Miami home builder Sergio Pinois rolling the dice in selling his 140-acre Horsefields Farm in Upperville, Va.

Pino, who originally listed the estate for $14.9 million, plans to sell the property on April 26 in an auction without reserve — meaning an auction without a minimum bid. After making a refundable deposit of $100,000, someone theoretically could walk away with the house, which is not in foreclosure, for a fraction of what it’s worth if no one tops his bid.

“This is very risky,” said Fouad Talout, a real estate agent with Long and Foster in McLean, an exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate, who is not involved with the sale.

Pino, who purchased the property in 2006 for $6.7 million as a summer home for his family, said his strategy in the auction is to draw an international buyer. “A local real estate broker would mostly just attract other buyers from the Middleburg area and not get the property exposed to buyers from around the world,” says Pino, president and chief executive of Century Homebuilders in Miami. “I believe we’ll get what we need.”

The farm’s stone manor house has six bedrooms, six bathrooms and space for entertaining. The grounds include a barn with 10 horse stalls. The property also has guest houses, a caretaker’s cottage, a custom-designed gym and a swimming pool.

“I have to admit it hurts a lot to sell this place,” Pino said. But as a home builder in Florida, “times have been tough. We haven’t been able to spend as much time here lately, and it’s an expensive asset.”


The 30-year average fixed rate dipped this week. That rate has remained below 4 percent for a year and has hovered near 3.5 percent just about every week since January.

MRIS makes a bid to be bigger with buyers

The competition between the online listing services is heating up.

MRIS is the bible for real estate agents — but not so much for house hunters and sellers. Now the Rockville-based firm, which operates the multiple listing service for the Washington region, is hoping to get on more consumers’ radar.

This week, it launched a media campaign — complete with TV and radio spots as well as print, bus and Metro shelter ads — to significantly raise the profile of its local listing service for consumers, which competes with several national Web sites, including Seattle-based Zillow. The company is rebranding the consumer service, changing its name to from

MRIS asserts that the national sites often slow house hunters’ searches because the sites don’t quickly remove listings of houses that have been sold. A recent study by the WAV Group, a consulting firm, showed that many of these national sites don’t have one-fifth of homes that are on the market, while 36 percent of listings that do appear are no longer for sale.

John L. Heithaus, MRIS’s chief marketing officer, says the firm’s advantage to consumers is its accuracy as a “direct source” of data. “We get listings sooner, and when there’s a change — such as a listing price reduction — we’re the first to post it,” Heithaus said. “There are several intermediary services the data has to go through” to get to other sites.

But Zillow spokeswoman Katie Curnuttedisputed the notion that its site has inaccuracies, saying it is updated every 15 minutes. She cited the tens of thousands of for-sale-by-owner and construction listings, which “you don’t typically find” on a multiple-listing service. “Zillow is the only place you can find all these home types for free,” she said.

Sold: Marion Barry’s Hillcrest mayoral home

The 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bath house in Hillcrest where Marion Barry spent three tumultuous terms as D.C. mayor was purchased this week. As first reported in Curbed DC, the property on Suitland Road SE was listed at $469,000 and sold for $450,000.

Barry and his then-wife, Effie, bought the house in 1979 for $125,000 and were the first to live in it. They had columns erected in the front to distinguish it from other properties, said a spokeswoman for the online real estate brokerage Redfin. Effie Barry and the Barrys’ son Christopher moved out in 1990, shortly after Barry was sentenced to six months in prison for possession of cocaine. In 1993, the Barrys divorced and sold the house.

The house was purchased by a couple with a baby. according to Redfin.

Tip of the week

If you’ve ever thought it would be helpful to have floor plans when you go house hunting to compare the sizes of kitchens from one property to the next, check out the MagicPlanapp for iPhones and iPads.

The app, created by a company called Sensopia, was adapted from technology used by police detectives to document crime scenes. With the app, you can create a visual record of a home you want to buy.

All you need to do is take pictures of the space with your smart phone or tablet. The app draws the floor plan for each room. You can choose whether you want the plans as a PDF, a JPG, a DXF file or an interactive Web page. No detective work required.

— Michele Lerner

Lerner is a freelance writer. Want to pass on an idea or a news item, contact us at and put
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