$100,000 buys a chance to bid on Missionary Ridge mansion

GOT BUCKS?Regional multimillion-dollar homes for sale:* $9.8 million in Ooltewah: 24,900-square-foot home with 40 rooms on three acres* $6.5 million in Cloudland, Ga.: 53,000-square-foot home with 25 rooms on 220 acres* $5.3 million in Ooltewah: 8,700-square-foot home with 10 rooms* $4.2 million in Riverview: 9,700-square-foot home with 16 rooms on 13 acres* $3.8 million in Soddy-Daisy: 2,600-square-foot home with three bedrooms on 96 acresSource: Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors

Putting a pool in the middle of a ritzy house that's home to nine kids seems like a recipe for soaked carpets and dripping furniture.

But that was never a problem at the multimillion-dollar mansion on Missionary Ridge where Astec Industries Inc. founder J. Don Brock lives with his wife, Sam Brock.

"It has an upper pond and a lower pond, and that really controls the water movement when there are a lot of children in the pool," Sam Brock said. "Naturally the concrete gets wet when the kids get out. But we haven't had any trauma."

Now that 12-foot-deep, sparkling blue pool -- enclosed in a 30-foot-tall solarium in the middle of the house -- is a key selling point for the 19,000-square-foot mansion at 240 South Crest Road. It's been listed at $4.8 million but hasn't sold, so the Brocks are hosting an auction without reserve on Thursday to sell the one-of-a-kind estate to the highest bidder.

"The house had been on the market and we're just ready to move forward, so this seemed like the best option for us," she said. "When it's done, I'd like to see someone be very happy there. As happy as we have been. It's been a great experience."

The home, appraised at $2.3 million, was built on 5 acres in 1970 for Chattanooga carpet mogul M.B. "Bud" Seretean and was designed by famed California architect Harold Levitt, who also created homes for Steven Spielberg and actor Dean Martin.

The sprawling estate includes seven bedrooms, 10 full baths and three half-baths, a lighted tennis court, walking paths, a putting green, private gym, gardens and two cannons. The master baths feature a sauna and Jacuzzi. There's garage space for six cars. And there are nine air-conditioning units.

Sam Brock could easily entertain 100 people in the home, with room for parking and all.

"It's truly one of the finest homes in metro Chattanooga," said listing agent Jack Webb, broker at Crye-Leike Real Estate Services. "It's phenomenal and it's in great condition. Someone is going to get a great deal."

Because it's an auction without reserve, a sale is guaranteed once the bidding starts, said Laura Brady, managing director of Concierge Auctions, which is handling the auction. Would-be bidders must wire a $100,000 deposit into an escrow account to qualify for a seat at the auction.

"That really cuts down substantially on curiosity seekers or tire kickers," Webb said.

It's hard to nail down the real market value of a home like the Brock estate, Brady said, which can make the auction process appealing to buyers, who are able to judge the home's appeal among bidders and keep from overpaying during the live auction.

Sometimes auctions are over in 15 minutes, other times they last for hours, Brady said. She expects between five and 10 bidders and said she has no idea how much the winning bid will be.

"It was originally listed for $4.8 million," she said. "But auctions have nothing to do with the appraised value, or the list price of the house -- it just matters with who comes to bid."

Despite the lush amenities and private ridge that's just a five-minute drive from downtown, Chattanooga Realtor Jay Robinson, owner of Robinson Real Estate, said he would be surprised if the winning bid tops $3 million.

photo 240 South Crest Drive

"List price sometimes can be wishful thinking," he said. "In Chattanooga, we have a real breaking point at $1.5 million, and we definitely have a ceiling at $2 million. Once you get to that $1.5 [million] or $2 million, that buyer will go out and create their own masterpiece that meets their own needs, rather than buying someone else's dream."

That's part of what makes selling a multimillion-dollar home so tricky: They're often so unique that they appeal to a very small group of people. Another challenge, Robinson said, is simply the month-to-month costs of maintaining such a large home: taxes, insurances, maintenance, utilities, grounds keeping.

"The monthly expenses can be as much, if not more, than the debt service would be," he said. "[A buyer] has got to be someone who really wants it, appreciates it, and gets it."

But the challenges don't keep buyers from ponying up the big bucks every now and then. A North Chattanooga home in the Riverview neighborhood sold for a record-breaking $4.15 million about a year ago. And Concierge Auctions is selling a 6,700-square-foot home in Soddy-Daisy with a list price of $2.8 million on the same day as the Missionary Ridge auction.

Brady said she wouldn't be surprised if a local buyer puts in the winning bid for the Brocks' mansion.

"I think there is certainly a buyer group in Chattanooga that would be interested," she said. "We've sold other properties in Tennessee and have had quite a bit of local interest."

She added that sellers often choose an auction in order to meet a deadline and keep close control over the sale -- the seller sets all conditions except the price, she pointed out. And sellers are auctioning for different reasons now than a few years ago.

"When the markets were really thick in the early 2000s, there were a lot of sellers coming to us who needed to sell within a certain time period because of distress," she said. "But today our sellers are typically not distressed. They're usually in a very good financial position and are choosing to sell as a business decision."

For the Brocks, the kids have moved out and now it's just Sam, J. Don and the dog in the mansion, said Sam Brock. So they're downsizing to a home on Lookout Mountain that they've built from scratch. It will be finished by the end of the year and the auction is an attractive way to ensure the Missionary Ridge house is sold by then, she said.

"It's going to happen," she said. "It's very clean cut, and that appealed to us."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com.