It’s all about location, location, location, when you’re selling a house. Except when it isn’t.
A historic home from the roaring 1920s sits on an acre of waterfront land on the Gulf’s Intracoastal Waterway in Dunedin, FL. The location ticks all the boxes, but this home has been in search of a buyer since 2013. Seven years later, it’s still available for $4.6 million.
“Ever since I can remember, it has been on and off the market,” says Peggy Mateer, an agent who specializes in the luxury real estate market in Pinellas County, which includes Dunedin and other Florida cities, like Clearwater and St. Petersburg.
Known as the Kellogg Mansion, the vintage residence was built in 1925, in the coveted Dunedin Isles neighborhood. It has five bedrooms, 6.5 bathrooms, and 7,667 square feet of living space, with 295 feet of waterfront frontage.
Outside, the house has the classic Florida look: pink stucco with white accents, a tile roof, manicured grounds, and a boat dock. But that’s where the classic look ends.
An ‘incredible adventure to walk through’
Once inside, the home is … unique. The entrance has marble floors, archways, columns, a curved staircase, mosaic tiles, an original chandelier, and lots of color and patterns.
“I know the Kellogg mansion. Every room is different, it’s an absolute incredible adventure to walk through,” Mateer says. “Some of the best of the old has been removed, but there’s still so much there that is steeped in history.”
The primary bedroom has a wealth of custom wood ornamentation and an imposing canopy bed made of cherrywood. The nearby primary bathroom has marble pedestal sinks, a huge tub, and mirrored dressing rooms.
“Something like this is very wonderfully unique and a bit on the unusual side,” says Jennifer Zales, who is also a luxury agent “That is going to take a very unique buyer, and it’s not going to be something that would necessarily appeal to the masses.”
Other rooms include a tiki bar, a dancing and entertainment area, game rooms, and other spaces dedicated to entertaining a crowd.
Huge arched windows make the most of the gorgeous waterfront viewpoints. Both Zales and Mateer say the location and views are fantastic. However, there is no pool, which is unusual at this price range.
Covered walkways guide you outside and to a guesthouse where the actor Sean Connery once stayed. Intricate mosaic murals adorn some outside walls. Most of the decoration is neither original nor historic.
“This house is beautifully ornate. Very, almost Vegas-like, if you were to think about some of the Vegas hotels,” Zales says.
She acknowledged that today’s buyers typically favor clean lines, bright whites, and grays—in other words, the polar opposite.
A possible comparable?
Mateer and Zales know firsthand how difficult it can be to sell a unique property.
It took time, but Mateer sold another extravagantly decorated six-bedroom, 6,776-square-foot waterfront house on nearby Harbor View Drive in August 2019.
“It was very much like the Kellogg Mansion, even though it was newer,” she says.
When the Harbor View house first went on the market in January 2018, it was offered at just under $3.5 million. Mateer took on the listing over a year later, and dropped the price to just under $2.7 million in January 2019.
After another price reduction, an auction intended to prod prospective buyers into action finally sold the house, at just over $1.8 million.
The house occupies two waterfront lots, and the homeowners decked out the interior spaces in their preferred taste, which meant color and vibrance, with lots of marble, columns, and paint.
“It very much reflected [the homeowners], and they did it nicely. You had a theater room. You had a ballroom, a cabana. It was a house of fun things,” Mateer says.
“At the time, their family changed, they no longer needed this size, and they bought a smaller house on the water and were ready to sell this very unique house.”
But as we’ve seen before, when a home is so closely shaped by its owners’ whims, it can be tough to find a buyer who shares the same vision.
“When someone customizes a house to the point that these people customized, usually you’re going to have a very difficult time recouping your money,” Mateer adds.
Tampa’s luxury housing market isn’t the culprit
The luxury market in the Tampa Bay area is booming. A few years back, Zales says only a few listings over $5 million would sell each year in the area, but as she sees it, the luxury market shows no signs of slowing down.
A couple of years ago, she worked on what was then the highest-priced sale in the area, listed at $9.5 million.
Beach and waterfront properties continue to fly off the market, but a buyer must be able to envision themselves in a home, according to another specialist in the area.
“The [Kellogg] house is not the luxury market in Tampa Bay,” says Cyndee Haydon, 2020 president of the Pinellas Realtor Organization.
“This house is somebody’s personal trophy, and they’re looking to have somebody else value it the way they do. And currently, in the seven years that have transpired, that hasn’t happened.”
Haydon explains that buyers have other luxury options to choose from in the area, if perhaps fewer than they did at this time last year. Over 90 properties priced at $2 million and above are now on the market in Pinellas County.
Pointing the finger at price
All three agents say that most houses that run into trouble finding a buyer have one problem: price. The Kellogg Mansion has been listed at or around $4.5 million since 2013. In fact, when it bobbed back on the market last month, the listing price rose $99,000, to $4,599,000.
“One of the most important parts of selling a home, especially one that has been on the market for quite some time, is to look very seriously at your price,” Zales advises.
“If a buyer does not agree, or the market opinion of your value does not match what they feel the value is worth, they will reject your listing. So, you have to listen very carefully to what the market is saying to you.”
Zales handled a similar listing in Tampa’s Avila neighborhood on Millan De Avila for major league All-Star Fred McGriff.
The slugger’s mansion languished on the market for a few years, before selling for almost $2.5 million in May 2019. That sounds like a robust sale price, until you learn the home first appeared on the market for almost $7 million in October 2014.
That house was much larger and newer than the Kellogg Mansion, but about an hour inland, in Tampa.
“We had to do a series of price adjustments that allowed us to find that buyer and match their opinion of value,” Zales explains.
Other cost considerations
Factoring in the cost of renovations and any deferred maintenance can also scare buyers away. Especially when it comes to historic or intensely customized homes—hello, Kellogg Mansion!
Redoing plumbing, adding a modern kitchen, updating HVAC, neutralizing the decor, and adding modern conveniences can be costly.
“People that live in old houses get a lot of pleasure, but they also have to put up with things that maybe everybody would not be willing to accept,” Mateer explains.
“Most people who are spending that much money are not going to live in [the Kellogg Mansion] the way it is.”
Permits and dealing with historical boards, as well as new codes and regulations for building on waterfront property, may add additional headaches, Mateer warns.
Even without the nearly century-old house, the land the Kellogg Mansion sits on is valuable.
“Many times, with houses like this, the reality is sometimes [that the land is] worth as much as the house you’re trying to sell,” Mateer explains.
According to public records, on March 19, a vacant lot on nearby Santa Barbara Drive, which is about half the size of the Kellogg Mansion’s 1-acre parcel, sold for $1.3 million.
Both Zales and Mateer say they think a buyer is out there, especially for the Dunedin waterfront, an area that’s in high demand.
“Usually, you get all houses sold that want to be sold or need to be sold because you make it happen with price,” Mateer says.
“There is a price that will make it far more attractive, a price that makes sense for all the things that [a buyer] wants to do.”
“The most important thing I will tell everyone is: Even though our market is doing very well, buyers will still not overpay for a home,” Zales says.
“Overpriced listings will not sell,” she adds. Even with a desirable location, if a property’s price is wrong, “The market will reject it.”
In other words, as Zales sums it all up, “You can’t just throw a house up at any price and say, ‘Oh, it’s going to sell,’ because it won’t.”