A Look Back on 100 Years of Greenwich Real Estate

above: In 2023, Copper Beech Farm sold for $138 million, making it the largest private home sale in Connecitcut history.

For a century the Greenwich Association of Realtors has had its finger on the pulse of our market—from houses selling for what would barely cover a bathroom renovation nowadays to record-breaking sales. Here, we take a look at how our town—and the organization—has changed.


100 YEARS OF GREENWICH ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS

LET’S GO BACK IN TIME TO 1924

and imagine the Chamber of Commerce as the all-encompassing organization for businesses in Greenwich. But a group of real estate professionals began to recognize that they faced different issues than the other Chamber members—principally consumer and property rights—and decided it was time to form their own organization to address those needs. The Real Estate Board of Greenwich was born.

Today the name has changed to the Greenwich Association of Realtors (GAR). But the organization still focuses on the basic reasons it was founded, while offering so much more for its almost 950 members and affiliate members, who include licensed appraisers, attorneys, mortgage officers and home-stagers.

“As the community has grown over the past hundred years, we have developed along with it,” says Stacey Loh, GAR’s executive vice president/chief executive officer. “We exist to promote our members and listings and to protect our listings and consumers. The biggest impact over the years to our industry has been technology and transparency.”

As our world has become more complicated so, too, has the real estate profession, necessitating the need for continuing education and ethics training, all provided by GAR.

In 1950, the National Association of Realtors developed the Multiple Listing Service and provided a guidebook for local associations to adopt their own, a task GAR completed in 1954. GAR owns the Greenwich Multiple Listing Service, while most other towns in the state have joined regional MLSs. “The goal of any MLS is to keep the listings that are available for sale in one place,” Loh says. ‘We verify every listing and refresh them every five minutes.”

“GAR owns the Greenwich Multiple Listing Service, while most other towns in the state have joined regional MLSs. The goal of any MLS is to keep the listings that are available for sale in one place.”
—STACEY LOH

Russell Pruner, a town resident for more than 50 years and a Realtor since 1985 who is now with Compass, has worn many hats on the GAR board, including chair of the MLS committee. “Greenwich is a very unique community,” he says. “What other town offers properties from a three-hundred-thousand-dollar condo to a one-hundred-thirty-eight-million-dollar estate? Or rentals that range from seven hundred dollars a month for a studio, to forty or fifty thousand dollars for a multi-million-dollar property,” he asks. “Our members use the MLS day-in and day-out. Our members tell us what they want in the MLS and we can tweak things. By having our own MLS, we’re able to do a better job of appealing to clients while meeting the needs of our membership.”

Bryan Tunney, GAR’s board president and a Realtor with Brown Harris Stevens, is proud of the town he calls home, the organization he leads and his profession. “We’re often the first people prospective homeowners meet. And our clients put their trust in us. As Realtors, we abide by a strict code of ethics.”

“It might be hard to get into town because of the price of homes, but there are many reasons people want to call Greenwich home,” he says.

Prior to moving to Greenwich in 1991, he lived in Mamaroneck, where taxes tripled over the last five years he lived there. “We decided we were better off living in Greenwich, although the entry cost would be higher,” Tunney adds. He cites the low taxes and the fact that since the 1930s, Greenwich has had no debt.

“The town has it all—multiple arts centers, islands, beaches, four libraries, top-notch schools, many different neighborhoods, shopping, and a host of local business that are the fabric of our community.”

To mark 100 years, GAR is digitizing its archives and planning for future collections, stories and sharing of its history. Realtor Pam Cunconan of Coldwell Banker, chair of the 100-Year Anniversary Committee, explains that plans include updating the website with oral histories, a virtual board room and a timeline to show exactly how far the organization has come in a century of serving Greenwich.


NEW ERA OF HOME BUYING

For many of today’s buyers, the old process of buying homes is not only antiquated but unimaginable

Buying and selling homes used to be a very protected process, with only Realtors having access to information,” says Stacey Loh. “A buyer would have to contact the Realtor to find out what was available. All information was tracked on a card system and then published in binder books on a weekly or biweekly basis. The information was outdated so quickly, because properties were always coming on and off the market. Realtors would call to find out when they could show homes, only to be told the homes had sold.”

Those who bought homes before the advent of internet listings can probably remember sitting in a Realtor’s office watching as he or she leafed through the binder book. If a listing was of interest, off they would go in the Realtor’s car to inspect the home.

“Itʼs a whole new world. … But some things donʼt change, and thatʼs the code of ethics we all follow.”
—Tom Gorin

“Realtors once spent a fortune on their cars and keeping them clean,” says Realtor Tom Gorin. “But we got to know our clients really well just by driving them around. We could also point out houses that were about to go on the market. Or we would drive by a house that the person ruled out, but when they saw it in person, they often decided it was worth a look.”

