They Cost At Least $500,000, Cover At Least 4,000 Square Feet And Sell Like Hotcakes MEGA-HOUSES

July 16, 1995|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Sun Staff Writer

You're driving down a rural route in Howard County and there they are -- mammoth houses set on huge pieces of land that, until a few years ago, produced nothing more spectacular than corn and soybeans.

In a matter of minutes, you pass six, eight, 10 mega-houses, each bigger than the next and more grand than anything you've ever set foot in. You look at the four-car garages and think, "My whole house would fit in there!"

Then you turn to your riding companion and say: "Who the heck lives in these humongous houses?" -- which is the million-dollar question, give or take a couple hundred thousand.

According to real estate agents in Howard County, there is no shortage of clients looking in the upper end, which they define as more than $500,000 and generally more than 4,000 square feet.

Kathy Via, a mortgage consultant for Chesapeake Mortgage Services Inc. in Columbia who specializes in jumbo mortgages, said her clients are mostly people who own their own businesses.

"They tend to be entrepreneurs or professionals, particularly professionals married to other professionals," she said. Real estate agents say they have sold these homes to doctors, accountants, financial planners, hospital administrators, CEOs of companies large and small, and owners of businesses ranging from electrical companies to food services.

In more than 15 developments in Howard County -- including The Chase, The Preserve, Hedgerow, Waterford and Ridgewood -- residents have built homes far bigger and more luxurious than anything the county has seen before.

Real estate agents in other counties, such as Baltimore and Anne Arundel, say some mega-houses are still being built there as well, but for the past few years, Howard County has been the hotbed of mini-mansion construction.

"Howard County is sort of becoming the land of the huge house," said David H. Gleason, a Baltimore-based architect who has worked on large houses in Baltimore City and surrounding counties. "They all want something that knocks your socks off."

Keith Risser, who owns American Building Products in Jessup, is building an 11,000-square-foot contemporary home in Columbia, complete with an indoor racquetball court. The Rissers, who have three children age 10 to 18, want a home in which they can entertain and have relatives visit comfortably.

"This was always a dream of ours," said Mr. Risser, who had lived in a much smaller house in Columbia since 1971. "Where I live now, I don't have any place to put any of my brothers when they visit.

"I want a place where I can pursue my hobbies," he continued, which include working on his boat and antique car in an indoor workshop. The house, which is appraised at $1.1 million, also includes a 1,400-square-foot "sport room" for the ping-pong table, pool table and shuffleboard.

Elaine Northrop, a real estate agent for 23 years who specializes in upper-end sales, says Howard is a mecca for business owners and CEOs looking for mansion-sized houses because it is halfway between Baltimore and Washington, has easy access to BWI airport, has a reputation for top-notch schools and has more available land and a lower tax rate than neighboring counties, such as Montgomery and Baltimore, where most upscale housing used to be built.

The new high-end houses have huge interior spaces and numerous amenities and extras, like wine cellars, exercise rooms, party rooms with dance floors, elaborate security systems, second kitchens for caterers and suites for live-in help and guests.

Master bedrooms, once the largest bedroom in the house with a private bathroom, have developed into elaborate affairs with private dens and offices, exercise rooms, multiple bathrooms, fireplaces, wet bars, refrigerators and closets larger than secondary bedrooms.

After collecting ideas from other people's homes for years, Ms. ,, Northrop was bitten by the big house bug herself and started building an 11,000-square-foot mansion with husband Rick Menz two years ago.

"I call this a Great Gatsby house," she said of the $1.5 million house, being completed on six wooded acres in The Preserve in central Howard County. "I wanted to have a house that looks like the movie stars' homes of the 1920s."

The house, which resembles a French Chateau, is finished in a lavender-tinted, stucco-like substance. The first-floor master bedroom suite contains an anteroom, large bedroom, den, exercise room, room-sized closet, master bath with additional his-and-her baths and private patio.

The kitchen has two sinks, two garbage disposals, two stove tops (one electric and one gas) and the largest refrigerator made. In the middle of the 1,300-square-foot party room on the basement level the couple had a 15-ton rock dropped in by crane before the first floor was completed. The huge rock, surrounded by a stone wall, will be transformed into an indoor waterfall when the house is completed.

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