House hunting: Annapolis gaining multimillion dollar listings

In Wardour, a nearly $5 million house sat on the market for more than a year.

Realtor Mike Hamby showed a couple, looking for waterfront property, a four bedroom, four-and-a-half bathroom home on the Severn River. Other agents has shown the home previously but but nobody bit.

The price was reduced. And Hamby's couple spent $4.075 million. That was in 2009, and the house was on the market for 370 days.

"Some (million dollar) houses, they just pop up and they sell," said Hamby, of Champion Realty. "(But) there were five that were on the market for over a year. One was on the market for 1,013 days."

Now times are changing, and buyers of Anne Arundel County homes are more willing to spend millions of dollars to live in the region. Before 2010, houses priced $4 million to $6 million were a rarity, and a hard sell. Last year, there were at least seven homes that sold for more than $4 million. In April, two homes were listed for more than $5 million each.

Recently, Phillips Seafood CEO Steve Phillips brought more attention to the local real estate market when he listed his home for $32 million. While that is a rarity, Sotheby's International Realty has three Annapolis homes listed between $3.2 million and $6.5 million.

Buyers with deep pockets are attracted to the area's access to the waterfront, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, industry experts said. The presence of Fort George G. Meade and BRAC also has provided defense contractors with more money to spend.

"A lot of those (million dollar) buyers have been sitting on the sidelines," said Travis Gray, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker on Church Circle. "They're coming off the benches and purchasing these homes at historically low prices and rates."

Near the Severn River Bridge, there is a 1930s-era, seven-bedroom home sitting on 9 acres, available to a buyer for $6.5 million. In Wardour, a 10,000-square-foot home with six bedrooms, a hot tub and a covered terrace overlooking a pool is available for $5.4 million.

On the South River, A $12.5 million home with a pool house and an eight-stall garage is for sale. And on the Severn River in Severna Park, there is a $9.4 million home with a private pier seeking a new owner.

But selling a higher-priced home isn't easy, experts said. Potential buyers in that market often have specific needs that they have to balance against the customized features of a new home. A $10 million house with a mirrored disco ball posed a difficult sale for Hamby several years ago, as did similarly priced homes with items coated in 24-karat gold. One home on the Eastern Shore had a complete taxidermy workshop installed.

"My goal is, as a real estate agent, to get you 80 to 85 percent of what you want; it doesn't matter what price range you're in," Hamby said. "You're probably going to get less than you want (at premium levels). You might have $5-6 million to buy, and so does the guy who bought the house. ... (The owner) has customized it to meet 85 to 90 percent of their needs."

Many waterfront properties sell for more, but it's not just being on the water that makes a home sell for more money. The view that the house provides of the water, location and proximity to downtown Annapolis also play a role.

But in the end, the house hunters are seeking to buy a lifestyle, Gray said.

"If you live on the Severn River, you can jump on your boat and in a couple of minutes, be having a cocktail in a downtown waterfront setting. You don't find that in too many places," he said. "It really is about lifestyle for (the buyer), whether it's family values and being in the right schools or quiet neighborhoods ... versus the younger, single buyers who are looking to be closer to downtown and in the middle of things. That seems to be what drives most people when they're buying, how they want to live."