June 6, 2014 5:19 pm

Connecticut’s high-end property market weathers the storm

Features such as breakwaters and sea walls have boosted confidence in coastal areas after Hurricane Sandy
Serene waters at Southport Harbor©Phil Nelson/Robert Harding

Serene waters at Southport Harbor, near the affluent community of Westport

The waterfront estate for sale in the shoreline town of Old Saybrook in Connecticut includes a sweeping six-bedroom main house that measures 8,300 sq ft and overlooks Long Island Sound, the popular estuary that empties into the Atlantic. Set in 1.5 acres, the property has 680ft of water frontage with a dock, mooring for boats, and its own pond. The red-brick, three-storey home even has a touch of Hollywood glamour: it was owned for many years by the actress Katharine Hepburn.

Yet what may make the property’s $14.8m price tag palatable to potential buyers are the less visible features deployed to combat battering storms such as Hurricane Sandy, which swept down the Connecticut coast two years ago, tearing through more than 3,000 homes and causing damage costing an estimated $360m.

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Rock and concrete breakwaters and sea walls were installed in the water outside the property to soften the impact of a storm surge, while landscaped berms protect against rising tides. Foam insulation lines the home’s walls to block wind and water from breaching its façade. And the entire main house was raised 5ft to offer additional flood protection.

“Preserving the historical integrity of the structure was obviously important,” says Frank Sciame, the property owner and Manhattan builder who spent more than $1m renovating the home to include updated electrical systems and expanded landscaping. “From the start of the renovation we knew that we needed to make it more resilient to severe weather.”

In the two years since Hurricane Sandy ravaged parts of the east coast of the US, much of the rebuilding has focused on the heavily populated coastal areas of New York and New Jersey, yet the Connecticut coastline also sustained severe damage.

Map of Connecticut

In the wake of the storm, flood insurance premiums rose sharply and many municipalities established tighter guidelines on how and where to build along the state’s coastline, which is more than 125 miles long.

The new building restrictions reflected rising sea levels and flood risk, and followed federal emergency management standards in rebuilding homes to withstand future storms.

The tighter restrictions initially hampered the waterfront property market, but two years on from Sandy some of the priciest coastline areas of Connecticut are now rebuilt and seeing sharp increases in property sales. The pace is particularly strong at the upper end of the market, where some of the wealthiest towns are now reaching pre-Sandy sales levels.

“Rebuilding was slow and expensive but buyers were patient and we’re now seeing stronger investment in the high-end markets,” says Barbara Cleary, an estate agent at Realty Guild in New Canaan, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate.

The high-end property market along the coast is anchored by the town of Greenwich, a leafy suburb 35 miles northeast of New York City that has been a bastion of “old money” wealth for more than a century.

An influx of residents working for hedge funds and private equity firms over the past two decades has added even more mansions and gated estates to a town that boasts some of the most expensive property in the US.

Between February and May this year, the median sales price of a home in Greenwich was $1.46m, according to property website Trulia, but coastline piles can carry price tags well above $10m. Copper Beech Farm, a 50-acre waterfront estate, which includes an 1896 Victorian mansion, sold in April for a record $130m.

Six-bedroom property and estate in Greenwich

Six-bedroom property and estate in Greenwich, $14m

According to Leslie McElwreath, an estate agent with Sotheby’s International Realty, in the first four months of this year there were 15 sales of homes priced at $5m and above in Greenwich compared with nine during the same period last year.

Former Citigroup chief executive Sandy Weill, a Greenwich resident since the 1980s, recently put his 6.3-acre Greenwich estate on the market for $14m. The 16,460 sq ft house has six bedrooms, nine bathrooms and views of Long Island Sound. A walk-in wine cellar, a home theatre, and a spa room with sauna and hot tub are also included in the property. The property is listed with Sotheby’s International Realty.

Farther northeast, the towns of Darien, New Canaan and Westport are home to some of the wealthiest communities in the country. The stretch, known locally as the Gold Coast of Connecticut, is a haven for investment management firms and hedge funds.

Realty Guild is marketing a 128-acre estate that straddles New Canaan and Wilton for $29.9m. The property includes a Tudor-style mansion that measures 10,000 sq ft, with 11 bedrooms and 11 bathrooms. The estate, called Quiet Lake, includes equestrian facilities and horse trails, a swimming pool and two guest cottages that each measure 2,000 sq ft.

Despite the coastline’s reputation for historic properties, newer construction is increasingly popular with upper-end buyers, says Virginia Klein, an estate agent with RE/MAX Heritage in Westport.

She says a lack of inventory in older homes and buyers’ interest in updated amenities are driving sales of newly built properties. “Builders are coming back to the coastal areas and constructing updated, more contemporary properties that are very popular with buyers,” adds Klein.

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Buying guide

● International airports close to Connecticut’s coast include Bradley in Hartford and LaGuardia in New York

● Real estate commission is typically 6 per cent of the sale price

● Connecticut is one of six US states that make up New England. Its population is 3.57m

What you can buy for . . .

$5m A three-bedroom home on three acres in the town of Fairfield

$8m A four-bedroom house with three bathrooms measuring 5,000 sq ft in Westport

$10m A five-bedroom home with two acres of land in Greenwich

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