Though the jet cost $3 million, the Houston Chronicle’s L.M. Sixel reports, it’s cheaper than hiring local lawyers, and even less expensive than relocating the Texas lawyers with business in Silicon Valley to the area.
“The young people that we want to hire out there have high expectations that are hard to meet,” Bruce Patterson, a partner at the firm, told The New York Times. “Rent is so high they can’t even afford a car.”
According to Zillow, the median rent in San Francisco is $4,450, while the median home price is just under $1.2 million. Rent in San Jose, a nearby city popular among Silicon Valley workers, while lower, is still more than double the median rent in Houston.
Each flight for the firm costs about $1,900 a passenger — adding up to $2,500 an hour in operating costs — but since the lawyers are working in-flight, the three-to-four-hour ride is billable, the Chronicle described Todd Patterson, a managing partner, as saying. Plus, private flights protect any confidential work and save the firm’s lawyers about 36 collective hours they would spend arriving early, waiting in security, and checking bags on a commercial flight.
The firm says it’s “still able to offer companies and inventors lower costs because most of the patent work is done in Houston, where commercial real estate is 43% cheaper, salaries 52% lower, and competition for technical talent far less fierce,” according to Sixel, who rode on the jet last summer while reporting the story.
“We fly it full,” Patterson said. “It’s not a luxury item.”
It’s also “a selling point to recruit young lawyers” who want to work with top tech companies but can’t afford Silicon Valley’s cost of living, Sixel reported. The firm’s frequent visits to California have also brought in new clients including Intuit, Western Digital, and Cavendish Kinetics.
Perhaps some companies looking for talent in Los Angeles, Silicon Valley’s neighbor to the south, could benefit from this strategy.
A report from the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Business Council published earlier this year found that exorbitant housing costs in Los Angeles were inhibiting employers from attracting “high performers” or top talent to their companies.
About 60% of the employers surveyed said Los Angeles’ high cost of living affects employee retention, with 75% naming housing costs as a specific concern. And nearly all said they viewed high housing costs as a barrier to hiring new mid- and upper-level employees.
Here’s what you DON’T want to say next spring: “I wish I’d taken care of that in the fall!” To avoid giving yourself a dope-slap a few months from now, follow this fall fix-it checklist.
The last of the leaves – Promise yourself not to put away the rake and the leaf blower until all the leaves have fallen from your trees. It’s tempting to allow the final leaves to form a carpet over your lawn, but even though grass “rests” over the winter, it still reaps benefits from sunlight. A final raking now will pay dividends in the spring when your lawn comes back fresh, green and perky.
Buzz cut – Okay, the lawn doesn’t need that “jar head” look, but a final trim is a good idea. Set the blades to cut the grass to a height of 1.5″ to 2″. While you’re at it – and if the rake is still handy and your back can stand it – rake off that dry tangle of “thatch” one last time.
Can’t take no mow – When you decide you’ve run the mower for the last time, carry out a few maintenance must-do’s before you put it to bed. Run the engine until the gas tank is empty. Why? Because gasoline that is allowed to sit in your mower over the winter will become gummy, making it much harder to start in the spring. Slightly less important but still a good idea: drain the oil reservoir and fill with fresh oil.
Getting pruney – If your deciduous trees and fall flowering shrubs are beginning to get out of hand, now is a good time to prune them, if you haven’t done so already. It’s better not to prune evergreens or spring-flowering plants in the fall.
It’s for the birds – Don’t leave it too late to hang your bird feeders and get them filled with seed. Establish your yard as a feeding station early in the season and you’ll enjoy flying visitors all winter. If you’re using an established feeder, be sure to clean it out thoroughly before filling. Mold and debris need to be completely removed to avoid contaminating the new chow. There are some excellent bird feeders available now, if you’re in the market for a new one.
Put away the toys – If you love gardening and landscaping, then tools are your toys. Admit it: you treat yourself to a new one from time to time! It’s just about time to put the tools away until the spring, but before you do, take a few minutes to give them the once over. Knock off crusted dirt and wipe clean. Using a cloth, lightly coat the metal parts with vegetable oil and wooden handles with linseed oil. A good tip: Thoroughly wipe the handles afterwards to prevent them getting sticky during the winter. I found a really comprehensive online article with full details on cleaning and caring for every type of garden tool. The site is http://www.bmi.net/roseguy/gtcare.html.
