June 15, 2007
A partner in a family-owned North Cambridge real estate brokerage spoke at the May 12 contributors meeting of The Alewife held at the back table at the Porter Square Books store.
For many years North Cambridge was a poor cousin in relation to the rest of the city, said Paul D. Griffin, who owns Griffin Properties with his brother Christopher. The Red Line changed all that."
Griffin said his familys roots in North Cambridge are on his fathers side. One of his paternal ancestors emigrated from Ireland in 1892 and purchased a house on Massachusetts Avenue in 1895.
Griffins grandfather started in the familys dairy business pulling a wagon on foot to Concord to pick up fresh milk and dairy products and bringing them back to city, he said. Later, the business grew and the family delivered door-to-door in traditional milk trucks.
When his father, Kevin A. Griffin returned from military service in World War II, he found out the family was out of the dairy business and that his grandfather turned the house into a funeral home.
Both Paul and his brother grew up in the funeral business and as adults pursued their own interests, he said. Chris built a company of retail clothing stores and Paul practiced law and earned an advanced degree in canon law and sacred theology from the GregorianUniversity in Rome.
In the 1990s, the brothers joined up to start Griffin Properties, he said. We developed skills growing up in the funeral business that were a natural fit to the real estate business.
Often, when someone is buying or selling residence, it was prompted by an emotional event, such as a death or children moving away, he said.
There is a heightened sense of propriety that the family carried over, he said. Theres no right way to do the wrong thing.
By bringing these personal skills to the real estate business, the Griffins have built a people business, instead of a business business in the neighborhood they grew up in, he said.
A recent example of the personal bond that develops between the Griffins and their customers was when a French couple popped the cork on a bottle of champagne at their closing, he said. It was the first time we had champagne. But, they do things differently over there.
Griffin said that while most North Cambridge homebuyers are 35 to 45-years-old, a significant number are couples with adult children. These people tend to sell the home their children grew up in, and use that income to purchase a smaller home in North Cambridge.
Although home prices have fallen, this appears to be the markets trough, he said.
The real estate market is cyclical, but it also governed by calendar, he said. The busiest times are in the spring through the summer as families try to be in and out of their homes before the beginning of the school year and the slowest season is during the winter. Since Thanksgiving our business has been non-stop.
There are four major factors bolstering the neighborhoods real estate market: a relatively static inventory of housing units and its proximity to universities, he said.
The vast majority of the housing units in the neighborhood were built before the Second World War and there is little of no space to build new units, he said.
North Cambridge, like most of the neighborhoods in the city, benefits from the strong demand from students and employees at HarvardUniversity and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as other educational institutions, he said.
There are three regions in the Boston real estate market are relatively immune to sharp downturns, he said. In addition to Cambridge, they are Brookline because of its proximity to the Longwood hospitals and medical schools and Beacon Hill/Back Bay because of popularity with the Bostons financial services professionals.
Another factor is the lack of speculation in North Cambridge market that tempers price volatility, he said.
Griffin said that his firm does not deal with investors or speculators, people who are buying to profit instead of looking for a place to live.
The first three factors lead to the fourth, which is the flight to quality, he said. Even in bad markets, neighborhoods with price stability will do better.
Griffin said the most expensive area in the city is the Brattle Street neighborhood.
In North Cambridge, the houses around Fairfield and Hollis streets have emerged as wealthy enclaves, he said.
The price ceiling for homes in the neighborhood is around $2 million, he said. Most of the larger homes need expensive upgrades to bring them up to date with modern expectations. Many people buying homes today grew up with centralized air-conditioning.
Buyers with the resources to purchase an expensive home often dont have the time for or interest in dealing with a six-month renovation, he said. I had a buyer from India who wanted to spend $1.5 million, but he wanted to move his family in right away. I couldnt find him anything in the city, so he bought somewhere else.
Griffin said Griffin Properties is different from most real estate agencies because they bring a full-service approach, but use a lower commission structure.
Traditionally, there is a six percent commission on a transaction, he said.
Griffin said they charge three percent on transactions, where they represent the buyer and the seller and four percent, when they represent just the seller. This gives added value to the customer.
There is more information about Griffin Properties on the firms Web site griffinproperties.com.
For sale: one island, uninhabited
Owner hopes land will remain in natural state
By David Desjardins, Globe Staff | November 26, 2006
ARLINGTON -- The listing for sale of a 2-acre island in the middle of Spy Pond has residents and officials buzzing about what will happen to one of the town's few remaining pieces of unspoiled open space.
A haven for waterfowl and a destination for canoers, Elizabeth Island has been owned for 45 years by Elaine Sacco, whose home sits roughly 100 feet away on the shore of Spy Pond. Sacco has taken care of the island all that time, rowing over to it periodically and removing trash there, but she says it is time for someone else to take over stewardship. Griffin Properties is marketing the island for Sacco, with a listing price of $999,000.
