Real Estate Tar Babies

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I see that 50 Sumner Road, way up near New York, has fired its broker but come back on the market at the same price it didn’t sell at before, $3.650 million. Some time ago — 2010— a friend of mine paid $1.650 for this place, poured a ton of money into it and tried to get $2.650 for his efforts. He sold it for $1.575 in 2017. These current owners have completely redone the house, redesigning it and making it almost new, and tried, first, for $3.6 million, then raised its price to the current $3.650. The logic of that move may elude ordinary mortals, but the fact remains: it isn’t selling.

50 Sumner road

50 Sumner road

And there’s a lesson here: certain neighborhoods have price ceilings, and owners who put more into a house than the market for the neighborhood will permit are just wasting their money, no matter how nice they make their house. And the more they put in, the deeper they’re stuck.

It’s not just Sumner Road that holds such traps, of course. I recall a house on Frontier, in Cos Cob, that I was asked to give a price opinion on. I gave it, it was rejected in favor of another agent’s far-higher price (naturally), and when it failed to sell, that agent persuaded the owners to spend $180,000 on a new kitchen. It eventually sold for the price I’d suggested, almost to the penny, but the retiree-owners, who’d told me three years before that they simply wanted to move on to their Hawaiian condominium and finish out their time on earth, had their move delayed and their savings diminished, and for what?

Another tar baby neighborhood is upper Taconic and, across the border in North Stamford, Farms Road. There are many examples of North Stamford over-improvements, but 111 Farms Road is illustrative. The owner paid just $500,000 in 2000 for a tiny 1820 farmhouse and completely transformed it, tripling its size (at least), putting in incredible wood work, and made it into a quirky, but gorgeous home. He tried for $2.895 million in 2014, which represented a loss, and sold it for $1.610 in 2017. That was a shame, from my perspective, because I had clients who loved it when it was asking $2.5 and were tempted, but ultimately balked. I’m sure they’d have struck at, say, $1.8.

111 Farms road

111 Farms road

But all is this is to say that owners should be aware of their surroundings: don’t over-improve for your neighborhood, or you’ll just end up contributing a nice new kitchen, or even an entire renovation, to new owners. And for heaven’s sake, if you can’t get your asking price, do not put good money after bad. That’s the tar baby speaking, in the guise of your agent. Cut and run.