There's an indoor swimming pool, an advanced geothermal heating system, eight bedrooms and a secret passage, but there will be one thing missing when a Quebec mansion hits the auction block next week - an asking price.
The owners of a sprawling estate in Hudson, Que., just west of Montreal, have put their unconditional faith in an American auctioneer to sell the house they have been unable to unload for more than two years through an agent.
They'll accept whatever the fast-talking auctioneer can coax out of the crowd of potential buyers in a traditional auction Tuesday afternoon on the five-acre property. That means bidders will need to stand before the podium with paddles in their hands, incrementally increasing their bids in an attempt to win the 17,000-square-foot home.
Open-outcry auctions are a primary way to trade real estate in some countries, such as Australia. In Canada, they are relatively rare, though they do occur in some rural communities, especially in Western Canada.
But the unconditional auction of a multimillion-dollar mansion is unprecedented. John Hooper, 70, said it's the best way to get on with his dream of travelling the world with his wife while they are still able to enjoy themselves.
"We know that people react well to the possibility of a bargain," said Mr. Hooper, who had previously listed the house for $5.5-million. "I know we may not get the price we want, but we do think we will receive a price that is fair. I'm ready to get on with it - I've travelled the world for business, but all I've ever seen is the inside of hotels."
The property is being sold by North Carolina-based Grand Estates Auction Company. The company specializes in multimillion-dollar properties across the United States, but this will be the first time president Stacy Kirk brings her team to Canada.
She expects to find a different type of buyer in Quebec, where property values have held steady through the recession and buyers have been easier to find than in the devastated American markets that have kept her busy.
"Our market is suffering terribly and a lot of properties are selling for half of what they once were," she said. "But in Canada, the reports indicate that real estate is in much better shape and it should attract a focused group of buyers who want to live in and enjoy a remarkable property."
The company's most recent auction was for a mansion in Naples, Fla., which had been owned by their chief executive officer. The house fetched $1.8-million, a "little more" than Val DeVine paid three years ago. The listing generated 250 inquiries, 94 previews and 12 bidders.
While auctions occur in rural Western Canadian communities with some regularity, they play a small role in the broader market. Don Campbell, president of the Real Estate Investment Network, said most attempts to auction higher-end properties in this country have flopped - and those all had minimum asking prices to protect the seller from low-balling opportunists.
"A number of groups have tried to do this and they have fallen flat on their face," he said. "There's no culture of auctioneering here, we don't have that mentality.
"But when you see a deal like this on the market, it does make you think it's a pretty great opportunity for an investor to come in with a lower bid and flip it later."
Mr. Hooper, who founded Phoenix International Life Sciences (which was sold to MDS Inc.), isn't thinking too much about who ultimately buys the 11-year-old home. But he will miss things about the mansion, especially the secret passage that connects the bedroom to a private room atop the home.
"When I was growing up in a tiny row house in England all the children dreamed of secret passages," he said. "But, it just doesn't make sense anymore to have all that money tied up in a house when our intention is to travel."
A Hudson, Que., mansion will be sold Tuesday in a real estate auction with a twist - there is no minimum asking price. The only requirement for bidders is they show up with a certified cheque for $100,000 to show that they are serious. The winner will need to also pay 10 per cent of the purchase price as soon as the auction closes.
The 17,000-square-foot home features:
*Six full bathroom, two half-bathrooms
*A three-car garage
*1,200-square-foot stone patio
*5.4-acres of property with mature trees
*550 feet of waterfront
*Separate guest apartment
*A propane backup generator that can power the entire home
*Two-storey living room with piano alcove
Extras include an elevator, exotic wood floors, media room, audio system, hand-painted murals, security system, solarium, business centre, wine cellar and a secret passage.
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