Trump's no-trespassing signs may have scared off other prospective buyers.
PHOTO BY HAWES SPENCER
The lawsuit is over, the no-trespassing signs are down, and The Donald just may want to keep the place for his family. A little over a year after he began snapping up the surrounding properties at fire-sale prices, New York-based real estate mogul and reality television star Donald Trump has grabbed the final and most storied piece of the pie: Albemarle House, for another discounted price: $6.5 million.
Built for Patricia Kluge and then husband, John Kluge, in the mid-1980s, Albemarle House is over 23,000 square feet of neo-Georgian opulence. With 45 rooms, a pool complex, heliport, and its own private chapel, the 98-acre estate is the real estate listing featured on the cover of the current edition of a local real estate mag.
What Fine Properties magazine didn't show, however, was the front yard. That's because Trump, who owned it, had left the grass uncut and hammered down about a dozen large no-trespassing signs, part of what turned out to be a successful strategy to scare away other buyers and drive down the price.
And down it went. Albemarle House was originally listed three years ago for $100 million– a price experts called absurd and which may have spoken more to the needs of the sellers than any market reality.
After several price drops, the empty mansion (even the drapes had already gone to auction) hit the foreclosure auction block 20 months ago. At $3.6 million, Trump was the high bidder, but the lender figured it could get more in a private sale. Bank of America took back the house and turned to Charlottesville-based farm-broker Jim Bonner who offered it for $16 million. (The County government fixes its worth at $14.6 million, a value likely to drop in next year's assessment.)
The Washington Post broke the story of the latest deal, which wins Patricia Kluge's blessing and comes a year after The Donald helicoptered in for a grand opening of the rechristened Trump Winery, which he put under the thumb of his then 27-year-old son Eric. The younger Trump says the family is considering whether to create a golf resort, a lavish hotel, or even a private compound at Albemarle House.
"Honestly, we're not sure yet," says Trump. "There are so many great options."
Trump says that one option might be bundling Albemarle House with a few hundred acres for a family who wants "probably the most luxurious house in the country." And that family might be named Trump.
"We're a family," says Trump. "We're not desperate to sell."
He notes that the Trumps already own a historic stone house compound in upscale Westchester County, New York. In Albemarle, public records show Trump ownership of over 1,000 acres, and Eric Trump says the total haul is actually in the 1,500-acre vicinity, property whose bank valuations, he says, total $132 million.
Bank of America's lawsuit against Donald Trump resulted in an August opinion by federal judge Norman Moon that Trump's right to buy Albemarle house couldn't trump other buyers. He had to bid just like anyone else.
Banks lost big on Patricia Kluge and current husband, William Moses. The Albemarle House loan was $22.8 million. The winery, which sold for $7.3 million, carried $34.8 million worth of debt.
If Kluge's business strategy faltered, her wines won acclaim; and Eric Trump says he's proud to see those wines now bearing the Trump name. He says he'll concentrate on continuing to run the winery which continues to win awards and draw weddings.
"Obviously, it made a lot of sense for us to get the house because it was the centerpiece of the property," says Trump. "It was a great result for us, for everybody."