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Market Optics Over Facts: “Greenwich, CT is Vibrant and Active”

I was reading the newspaper 2 weeks ago and saw that a well regarded area real estate brokerage firm had provided a listing photo magazine insert. I noticed what appeared to be a marketing inconsistency that referred to the Greenwich, CT housing market broker panic [1] of a few months ago.

Below is the “We’re #1 in this market” type headline which is common in these photo magazines.

hldarien [2]

But it gets more interesting…

For the uninitiated, the Greenwich housing market received the ire of master of the universe Barry Sternlicht, CEO of Starwood which is based in Greenwich. According to area brokers, he was unable to sell his Greenwich home. Apparently it was frustrating so he spoke about it at a large business conference. Bloomberg news captured the slight in “Greenwich Is the Worst U.S. Housing Market, Sternlicht Says [1]

“You can’t give away a house in Greenwich,” Sternlicht said Tuesday at the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha Conference in New York.

The brokerage community in Greenwich was appalled and many took the insult personally, at the risk of propping up sellers to unrealistic expectations they have maintained since 2007. Some agents wanted to write responses in the local papers and have celebrities speak out on how amazing Greenwich was as a residential community. Sadly that type of response completely missed the point. Greenwich is awesome. I have relatives who live there. It is beautiful, close to the commuter trains into the city and has a terrific school system. But that isn’t what Sternlicht was criticizing.

A real estate agent’s job is to help their clients navigate a housing market, not lead their clients to believe agents can prop it up artificially (aside from the “glass is half full” orientation) because agents are not bigger than the market. The effectiveness of spinning market conditions to hide actual conditions is a myth. I believe this way of broker thinking actually damages the market by keeping the gap between buyers and sellers artificially wide.

Greenwich, which relies on Wall Street for the high end home buyer market, did not see the boom of the past five years that NYC saw. Bonuses being paid out to Wall Street are forecast to be lower this year for the third year in a row. I wrote about this agent-market disconnect in my Housing Note [3] when the Sternlicht article [1] came out. In addition, areas furthest away from the town center have been the hardest hit as more and more new buyers are reflecting the new urbanism call for walkability [4].

It appears this brokerage firm was attempting to counter Sternlicht’s insult and placate their own agents, by inserting the following awkward headline: GREENWICH REAL ESTATE IS VIBRANT AND ACTIVE in this listing photo magazine insert below.

I understand that the results of their market report were almost identical to ours – sales slipped year over year – but less than the size of the prior quarter slip. Incidentally they no longer prominently post their market reports on their web site. I assume they have been removed for a similar reason. Current market conditions are weaker than a few years ago in the areas they service so there is no need to illustrate it. Anyway, that’s only my assumption.

The following photo ad even says (you can see the top of the “5%” on the lower right of the photo that says their sales are up 5%. But that factoid does not speak to the market, rather it really speaks about the sales volume of their company. This is misdirection since it contradicts overall market direction.

hlgreenwich [5]

I have long admired this firm and still do so I sent my thoughts about this to a senior executive I know but received no response. I can only assume that this was thought to be a good recruiting tool to attract those agents appalled by the attack on the Greenwich market by Sternlicht. Unfortunately this doesn’t do any market participant any good since real estate brokers are supposed to be trusted advisors.