Avoid the hose-cicle! – Don’t forget the garden hose. Disconnect it from the spigot and try to drain out as much water from the hose as possible. Water expands when it freezes, and your hose is likely to split if you leave it outside with water still in it. Ideally, put your hose on a reel and store it in a garage or shed. Once under cover, hanging the hose reel on the wall or placing it on a bench is preferable to leaving it on the floor.
Houzz at a Glance Who lives here: A professional couple and their young daughter Size: 2,040 square feet (189.5 square meters) Location: Kensington, Maryland Architect:Lou Balodemas
After living in an apartment in Washington, D.C., for many years, the homeowners were looking for a house that would reflect their love of midcentury modern design. After finding the 1951 rambler, pictured below, in a D.C. suburb, they enlisted architect Lou Balodemas to transform it into their dream midcentury-inspired home. The key was a new butterfly roof, which gives the home uplifting charm right from the get-go.
AFTER: “The profile of the original modest rambler remains evident in this renovation,” Balodemas says. The new front porch is marked by a butterfly-shaped roof chosen for its welcoming character. The addition takes advantage of a side-lot line that flares toward the street, increasing the presence of the south-facing facade. The design of the facades is a study in balancing the existing brick structure with the addition, which is clad in rich, modern ATAS metal siding and cedar. V-shaped steel siding was used for texture on the majority of the new walls, creating varying vertical bands of light and shadow.
The new kitchen at the front of house has large windows overlooking the yard. “The homeowners had a lot to do with the design and paint colors,” Balodemas says. The upper cabinets, floating shelves and window trim are made of clear vertical-grain Douglas fir; the lower cabinets are painted gray.
Countertops: Marmara marble; pendant lights: Artemide
In the living room, on the other side of the foyer, the butterfly roof drives exterior views upward and captures plentiful daylight. A fireplace was removed, as the homeowners said they would never use it and wanted the wall space instead.
Wall unit: vintage Hans Wegner, homeowners’ own; large console: West Elm; coffee table and side tables: Blu Dot; flooring: red oak; rug and clock: homeowners’ own: accent wall paint: Normandy, Benjamin Moore
AFTER: The remodeled exterior continues the material juxtaposition of existing brick (painted gray), steel and cedar. “The metal has a V-groove that makes the surfaces catch light at different angles,” Balodemas says.
In a further sign that the housing market continues to strengthen, builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes rose two points in May to a level of 70 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). This is the second highest HMI reading since the downturn.
The HMI measure of future sales conditions reached its highest level since June 2005, a sign of growing consumer confidence in the new home market. Especially as existing home inventory remains tight, we can expect increased demand for new construction moving forward. Builders, however, continue to deal with shortages of lots and labor and increasing building material costs.
Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for 30 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.
Two of the three HMI components registered gains in May. The index charting sales expectations in the next six months jumped four points to 79 while the index gauging current sales conditions increased two points to 76. Meanwhile, the component measuring buyer traffic edged one point down to 51.
The three-month moving averages for HMI scores posted gains in three out of the four regions. The Northeast and South each registered three-point gains to 49 and 71, respectively, while the West rose one point to 78. The Midwest was unchanged at 68.
The National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) Remodeling Market Index (RMI) dropped 4 points to 53 from the previous quarter, but remained above the breakeven point of 50, which indicates that more remodelers report activity is higher (compared to the prior quarter) than report activity is lower. Although the RMI declined, it is consistent with levels seen in the first half of 2016. The RMI has been at or above 50 for 15 consecutive quarters (Figure 1).
The overall RMI is an average of two main sub-indices, one that tracks current market conditions and another tracking future market conditions. In the fourth quarter, the current market conditions index dropped 3 points to 53, but is still consistent with readings from earlier this year (Figure 2). Among its components, major additions and alterations dropped one point to 53, demand for smaller remodeling projects decreased four points to 52, and the home maintenance and repair component declined by five points to 54.
The future market indicators decreased six points to 52, which also marks a return to levels seen earlier this year (Figure 3). Among its four components, calls for bids and appointments for proposals fell to 49 and 54, respectively, the backlog of remodeling jobs dropped three points to 55, and the amount of work committed declined five points to 50.