"My first choice is to keep it natural, and I think it's going to happen, but I'm not going to give it away," said Sacco. "I'm getting along in years, and I could use the money. I don't want the responsibility anymore. I'm getting too old to row over there and haul away trash from the island."
What uses any prospective buyer could make of the island are unclear. Sacco said her deed to the land states that two houses may be built on the island. William Hartford, a salesman for Griffin, said, "We've had all sorts of inquiries about different uses for the island," from putting up tennis courts to constructing a house with a helipad.
However, according to Kevin O'Brien, the town's director of planning, development options are limited. "It's residentially zoned, but it doesn't meet the criteria for a residence." He said town zoning bylaws require residences to have 60 feet of frontage on a street to allow service by utility and emergency vehicles.
The listing for the property says it "offers a myriad of possibilities," but also notes that the land is being sold "as is" and that the "buyer is responsible for all due diligence matters." The island has no connection to town wate and sewer and to electricity.
"I don't think that anyone would pay $999,000 for it," O'Brien said, "but nobody should."
Brian Rehrig, treasurer of the Arlington Land Trust, said Elizabeth Island has long been considered environmentally important; roughly 15 years ago, he said, the MDC's (Metropolitan District Commission, a predecessor of the Department of Conservation and Recreation) prioritized list of parcels for acquisition for conservation ranked the island third among several hundred properties.
He said the land trust has been negotiating with Sacco to try to keep the island undeveloped.
"She's made it clear that her preference is to see the island preserved in its natural state," Rehrig said. "She and her family feel that it is an important natural resource that is important visually and environmentally."
There is "zero" likelihood, Rehrig said, that the town would pay the asking price, but he thinks the land trust could broker an agreement that would keep the island as is and still satisfy Sacco.
"There are tools available from nonprofits like the land trust that might help her sell the property in ways that are tax-advantaged, and we are exploring those options with her and her attorney." Such a deal, he said, might include a payment to Sacco from a combination of state, private, and town funding sources.
"She's testing the waters by listing her property," Rehrig said. "I applaud her for doing that, because it will help her, the town, and the state get a realistic picture of the land's value."
Over the past 21 years, the island has been used as a launching ground for fireworks displays held during Town Day each fall; the town pays Sacco for that use.
The island is not known to ever have had a permanent settlement, according to Arlington historian Richard A. Duffy, but was used sporadically for camping in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Also, Duffy wrote in an e-mail, "In 1810, the local West Cambridge [as Arlington was then named] militia joined with then-neighboring Watertown's militia to hold for military training purposes what was then called a 'sham war.' "Elizabeth Island was designated as the supposed site of a hostile American Indian village, Duffy said, and "those on the militia side of the exercise were reported to have attacked Elizabeth Island with rounds of 'cannonade' and to make a 'naval' attack to burn the wigwams and send the 'Indians' fleeing by canoe."
News of the island's potential sale inspired a range of responses on the Arlington e-mail list, a popular forum used by residents to discuss anything from town politics to restaurant reviews.
"Now there's a unique opportunity for the right person or organization," wrote Alan Jones, referring to the real estate listing. "Wouldn't it be nice if some conservation group could buy it?"
Another resident, Judith Hicks, said she didn't want the town to try to buy the island, at least at the listing price. "It would be great for the Town of Arlington to remember it has schools, roads, evidently sidewalks to fix," wrote Hicks. "$999,000 could make a dent somewhere in all of that."
Other residents speculated as to possible uses for the island: Wind turbines erected there could generate energy for the town, for example. One resident humorously suggested it could be used as a locale for the popular "Survivor" television series.
Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.
July 12, 2006
by Neil W. McCabe
For one North Cambridge native, the trip home was the commute to work as he walked onto the set of the new film On Broadway on 20 Hollis St.
"It was such a good feeling to be able to come back home and work with so many of my friends," said Lance Greene, who grew up on Fairfield Street.
The movie is about a Boston Irish carpenter, who resolves to write a play about his late uncle at the mans funeral, said Greene, a 1987 graduate of MatignonHigh School.
Greene plays Billy OToole, the cousin and best friend of the main character, Jack OToole, played by Joe McIntyre, from the New Kids on the Block.
The play inside the movie God Willing, was actually performed in 1997 in the backroom of Davis Squares The Burren pub, he said.
In the movie The Burren scenes were shot at its sister pub, The Skellig, in Waltham, where the part of the bartender is played by Robert Wahlberg, the brother of the New KidsDonnie.
Both the play and the movie are the brainchild of David McLaughlin, who Green said has a gift for capturing the spirit of the Boston Irish family.