Today, the first place buyers look is the internet, which offers numerous photos of homes, plus far more information about the property than was ever revealed in the binder listings. And the Realtor/client carpool? Well, that’s gone the way of the dodo bird.

There are other differences as well. Real estate firms were much smaller and numerous compared to today’s large firms that dominate the business in town. Gorin points to the 1980s as the decade that began to usher in change. And one by one over the next three decades, the old firms sold off to larger ones.

“Weʼre often the first people prospective homeowners meet. And our clients put their trust in us.”
—BRYAN TUNNEY

“Consumers are the forefront of everything we are focusing on,” Loh says. “Whether a Realtor is representing the seller or buyer, a Realtor protects them throughout the process. Buying property is among the largest transactions that people do in their lifetime. A Realtor is always acting in their client’s best interest.”

“It’s a whole new world,” Gorin says. “Aerial shots. Video. Realtors dancing around the homes. But some things don’t change, and that’s the code of ethics we all follow.”

TOM GORIN HAS CALLED GREENWICH HOME SINCE HE WAS FIVE. He’s also been a Realtor for fifty years—now with Sotheby’s International Realty—which has given him a front-row seat into how the town has changed. He recently sold the house he grew up in in Old Greenwich for what he says is “one hundred times what my dad paid for it.”

He remembers the Post Road before I-95 construction in 1957—a bustling place that was the main road between New York and Boston. There were truck stops, hamburger stands and gas stations, but there was also a large swath of land featuring big homes. Elm trees shaded the street. Greenwich Avenue was a two-way street, and there were hotels, small businesses and a bowling alley. There were two movie houses (admission was a quarter, and since he describes himself as a short, skinny kid, he was able to keep his admission at a quarter until he was fifteen).

“Times have changed. Prices have changed. The town has changed. But it is still a wonderful place to live,” he says. Both statements are very true.

Throughout its 100th year, GAR is digitizing archives, including statistical reports on housing prices. “The housing prices referenced between 1970 and 2020 can be reported with a high level of confidence,” says Stacey Loh. Housing prices between 1920–1960 are estimates gleaned from statistics in archival documents. Loh emphasizes that until GAR finishes going through all the documents, the figures provided below should be considered approximations. But the one constant is that for Greenwich, there was never a backward slide, no matter what was happening in the world.


THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’

AND FOR GREENWICH, THAT’S ALWAYS BEEN GOOD NEWS. JUST TAKE A LOOK AT OUR PROPERTY VALUE GROWTH. *Estimated average home price

1920s
EAHP*: $20,000-$35,000
Accompanied by financial innovations that boosted the supply of credit to real-estate developers and homebuyers, the mid-1920s experienced a home-building boom. And as wealthy New Yorkers searched for places to escape the city’s heat, Greenwich saw an increase in summer home development.

1930s
EAHP*: $20,000-$35,000
GAR’s focus was to support its members during the challenges faced by the Great Depression. Because fewer people were able to buy homes, there was less home construction. For those who could afford to buy a home, stock was limited, which kept prices high.

1940s
$50,000
The last half of this decade is often called the decade of recovery, as soldiers returned home from World War II, ushering in the era of the baby boomers. GAR was instrumental in managing the surge in demand for post-war housing, including homes for veterans.

Woolworth’s on the Avenue in the ’50s

1950s
$65,000
This was the decade of prosperity for many Americans. Suburban living became more attractive— families were buying cars and highways were built—and GAR’s focus was on promoting and managing this trend. It was also when celebrity homes started to sprout up around town. The National Association of Realtors changed the way the profession conducted business when it developed the MLS in 1950, providing a guidebook for local associations to adopt their own, a task GAR adopted in 1954.

1960s
$90,000
This was the decade of upheaval: the Vietnam War, protests, the Civil Rights Movement, interest rates rising and inflation picking up. The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 to address discrimination in the housing market. GAR’s focus was to guide and educate its members through all the changes and the real estate market’s response to the decade’s cultural and social changes.

1970s
$206,000
Ah, the ’70s, a decade marked by a new term—stagflation—a combo of high inflation and slow economic growth. This was the decade of the energy crisis and long lines at gas pumps, which definitely impacted home construction and sales, since people were not driving. But it was also the decade when baby boomers were entering the housing market for the first time, choosing adjustable-rate mortgages that made a house affordable, with an eye toward refinancing when interest rates came down. GAR was at the forefront of promoting energy efficiency and sustainability in the market.

