Huge drop seen in home prices
The National Association of Realtors reported earlier this month housing prices in the region dropped 12.9 percent to a median $374,900 in the second quarter, the steepest decline of 147 metropolitan regions in the survey. The Hartford and New Haven markets were also down, though only by single digits. And other statistics, including from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, indicate similar weakness in Connecticut, where prices for single-family houses fell 4.7 percent in the second quarter. Nationally, prices increased by 3 percent, FHFA said.
On Tuesday, the S&P/Case-Shiller index of home values in 20 U.S. cities gained 0.5 percent in June from a year earlier, the first increase in almost two years, showing the county and state at odds with the national trend.
It's not the first indication Connecticut's economy, fueled in part by the financial sector and the high incomes that have flooded the region in the last two decades, could be struggling. While the high incomes have helped drive up prices and create service sector jobs, Wall Street has been cutting back, and the results continue to plague the state, especially on the jobs front.
The July jobs report for Connecticut shows a jump in the unemployment rate to 8.5 percent, despite employers adding 5,100 jobs. And RealtyTrac.com showed a 201 percent increase in new foreclosure starts in Connecticut in July.
"I have never seen a better time to buy," the 15-year real estate agent said. "The prices are getting more realistic."
She said people who bought high and are selling now realize they are probably not going to make a profit, so they are being reasonable.
But it is a tricky market. While interest rates are low, providing the ability for some to borrow at 4 percent or less, the banks are being tight with lending.
This has been a common problem in the state for years, following the 2008 recession and housing crisis. Banks have become more diligent in requiring down payments and verifiable incomes, as well as making sure assessments are in line with the sales price.
Despite the fall in prices, Fairfield County still was in the top 10 of 147 regions for median sales price, making borrowing more difficult as people have to find more money to put down and borrow more.
Overall, Vanderblue said more people are relocating into the region and she's even made two sales to investors from Europe who are leveraging the strength of their currency to buy homes and land here at reasonable prices.
Jeffrey Weisz, an executive at a company that invests in green energy projects, put his five-bedroom house on five acres in New Canaan up for sale five months ago for $1.2 million. While prospective buyers came to "kick the tires," he received only one offer, which fell through because the borrower didn't qualify for a mortgage. He said his neighbor has had three offers fall through because of financing problems.
In Greenwich, the median home price fell 11 percent in the first seven months of the year to $1.55 million compared with the year-earlier period, according to data provided by John Cooke, an agent with Prudential Connecticut Realty. While sales were down 3 percent, they plunged 19 percent for properties above $2 million and climbed 10 percent for below that amount.
But it's not just the high end that's hurting the overall market. Bridgeport, at the eastern end of the county, has long suffered through a high rate of foreclosures and has an unemployment rate of 13.4 percent, according to the state Labor Department. The state Judicial Branch also reported that the number of foreclosure cases that were reviewed by the state's mediators was up during the fiscal year ended June 30. There were 2,498 cases reviewed in the most recent fiscal year, compared to 2,181 the year before.
Town resident tests positive for West Nile virus
An elderly Greenwich resident has tested positive for West Nile virus and is hospitalized, becoming the fifth person in the state reported to have contracted the virus this year, the state Department of Public Health announced Tuesday.
The person, who is between 70 and 79 years old, became ill in mid-August with a fever, headache and some neurological symptoms, and was hospitalized.
William Gerrish, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Health, said he could not release any further information about the resident, and did not have any word on the individual's condition.
The virus, found in mosquitoes trapped in 42 towns across the state, including Greenwich, was confirmed in two Stamford residents in July and August, in a Bridgeport resident in July and in a New Haven resident in August.
There were nine human cases of West Nile reported last year, including one in Greenwich and two in Stamford. There were 11 cases in 2010, including one in Greenwich -- an 81-year-old woman battled the illness for three months before recovering.
Theodore Andreadis, director of the state's mosquito-trapping program and chief medical entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, said the virus built up rapidly very early this year due to the heat wave and the frequent rainfall that created ideal breeding spots for mosquitoes. Luckily, it seems to be on the decline, and the five human cases are below average.
"The overall population has dropped significantly, which is good news," Andreadis said.
Greenwich Health Director Caroline Calderone Baisley stressed that the risk of infection is still there. "The best message is to continue to be vigilant," Baisley said. "I think after a while, people become complacent."
People, particularly those 50 and older, are advised to limit outdoor activities between dusk and dawn -- when mosquitoes are most active -- and to wear pants and long-sleeved shirts, as well as mosquito repellent when outside during those times.
Most people are able to fight off the infection, and they experience either mild symptoms, such as headache and fever, or no symptoms at all, according to health officials. The virus can cause serious illness in some people, particularly the elderly.
During the summer, the town treats catch basins on public and private roads, public school grounds and other town property with larvicide, which is reapplied every four to six weeks.
Residents, meanwhile, should make sure to drain items on their property that may have collected water, such as pool covers and birdbaths or containers to catch rainwater used in gardening. If people have standing water that they can't drain, they can buy mosquito dunks, which contain larvae-killing bacteria.
-- Lisa Chamoff, staff writer
Greenwich man hospitalized after fall from boat
A Greenwich man who fell off his cabin cruiser Monday afternoon was stranded in Long Island Sound for about an hour before being rescued by Greenwich police.
The man, who was alone on his boat moving slowly forward at the time, fell off his 32-foot Pursuit and unsuccessfully tried to hold onto the vessel and gain control of it, according to police.He treaded water for about an hour before making his way toward two fishermen on a small vessel anchored near Goose Island at the entrance to Cos Cob Harbor.
Because of the man's extreme exhaustion, the fishermen couldn't pull him from the water, police said. Members of the Greenwich Police Marine Section arrived at the scene sometime after 6 p.m.
The man, who was not wearing a life preserver at the time of the incident, was conscious and alert, but disoriented when members of the Marine Section arrived, police said.
Police pulled him from the water, and he was transported to Stamford Hospital, where he was treated for exhaustion and hypothermia and then released.
Lt. Kraig Gray, spokesman for the police department, said the man wasn't intoxicated, and no criminal charges are pending.
The man's boat was found, grounded, along the shoreline west of Goose Island, police said. The vessel was towed to Beacon Point Marine in Cos Cob, where it was hauled from the water. A safety inspection of the boat revealed no violations, according to police.
-- Staff reports