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Unexpected mansion up for auction in rural Darien 

September 22, 2010 | 08:36 AM
Darien — Beyond the electronic gate and well-tended woods, down the black-topped drive, is something one doesn't expect in this part of rural Walworth County.

Rising up like a European manse on a groomed baronial estate is an 18,000-square-foot home called Knollwood. And it's for sale.

Homes of this grand size and design are typical in the Geneva and Delavan lakes area. But finding one here, about two miles northeast of Darien, according to Google Maps, and just down the road from working farms and soybean fields, is something of a surprise.

Michael Fine, principal of Fine & Co. WI LLC, a Chicago auction house that specializes in selling grand homes and unusual properties, said the house, at W8385 Creek Road was built in 1996 by one of America's peculiar aristocracies, a Chicago auto dealer.

Fine said the owner would commute from his hidden paradise to his various holdings in Chicago several times a week.

Seven or eight years ago, the house changed hands.

The new owners prize their privacy, Fine said. But about a year ago, a new business opportunity drew the family out of the state.

Except for some furniture, a classic car still parked in the garage, and the ministrations of a fulltime grounds keeper, the property is unoccupied.

For the record, the house has seven bedrooms, five full bathrooms and and four half-baths, five fireplaces, and attached three-car garage, a guest suite with its own entrance, an office, a lower level kitchen, a pub and billiard room and an outdoor pool and pond. The carriage house features a caretaker's apartment and another four-car heated garage. It sits on 16 acres of wooded and manicured grounds.

While the effect is European, the design is American colonial, said Fine, who escorted a reporter through the house.

The central section of the house, which serves as a dining room, family room and entryway, is wide open.

From the front entrance, a visitor can look all the way to the windows on the far side of the house and out toward the pool and pond in the back.

Two staircases flanking the entrance lead to a central balcony that goes to either wing of the house, where the bedrooms and bathrooms are located. Staircases also flank the wings of the house. One is traditional, the other is a spiral staircase which can be easily replaced with an elevator, Fine said.

The public relations piece put out by Fine describes it as: "Truly the finest estate ever conceived in this beautiful rural community."

And that may be why the owners decided to go to an auction house to sell the home.

This is not an auction of a financially stressed property, Fine said. Rather, its an auction by owners looking for a reasonable price.

He said that as far as he knows, it is the first home and property of this size sold at auction in southeastern Wisconsin.

Pricing a home like this is difficult, said Fine. None of the appraising tools used to price properties really applies to this estate.

It's not an income producing property. Calculating reproduction costs doesn't really work, because the house is unique, and the new owners might not build the house in the same way with the same materials.

And there are no comparable sales. It would be difficult to impossible to find two or three other homes of this size in the Darien area, let alone two or three such houses that sold in recent months.

Finally, the housing market today makes properties of this size far more attractive to a buyer than a traditional listing. Fine said sellers are looking for ways to get potential buyers to react.

"The market today has opened up opportunities for the buyer that haven't existed for a generation," Fine said. "The buyer of this house will get an incredible deal."

Anyone wanting to bid on the house should do a bank account check first.

The house was on the market for $2.195 million, Fine said.

The auction is sealed bid, Fine said.

Prospective bidders have one more chance to view the property from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 25.

Bidders must also buy a bidder information packet for $40. Those who submit bids must also include a cashiers or certified check for $75,000 in earnest money that is deposited with Chicago Title, Fine said.

Unsuccessful bidders will have that money returned, he said.

The advantages of going through an auction is that the full house inspection is already done, said Fine.

There is no haggling or negotiating.

"You can make an offer that really is the offer," he said.

The seller has the right to reject the highest bidder, Fine said. But Fine said he believes the house will be sold on the first attempt.

For more information on the house, those interested can go to

Fine said he's been selling unique homes and unusual properties for 23 years. Fine and Co.'s main office is at Suite 1757, 53 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago.

Fine and Co. specializes in open-outcry, sealed bid, and electronic auctions throughout North America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The company also has offices in Dallas and Las Vegas.

Going, Going, Gone but Not Forgotten

Michael A. Fine, CCIM, CAI, AARE, is Principal - Managing Broker of Fine and Co. LLC in Deerfield, IL. Fine has personally participated in real estate auction programs for a wide array of companies including Pritzker Realty, Hartz Mountain Industries, Alcoa and financial institutions including The Northern Trust Co., Wells Fargo, Citicorp, Bank of America-LaSalle, and many others. I entered the commercial real estate brokerage industry in 1987. My first deal was to sell a 5,000-square-foot retail building on Irving Park Road in Chicago, which had been converted into office and warehouse. The sale took a lot of the handholding and guidance that I have learned is typical in the brokerage business. At the closing, the buyer’s broker took me aside and gave me a gift, a Montblanc fountain pen, and thanked me for making the deal happen. The buyer’s broker had no idea that it was my first sale and what a nice memory that I still have in my desk today. At the time, I was with a commercial brokerage company in Chicago, which was pioneering the use of real estate auctions for non-distressed real estate. I quickly became the head of operations for the firm. I sold my interest in that firm after 20 years. I was the CEO of a national start-up - Hilco Real Estate Auctions, and now principal of my own company. The first building that I sold at auction and really take credit for on my own was in Kansas City, MO, called the Mainmark Building. It's a very ornate building about 10 stories tall and illuminated at night. My first auction and it was most successful in selling the building to a real estate investor in New York. The area surrounding that building has changed so much over the years. It was pretty much an island coming from downtown at that time. I smile when I am in KC and drive by and see my first auction lit up like a trophy.

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