An article in Saturday's Real Estate section incorrectly described the areas included in the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. multiple listing service. Middleburg is included in the service's listings. (Published 12/07/1999)
Close your eyes and pretend for a minute that you have come into some real money, Internet-type money. All of a sudden, you have as much cash as you want to spend on a place in the Washington area.
So what are the most expensive houses available here, and what would you get for the money?
To find the answers, we looked last week in the area's multiple listing service, Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS covers the District and its suburbs, but does not include Middleburg and the Eastern Shore.) To get some variety, we picked the top four to examine more closely.
The result: The top of the market here, at least last week, was $6 million. That's how much the owners of the largest remaining working farm in Montgomery County want for their 1,125 acres, complete with two faded manor homes and three other additional houses, in the rolling hills just under Sugarloaf Mountain.
Yes, we know some high-end places are sold privately before they make it onto the listing service. And we also know that you could buy a multimillion-dollar house, tear it down and build an even more expensive house on the lot. But we were looking for what was readily on offer to the public last week.
In this price range, you can assume all the houses are in beautiful areas and have outside pools or tennis courts and extensive grounds. But they are otherwise quite different from one another.
If a $6 million farm isn't to your taste, the second-most-expensive house was an ornate--we're not going to say gaudy--$5.5 million brick Colonial with gilded ceilings and chandeliers even in some bathrooms. The price for the Potomac house includes all the furnishings, down to the knickknacks wrapped in plastic in the dining room cabinets.
Third on the list, at $5 million, was a new all-stone Colonial under construction on a five-acre lot in McLean in a still-to-be-built gated community. The compound, which is near a Virginia nature reserve, ultimately will have seven houses.
The fourth, at a not-so-cheap $4.9 million--recently reduced from $6 million--is a house just off Massachusetts Avenue in Northwest Washington. The stone Tudor is on a wooded hill near the National Cathedral and has views of the Washington Monument.
None of the four is an over-the-top movie star's mansion, but none are priced like a movie star's mansion, either. As real estate agents kept telling us, these properties would cost much, much more in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Greenwich, Conn., or London, just to name a few pricier places on the planet. Listening to them, you would almost think real estate here was cheap.
Prices lately have been on the rise, but so has the number of local people with this kind of money to spend. Although all of the agents said wealthy foreign buyers might consider these properties, they predicted that most of them eventually would end up in local hands.
But they conceded, too, that the more expensive a home, the longer it usually takes to sell, no matter how many more local millionaires there are out there. But, as they all kept insisting, it takes only one buyer to move a multimillion-dollar property.
Here are more details on the four properties:
Understated Elegance In the City
Massachusetts Avenue is just a block away, but when you're sitting in the back of this house, it feels as if you're in the country.
The all-stone Tudor house is on a quiet cul-de-sac in Massachusetts Avenue Heights, an area where senators live next door to ambassadors in the shadow of the National Cathedral--one of the swankiest addresses in the District.
Although the house is wedged in between other houses on the cul-de-sac, the lot fans out in the back. On different levels of the hilly three-quarter-acre garden, there are a pool, a tennis court and a couple of gazebos with hydrangea growing on them.
But it's not a mega-mansion.
"It has a very low-key feeling," listing agent Cathie Gill of Cathie Gill Inc. said of the six-bedroom, eight-bath house. "It's not, 'Hey look, wow, I've just made my first million.' Rather, it's understated."
But is it too understated to sport a price tag of almost $5 million?
The floors throughout the 8,000-square-foot house are a bleached hardwood in need of a good sanding. The decor and color schemes seem dated; Gill described them as art deco.
The four-story house has been on the market since the beginning of July, starting at an asking price of $6 million. "We saw lots of houses that went for that [price] that weren't anywhere near as good as this one," Gill said. A few weeks ago, the price was reduced to $4.9 million.
Gill visualizes empty-nesters buying the house, or even an older woman on her own who needs the extra space for children and grandchildren to come visit.
It's hard to see a family with children buying it. The family room is not off the kitchen--de rigueur for families in this price range--and there's no play area in the basement. Instead, the garage has been transformed into a rec room for the children and there's a nice, separate nanny apartment downstairs. The family room is at the front on the other side of the house from the kitchen.
"I like the simplicity of this house," Gill said.
Will someone pay $5 million for simple?
"There are two people very interested in this house at this moment," Gill said. "It will get sold very soon."
At Play In Fields Of Paradise
Elysian Fields Farm takes its name from the mythical Greek heaven. And the 1,125-acre farm on the western edge of Montgomery County is indeed a kind of paradise. It's acres upon acres of rolling green lawns, meadows and cropland punctuated with just five houses. The sprawling farm is nestled below Sugarloaf Mountain and abuts Maryland's Monocacy State Park.
But all that peace can be downright overwhelming. Especially if you have no idea what to do with it.
"You wouldn't buy it for the house," said Frank Jamison of Charles H. Jamison Inc. Real Estate, the listing agent. "You'd buy it for the privacy. And to make a statement. You could also buy it for the business. It's a working farm."
The five houses on the property, which range from a little cottage to a large manor house, have had no work done on them in the past decade, and so are in need of updating. Under conservation laws, however, they cannot be torn down. An additional six building lots have been approved on the land, so six new houses could be erected in addition to the five already there. That's so little additional construction that it is essentially impossible for a developer to buy the farm and put up town houses.
