Bridgewater is among the Connecticut communities whose home prices have risen steadily.

In most housing markets, potential homebuyers who intend to pay for a new property with cash would have a pretty good shot of finding a house they like. But an increasingly competitive market in Greenwich has meant that, even for those with hundreds of thousands – or millions – of dollars at their fingertips, finding a home they like isn’t a sure thing.

The competitiveness of the market also has meant another milestone for the cosmopolitan New York suburb: The median price of a single-family home is now well over $1 million.

Greenwich is now ranked as the Connecticut community with the third-largest increase in median home prices, according to statistics from The Warren Group, parent company of The Commercial Record.

The town’s median price was $985,000 through October 2003 and increased about 50 percent to $1.48 million through October 2004. And although its increase was only the third largest in the state, it may well be the most significant. The Greenwich statistics were based on hundreds of sales – 836 last year and 750 this year – while the statistics for the towns with the first and second rankings were based on fewer than 40 sales for each year.

Greenwich’s blockbuster year has come about for several reasons, according to Barbara Wells, a Realtor who specializes in fine homes and new construction for Prudential Connecticut Realty in Greenwich. The number of available homes in the town is low, just as more people from around the country and the world are coming to live there, Wells said.

“The inventory is less,” she noted.

At the same time, more businesses are transferring employees to Greenwich, a trend that previously had slowed down, Wells said. In particular, Realtors are seeing more people from Hong Kong and London, she said, another trend that Greenwich hasn’t seen in a couple of years.

“Now it’s picking up very, very nicely,” Wells said.

Homes in every price range – if priced right – are selling in about a week, she said.

“There are buyers,” she said.

The market also has caught up to homes that have been on the market for many months. Many buyers considered those homes overpriced a year ago, Wells said, but now a home that is on sale for $1 million – but should have been $800,000 a year ago – is selling for close to its asking price.

‘A Different Lifestyle’

Greenwich has been so popular with buyers over the past year, Wells noted, that although the town has about 1,000 Realtors for the 700 or 800 sales every year, she is representing about 40 buyers. Many of those buyers are prepared to pay for a home in cash, but because of competition from area builders, they are having trouble finding properties, Wells said.

Builders lately have been driving Greenwich’s housing market, Wells said. They are coming into town from all over the tri-state area and are often backed by Wall Street money, she said. The builders are taking part in Greenwich’s booming housing market by tearing down small to medium-sized homes and building much larger homes.

Because of the profit the builders can make after the project is complete, they often outbid other homebuyers, Wells said. The trend has made it especially difficult for people who are downsizing and looking for a smaller home.

“I’ve had quite a few people lose houses to them,” she said.

But even some builders have been having trouble finding properties to work on, Wells said.

Some of the most obvious reasons for the rise in Greenwich’s median price are the sales of multimillion-dollar estates. One estate – a five-building property – sold for $43 million earlier this year and another recently sold for $23 million, Wells said.

Wells expects the strong market in Greenwich to continue, as long as interest rates stay stable, she said.

Although the number of sales in Greenwich makes that town’s rise to nearly the top of the ranking of increased median home price probably the most significant shift in the state, several smaller towns are also in the top 10.

The town with the biggest increase in median home prices is Bridgewater in southern Litchfield County. Litchfield County towns often appear near the top of similar lists. Last year, Colebrook saw the biggest increase in median home prices, with an increase of 85 percent. There were 27 sales in 2002 and a median price of $165,000. In 2003, there were 17 sales and a median price of $305,500. But through October of this year Colebrook fell to the very bottom of the list and saw the greatest decrease in median price, with 21 sales and a median price of $219,000. That marked a decrease of 28 percent.

Last year’s high median price was a fluke, said Tom McGowen, an agent at the Norfolk office of Elyse Harney Real Estate. Although the median price fell from 2003, it is still tens of thousands of dollars higher than it was in 2002.

“Everything here tends to go up,” he said.

Bridgewater’s 87 percent rise is also something of a fluke, according to Cathy Masi of Flagpole Realty in Newtown.

“There are so few sales [on which to base statistics],” she said.

Indeed, Bridgewater’s statistics showed 12 sales in 2003 with a median price of $283,000 and 17 sales in 2004 with a median price of $530,000. The increase can be partly attributed to a couple of pricey sales, Masi said.

Bridgewater, a town of 1,800 residents, never has many transactions, said Peter Klemm of Klemm Real Estate, a boutique agency in Litchfield that specializes in weekend getaways. About 60 percent to 65 percent of residents in Bridgewater are year-round residents, but the rest come from Boston or New York City and buy weekend homes, sometimes paying millions of dollars in the otherwise moderately priced region. Bridgewater last year had two sales more than $1 million, he said. Both were on Lake Lillinonah, a popular spot with weekenders.

Bridgewater itself – like many of its neighbors – is a sleepy community.

“If you can do the commute, it’s just a different lifestyle,” Masi said.

Norfolk, another Litchfield County town that had a large increase in its median home price – albeit also based on few sales – has a similar appeal, McGowen said. But he has been noticing a new trend in the area. Now that the presidential election is over, many young families and other buyers have started looking for homes, he said. Young couples have started coming from New York City or Boston and looking for permanent residences in northern Litchfield County.

“[That] is new to me,” he said.

Many of those homebuyers are in their 30s or 40s and plan to run their businesses from home, he added.