Kassie Foundos flings open the door to her Georgian mansion.
"You were here the other day!" she gushes to a tall blond woman who smiles stiffly in response. "You had on black leather pants, I remember. Great outfit."
The woman barely looks Kassie in the eye and clicks in high heels across the marble foyer without being invited in. She doesn't give her name, and Kassie doesn't ask.
This is not a party. This is business.
Eager to free themselves of their Annapolis waterfront estate after watching it sit on the market untouched for two years, Kassie Foundos and her husband Mike are peddling their 16-room home the way other wealthy people sell paintings and race horses -- by putting it on the auction block.
This is no risk-free venture. The couple is offering the house they built themselves without so much as a minimum bid. The $1.5 million home may sell far above its market value -- or for as little as $1. Once the bidding starts, the Foundoses can't back out.
"I am not doing this to lose money, or just to make the mortgage payment," Mike said before the auction last Thursday. "I'm doing this to make money. You know what would satisfy me? Two million dollars."
But no one is mentioning money in this crowd at 3057 Rundelac Road.
Flute music floats up the high ceilings and around the double spiral staircases. Kassie's voice, laced with a slight Southern twang, fills the rooms with polite conversation. People eye the teak armoires, the family pictures, the walk-in closets. All the furnishings in the house are for sale.
Guests who paid the $10 entrance fee down glasses of punch, followed by lemon squares, raspberry tarts and fudge-drizzled cakes. Several people mistake Kassie's mother, Kitty Ruttkay, for the hired help. She pours them champagne anyway.
Three local Realtors stand in a circle, talking in hushed tones about what they think the house is really worth. Originally $1.5 million, the price dropped to $1.3 million just before the Foundoses pulled it off the market. These agents suspect it's worth much less.
Truly rich people "don't get swerved by emotion at auctions," says Realtor Joyce Roper. "That's really something you find more in the $250,000 to $500,000 range." Nearby, Ellen Bernstein, the woman who paid $1.7 million for Ragged Island at another auction, describes the eight-wheel car she bought to traverse her new land. (It's like a tank, but without the guns.)
Two women in the kitchen gab about liposuction. The flute player, hovering by the catered spread, meets an inquisitive glance. "I was hungry," he says, munching a cheese cube. "Can't I eat?"
Kassie is dressed in a rich creme-colored crepe suit, with silk buttons and a pearl choker wrapped around her neck. She looks as if she could be at a wedding, and wrings her hands with the same nervous energy a mother might as she waits for her daughter to walk down the aisle.
In a few minutes, at 6 p.m., several men in suits from an Alabama-based national auction company will corral the roughly 100 guests into a room, blow whistles, point fingers and shout numbers in Southern accents. It is a fast-paced business game that will leave one of these strangers with the house of the Foundoses' dreams.
In a far corner of the kitchen, Mike Foundos stands quietly, dressed in a black "funeral suit," as he calls it. He is waiting for the auction to start. He has grown testy over the past few days, watching 400 people tour the mansion but hearing not a single estimate of how much they will bid. Now, he just wants the ordeal to be over -- in a seven-digit kind of way.
"Am I happy today?" he asks dryly. "Ask me at 6:05 p.m."
When the Foundos family built this luxury estate near the South River in 1989, they had created a successful commercial real estate company with 20 shopping centers and office buildings across Anne Arundel County. The Washington-area natives were eager to move out of their smaller place on Catrina Lane in Annapolis, where they lived with their four children.
From the start, Mike, 50, and Kassie, 46, considered the home on Rundelac an investment. They were looking for buyers even before construction trucks roared onto the empty lot.
Spared no expense
The family spared no expense designing and building the estate, which they call the biggest in the city. It boasts imported marble under foot, soaring ceilings overhead, a pier, a boatlift, four fireplaces, two laundry rooms and huge windows throughout. Every one of the rooms in the red-brick mansion has something the Foundoses always wanted -- from the spectacular bathtub view to the playroom big enough to bowl in.
They built the home in a remote section of Annapolis along Aberdeen Creek on a 4-acre lot -- even the horse pasture across the street wasn't there when they moved in. The family cherished its privacy and created a haven.