1980s
$738,000
First, a real estate boom, followed by a market crash and job losses close to 4 million. The average person found it hard to buy a home, with mortgage rates reaching an all-time high of 16.63 percent. Those living through this time remember Black Monday well, Oct. 18, 1987, when the stock market dropped 22.61 percent. During this decade, GAR’s role was to navigate these turbulent times.

1990s
$850,000
After a decade of decline, this was the decade of recovery, low interest rates and the rise of luxury real estate in Greenwich, a market GAR had a huge role in managing—along with the birth of the internet and its impact on real-estate practices.

2000s
$1,525,000
In the early part of the decade, the housing market continued to grow, until the housing bubble burst in 2008. GAR found itself deep in the impact of the financial crisis, its effect on the Greenwich real estate market and its role in supporting its members and the community during the recovery. The one thing the financial crisis did not touch was the cost of housing, which came pretty close to doubling.

2010s
$1,750,000
Technology really began to make an impact on the real-estate market, as listings were in the consumers’ hands at the click of a mouse or a swipe on their phone. Social media changed everything, with listings dotting many platforms. GAR was busy dealing with the newest trends in technology while promoting diversity and inclusion within the real estate industry.

2020s
$2,295,000
Covid changed everything. People fled the city looking for space to live, and owners of backcountry mansions on acres of land that sat on the market the previous year found themselves in bidding wars. Pools—not favored for years—became attractive, because people were vacationing at home. But it wasn’t just the backcountry estates that were selling. Everything was selling, which remains the case today.


TABLE HOUSES

THE HOMES OF SOME OF OUR FAMOUS FACES

Photograph by Daniel Milstein for Sotheby’s International Realty

COPPER BEECH FARM
495 Indian Field Road
$138 MILLION
Sold in 2023 Listing agents were Leslie McElwreath and Joseph Barbieri of Sotheby’s International Realty

At $138 million this was the largest private home sale in Connecticut’s history. Today the home—with twenty-five rooms and fourteen bedrooms—differs greatly from the original home purchased in 1905 by Harriet Lauder Greenway, whose father, George Lauder, was the cofounder of the Carnegie Steel Company with Andrew Carnegie. In 1905, Harriet bought the nearly 58-acre property. In 1909, 1910 and 1921 she purchased adjoining land, bringing the estate to more than 100 acres. In 1912 the Greenways added two wings, creating the magnificent Neo-French Renaissance mansion that remains today.

Harriet’s husband, Dr. James Greenway, founded the Department of Health at Yale in 1915, which meant the family’s main home was in New Haven. They summered here until 1935, when he retired and they made it their main residence.

Harriet eventually gave some land to the couple’s daughter, Anna, and to the Indian Field School. Some property was lost to the railroad and the Connecticut Turnpike. When she died, the remainder of the property was bequeathed to the couple’s three sons and daughter. In 1978 the house, with its remaining 50 acres, was sold for $7.5 million.

The Greenway family is still remembered for donating Island Beach (Little Captain Island) to the town, as well as the first ferryboat to transport residents to the island.

Photograph by Steve Rossi for Sotheby’s International Realty

MEL GIBSON

ADDRESS 124 Old Mill Road
BUILT 1927 by investment banker Charles L. Ohrstrom and architect Charles Lewis Bowman

Mel Gibson called Greenwich home for 15 years in an impressive 15,800-square- foot house, built in 1927.

The palatial estate, at 124 Old Mill Road, sits on 75 acres of land very close to the New York border, a true great estate complete with a grand manor house, stables, greenhouses and outbuildings.

It is now home to the Foundation House, which defines itself as a creative community committed to providing a place for gatherings, workshops, lectures and events. Every few months it opens its doors to artists and activists working on projects related to their mission of bettering the environment, community and mental health.

There are three miles of wooded trails on the property for riding horses and walking. There are loops, grazing meadows, small hills and bridges, all open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Photograph by Steve Rossi for Sotheby’s International Realty

REGIS PHILBIN

ADDRESS 56 N. Stanwich Road

Regis Philbin—beloved talk and game show host, comedian, actor and singer—was often called the hardest-working man in show business. When he died in 2020, his cohost and friend of many years, Greenwich’s Kathie Lee Gifford, was quoted in People saying: “I loved that man dearly. We worked together for fifteen years and for the next twenty, we just hung out as friends.”

The year he died, his backcountry home sold for just over $4 million. The nearly 14,000-square-foot English Manor-inspired residence sat on about two and a half acres. Of the house, Joy Philbin has said: “We’ve lived in many houses together, but this will always be our favorite. We celebrated birthdays and holidays and never had to worry about inviting too many people. There was room for everyone.”

