Boom In Sales Of Pricey Fairfield County Homes

The Hartford Courant

Along Connecticut's staid Gold Coast, there's a mini-boom in home sales that hasn't been seen in years.

But you need pretty deep pockets.

Sales of estates in Fairfield County priced $10 million or more are soaring this spring, capped earlier this month by the $120 million sale of Copper Beech Farm in Greenwich, believed to be the highest price ever paid for a residential estate in the United States.

"The over $10 million market didn't exist at this time last year," Mark Pruner, a sales executive in Greenwich at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England, said. "Now, the market is hot and getting hotter."

It has been at least six years since sales of high-end estates has even approached the levels in 2014, experts say.

The tony enclave of Greenwich appears to be the epicenter. For all of 2013, there were 13 sales of homes that closed for over $10 million. Through just the first four months of this year, six Greenwich estates already have sold and another six are under contract, two of those in just the last ten days.

At this time last year, there was a six-year supply of houses in this price range in Greenwich, calculated by number of properties on the market, divided by sales. In 2014, the supply is down to one year, Pruner said.

Experts say a bullish stock market has inspired more confidence among the ultra-rich, and there is a sense the housing market has bottomed out. Stock market gains also have made executive stock options — nearly worthless just a few years ago — far more valuable.

"There are a lot of investment bankers in that area," Nicholas S. Perna, economic adviser to Webster Bank and a Ridgefield resident, said. "Once something like this gets started, this dynamic, people jump in."

Perna said corporate mergers and acquisitions also are increasing, contributing to the wealth of the highest paid executives. Typically, employment contracts with senior executives contain agreements stipulating that a sale of the company will lead to the automatic vesting of stock options. Options usually must be held for a specific period of time.

"There's more sense of optimism in the economy," Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy at the Business Council of Fairfield County, said. "Last year was an extraordinary in the stock market and that does drive the [housing] market."

McGee said changes in capital gains taxes also added to the supply of estates on the market as early as 2012 as sellers rushed to lock in lower rates that were expiring. That stimulated supply in 2013; and it came as the wealth of potential buyers benefited from a rising stock market and bigger bonuses, McGee said.

Big sales have not been limited to Greenwich.

Two weeks ago, a 52-acre French-style estate in New Canaan sold for $14.3 million. The home, Le Beau Château, was owned by reclusive heiress Huguette Clark, who bought it in the 1950s but never furnished or lived in the mansion.

The latest estate to come under deposit in Greenwich is the 1935 Georgian Colonial at 17 Fort Hills Lane, which had an asking price of $11 million. The 7-bedroom, 6-bathroom house has 8,845 square feet. Property taxes are $60,928 a year, according to the MLS listing.

When asked what amenities typically come with such homes, Pruner said, "Everything."

Walk-in cedar closets, pools and wine cellars are pretty standard. Some have gone over-the-top with indoor basketball courts and one estate Pruner knows of has a baseball diamond and a batting cage in the basement.

Perna said the jump in sales doesn't necessarily mean that sales in the rest of the state will heat up to the same extent. And Pruner points out that sales of "lower-priced" homes in Greenwich — between $5 and $10 million — has slowed compared with last year.

"It's a market all unto its own down there," Perna said.

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