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Local Mansions, a Relative Bargain

By Sandra Fleishman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 28, 2006

It may seem as if Washington area home prices are ultra high, but only 21 properties here made a list of the 1,000 most expensive houses on the market in America that was published this week.

And at $8 million to $25 million, the farmland, estates and mansions here look like absolute bargains compared with the asking prices of hundreds of properties elsewhere, mostly in New York, California and Florida.

At $25 million, the most expensive Washington area listing, an 11-acre parcel of land called Rokeby Farm in McLean, pales in comparison with the $125 million that Donald Trump is asking for his six-acre spread plus mansion in Palm Beach, Fla.

While Trump may command much more money these days, Rokeby was once briefly home to an even bigger celebrity in her time. In August 1814, first lady Dolley Madison landed at Rokeby, the home of her friend Matilda Lee Love, when the White House was torched by the British.

The property, which is home now only to stables and horses, was listed in May by Dan and Jan Laytham of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. in Great Falls.

To find a local house to compare to the Trump hacienda -- which boasts 15 bedrooms and 14 baths -- you have to look at the second-most-expensive listing in the Washington area as ranked by Ultimate Homes Magazine. The Princeton, N.J., publication, issued its second annual ranking of the top listings on Tuesday.

The most expensive local listing for a house rather than land, according to the magazine, is the last home lived in by retail magnate Herbert H. Haft, who died in 2004 at age 84.

The seven-bedroom, 11 1/2 -bath mansion at 2501 30th St. NW in the District went on the market for $20 million at the end of July, according to agent Maggie Shannon of Long & Foster in Georgetown. It was assessed at $8 million in 2005.

Myrna Haft, Haft's widow, received the house as part of a $50 million estate inherited from her husband, whom she married in a deathbed ceremony.

Shannon said this week that the Haft property, which is gated and sits on a half-acre of land near Embassy Row, has attracted "a lot of interest" from locals and international visitors. The house has Italian marble floors, French and English lighting fixtures, such as a chandelier from the Paris Opera House and marble fireplaces. The custom-made furnishings are for sale separately.

Typically, houses in the highest end of the market can take months or years to sell if the "right buyer" doesn't show up immediately, real estate experts say.

An example of a property that was expected to sell promptly but hasn't -- perhaps because its original price was excessive, according to some local agents -- is Hickory Hill, the McLean mansion of Ethel Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.

Hickory Hill shows up at $16.5 million on the Ultimate Homes ranking, in third place after the Haft house at $20 million and after a $17 million, 3.5-acre property in McLean. That estate, however, is now being offered at $12.9 million.

Hickory Hill has also been marked down quite a bit from its original asking price of $25 million in October 2003.

Ethel Kennedy dropped the price to $20 million in 2004, and then to $16.5 million last September, according to agent W. Ted Gossett of Washington Fine Properties in Wesley Heights. The house was assessed at almost $6 million in 2005.

"We believe it is a very realistic price now," Gossett said. He noted that Merrywood, the historic McLean mansion that was the childhood home of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, recently sold for $24.5 million to former AOL chairman Steve Case.

Robert Kennedy purchased Hickory Hill, built in 1815, and its six acres in 1957 from his brother John F. Kennedy, who had bought it four years earlier when he was a young, newly married Massachusetts senator.

Robert and Ethel Kennedy paid $125,000, the same price John Kennedy had paid.

Their 11 children grew up in the 10,500-square-foot house, which has 13 bedrooms and eight baths. The house was the scene for many parties during JFK's presidency, and Robert Kennedy's years as attorney general and Democratic presidential candidate. After RFK's assassination in 1968, Ethel Kennedy opened the home for numerous Democratic fundraisers and benefits for nonprofit groups.

The house has a dozen fireplaces, a "grand salon" living room, a movie theater and a sauna. Outside are two pools, a cabana, horse stables and lighted tennis courts.

Tied with Hickory Hill in the magazine's rankings of the most expensive Washington area listings is "Ellenborough," a 54-acre estate with a 12,000-square-foot house in Easton.

The three-level mansion was built in 1800 by an early Talbot County family and rebuilt in the mid-1920s after a fire destroyed most of the original structure. It has been recently renovated, according to Cliff Meredith of the Meredith Real Estate Co. The main house has nine bedrooms, eight baths, a gourmet kitchen, a separate four-bedroom servants' wing and other luxury features. The property also has a new boathouse, a restored barn, a large guest house, plus a tennis court and pool.

Listed last fall at $16.5 million, it was recently used for filming of the romantic comedy "Wedding Crashers."

Among the other 18 local listings in the magazine, which started its rankings at $8 million, are five other properties in McLean, three grand estates in Easton, a 286-acre farm on the Wye River in Maryland ($14 million) and 855 acres in Loudoun County approved for 53 homes ($11 million).

New York had the most properties in the magazine's ranking, with 333 listings. California came in second with 183. And Florida had 174.

In second place in this year's rankings was a $75 million estate in Bridgehampton, N.Y., with a professionally rated golf course and more than 20,000 square feet of living space. In third place was the penthouse at the Pierre in New York at $70 million, the highest asking price for a Manhattan apartment, according to the magazine.

Trump's $58 million World Tower penthouse came in at No. 9 on the list.

House.gossip is an occasional look at interesting places owned by interesting people. To let us know about houses worth covering, e-mail us atrealestate@washpost.com.

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