One of the characteristics that make the Boston Irish a distinct sub-culture is their use of language and humor, McLaughlin said.
The language is very colorful and full of metaphors, he said. "Humor is used to both avoid and engage emotions," he said.
It creates a spiral that is played out in the script. The same humor that pushes emotional involvement away has a way of bringing it back when the time is right to deal with it, he said.
Greene, who is also one of the films producers, said he admires how McLaughlin wove the characters together.
"Of the 20 speaking parts, 14 have critical scenes that are really vital to the telling of the story."
"The film is about love, life and friendshipand sticking to your dreams," he said.
The scene shot at 20 Hollis St. was the post-funeral gathering in the houses adjoined living room and dining room. The front hallway leading past those two rooms and into the production command center in the kitchen was paved with heavy cables and wires.
Sitting in front of the video monitors and consoles was McLaughlin. Surrounding him were members of the production crew dressed mostly in jeans and tee-shirts.
On the other side of the reality wall, the actors were dark suits, white shirts, black ties and dresses. The actors were surrounded by active and brimming ashtrays and a stunning array of adult beverages.
Before the cameras rolled for a specific take, there is a hubbub of activity and conversations. When McLaughlin is ready, he gives out his instructions, then climbs into his chair, "Start on: Whose rough, mighty hands."
All talking stopped. Cell phones were put to sleep. On both sides of the reality wall, everyone stilled. Then, abruptly, came the voice of an old man in a throaty Irish brogue: Whose rough, mighty hands.
The scene had begun.
McLaughlin said the play God Willing was inspired by an actual family wake, which he fictionalized.
Another actor coming home to be a part of the movie is Mike OMalley, who starred for six years on the CBS sitcom Yes, Dear. The actor, who is also known for his character, Rick, for ESPN commercials, was born in Somerville on Halloween 1969.
"This role is a departure from things I have done in the past," he said.
"Ive known Dave for years and I did a reading of the screenplay with him at Venice Beach, Calif." OMalley plays Jacks older brother, Father Rolie OToole.
OMalley said he liked playing a priest and while he took his cues more from Spencer Tracy than Bing Crosby, he mostly drew on real priests he has known in his own life.
McLaughlin said he also has local ties. The director and his wife, Beth n McNamara lived for a time on Prentiss Street and his wife has many connections to North Cambridge and the parish of St. John the Evangelist.
When it played for a two-month, sold-out run in The Burrens backroom, it was an experience of the actors interacting with the audience members, McLaughlin said. It is a feeling that is lost in a larger theater and it is much more informal in the atmosphere of a pub.
What makes the feedback from the audience especially useful is when someone points outs something about the lighting or picks up on an important line that was considered a throw-away line, h said.
If all goes well the film will be in the theaters by the spring of 2007, said Kristofer W. Meyer, another one of the films producers. The movie, which finished shooting May 26, has a budget of roughly $1 million.
All of the actors were paid on a union wage scale approved by the Screen Actors Guild for independent projects of this side, he said.
Meyer said the house on Hollis Street, as well as other locations around Boston were secured by Christopher Griffin of Griffin Properties at 2267 Massachusetts Ave. Chris was crucial getting us properties around town.
Another big help was Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves. The mayor, his staff and Maryellen Carvello worked with the production company to get the right permits and get through the paperwork, he said. Ken was great.
The movie was shot on 16mm film, which with new technology, McLaughlin scans into a computer, he said. The new process combines the quality image of film with all of the editing and enhancement possibilities of digital.
Now that the shooting is done, McLaughlin said he is preparing the final print in time for the 2007 Sundance Film Festival this fall at faculties donated by his alma mater BostonCollege.
In the meantime, if you were thinking about calling Griffin Properties to put an offer in on that house on Hollis, you are too late. It is all ready under agreement.
July 12, 2006 in Neil W. McCabe,
Cambridge Brokers Sell for Commission of 3%
Compiled by Globe correspondent Thomas Grillo | December 23, 2000
Motorists who drive by Griffin Properties on Massachusetts Avenue in North Cambridge cant miss the giant 3 Percent Commission sign at the corner store that was the longtime home of the FlagCenter, a Cambridge landmark. Paul D. Griffin, 39, co-owner, has been offering the relatively low rate since he launched the real estate business with his brother earlier this year.
The sign is an eye-catcher and the low rate is a real competitive advantage, he said. Our overhead is low, and we can still sustain a profit at that rate. When you consider that many Cambridge realtors are charging 5 percent, the sellers would have paid $32,250 in commission, but at 3 percent, they paid $19,350, a savings of $12,900.
To qualify for the 3 percent rate, a seller must list and sell the property with Griffin and the property would have to be sold by one of the firms Realtors .