The RMI level is in line with the NAHB’s remodeling forecast, which predicts that remodeling activity will grow at a moderate pace of 1 to 2% annually over the next two years. For more information about remodeling, including detail tables of this quarter’s results, visit nahb.org/rmi.
An NAHB study shows that, on average, regulations imposed by government at all levels account for 24.3 percent of the final price of a new single-family home built for sale. Three-fifths of this—14.6 percent of the final house price—is due to a higher price for a finished lot resulting from regulations imposed during the lot’s development. The other two-fifths—9.7 percent of the house price—is the result of costs incurred by the builder after purchasing the finished lot.
NAHB’s previous 2011 estimates were fairly similar, showing that regulation on average accounted for a quarter of a home’s price. However, the price of new homes increased substantially in the interim. Applying percentages from NAHB’s studies to Census data on new home prices produces an estimate that regulatory costs in an average home built for sale went from $65,224 to $84,671—a 29.8 percent increase during the roughly five-year span between NAHB’s 2011 and 2016 estimates.
In comparison, during that time, disposable income per capita in the U.S. increased by 14.4 percent. In other words, the cost of regulation in the price of a new home is rising more than twice as fast as the average American’s ability to pay for it.
The above estimates are based largely on questions included in the survey for the March 2016 NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, combined with long-run assumptions about average construction times, interest rates, profit margins, etc. The survey questionnaire and an appendix describing each additional assumption and the data on which it’s based can be found in the full study. The full study also contains substantial additional detail on the different types of regulatory costs and where and how they impact the development-construction process.
The President-elect’s ambitious proposal relies on private financing, but the plan has its critics.
According to President-elect Donald Trump, the answer is yes. You can get $1 trillion in infrastructure using a “revenue neutral” model of private financing that won’t burden government budgets.
The declining state of America’s infrastructure has long been a major issue for both Democrats and Republicans, but the parties have disagreed about how to pay for what the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has identified as a $3.6 trillion investment gap.
Trump’s senior policy advisers say they have an answer. In late October, Wilbur Ross, a private equity investor, and Peter Navarro, a University at California, Irvine business professor, released a detailed plan for Trump’s vision on infrastructure, which calls for investment in transportation, clean water, the electricity grid, telecommunications, security infrastructure, and “other pressing domestic needs.” Trump’s vision relies heavily on private companies to make American infrastructure great again.
To finance $1 trillion dollars worth of new infrastructure, the Trump plan would entice private companies to invest $167 billion of their own equity into projects. In return, these companies would get a tax incentive equal to 82% of that equity investment, or roughly $137 million in government tax breaks. Companies could then leverage their initial equity investment and tax credit financing to borrow more money on private financial markets, where interest rates are at historic lows. “With interest rates so low, this has got to be the best time from a break-even point of view, from a societal point of view,” Ross told Yahoo! Finance.
In addition, companies would be allowed to receive revenue—in the form of tolls or fees from users of this infrastructure—in order to offset their costs and generate profits.
The Trump plan hopes to pay for the financial burden of those government tax credits in two ways: First, through the increased tax revenue that would come from the wage income of construction workers and others building the projects; and second, from the taxes that would be paid on the increased revenues of the companies contracted to do the work. In other words, the income tax of workers and the profits made from fees collected from users of the infrastructure would offset the lost tax revenue from government tax credits.
Creating a deficit-neutral infrastructure plan is nothing new. In 2015, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) championed a bill calling for a $478 billion investment over six years without increasing the deficit. Funding relied on closing corporate tax breaks that allow corporations to stash money overseas. That bill was blocked by the Republican Senate.
Public-private partnerships are common in complex infrastructure projects, but what’s unusual about Trump’s plan is the extent to which private companies would take over the entirety of projects. Private entities, which are beholden to corporate revenue requirements, would be put in charge of public sphere entities. Navarro, responding to that potential criticism, said in an interviewwith Yahoo! Finance that Trump’s “form of financing doesn’t rule out the government managing the whole thing after it’s built. This is not like the prison thing.” (Stock prices of for-profit prison companies, meanwhile, are on the rise with Trump’s win.)