The farm is an assemblage of separate farms acquired by the owners over 50 years. Among the farms is a smaller one that used to be in Jamison's family. His grandparents owned that property, now a thin tract of land on the northwestern section of the Elysian Fields property, until 1944. His family no longer owns any of the ground.
Jamison said about 80 people have come through the farm since it went on the market 18 months ago. He said one serious buyer emerged last year, someone familiar with the farming business, but a tragedy in the buyer's family stopped him from completing the deal.
Jamison thinks the farm could be right for many types of buyers. He sees a conservation group, a philanthropic organization or a religious group buying the farm for their national headquarters to have a "real presence in the Washington area." Or perhaps the buyers, he said, could be a few Amish families from Pennsylvania buying it to live there in privacy. Or perhaps several families could get together to buy the land in a limited liability corporation, writing off the depreciation of the farm buildings and any other losses. Maybe an experienced farmer would buy the land to keep the farm going.
Jamison even looked for buyers in Hollywood. "I put an ad in Variety magazine," he said. "But they all wanted to know how far Rodeo Drive was. I told them, 'Look, this isn't Nantucket or Jackson Hole. This is Maryland. There's no quaint little town right outside the property. These are real farming villages.' "
He said, "Most of the people from Hollywood were looking for trophy farms, not real farms."
Jamison said he has had a lot of people interested in buying just 100 acres of the land. Having to buy all 1,125 acres, though, feels unwieldy to some would-be buyers, he said.
So Jamison sees the land being carved up somehow in the future.
"We'll probably have to divide it to sell it," he said. "It'll be a great shame, but that's probably what will happen."
A High-Priced Haven Grows Beyond the Gate
On winding, woodsy Georgetown Pike sits a lonely little gatehouse for a compound of seven five-acre estates.
Nobody is sitting in the gatehouse because there are no finished houses beyond the gate. The community of Langley Falls, previously known as Gentle Falls, is being created.
The only house that was built there when it was Gentle Falls burned to the ground this summer under still unclear circumstances. There was no insurance. George B. Sagatov Inc., a small builder of luxury homes mostly in McLean and Great Falls, bought the remaining lots at the resulting bankruptcy sale. George Sagatov already had bought two lots before the fire, giving him the entire community.
Sagatov's first Langley Falls house, which he is building speculatively--unusual for a luxury home builder--now is under construction. The 17,000-square-foot, six-bedroom, nine-bath house has been on the market for about four months at $5 million.
It's a large all-stone Colonial with a gaming room, an exercise room and a movie screen in the basement. There's a huge kitchen with a two-story family room, an elevator stopping at all four floors and a pool and heated spa beyond a big deck in the back yard. The library is paneled in cherry, the bathrooms are marble, and the windows are Palladian and huge. It's got basically anything anyone might want in a house.
"It doesn't scare me to have the most expensive house for sale in this area," Sagatov said. "That's fine with me."
And why has no one bought it yet?
"I'm not counting on it getting sold before it's done," Sagatov said. "It's hard to fully appreciate a house like this until it's done. Anyway, I've had a lot of activity in the past few days."
Listing agent Penny Yerks from Weichert Realtors Inc. said she envisions young Northern Virginia techies with lots of children moving into the compound, attracted because it's a secure, gated community with plenty of room for youngsters to roam freely and safely.
"A lot of money has been made around here through the Internet," Yerks said. "We're becoming like New York and Silicon Valley in terms of home prices. . . . But I think it's going to be even better than those places. It's Virginia, and the money is here."
All That Glitters Is Gold And It's All for Sale
Every inch of this house is decorated.
The ceiling of every major room is gilded, every surface boasts a knickknack, every window is covered with a curtain that doesn't draw back. Behind the imposing all-brick Colonial exterior lies an equally formal interior.
The floor of the entry foyer, for example, is made of small individual bits of Italian marble pieced together. A Baccarat glass chandelier hangs from its gilded ceiling. The doors from the foyer into the library are sandwiched between columns veined with 24-carat gold.
And everything--absolutely everything--in the seven-bedroom, nine-bath house is for sale, down to the silverware on the table.
"This house is for someone who wants an immediate presence in Washington," listing agent Marsha Schuman of Coldwell Banker Realty Pros said about the 15,000-square-foot house. "You can start entertaining right away without even having to worry about decorating. Someone who already owns four or five houses elsewhere would probably find that convenient."
And entertaining is what you'd have to have in mind to fill this sprawling house. Outside near the pool and hot tub, there's a guest house and a caterer's kitchen for preparing meals for parties without ever going into the main house.
Talk about fancy. The master bedroom suite is all in pink--a pink ceiling, a pink chandelier, a pink bed comforter and a pink sofa in the sitting area. The comforter will convey.
Schuman said the owner picked out every gilded detail herself when the house was custom-built 11 years ago. Schuman describes the owners only as "international." In fact, a signed and framed photo of Imelda Marcos, the wife of the former Philippine strongman, sits on a library shelf.
The house has been on the market since the beginning of September. About eight prospective buyers have come through to see it, according to Schuman.
But what if someone likes the house but doesn't want a pink bedroom or gilded ceilings in every room?
"Someone who's going to buy this house is not going to care about remodeling costs," said Schuman. "If you have to even ask about remodeling costs, you're not the buyer of this house."