Even in a white-hot market, some properties just never seem to sell. Calendar pages fly off, clock hands run around dials, and one white-hot market cools before it gets white-hot again. But it doesn’t matter, there are just some duds out there that are too weird or too expensive to find a buyer. And for some owners, even in the high-end Hamptons, where money is often no object, the screws can start tighten.
Last summer, educator Chris Whittle lost his legendary East Hampton estate, Briar Patch, in a foreclosure auction. Whittle and his wife, photographer Priscilla Rattazzi, purchased Briar Patch in 1989 for $7.3 million and once listed the estate for $95 million. But since no one purchased, they lost the estate. His former company, Avenues: The World School, was awarded right and title to the property to help satisfy the more than $6 million Whittle owes the school. The house itself was lovely; the couple just asked too much money for it.
Something similar is happening in nearby Montauk. Owned by renowned antique picture frame dealer and restorer Eli Wilner, the sprawling property has been on and off the market since 2009. Located on tony Old Montauk Highway, near the old Warhol estate, as well as close to the former homes of Dick Cavett and Peter Beard, Wilner’s spread encompasses 37 acres of oceanfront land, with 485 feet of private beach.
Initially, back in 2009, the asking price was $35 million. After it remain unsold for six months, Wilner inexplicably raised the price to $50 million. The price has since gone up and down with the tides, from a high of $55 million to as little as $29 million in 2019. It’s now listed with Hedgerow Exclusive Properties at $39.5 million.
Though he’s wanted to sell the place for more than a dozen years, Wilner’s real problems with the property began in 2018, when New Jersey-based lender Case Real Estate Capital declared the antique frame mogul’s $17.75 million mortgage in default. The company has been trying to foreclose on the estate since then, The Real Deal disclosed, though Wilner has successfully appealed orders for a sale four times. He even filed a Covid hardship declaration, which was denied. As of now, the property will hit the auction block on February 24.
Despite the copious amount of land, the beautiful ponds and the wide expanse of ocean frontage, much of the property is held in a preserve, so it is uncertain what more, in anything, could be built there. (Apparently Wilner bought the place in 1992 for $630,000, without any permits in place to build, which was a gamble.) As of now, there isn’t even a pool, much less a de-rigueur-in-the-Hamptons pool house or tennis court, so about $18 million, the cost of the mortgage, seems a realistic price for the place.
Besides its great location, amazing light and primo view, the house itself has but two other rather nice details, a beautiful, sinuous staircase and carved wood doors that replicate The Chariot of Aurora, an art deco style mural from the SS Normandie luxury liner. (The original mural is now in the Carnegie Museum.) However, that’s where the nice bits end, as the interiors are uninviting and pretty much the opposite of an easygoing Montauk beach house. Indeed, the exterior of house is an inexplicable Asian pagoda style with winged rooflines, and inside the floors are shiny, cold white marble, which probably looked great on the Normandie, but this is a beach house, folks, not a deco luxury liner.
Clearly, whoever buys the place, or scoops it up at auction, is going to have to spend quite a few dollars re-doing much (if not every inch) of the interior, along with adding a swimming pool and/or tennis court… if they can. We’ll be interested to see what happens.