How important is it to close the infrastructure investment gap? The ASCE’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave the country a D+ grade. The next report card is being prepped for release in March 2017. “From ACSE’s perspective, clearly there’s a role for the private sector in infrastructure development, and it’s already been involved for a long time,” says Brian T. Pallasch, managing director of Government Relations and Infrastructure Initiatives at the society. “We still have a bit of uncertainty as to what [private investment] means in the Trump administration’s proposed perspective. They clearly want private investment in infrastructure. When you get the private sector involved in infrastructure, there is going to need to be a rate of return for them to make money. Historically, municipal infrastructure hasn’t had private investors because there hasn’t been a rate of return. How does that solve itself?”
How, for example, might you make the business case for a profit-driven private company to invest in the municipal water supply in Flint, Mich.? The answer may lie in increased fees for users of that service. “We feel very strongly that users of infrastructure should pay for it. That principal is one we support,” Pallasch says. That said, he notes the need to be realistic about the financial burden certain fees could cause. “The idea of raising water rates is a struggle for many municipalities where you have low-income households. We’ve been talking to colleagues in the water world about how do you set up programs where you raise rates and it allows subsidization of lower income residents?”
As for water, the Trump plan suggests tripling funding for state revolving loan fund programs, which supply low cost financing to municipalities, but it does not identify where those increased funds would come from.
Critics of revenue-neutral plans such as these say that what would be saved on the front end will get paid for on the back end in the form of tolls and increased fees for users. In general, “revenue neutral tax proposals by definition create winners and losers,” economist Thomas L. Hungerford wrote last year in an op-ed. “The winners would pay less in taxes and the losers would pay more in taxes. The losers tend to be highly concentrated in certain income groups and business sectors, essentially becoming special interests.”
Some economists believe the Trump plan to use tax revenues to offset costs is overly ambitious. It assumes that the income tax revenue generated from construction and other contract workers on these projects will be in addition to existing tax revenue. As Alan Cole, an economist at the independent Tax Foundation, told the Washington Post, the plan overinflates the potential revenue because it assumes workers on these projects were previously unemployed or not already contributing to income tax revenue. (This plan also means that income tax revenue would be diverted from other funding needs to underwrite infrastructure.)
Cole noted, too, that Americans would ultimately foot the bill for these new projects, not only in user fees. “Maintenance and new construction would only occur in communities where it is urgently needed if private investors were convinced users could afford to pay,” he told The Washington Post. And if, as Navarro proposed in his Yahoo! Finance interview, the government takes over the projects once built, then the government would be on the hook for long-term care and maintenance.
Indeed, having so much private investment could weight projects to wealthier demographics. “Under Trump’s plan, poorer communities that need the new projects and repairs the most would get the least attention,” writes Jeff Spross, business and economic correspondent for The Week.
There’s also concern that Trump’s infrastructure plan doesn’t work in tandem with his other proposed policy changes, such as tax cuts for the wealthy. “He’s right that borrowing to invest in infrastructure makes sense in times like these when interest rates are low,” the editors of The New York Timeswrite. “But combined with his other plans, Mr. Trump’s proposed borrowing would do severe fiscal damage.”
Overall, the current Trump plan strongly focuses on traditional “horizontal” infrastructure needs—surface roads, pipelines, water distribution. Besides a call to modernize America’s airports, the infrastructure of buildings and other public spaces isn’t explicitly mentioned. The ACSE, meanwhile, categorizes schools, public parks, and recreation among the critical infrastructure needs in its report card.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has consistently lobbied the government to expand its view of infrastructure. “One of the things that we’ve communicated to presidential transition teams in the past, and will continue to do, is to remember that infrastructure is more than roads and bridges; it’s also schools and libraries and buildings,” says Andrew Goldberg, Assoc. AIA, the Institute’s managing director of government relations and advocacy. “It’s not just the infrastructure that moves people and things, it’s also what happens once you get there. Infrastructure was the first policy related item that Trump mentioned in his victory speech, and I think that there is a strong opportunity coming into next year for some serious work. It will be important to speak to the importance of the built environment and the community assets in addition to ‘traditional’ infrastructure.”
The common questions many first-time buyers ask are now answered.
Purchasing a home and conquering financial responsibility is a goal for many people. But making this leap to homeownership is a big step, and it’s one that should be taken with careful consideration. Let’s face it, finding a home and securing a mortgage isn’t a walk in the park — and certainly nothing like signing a simple rental agreement. You’ve probably encountered confusing jargon such as “points,” “preapproval,” and “prequalification,” and funny names like Fannie Mae. Making sense of everything can leave you on the verge of frustration, but don’t worry — this is a completely normal feeling.
