The guest cottage could provide rental income.
House and garden-- Ramsay is being marketed as a wedding venue or a corporate retreat-- or even a vineyard.
It turns out the rich are as hesitant to buy real estate in a down market as the not-so-rich, and high-end properties have languished since the bubble burst. That's why Harry and Susan Lankenau are trying a new strategy to move their estate in the posh western Albemarle enclave of Greenwood.
Ramsay is a lush 78-acre historic landmark formerly owned by Langhorne Gibson– son of Irene Langhorne, who was the original "Gibson Girl" and who lived nearby at another estate, Mirador, with her renowned sisters in a neighborhood lined with stately manors.
With that sort of pedigree, it seems like Ramsay would be snapped up. But after sitting on the market since April 2010 at prices plunging from $7.5 million to $5.8 million, there simply hadn't been enough showings of the property, according to Harry Lankenau, and the empty-nest couple are "ready to pass the torch," as he puts it.
They decided to go the absolute auction route, which means on October 18, Ramsay will sell to the highest bidder, no matter how low that bid could be.
"We expect to get a fair price," says Lankenau, who paid $1.1 million for the house in 1999 after it had been on the market for over a year.
"The high-end real estate market has been in suspended animation for several years," says Lankenau, crediting the absolute auction process for creating interest that will generate showings.
And what comes with 1895-built Ramsay? Besides the 5,300-square-foot house, enlarged by noted architect Milton Grigg, there's a 2,300-square-foot guest cottage, a farmhouse, and barn in the Greenwood-Afton Historic District. The Mirador/Langhorne connection, says Lankenau, is 50 percent of why Ramsay is on the National Register of Historic Places and a Virginia Historic Landmark.
"The other 50 percent," he says, "is Milton Grigg."
The absolute auction is pretty unusual in this area. It was used in April 2011 to sell Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard after a foreclosure auction failed to bring what lender Farm Credit deemed a suitable price. The $7.3 million absolute-auction sales price was far below the nearly $35 million the creditor had lent on the troubled winery, which ended up in the hands of mogul/TV star Donald Trump.
Ramsay is not being foreclosed upon, and the Lankenaus are not in financial trouble, stresses Laura Brady, a spokesperson for Concierge Auctions, the New York-based firm handling the sale.
"We typically represent unique, one-of-a-kind properties that you can't compare to the house down the road," says Brady.
"We are seeing a trend," Brady says of the absolute route. "Our tactic removes the selling price from the equation. It's more about asking the public to set the value."
Potential buyers will get that chance on October 18– after they put up a $100,000 deposit.
Jim Bonner, who specializes in selling Albemarle estates and farms, is skeptical.
"To me, it's untested territory," says Bonner. "I've seen it used in other areas where it's worked well– and it's not worked well. Auctions in general have never gone well around here."
Noting that some non-absolute auctions fail to meet their reserve, Bonner says he'd never recommend an absolute auction, with one exception– to a buyer seeking a bargain.
"I may have to hide my head in shame if it goes for $10 million," says Bonner. But he doesn't think that's going to happen.
Harry Lankenau is undaunted. He sees a benefit for someone long unable to unload a property and for someone ready to get a dream house.
"There's an end to it," says Lankenau, "for the buyer and for the seller."