Will a Price Cut Sell this Lake Bluff Mansion?

January 8, 2015

More than three years after scoring a bargain on the 21-acre Lansdowne estate, Peter Brennan is doing some price cutting of his own.

The developer has slashed the price of the unsold Georgian-style mansion on the lakefront property to $4.0 million, down from its most recent price of nearly $4.5 million. Brennan, who finished the subdivision’s roads and landscaping after buying it, also has shifted his strategy for the four remaining unsold lots on the site, deciding to build “spec” homes one at a time on the vacant parcels rather than waiting for buyers to show up and build their own. The spec homes will be priced from $2.5 million to $5 million.

Brennan picked up Lansdowne on the cheap in 2011, about when the residential market hit bottom, buying it for $7.5 million in a so-called short sale. The property turned out to be a disastrous investment for the seller, high-end builder Orren Pickell, who paid $16 million for it in 2007 and planned to develop the property as a subdivision of luxury homes but got caught by the crash.

The market for high-end homes has rebounded since then, and Brennan, principal of Hinsdale-based Foxford Communities, is still confident his investment will pay off. He said he originally expected the project to sell out in three to five years.

“We’re not worried,” he said. “You have to make adjustments and meet the market and that’s what we did.”

PROPERTY HISTORY

Designed by Chicago architect Benjamin Marshall, the home was built in 1911 for Rand McNally president Harry Clow. The property, right off Sheridan Road and just north of the Lake Forest border, is said to hosted one of the Midwest’s first polo matches and General George Patton. Pickell once sought almost $10 million for the mansion alone, and Foxford originally listed it for almost $6.5 million in 2011.

After buying the estate, Foxford finished the roads and completed landscaping and renovations to the home’s interiors. More recently, the developer removed a swimming pool and demolished a coach and pool house. Brennan declined to say how much he’s spent on the property beyond the acquisition price.

Though the high-end market has come back, the price cut and repositioning is the latest sign that buyers are still in the driver’s seat. A wide array of luxury historic homes is on the market in the North Shore region, said Eileen Campbell, a broker at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services KoenigRubloff.

“It comes down to there are other options in that price point all along the (North) Shore,” she said.

Some prospective buyers also might have been put off by the uncertainty over how neighboring lots on the estate would be developed, she said.

LOT BUYER BUILDING HOME

Foxford has sold two of the seven lots for $800,000 and $850,000 apiece. The buyer, Adrian I. Peace, a vice president at W.W. Grainger in Lake Forest, is building a 6,400-square-foot home on one of the lots and plans to move in late February. Peace said he bought two lots in part because he was concerned about what the neighboring homes would look like. But he said he thinks the activity on the property, with his home and a spec home being built, will bring more buyers, and he is confident the character of the Lansdowne development will remain.

“I think it’s going to take off,” Peace said of the project.

Now, instead of selling the four remaining vacant lots, Brennan plans to build homes there on spec, or without lining up buyers in advance.

“In today’s environment, people are interested in something that’s ready to move in and don’t want to wait 10 to 14 months,” he said. “There’s been a shift.”

Foxford also is spending $150,000 renovating the mansion’s top floor, converting several former servant bedrooms there into a studio apartment suite and great room. Potential buyers had trouble envisioning how they would put the bedrooms to use, Ohm said. The renovation will reduce the home’s bedroom count to six from 10.

“We’re really excited that we can help them see the property in a different way,” said the project’s listing broker, Jeff Ohm of Premier Realty Group in Vernon Hills.

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