O's owner's home auctioned off for $1.44 million Orioles owner moved last week

February 27, 1993|By Mark Hyman and Jon Morgan | Mark Hyman and Jon Morgan,Staff Writers

With snowflakes falling on the bidders, Eli S. Jacobs' Owings Mills estate sold at public auction yesterday for $1.44 million, far below the $2.25 million the Orioles owner paid three years ago.

The auction, held on the walkway leading to Mr. Jacobs' front door, lasted about 10 minutes and attracted an upscale group of house hunters to the fashionable neighborhood north of Baltimore.

The long driveway leading to the house was clogged with four-wheel-drive vehicles, a Jaguar and a Mercedes. And bidders came primed for the wintry real estate battle, some wearing full-length fur coats and carrying cellular phones.

The white brick home, which has five bedrooms, a three-car garage and satellite dish, is perched on 6 acres of hillside property. It features oak floors and several fireplaces with blond-wood mantles. A small pool off to one side faces an indoor pool room with wet bar.

The selling price didn't surprise those presiding over the auction.

"We thought it would be in the $1.5 million range," said Ray Nichols, president of Atlantic Auctions, which handled the auction. "It's difficult when you get over $1 million. The universe of buyers shrinks."

Others attributed the lower price to a depressed real-estate market and to the high price paid by Mr. Jacobs. "I think he overpaid for it," said Tom Miller, a real estate agent with O'Conor, Piper and Flynn.

The buyers were not at the auction, but were represented by two local real estate brokers, Linda Corbin and Tim Rodgers of Hill & Co. Neither broker would identify the buyers, but Ms. Corbin said, "They are terrific people and they'll make great neighbors."

Mr. Jacobs, whose finances are deeply troubled, did not attend yesterday's auction. And the house itself showed no traces of the New York investor, who moved out last week. He has not commented on his finances publicly, but has agreed to sell the Baltimore Orioles to investors led by Cincinnati businessman William O. DeWitt Jr., according to sources familiar with the deal. The offer is being considered by Mr. Jacobs' creditors, who must approve the sale, the sources said.

When Mr. Jacobs bought the house, he borrowed $2 million from Mercantile-Safe Deposit & Trust Co. Last month, the Baltimore bank initiated foreclosure proceedings, claiming Mr. Jacobs had stopped making his monthly payments of about $20,000.

Mercantile could have refused to accept the high bid at the auction, but Mr. Nichols said the bank hadn't set a minimum price.

"They told us the house was for sale today," he said.

Holding a wireless microphone, Mr. Nichols opened the bidding for the house at $500,000. With six or seven bidders, the price quickly climbed above $1 million.

Then, bidders started dropping out, including William Hirshfeld, owner of the Greenspring Racquet Club. Mr. Hirshfeld, who toured the house before the auction, called it "beautiful" and filled with "a lot of good features." But he said he was not willing to match the $1.44 million winning price.

And he left no doubt that he believed Mr. Jacobs, whose financial empire was reportedly valued at $500 million three years ago, paid too much for the house. "What did he care?" Mr. Hirshfeld asked.

Neighbors, several of whom attended the auction, said Mr. Jacobs stayed to himself most of the time, venturing out occasionally for walks with a companion but rarely striking up conversations with nearby residents.

"He's on the move so much I don't think he spent much time with the community," said Bill Groff, a neighbor and vice president of the W. D. Groff & Sons Inc. oil company.

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