To help you demystify the process and get the most out of your first mortgage, we’ve asked some finance experts about things to consider before applying, some common points of confusion, and a few handy tips to help you understand the basics of mortgages.
What’s your best advice to a first-time homebuyer?
“Talk to a local mortgage banker that you’re comfortable with! There are some great mortgage bankers willing to help, so you shouldn’t waste your time with someone who doesn’t make you feel comfortable with the process. Explain what you’re looking to do and what your ideal home-buying situation is. The right mortgage banker will customize your home loan to your specific scenario. Make sure they explain all the costs ahead of time, so that you know exactly what to expect once you get a purchase contract and start the mortgage process.” — Nick Magiera of Magiera Team of LeaderOne Financial
What should buyers be prepared for when applying for a loan?
“Every mortgage situation is different, so there’s really not a one-size-fits-all list of requirements. I recommend that you contact a mortgage banker that you know, like, and trust. If you don’t know any mortgage bankers, then I recommend that you choose a mortgage banker that your real estate agent suggests you work with. Your real estate agent wants you to have a smooth transaction, so they will only send you to mortgage bankers that they trust. A great mortgage banker will then walk you through the process and customize the mortgage around your specific scenario.” — Nick Magiera of Magiera Team of LeaderOne Financial
“There are a few things to get squared away before applying for a loan: 1. Cash for a down payment. Save money/acquire money for a down payment and closing costs. 2. A good working knowledge of your personal finances. Create a budget of your future expenses, as if you own the house, and make sure you can afford it. A good rule of thumb is that your mortgage should not exceed 30% of your take-home income. 3. A general idea of the price range of homes you are interested in. Research potential homes through a local Realtor or at Trulia.com. Compare by looking at real estate taxes, neighborhood statistics, and other criteria. Take your time! Your house may be the largest purchase in your life.” — Scott Bilker of DebtSmart
What is the value in getting preapproved or prequalified for a mortgage?
“It gives homebuyers an edge against competing offers. If a seller sees two offers and one has already been approved, then that is often the one that they go with, as there is less risk for them.” — Tracie Fobes, Penny Pinchin’ Mom
“First off, there is a difference between preapproved and prequalified. Prequalifying means you have done an initial lender screening. However, preapproval is the next step in the process. You have to give the bank many more documents like you’re applying for the mortgage. It’s worth doing because you will get a preapproval letter from the bank, and this will show sellers and real estate agents that you’re a serious buyer. It will also give you a better idea of which homes you can afford. Additionally, you will be able to act quickly once you find that perfect place without having to then seek out financing.” — Scott Bilker of DebtSmart
What range of rates should a first-time homebuyer expect with either a poor credit score or a strong credit score?
“On a conventional loan (Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac), the difference in price between a poor credit score (620) and a strong credit score (740-plus) could be as much as 3.0 points in fees, or 0.75 to 1.25% in interest rate. On an FHA or VA loan, the price difference may be up to 0.75 in points in fees or 0.125 to 0.250% in interest rate.” — Cathy Blocker, EVP, Production Operations of Guild Mortgage Company
“There is not a single universal standard. Lenders determine what kind of risk premium it will add to a loan based on your credit history and other information presented in a loan application. You can’t take a lender’s advertised interest rate for its best-qualified borrowers and tack on a set premium because you’re a C credit instead of an A credit (A credit being the least amount of risk).” — Nick Magiera of Magiera Team of LeaderOne Financial
What are some tips for paying off your mortgage faster?
“There are only two ways to pay off your mortgage fast: 1. Refinance at a lower rate. 2. Pay more toward the mortgage. That’s it. Don’t be fooled by biweekly mortgages because all they do is make you pay more. If you are not in a position to get a lower rate, then simply increase your monthly mortgage payment to an amount that is comfortable, keeping in mind that this is money you cannot easily get back. Conversely, if you pay more on your credit cards, you can always use the card again for cash or to buy things you need.” — Scott Bilker of DebtSmart
What does it mean when “the Fed raises the rates,” and how does it apply to mortgages?
