Julianne Ward has been busy for the last several weeks. Really busy, the Realtor says as she zips from one room to the next in the 6,985-square-foot Colonial she's representing in Greenwich's backcountry, pointing out custom crown molding and intricate details in the hardwood floors.
"I think it's bonus related," she said, cruising into the kitchen, where she showed off stainless steel appliances and the bright, natural light.
Traditionally, the markets in Greenwich -- and neighboring towns such as Darien -- have seen significant booms in the early months of the year, after those working on Wall Street receive their bonus checks. But in the years since the market bottomed out following the 2008 crash, bonus checks have been fewer and smaller. Now, after several years of slow Januaries, Februaries and Marches, this year's bonus season appears to have revived the long-slumbering winter surge.
"It was a good bonus year," said Alan Johnson, managing director of the compensation consulting firm Johnson Association, based in New York City. Johnson explained that while cash bonuses are up about 5 to 10 percent this year over last, it's the increase in value of stocks included in bonus compensation that will really affect the real estate market.
"If you're a multimillion-dollar person on Wall Street, your salary is about $400,000, but you made $5 million in bonus. Maybe $2 million of that is in cash and $3 million is in stocks," he said. "What was startling in 2013 was how much the stocks of some of these firms went up in value ... So if you had $1 million in stock originally, maybe it's $1.7 million or $2 million now, so you can cash that check and now it's flush."
That kind of increase in liquid assets can have a huge effect on the Greenwich market, Ward said.
"Fifty percent of our sales are Wall Street. The other half are family money, or people who live locally or own businesses, but Wall Street does big in our market," she said.
According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, 78.5 percent of Greenwich men who are currently employed work in the "finance and insurance" industries, along with 21.5 percent of employed women in town.
"I thought, well, isn't this great for Wall Street, and then that's great for everyone around Wall Street, because as soon as Wall Street gets its bonuses, they spend it," Ward said. "It's good for the economy, it's good for real estate. It's good for everything."
The bigger sales have already picked up this year. While there was only one sale for $5 million or more between Jan. 1 and Jan. 23 in 2013, that number was up to five by Jan. 23 this year, including two sales over the $10 million mark, according to an analysis of property records on file at Greenwich Town Hall. But that's just the beginning, according to Ward, who noted that most people won't spend their bonus checks until they've been cashed, something that won't happen for a few weeks yet.
In the meantime, she's reveling in the increase in interest at 212 Taconic Road, a home she brought back to the market last week after pulling it off for the holidays. Listed at $4.5 million this time around, it's up a bit from the price point it hovered near when the listing was removed in November, but down from its original listing a couple years ago.
"We wanted to give this house a break and just start over again in the spring," she said of the 4-acre estate's hiatus from the market. "Also, we put a new roof on and made some changes to the house -- a few upgrades."
For Darien Realtor Doug Milne, the brick Georgian mansion he listed earlier this month on Shagbark Road in Darien was placed on the market after the holidays specifically to capture the bonus market.
"We have a historically low level of inventory at the moment in Darien," he said. "My mission is to try to put the big stuff and the best stuff on the market as early as possible, in hopes that someone with a nice bonus is looking."
The home he is representing, which was built in 1939 and boasts a brick façade with white columns that Milne said "looks like it should be at the University of Virginia," is listed for $4.9 million -- a relatively high price point for Darien. But with well-performing stocks and healthy bonuses, Milne said he thinks it'll be snatched up.
And Ward is hoping for similar results in Greenwich.
"From what I can tell, it looks like this is going to be a strong year," she said.
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