Delayed karma--1238 Versailles Ave, Alameda, CA

The famous Webster House, reportedly the oldest building in Alameda, has been on and off the market for several years, and it's now on the MLS(r). It's currently listed at $1,795,000 ($598 / sqft) and my guess is that it probably won't sell this time around either.

The specs:

6 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, 3,000 sqft, ~7,000-sqft lot, MLS(r) #351782, $1,795,000

Architecturally & historically significant WEBSTER HOUSE Bed & Breakfast Inn is offered for sale!!!!!!! This 1854 Gothic Revival house was designed by Andrew Jackson Downing, built in New York, shipped around Cape Horn and assembled in Alameda. [...] Six bedrooms, six baths, seven fireplaces, hundred-year-old trees on the property and great karma [...]

It's not exactly my cuppa architecturally speaking, and the commercial kitchen that's been advertised in various Craigslist posts would be overkill even for the occasional soufflé, but if you're into that sort of thing, it's certainly an interesting building.

The owners have been trying to get rid of it for years, and I've counted no fewer than seven asking prices, without an obvious downward pattern--the price seems to go up and down randomly:

$2,750,000 google cache link (no date)

1238-versailles-google-cache-1.jpg$2,195,000 listing (no date)

1238-versailles-househunter.jpgThe listing included this notice about "four businesses" being sold, although I'm really only counting three--the "General Administrative uses" doesn't sound like much of a business (emphasis added for ease of counting):

Our asking price is $2,195,000. This includes four businesses - Bed & Breakfast Inn (Turnkey - including most furnishings and all commercial kitchen equipment), Food Facility to the general public, that serves weddings and receptions over 20 years and daily High Tea and dinners, by appointment only; Antiques, Gifts & Novelties and General Administrative uses;
And my favorite part:

This is truely a wonderful business and great opportunity. Alameda real estate is also a great investment and this property is a unique tax shelter.
... which in my book is code for "you'll probably make no money but you'll be able to deduct the losses from your taxable income."

"just under 2 million" Oakland Tribune article from March 2004 (emphasis added)

1238-versailles-oakland-tribune.jpgWith close to five years' worth of tree houses in the back, I wonder how many square feet have been added to the property by now.

$2,350,000 Gallagher and Lindsey listing from December 2005

1238-versailles-wibiti.jpg$1,975,000 listing from November 2007

1238-versailles-fizber.jpgNote it was being pitched as a SFR then with no mention of the "four businesses" sold with the property (otherwise what's the point of mentioning the "best school district" if you're going to run this place as a B&B).

$1,600,000 google cache link from September 2008 (looks like an old Yahoo! Real Estate page)

1238-versailles-google-cache-2.jpg$1,795,000 current listing at

1238-versailles-site-jpg.jpgNote the perennial favorite "Offers Reviewed on" notice on the official site. What the heck do those mean, anyway? If someone comes in today with a solid, full price offer, will they have to wait 3 weeks for your "yes"? If someone comes in on Feb. 20 with a $2M all-cash offer, will you ignore them even if you have no offers by your deadline? The false sense of urgency really irritates me.

I'd also like to have heard the pricing-strategy conversation that must have taken place between the owners and the new agents. Maybe it went like this:

Agents: "Wow, this is a great historical property in this quaint little village of Almeria, it must be worth $1.8M, so let's entice buyers with a low, low price of $1,795,000."
Owners: "We tried it at $1.6M just three months ago and it didn't sell."
Agents: "Well, September 2008 wasn't a Great Time To Buy. Now is a Great Time To Buy, and you'll have the full marketing power of Sotheby's behind your quaint historical property in the great little village of Almodovar."
Owners: "Ok, you're the pros, we'll just go out and build another tree house while you guys get busy."
Or maybe the owners conveniently didn't mention the previous listings at various wishing prices, including less than the current price.

Update 4/9/2009: Building treehouses must really be getting old, because we're now down to $1,395,000.

Update 4/24/09: Thanks to reader luczai who pointed out this gem from Marilyn Schumacher's blog (emphasis added):

Webster House Auction....continued from last week. Mr. Evan Schumacher wondered what happened with The Webster House auction (announced in last week's post). The bottom line on the auction of the Webster House (Bed and Breakfast Inn) at 1238 Versailles, is that there was no bottom line. No sale. There were far fewer people than I expected there would be and most were just curious, not bidders. There may have been 3 people interested in bidding but even they didn't seem too interested due to the lack of interest!

But here is why there was no sale. Auction was set to start at 1pm. By 1:20pm one of the Real Estate Auction people had people move towards the sidewalk, gather round, and he announced that "This has never happened before to us. I won't give details but I just got off the phone with the Seller and she has decided not to sell it." Well, that is no surprise to those of us who have watched this over the years....One person who called me to find out what happened at the auction immediately said "There weren't enough people to give her the attention she wanted!" The agent had also verbally relayed some representations the owner had made regarding parking and in no uncertain terms 3 local licensed real estate brokers AND a former B&B owner in town said that info was bogus.

I think the auction company may be rethinking their interview process and doing some fact checking before they jump into a gig like this that 'includes' the biz, which is virtually impossible to substantiate a value for, as noted by a couple who had previously had contact with the owner and walked away from the 'deal'. They were also there as interested bystanders.

If this market, plus 23 years of working around Alameda, has taught me anything, a property that has been on the market for years usually has one big reason for not selling. And that is the seller. And that takes care of every possible reason the seller gives as to why the joint ain't sold.

There goes another treehouse.

Update 5/5/09: The pain continues.

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This page contains a single entry by L. Opine published on January 29, 2009 3:15 PM.

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