“[The] Federal Reserve sets the interest rate that banks pay to borrow overnight funds from other banks holding deposits with the Federal Reserve. If the cost of overnight borrowing to a bank increases, this typically causes banks to increase the interest rates they charge on all other loans they make, to continue to earn their targeted return on assets. As banks increase their interest rates, other lenders or financial firms also tend to increase their rates. An increase in the federal funds rate does not directly correlate to a direct increase in mortgage rates but is viewed as a general signal to the market that the Federal Reserve views that the economy is growing and that interest rates will be increasing in the future.” — Cathy Blocker, EVP, Production Operations of Guild Mortgage Company
What are points?
“Points are fees the borrower pays the lender at the time the loan is closed, expressed as a percent of the loan. On a $200,000 loan, 2 points means a payment of $4,000 to the lender. Points are part of the cost of credit to the borrower, and in turn are part of the investment return to the lender. That said, points are not always required to obtain a home loan, but a ‘no point’ loan may have a higher interest rate.” — Nick Magiera of Magiera Team of LeaderOne Financial
Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin made his fortune in the country’s real estate market — and now he’s warning that it’s spiraling out of control.
It’s the “biggest bubble in history,” he told CNNMoney in an exclusive interview Wednesday.
Bubble is a sensitive word in China after the dramatic rise and spectacular crash in the country’s stock market last year, which wiped out the savings of millions of small investors who thought Beijing wouldn’t allow the market to drop.
After struggling to contain the fallout from the stock market debacle, China’s leaders could face a similar headache in the real estate sector.
The big problem, according to Wang, is that prices keep rising in major Chinese metropolises like Shanghai but are falling in thousands of smaller cities where huge numbers of properties lie empty.
“I don’t see a good solution to this problem,” he said. “The government has come up with all sorts of measures — limiting purchase or credit — but none have worked.”
It’s a serious worry in China, where the economy is slowing at the same time as high debt levelscontinue to increase rapidly. There are massive sums at stake in the real estate market: direct loans to the sector stood at roughly 24 trillion yuan ($3.6 trillion) at the end of June, according to Capital Economics.
“The problem is the economy hasn’t bottomed out,” Wang said. “If we remove leverage too fast, the economy may suffer further. So we’ll have to wait until the economy is back on the track of rebounding — that’s when we gradually reduce leverage and debts.”
He says, though, that he’s not worried about the prospect of a “hard landing” — a sudden and catastrophic collapse in economic growth.
Wang’s comments carry weight. He is the richest man in China, according to Forbes and Hurun Report data from 2015, and his real estate and entertainment empire brought in revenue of about $44 billion last year.
Wang has been warning of trouble in the Chinese property market for a while. His Dalian Wanda Group, which has developed huge malls and office complexes across China, has been gradually cutting back on its real estate business.
Instead, it’s pouring resources into entertainment, sports and tourism — areas where it sees potential for growth.
Wang has been on an overseas shopping spree lately, with a particular focus on the U.S. movie industry. And he’s on the hunt for more juicy targets.
But the major prize he’s seeking is control of one of Hollywood’s “Big Six” movie studios: 20th Century Fox, Columbia, Paramount, Universal Pictures, Warner Brothers and Walt Disney.
“We are waiting for the opportunity,” he said. “It could come in a year or two, or longer, but we have patience.”
His relations with Disney (DIS) came into the spotlight in May when he said the U.S. company“really shouldn’t have come to China” with its giant new Shanghai resort. Wanda is also investing heavily in theme parks in the country.
The lonely $250,000 S-Class coupe at Mercedes-Benz of Greenwich says it all. For six months, it’s been sitting in the showroom, shimmering in vain while models priced at only $70,000 fly out the door.
“We haven’t had anyone come in and look at it,” says Joey Licari, a sales consultant at the dealership, looking over his shoulder at the silver beauty. “I feel like normally they would, maybe a few years ago.”
Such is the state of affairs in Greenwich, the leafy Connecticut town famous for its cluster of hedge funds and the titans of Wall Street who occupy many a gated mansion. The rich are being maddeningly frugal, as Barry Sternlicht complained when he assailed his former hometown as possibly the country’s worst housing market. “You can’t give away a house in Greenwich,” the head of Starwood Capital Group said, causing something of a ruckus.
The reality is that places like Sternlicht’s, a nearly 6-acre estate priced at $5.95 million before he gave up, aren’t moving. No such problem if it’s $2 million or less. That Benz is going nowhere, but sales are up at Cadillac of Greenwich, where $50,000 is pretty much the basement. Ten-carat diamonds that can cost in the six figures collect dust in stores on the main drag. On the other hand, a husband will still drop $10,000 on jewelry for a 10th anniversary.
