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Chinese bid on 32963 estate, but don’t win

Photo: Aerial view of Palazzo Di Mare (left), widely known locally as “the barcode lady’s house.”

The first real estate auction to draw Chinese bidders for 32963 luxury oceanfront estates turned out to be less than a smashing success, with bids overall lower than expected and several bidders-by-long-distance from China failing to offer enough to win the high-profile island property known variously as Palazzo Di Mare or “the barcode lady’s house.”

The good news for owner Sharon Nicholson was that her south island estate finally sold at auction after nearly 10 years on and off the market.

The bad news was that the spectacular 5-acre, ocean-to-river property fetched only $8,848,000, netting Nicholson less than $8 million – a fraction of the original 2007 asking price of $33.5 million and only about 40 percent of the $20 million list price in place at the time of the auction.

In April 2016, Naples-based DeCaro Luxury Auctions attempted to auction the house off, setting a reserve price of $12.9 million. The highest bid was $12 million, and the bid was not accepted.

This time, according to Premier Estate Properties listing agent Clark French and Laura Brady, founder and president of Concierge Auctions, Palazzo Di Mare was packaged into something called the China Portfolio, a dozen properties that were specially marketed during June in hotel ballroom events in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou (formerly Canton).

“Roughly 8 percent of Concierge sales have been to foreign buyers and a number of wealthy Chinese are looking to put their money in U.S. dollar assets,” says French. “We ended up with three Chinese bidders” on Palazzo Di Mare.

But the highest of the Chinese bidders only made it to the final three before dropping out. The property ultimately sold for $8.848 million – including the 12 percent buyer’s premium – to a local resident.

Concierge auctioned another 32963 property at the same time as Palazzo Di Mare. That house at 1880 S. A1A sits on a 65-foot by 750-foot, 1.12-acre lot which extends from A1A to the ocean. It was listed pre-auction for $4,995,000 and garnered $3,836,000 in a no-reserve sale, about 76 percent of list.

Two Chinese buyers registered to bid for this property, along with 7 or 8 others, but the property was sold to an American buyer.

The low prices did not come for want of trying on the part of Concierge Auctions, which handled the sale, or Premier Estate Properties listing agents French, Cindy O’Dare, and Richard Boga.

“The Nicholson estate is one of the largest properties we have ever sold,” says French, who’s also managing director of the private client group at Concierge. “It extends from the ocean to the river, with 205 feet of frontage on both and a boat dock on the river. It’s one of only two ocean-to-river properties in the estate section.

“The property was marketed locally, nationally and internationally. Hundreds of thousands of people viewed the house and we had some engagement with thousands of potential buyers. We ended up with about 50 qualified showings and 10 registered bidders.”

Because of the Asian participation, the auction was held over a 34-hour period, opening at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, June 28, and closing at 6 p.m. on Thursday, but French says all the action, “with buyers pressing bidders’ buttons and talking to us on the phone, came in the final hour.”

Despite the low sale price, French says Sharon Nicholson is “pleased to have the house sold and moving toward closing within 30 days.”

Nicholson is the widow of William Nicholson, co-founder of Retail Grocery Inventory Service, now called RGIS, a leading inventory control company that utilizes barcode technology.

She bought the 4.84-acre tract where the house is located, adjoining the northern edge of Round Island Park, in 1994, and then spent seven years building and decorating an ornate mansion with approximately 23,000 square feet of living space under air and some 28,000 under roof.

Nicholson first offered the estate for sale in 2007, listing it for auction with a starting bid of $33.5 million. She withdrew the house shortly before the auction, which never took place.

The following year, she listed the house with the South Florida office of the Corcoran Group for $24,900,000. That listing was withdrawn in 2009 and since then the house has been listed and delisted multiple times, with four different brokerages.

According to a 2013 Wall Street Journal article, Palazzo Di Mare supposedly was inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby,” in which several luxurious waterfront homes on Long Island are described.

“The home has 32-foot-tall ceilings, a stained-glass bar, a soundproofed movie theater and a 14-car garage. There’s also a solarium, a sky deck, a guesthouse, two elevators and a swimming pool with 14-carat gold inlays. The house is fronted by 205 feet of private beach,” the article said.

Real estate agent William P. D. Pierce of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate’s Miami Beach office, who had the home listed for $19,900,000 when the Journal article was published, said the house would be worth more than $100 million if it was on the ocean in Miami.

The two sales last week were the ninth and tenth properties Concierge has auctioned off in Vero in the past several years.