On Jan. 14, Boston-based WEEI-FM sports talk show host Greg Hill dropped an exclusive scoop: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his family had reportedly moved out of their home in Brookline, Massachusetts, and relocated to a recently purchased home in Greenwich.
Hill’s story was immediately picked up by every media outlet in Connecticut as major breaking news, and Gov. Ned Lamont took to Twitter to welcome Brady to his new Connecticut residency. Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo went even further, taking a guest shot on Hill’s show to trumpet his town’s newest arrival.
But there was one problem: the story was incorrect. The day after Hill’s story broke, WEEI quietly slipped an update on its blog that acknowledged “Brady does not in fact own a house in Connecticut.”
While it is not uncommon for news outlets to report stories that require a retraction, the Brady-in-Greenwich story sparked an excited frenzy that inadvertently highlighted lingering problems with the Greenwich real estate market and Connecticut’s overall economy.
THE ROAD TO GREENWICH
Brady had no connection to Greenwich until last August when the New York Post cited unnamed sources that insisted Brady and his supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen, were house shopping in the town’s luxury housing market. In November, a website called Homes of the Rich ran an item that Brady and Bundchen were “rumored” to have bought a Greenwich mansion for $9 million. The website did not identify a specific property, although it ran a photograph of a mansion that was quickly identified as 19 Lower Cross Road.
Brady was asked about the Greenwich news on Hill’s WEEI show in November, but he cryptically replied, “You’re so funny. It’s hard to respond to everything. The reality is, I choose to respond to almost nothing. I just don’t get into the fray.”
However, Compass Real Estate, the brokerage representing the property, immediately issued a press statement that unequivocally insisted that Brady did not buy the property and had no connection to it. Despite this clear denial, much of the media coverage of Hill’s claim erroneously linked that property to the quarterback.
Bill Petkanas, professor of communication and media arts at Western Connecticut State University, observed that the rumors about a Greenwich residency helped to pad a news cycle in a manner that could not be satiated with a straightforward acknowledgment or denial.
“The amplifying pressure is that there is a great deal of press and very little news, so the people discussing issues talk about what might happen,” he noted. “Denials about the move can add to the discussion as in, ‘Well, where might he move?’ ”
Hill’s announcement coincided with a possible career crossroads for Brady, who failed to lead his team to a Super Bowl berth this year and is set to become a free agent for the first time in his professional football career on March 18. Chase Hutchison, senior vice president at Brookfield-based Mack Media Group, pointed out that Brady’s real estate moves could offer a significant clue on his career’s trajectory.
“If he bought a house in Los Angeles, this would all but confirm an imminent move to another team,” he said. “A move to Connecticut is a bit confusing because he’s still within range of Gillette Stadium, the home of the Patriots.”
THE PROBLEM WITH GREENWICH
Having a star athlete and his glamorous model wife move into Greenwich would have been a rare bit of stellar news in a luxury real estate market that hasn’t seen much positive coverage lately.
Houlihan Lawrence recently reported that Greenwich’s luxury housing market generated only 126 sales during 2019, a 18.7% drop from the 155 sales recorded in 2018. The median home price for a Greenwich luxury residence in 2019 was $4.08 million, a 1.7% decline from the $4.15 million set one year earlier. The total dollar volume for this market sector in 2019 was $633 million, a 17.6% tumble from 2018’s $769 million.
Scott Lipow, president of Fairfield-based Six7 Marketing, speculated that the possibility of Brady and Bundchen setting up a home in Greenwich could have been spun in a manner that benefited the local luxury housing market.
“Just like with advertising, a celebrity endorsement is powerful,” he said. “If true, this is essentially an ‘endorsement’ for Greenwich and Connecticut from two of the most universally respected celebrities. Brands look for celebrities with shared values to endorse their products, so what better celebrities to endorse the local area than this power couple?”
Lipow added that Brady and Bundchen have amassed loyal fan followings on social media, which could further intensify the cred given to a Greenwich move.
“Celebrities like these two also have huge social networks, as they are brands in themselves,” he continued. “In the same way media and politicians are excited about a major brand like GE coming or leaving, shouldn’t they then care about celebrities?”
However, some real estate professionals questioned whether star power alone can help a troubled housing market. Craig Oshrin, a Realtor in the Fairfield office of Coldwell Banker, believed there is little novelty in having red carpet icons in this particular area.
“In the past, very wealthy celebrities moved in,” he said. “Greenwich is its own submarket and has been very powerful for years. It’s one of those cool things like, ‘Guess who’s living in Greenwich now?’ But it has no effect on the market. We need some excitement because it is very much a stagnant market. But let’s talk about context, not celebrities.”
Mark Pires, a Realtor at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties, knows from personal experience that A-list neighbors don’t necessarily boost local enthusiasm, let alone home sales.
“I grew up in New Canaan when Paul Simon and Harry Connick Jr. moved to town,” he recalled. “People walked right pass them in town. It doesn’t help the real estate market. It’s just one more celebrity looking for privacy outside of New York City.”
‘THE BETTER DEAL’
Pires also joked whether Greenwich residents would have been more excited at having the newly retired New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning as a neighbor rather than the leader of the Patriots.
John Traynor, executive vice president and chief investment officer at People’s United Bank, referred to the Brady news during a presentation at the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 Economic Outlook Breakfast.
“Massachusetts got GE and we got Gisele — I think we got the better deal,” he quipped, sparking a cheer of laughter from his audience.
Yet Traynor also used his presentation to highlight a none-too-funny comparison between the Connecticut and Massachusetts economies.
“Employment growth in Connecticut has still not gotten back to the prior peak in 2007,” he remarked. “We are dead last among the states. Massachusetts is 352% ahead of where they were in 2007. There’s something wrong here. They’re not fracking up in Massachusetts.”
Attracting a beloved entity to move out of Massachusetts was too much for Lamont to resist. The governor retweeted the Hartford Courant coverage of Hill’s announcement and added, “Other governors have tried to lure the @Patriots here to CT—30 years later, we’re glad to finally land one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. Welcome, neighbor @TomBrady!”
Ronald R. Magas, president of Magas Media Consultants LLC in Monroe, expressed concern that Lamont was not helping to boost Connecticut’s viability with his tweet.
“It makes Connecticut look silly,” he said. “But, then again, Connecticut’s politicians made themselves look silly in the last 25 years. Most people are not in Tom Brady’s world in terms of what he makes. How does this impact the average Joe’s life?”