Irwin Park, Waveny Park, Kiwanis Park, the Glass House and Grace Farms. Stamford is offering bike rentals downtown.
  2. Recycling: Let’s get serious. New Canaan now pays $197,000 to sort garbage, up 5 times, and this is just the beginning. We must separate glass from plastic from garbage. Ban supermarket plastic bags. Reuse and recycle paper bags.
  3. Caffeine & Carburetors: Bring it downtown permanently. Ask all stores to open those mornings. Help wanted in stores? Tell us what you need. We all volunteer to help.
  4. It’s time to paint the big Waveny water tower and take the unused tower down. It’s metal, so put a massive New Canaan Rams  car magnet on it. Change it periodically. Special messages for Darien games.
  5. Resolve to post more positively, not negatively, on social media with constructive ideas and thanks. The rest of the world is watching.
  6. No more stolen cars. Resolution for everybody to get in the habit of taking their keys with them. Strengthen neighborhood watch. Work together to watch out for each other.
  7. We have new Board of Education leadership. With this change I hope to see the board present a budget within Board of Finance guidance instead of passing the Superintendent’s budget without challenge and then fighting with town government for status quo. Change the paradigm.
  8. The end of political yard signs. We can’t ban them. We need a gentleman’s agreement. All it takes is the willingness of the two parties. If a candidate sees he is the only one littering the town with signs for a month he won’t do it.
  9. The end of real estate signs in residential neighborhoods. P&Z promised they would address this. All other commercial signs are banned so why is real estate the lone exception? This one is obvious.
  10. I want preservationists to objectively rate our buildings and work with the town on a long-term public private plan instead of criticizing each new proposal one at a time.  What restrictions should be put on the sale of Vine Cottage, the Playhouse, the Police Station? Is the Library really sacred? It’s time to make choices. How can we sustain rentable assets like Gores Pavilion, Vine and Waveny as long-term break-even propositions?
  11. High speed electric car charging stations downtown? This initiative is aimed at tourists since residents charge at home. Encourage Merritt Parkway transients to shop or eat here while charging. Our Parking Commission should identify ideal locations, both public and private, and market their existence online.