Seller's remorse? Ramsay goes for $3.325 million

The historic Greenwood estate once owned by the son of Irene Langhorne Gibson, aka "the Gibson Girl," had languished on the market for more than two years, with its price dropping from $7.5 million to $5.8 million, and still it didn't sell. The owners then tried a different tack to move the mansion called Ramsay – on October 18, it sold at absolute auction for $3.325 million, less than half the original asking price.

Seller Harry Lankenau has nothing but praise for Concierge Auctions, the high-end real estate company that marketed Ramsay and held the auction little more than five weeks after announcing the sale, but he says he's feeling a little disappointed in the sales price.

"They got a lot more showings and jump-started interest in the property," says Lankenau. "If I had to do it over, I probably wouldn't do an absolute auction. Do I wish we'd gotten a better price? Yes. At the same time, it's not a terrible price."

Indeed, it's far beyond the Albemarle County appraisal of $1.81 million.

After more than 1,400 inquiries, eight people put up $100,000 deposits to bid on the 78-acre estate at the closed-to-the-public auction, according to Laura Brady at Concierge.

The high bidders were Thomas and Vivian Sargeant, who closed on the sale on October 29. He's the CFO of Avalonbay Communities Inc., an Arlington-based developer of upscale apartment complexes. The couple paid a 10 percent buyer's premium–a $332,500 fee– on top of the $3.325 million sales price, upping the total cost to $3.66 million, says Brady.

One quirk of absolute auctions will trim the amount of money going into county coffers. Because the assessor plans to use the lower sales price instead of the total cost as the new assessment, the Sargeants will save approximately $2,100 a year in property taxes, says Albemarle assessor Bob Willingham.

"Auctions are different– neither fish nor fowl," observes Willingham.

They're so unusual that even real estate lawyers can't quite explain why buyers premiums slide by the taxman when the rest of us are stuck paying property taxes on a commission-bolstered price.

Attorney Fred Payne says he doesn't really see absolute auctions taking off as a means to skirt property taxes, as that type of sale has its own risks– such as a really, really, low sale price.

Middleburg-based Andy Stevens of Long & Foster represented the Sargeants, and he says he's only participated in one other absolute auction.

"I was surprised the Lankenaus put their home up for absolute auction," says Stevens. "It's marketed as another way to sell a property, but people bidding think they're going to get a bargain."

Unlike Lankenau, the Sargeants were very happy with their purchase price for Ramsay, which will be their third home, says Stevens.

"They're looking forward to spending more time there," says Stevens. "I think they're going to be good stewards of the property."

Even though seller Lankenau says he wouldn't go the absolute auction route again, he's still pretty positive about the experience after two years of offering up Ramsay.

"Those estates," he notes, "just don't sell."


I'm quite sad to see the Lankenaus go. They were marvelous stewards of Ramsay, and the house had such a warm and loved feel. I greatly appreciated the fun eclectic way Susan furnished and decorated it. Very different from the usual stodgy estates around here!

Ahh yess the champagne is a bit stale today... Bout time that place sold so close to the road everyone is all tryin to peep at ya they wwwaaaayyyy overpaid.