2006-05-11 / News

Buying paradise at a price

By Sam Bari

When Gloria Kurz, owner of Mansions & Manors real estate brokerage, advertises a New England shingle-style home on over seven acres of waterfront property with tantalizing views of beautiful Narragansett Bay, she is speaking to an elite and exclusive audience. The exquisite property with 406-feet of waterfront on the East Passage features an array of amenities.

Designed by renowned architect Charles Bevins and built circa 1892, the finely proportioned home is distinguished by detailed ornamentation, a richly paneled living room, formal dining room with trompe l'oeil ceiling, period staircase, and five fireplaces. The firstand second-floor waterside piazzas extend the length of the home and overlook sweeping grounds, a Koi pond, formal gardens, a waterfront pavilion with fieldstone fireplace and a custom-designed pool with spa framed by a bluestone terrace and accented by an arbor with climbing roses and plantings. A deepwater dock, mooring, separate combination carriage house and garage, and an expansive shingle-style barn perfectly complement the manor house. That is what $11 million will purchase on the coveted coastline of Conanicut Island.

The privileged few that can afford the luxurious estate consider the price to be in line with the prime location, and a real find in a maturing market with limited available inventory. "We don't even have to leave the state to find buyers," says Kurz. "More intrastate sales of super-luxurious homes occur between well-heeled Rhode Islanders than interstate purchases made by out-of-towners. Some are sold through brokerages. Many sales are handled privately. Only a few years ago, I was selling luxury homes on this island starting at $500,000. Now, a luxury home starts at $2 million and super-luxury homes are upwards of $5 million. And there are more buyers than properties for sale in the high end of the market," she added.

Sales statistics reveal that the prime real estate on the Rhode Island shoreline is destined for ownership by the carriage set wanting both summer and yearround homes in the picturesque area. And Jamestown is the crown jewel in the perfect island setting on Narragansett Bay, with minimansions and luxurious estates gracing the shores of the East and West Passage.

"Accurately pricing these prime properties can be tricky," said Patricia Elsworth of Gustave White, Sotheby's International Realty. "Jamestown has a good inventory of both high-end properties that can be developed, and existing homes ready for renovation. The secret is to find the right person for each property. That is the key to success in this business. Making that match is never easy," she said.

Caroline Goodrich of Lila Delman Realty said that "more homes are available for renovation at the high end of the market than super-luxury homes that are ready for sale. Recently, a man bought a luxury home for $4.5 million and allegedly put over $20 million into the renovation. Although dramatic investments like that are the exception, sizable renovations are not rare. Whether

he could get his money back if he were to sell, I don't know. But if he keeps the property long enough, it's possible. Many of the summer cottages are being sold to people who want to turn them into luxury year-round homes, and business is brisk in that market," she noted.

"There is a limited inventory in the million dollar-and-up price range," said Linda Wallace of ReMax Bay View Realty. "That market will always get activity because not that much is always available. It seems to go in cycles. Right now, the $600,000 to $900,000 price range is the most active part of the market. The property is often the valuable commodity in many of the sales. The houses are often torn down and completely rebuilt to be worth much more than when they were purchased. It won't be long before the little summer cottages that used to be so plentiful, will be a thing of the past," she said.

Although a few of the superluxury estates have been bought for investment purposes, it appears that the majority of buyers at the top of the market are making the purchases to establish permanent residency. Whatever the reason, the market is good, and the price of luxurious estates in Jamestown is not going to go down any time soon.

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