Photograph by Daniel Milstein for Sotheby’s International Realty

MARY TYLER MOORE

ADDRESS 50 Dingletown Road

When the late Mary Tyler Moore was playing Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, living a fictional suburban life in New Rochelle, she probably had no idea that eventually she would be physically living about 12 miles north at 50 Dingletown Road. It’s a home that career girl/journalist Mary Richards could only dream about.

The house, a distinguished Georgian Colonial, is currently for sale for $21,900,000. The 13,825-square- foot estate was designed by architect Stephen Wang—and the primary suite, at 2,000 square feet, is bigger than some homes. Called Harkaway, it sits on just over seven acres, buffered by five acres of conservation land. Oh, and did we mention the glass conservatory, gym with jacuzzi, shower and steam, elevator and a 65-foot pool with an outdoor fireplace?

Photograph by Steve Turner for Coldwell Banker

DONALD TRUMP

ADDRESS 21 Vista Drive

Back in the ’80s, before Donald Trump was President, he was married to Ivana and the father of three young children. Although his name was synonymous with Manhattan real estate, the couple bought a six-acre estate in Greenwich for $4 million in the gated Indian Harbor Association.

It was the perfect weekend retreat, complete with a deep water dock, pool, tennis court and, no surprise, a putting green. When the couple divorced in 1992, Ivana got the Greenwich manse, although she didn’t keep it very long.

The house sits on almost six acres, including 1,570 feet of shoreline, and has panoramic views of Long Island Sound. Currently the house is off the market, although it has been on and off the market since 2015.

CHARITABLE OUTREACH

LENDING A HAND WHERE IT COUNTS THE MOST

“We painted the inside and exterior of the home and the garage. We replaced windows. Redid a bathroom. Replaced the shrubbery. There was so much overgrowth that underneath the shed we found a car and boat that we couldn’t see before the area was cleared. Everything was completed in just one day!”
—PAM PAGNANI

According to GAR board member Pam Pagnani of Sotheby’s International Realty, it recently stepped up its charitable commitment with the formation of Community Affairs committee.

In honor of GAR’s 100th anniversary, the board is in the process of setting up a 501(c)(3) Community Foundation, which will allow the organization to formalize its charitable giving.

“GAR has always given money and participated in events. The more we do together not only helps the community but bonds us together,” she says. “Although we do compete against each other, we need to work together in many transactions. We want more congeniality and camaraderie in our industry.”

The newest initiative is a partnership with HomeFront, a volunteer-driven home-repair program that provides free repairs to low-income homeowners. HomeFront identifies homeowners that need help, and then it solicits teams throughout the state to adopt a home. In 2023, GAR adopted a home in the Pemberwick section of town, assembled a cast of 30 GAR volunteers. Pagnani enlisted the help of a contractor she often uses, Enrique Guitterrez, owner of AEG Contracting, who volunteered to do a lot of prep work, so when the team arrived, a great deal of work had been completed. In addition, volunteers spent months seeking donations of shrubbery, supplies and equipment.

The homeowner was an elderly man with serious medical issues that kept him from doing any work in both the interior and exterior of his 1,700-square-foot home. “We were able to totally clean the inside of the home, which hadn’t been done for months,” Pagnani says. “We painted the inside and exterior of the home and the garage. We replaced windows. Redid a bathroom. Replaced the shrubbery.

There was so much overgrowth that underneath the shed we found a car and boat that we couldn’t see before the area was cleared. We also replaced stairs inside and outside. And everything was completed in just one day!”


Beyond Homes

GAR IS BUILDING COMMUNITY IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE

GAR’s Scholarship Committee vets candidates annually and awards two scholarships to high school seniors. The scholarships can be renewed on an annual basis so long as the student maintains good grades.

NEIGHBOR TO NEIGHBOR provides residents in need with food, clothing and basic living essentials. GAR has partnered with the organization by participating in food drives and holiday toy collections. This past December, GAR collected flannel pajamas, thermal tops and thermal hot/cold water bottles. And in November, it organized a virtual food drive by providing a link to a list of healthy foods. The public bought the food that was then delivered directly to Neighbor to Neighbor.

KIDS IN CRISIS provides temporary housing and comprehensive medical, educational and therapeutic support services for children of all ages in Fairfield County.

YWCA GREENWICH offers domestic violence services, and Realtors participate in and raise funds for its annual Walk to End Domestic Violence.

MONETARY DONATIONS ARE A PART OF GAR’S PHILANTHROPY AND INCLUDE THESE LOCAL NONPROFITS:
Pathways
Abilis
Greenwich United Way
River House Adult Day Center
GEMS (Greenwich Emergency Medical Services)
Silver Shield Association
Greenwich Tree Conservancy
Greenwich Community Projects Fund, Let There Be Lights
Teddy Balkind Charitable Foundation
Transportation Association of Greenwich

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