Condos sell fast as for-sale signs on mansions linger

A Connecticut town — home to some of the country's largest hedge funds — is seeing a pile-up of luxury houses on the market as a real-estate rebound spurs more owners to try to sell

By Bloomberg News

Jul 10, 2015 @ 1:26 pm EST

J. Gregory Raymond/Bloomberg

It took more than two years for Katherine Tenney and her husband to sell their 16,000-square-foot house in Greenwich, Conn. The couple needed far less time to decide that their next home in town would be a condominium.

“The upkeep was exhausting,” Ms. Tenney said of the four-acre (1.6-hectare) property she lived in for 11 years before her grown children moved out. “You get hit every month with your landscaping, pool, electric. Our heating bill for that house was ridiculous.”

Her new 5,000-square-foot (465-square-meter) condo at the Harbor at Greenwich complex is “easier,” she said.

The Tenneys aren't alone in trading a sprawling house for apartment-style living. Condos are making up a larger share of the property market and outselling luxury homes in Greenwich, a suburb about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of Manhattan known for its mansions housing the financial elite.

The town — home to some of the country's largest hedge funds, with residents including Point72 Asset Management's Steve Cohen and Starwood Capital Group Chief Executive Officer Barry Sternlicht — is seeing a pile-up of luxury houses on the market as a real-estate rebound spurs more owners to try to sell. Those who do find buyers often seek something smaller afterward, and are competing with first-time purchasers for Greenwich's more limited condo offerings, said Mark Pruner, a local broker with Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

“A better economy is motivating those two principal condo-buying groups to pull the trigger,” he said. “It's a busy, active market that many people don't know we have.”


Condos accounted for 26% of home sales in Greenwich in the first quarter, the largest market share in five years of record-keeping, according to data from appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and Douglas Elliman. The median price of those deals climbed 11% from a year earlier to $775,000. For single-family houses, the median price fell 18% to $1.78 million.

A report due later this month is expected to show similar trends for the second quarter, said Jonathan Miller, the president of Miller Samuel.

“We're seeing greater acceptance of luxury condominiums as a competitor or alternative to a traditional house,” Mr. Miller said. “The luxury, high-end market is not performing.”

For those houses, the issue is more supply than demand. The number of luxury homes listed for sale in the first quarter more than doubled from a year earlier, while buyer interest in those properties has remained about the same, Mr. Miller said. His firm defines luxury as the top 10% of the market by price.


At the current pace of sales, it would take 4.9 years to absorb Greenwich's inventory of 252 luxury houses on the market at the end of the first quarter, according to Miller Samuel and Douglas Elliman. That compared with 9.9 months for the 102 condos listed, the shortest of any property type.

“The tide is changing,” said Ms. Tenney, who lowered the asking price of her earlier home before finding a buyer. “Nobody wants those huge houses anymore. You look back and there's rooms you never even entered.”

While not stand-alone houses, Greenwich's new condos are still high-end properties that keep with the town's reputation for prosperity. The Tenneys' three-bedroom unit, listed for $3.5 million, spans two floors and includes an office, a two-car garage and a patio overlooking a patch of lawn that will be maintained by the condo association, Katherine Tenney said.

The condo is one of seven planned at the Harbor development, off of Steamboat Road and within half a mile of Greenwich's downtown retail strip and the Metro-North train to Manhattan. Buyers at the Harbor can receive amenities such as room service, car service and dry cleaning from the Delamar Greenwich Harbor hotel across the street, said Michele Tesei, a broker with Houlihan Lawrence.

“The developers saw a niche for people who wanted to downsize, but not necessarily the size of the house,” Ms. Tesei said during a tour of the property. “You're still getting your square footage, you're still getting your space, but you're not maintaining your lawn and you're not maintaining a pool.”


The project is rising on the site of a former parking lot owned by developer Fareri Associates, which, after briefly considering rentals, decided that homeowners who finally sell their large properties would be looking for a new type of place to live, said Jim Carnicelli, president of Gateway Development Group, the project's construction manager.

“We went through a bunch of iterations,” said Mr. Carnicelli. “We knew there would be an empty-nester market. It was a matter of waiting for the right time for it to come to fruition.”

Aberdeen Realty Group made a similar bet in 2012, when it acquired a rental complex of townhomes off Milbank Avenue, and refurbished it into a 17-condo project now called Milbank Court. Homes at the development, where the final two sales will be completed this month, started at $1.8 million for a 2,665-square-foot unit.

Later this month, developer Belpointe expects to begin sales on nine condo units yet to be built on Sound View Drive. The company plans three units per floor in a three-story building, which will also include amenities such as a doorman, concierge and gym, said Brandon Lacoff, managing director.

Prices range from $2.2 million for a 2,088-square-foot apartment on the first floor to $2.95 million for a 2,278-square-foot penthouse, according to sales documents.

The pricing is aimed at the most active parts of the Greenwich sales market — homes under $3 million and properties that are new and require no renovation, said Joanne Mancuso, the Houlihan Lawrence broker marketing the site.

“The timing for this project is perfect,” she said.

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