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$1M market: How pricey properties find buyers

Monday - 8/6/2012, 6:00am  ET

real estate Frederick County (Frederick News Post/Graham Cullen)
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.

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