The new Greenwich is like that. “We aren’t getting caviar and champagne,” says Edward Tricomi, co-owner of Warren Tricomi Salon on Greenwich Avenue, “but we’re still eating steak.”
The town was hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis, and never fully recovered: The median sales price for homes in the second quarter was $1.56 million, 17 percent below the peak back in 2006, according to data compiled by appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and brokerage Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Now, with the hedge-fund business struggling and investment-banker incentive pay in a slump, bonus-fueled purchases are cooling again. These days, in fact, not losing money can be cause for swagger.
“We talk to a lot of guys from hedge funds, and they’re like, ‘Look at our numbers, we haven’t gone down, we’re staying level,’” says Brad Walker, who moved from Boston two years ago to open a branch of his family’s shop, Shreve, Crump & Low. A newcomer, he finds it perplexing. “I don’t run a hedge fund, I work in a jewelry store, but I think you’d want to do a little bit better.”
Flat probably isn’t so bad, though, if you’re already in the neighborhood of the .001 percent. Anyway, many factors are at play in the scaling back. Tastes are changing. And with income inequality a talking point across America, and the finance industry the target of criticism and scrutiny in recent years, some might just want to keep low-spending profiles.
“The things being bought are less trophy items and, more likely, carefully bought quality,” says Terry Betteridge, who owns Betteridge, a jewelry store. “One doesn’t want to become the next episode of ‘Billions.’”
Just 35 miles from Manhattan in the heart of Connecticut’s famed Gold Coast, with about 60,000 residents and 32 miles of shoreline, Greenwich is among the most prosperous communities in America. One out of every $10 in hedge funds in the country is managed here, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, by firms such as Viking Global Investors and AQR Capital Management. It’s home to finance heavyweights including Steven Cohen of Point72 Asset Management and Dick Fuld. The median annual household income is $135,000 — compared with $56,516 nationally. Residents paid more state income taxes in 2014, the last year for which data are available, than in any other municipality in Connecticut.
The tax rate, by the way, is a sore point, and possible reason behind the departure of the likes of Paul Tudor Jones and Thomas Peterffy, who switched their permanent residences to Florida. The state income tax there is zero.
In 2015, Connecticut boosted the income tax for individuals making more than $500,000 and couples above $1 million to 6.99 percent from 6.7 percent. Levies on luxury goods rose to 7.75 percent from 7 percent on cars over $50,000, jewelry over $5,000 and clothing or footwear over $1,000.
Sternlicht said at a conference two weeks ago that this was why he relocated to the sunshine state. “We used to have no taxes,” he said wistfully, recalling Connecticut before it enacted its income tax in 1991.
Many continue to try to sell their real estate holdings. As of Sept. 14, there were 46 homes at $10 million or more on the market, some that have been lingering since 2014, according to data from Miller Samuel and Douglas Elliman.
Among them: an 80-acre estate on Lower Cross Road for $49 million that until last month was asking $65 million, and a 19,773-square-foot manse once owned by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that has been looking for a buyer for nearly two years. It’s on the market now for $45 million, down from $54 million.
No takers yet for a seven-bedroom affair with a 3,000-bottle chilled wine cellar, a tennis court that converts to a hockey rink and a globe-shaped observatory with a retractable roof and high-powered telescope. That one recently returned to the market at $8.495 million, after an earlier effort at $8.95 million. Former Citigroup Chief Executive Officer Sandy Weill is trying to offload his 16,460-square-foot home at $9.9 million, down from $14 million more than two years ago.
One problem is that risk levels have gone through the wringer. Members of the younger Wall Street crowd are quite conservative, says Robin Kencel, a broker with Douglas Elliman. “They used to say Oh, I’ll stretch.’ Now they’re more practical. They’ll ask ‘What are the utility bills? Oh, wait — I don’t want it.’”
That could explain why, this year through Sept. 22, pending sales of homes priced up to $999,999 jumped 29 percent from the same period in 2015, according to brokerage Houlihan Lawrence, and those between $1 million and $1.99 million were up 69 percent. Contracts for homes between $5 million and $5.99 million, meanwhile, fell 80 percent.