$1M market: How pricey properties find buyers

Real estate agent Darren Ahearn, right, walks with property owners Charlie and Betty Hogendorp as they tour the grounds at an equine property Ahearn is helping them to sell for $2.4 million. (Frederick News-Post/Graham Cullen)

Real estate professionals say the market is improving. Historically low mortgage rates, generally low home prices and distressed properties — foreclosures and short sales — make it a buyers’ market.

But what of houses priced at $1 million or more? What does it take to market and sell such dearly priced properties?

“Historic homes require specialized marketing because there is so much more to them than just a dwelling,” said Gary Gestson, certified historic properties specialist with Long & Foster Real Estate in Gaithersburg.

Gestson, an exclusive affiliate of Christies International Real Estate, was an art dealer for 25 years. He has sold more than $750 million in historic and high-end homes during his career.

“I approach marketing (a) historic home in the same manner as a work of art, and every historic homeowner and historic home buyer intuitively understands the fine art connection,” Gestson wrote in an email.

Gestson is now marketing a historic house in Sabillasville, built in 1908 and priced at nearly $1.2 million. The building once served as a power-generating plant and laundry for a tuberculosis sanitarium and was designed by architects Wyatt & Nolting.

Homes priced at $1M or more sold in Frederick County:

2006: 28

2007: 14

2008: 8

2009: 5

2010: 4

2011: 4

2012: 2 (Through July)

Source: Dan Plombon, Mackintosh Inc. Realtors

The house has more than five bedrooms, three and a half baths, sits on 11 acres of land and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“My job as (a) historic home marketing specialist is to reveal that value in a way that allows the buyer to appreciate the rare buying opportunity and compels him or her to act,” Gestson said. “Only a small part of the value of (a) historic home is based on physical makeup of the materials, so the only way to determine the value of (a) historic home or work of art with any certainty is through marketing.

“If you are marketing to buyers who don’t understand the value of (a) historic home, then that extraordinary home is only an old house, just as that rare drawing is only a piece of paper,” Gestson said.

Finding the right buyers

Marketing to the right target audience is key, according to Darren Ahearn, an agent with Real Estate Teams in Frederick.

“I have a horse farm listed right now for $2.4 million,” Ahearn wrote in an email. The primary structures were built in 2003, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.

Ahearn and his team contacted every equestrian farm group on the Internet, especially Maryland equestrian farms, and used social media to market the property.

“We also sent a custom packet to every other Realtor that has sold this type of property in the past or specializes in those (equestrian properties),” Ahearn said.

“I’ve learned that birds of a feather flock together,” Ahearn said, so he and his team contacted horse-training and horse- racing facilities, golf clubs and other places where people who might be interested in equestrian sites, and could afford them, would be found.

Buzz Mackintosh at Mackintosh Inc. Realtors is marketing the Tyler Spite House in downtown Frederick. Not only located in the heart of the city, but steeped in history, the property is on the market for $1.5 million.

The property is being marketed both as residential and commercial because it served for many years as a bed and breakfast, Mackintosh wrote in an email.

“It really is not much different with high-end homes. I always try to meet the agents and prospective buyers at the house, so I can show and demonstrate the home,” said Betsy Cain, an agent with Mackintosh Inc. Realtors. “That means no lock box, and you need to make yourself available and be able to accommodate them when they have it scheduled. It is worth it because you get to meet the buyer and get a feeling for what they think of the property and can report back to the sellers firsthand.”

Dan Plombon, an agent with Mackintosh Inc. Realtors, said 65 houses have been priced at $1 million or more from January 2006 through July 2012.

Ahearn said 26 houses are now listed at $1 million or more on the market in Frederick County.

Rare antiques

From the viewpoint of a seller, historic houses must be considered as rare antiques and valued as such.

George Drastal owns a property in Cascade that Gestson is marketing. He is selling the house as part of a retirement plan because he no longer needs to be near Washington to serve clients of his former consulting business, Drastal wrote in an email. He left a career in corporate research and development to become an independent consultant and bought the property more than 15 years ago.

The house, which sits on nine acres, was completed in 1904 as a summer home. The original owners, part of the family that owned the B&O Railroad, named the estate Tipahato, derived from the native Shoshone word “atipahato,” which means “top of the hill,” according to the website for the property.

An important factor is how well a property has been maintained and if it is substantially original, which would make for the highest valuation, Drastal said.

Additions or renovations should be architecturally consistent with the original style.

“The best way to keep the house style coherent is to just restore what’s there to the original condition, without changing it,” Dastal said.

Alterations should be made with the materials and workmanship used when the house was built.

“For example, a crumbling plaster wall could be replaced with drywall and look superficially the same, but doing so diminishes the value.”

New windows may be perceived as an improvement, but that isn’t always the case, Dastal said. Restored original windows with modern storm windows can be as “tight” as new windows. “Originals always look better and a home that’s been restored with its original windows in place is always more valuable,” Drastal said.

“Of course you don’t want to live in a museum,” he said, “and keeping original bath and kitchen fixtures is not a practical way to go. The same goes for safety, electric systems should be modern.”

It is also important to find contractors and carpenters who have experience and a reputation for quality work on older houses, Drastal said.

And selling such homes is all about relationships, Ahearn said. “These are not the type of homes you just throw out and hope something sticks, but use the Internet for virtual tours, YouTube tours, professional photos and descriptions are the key above all things.

“People with money will spend it on things they feel is a good value. Although high end properties are difficult and take time, they are not impossible to sell.”

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