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IT IS no accident that two homes being sold by metro Toledo real estate agent Betty Lazzaro are listed for $999,000.
"If I can price the house under $1 million, I do," confided Ms. Lazzaro, of Toledo's Sulphur Springs Realty Co.
"When you put $1 million on it, it limits the number of buyers. It seems like there is a mind-set."
Despite that mind-set, however, the number of homes in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan that have crossed the once rarefied $1 million threshold is growing.
In Lucas County alone, government records list 35, as well as 74 priced between $800,000 and $1 million.
Each year, several dozen of the homes go up for sale in Lucas and Wood counties and in Bedford Township, Michigan. Currently, 33 homes are listed for at least $800,000, including 11 priced at more than $1 million, in metro Toledo, according to boards of Realtors in Toledo and Monroe County.
Just one such house has sold this year.
Homes in that price range are fewer than 1 percent of 4,813 listings in metro Toledo, excluding Michigan suburbs. The median price of existing homes sold in the metro area in the first quarter of 2005 was $118,600, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Nationally, the percentage of "million-dollar homes" doubled between 2000 and 2003 to 1 percent, according to an analysis released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau. The largest percentages of such homes were in California (4.1 percent) and Connecticut (3.3 percent).
Selling expensive homes presents a challenge for agents in metro Toledo because of the limited pool of potential buyers. Often, the houses linger on the market for a year or longer. The average for homes over $800,000 last year was nine months, according to the Toledo Board of Realtors.
But for buyers, especially transferees from the East and West coasts accustomed to stratospheric housing prices, $1 million fetches a lot of house in metro Toledo, agents said.
Among current offerings is a 21-room section of a Tudor mansion in Perrysburg's Hamlet, built in 1927 for George Ross Ford. The home has 13,300 square feet and carries a price of $1.25 million. "It's gorgeous," said Lori Paton, of Welles-Bowen in Toledo.
After several years on the market, the listing was repriced recently from $1.5 million, said the agent who won the listing from a competitor six weeks ago.
Also part of the building, but not included in the price, are condos at either end.
Newer offerings include a three-year-old home on two acres in Monclova Township's Stonebrooke Farms subdivision. It includes five bedrooms on three floors spread over 5,555 square feet. The price: $1.3 million.
A third of the priciest houses for sale in metro Toledo are in the village of Ottawa Hills.
At nearly $1.5 million, a Georgian Colonial mansion on Ridgewood Road is among the highest priced. Built in 1917 for E.H. Close, who developed Ottawa Hills, it has nine bedrooms, nine fireplaces, and eight bathrooms spread over 8,600 square feet.
The house has been on the market for six months, but has recently attracted a serious prospect, said agent Nancy Lohman, of Re/Max Preferred Associates, Toledo. The couple, from Detroit's Grosse Pointe area, are interested in moving to Toledo to be near a son. The potential buyers, however, are waiting to sell their larger house in Michigan before proceeding with negotiations.
Thirteen homes sold in the metro area for $800,000 or more last year, the Toledo Realtors board said.
Typically, buyers are upper-level executives of Fortune 1,000 corporations, physicians, banking executives, lawyers, and entrepreneurs, agents said.
Last year, the list included National Basketball Association player Jim Jackson and his wife, Shawnee, and Steven McCracken and his wife, Judith, according to records at the Lucas County auditor's office.
Mr. McCracken is chief executive officer of Toledo-based Owens Illinois Inc., an international bottle manufacturer. He and his wife chose an $850,000 home in Ottawa Hills; the Jacksons selected a $1.2 million residence in the gated Tremore subdivision in Springfield Township.
But sales agent Chris Finkbeiner, who is marketing vice president for developers of the upscale Sanctuary subdivision in Perrysburg Township, said he is often surprised by the names of firms employing people shopping for high-end homes.
"They're companies you've never heard of."
The lifelong Perrysburg resident said that when he began marketing the Sanctuary a decade ago, he assumed buyers would be prominent citizens of the upscale community and their offspring.
Instead, many buyers are under 45 and have found success working for themselves or at small firms in fields such as software development.
"They've made their money in the last 10 to 12 years, but they've made it big," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "It's been an eye-opener," he added, describing some buyers as "entrepreneurs who have found a better way to build a mousetrap."
His listings include a $1.4 million residence on Wood Creek Court in the Sanctuary.
In the Ann Arbor market, the house would be listed for more than $2 million, the agent said. But the local property has been for sale since early this year, he added. "That's not very long in terms of where that price is at."
Mr. Finkbeiner doesn't blame the economy, saying owners of pricey homes locally have faced significant sales delays for years. Like other agents, however, he noted that existing homes face stiff competition from new construction.
People with $1 million to spend often decide to build to get a home to their exact specifications.
To weed out curiosity-seekers who have no real interest in buying, many local agents ask for a financing pre-qualification letter from a lender before beginning to show high-end properties to people with whom they are unfamiliar.
Owners of high-end homes, as a way of avoiding unwanted attention, sometimes prohibit sales agents from including houses on public listings of homes that are for sale.
But when given a choice, agents like to advertise homes as broadly as possible in newspapers, direct-mail postcards, and national Web sites specializing in luxury properties.
Ms. Lazzaro, of Welles-Bowen, sold three $1 million homes last year and has six current listings between $875,000 and $2.2 million.
Although homes can linger for a year or more, one sold last year in less than 90 days. "It listed at just the right time," she said. "It was summer and it was on the river and we had the right buyer come along."
The limited pool of potential buyers for high-end homes locally can simplify marketing. Once contacted by prospective buyers seeking to tour a property, Ms. Lazzaro knows they are interested in homes in that price range. Even if they don't buy immediately, she has a list of contacts to use when new properties come on the market.
Although appraising high-end homes can be difficult because of their uniqueness, proper pricing can often make a difference between a relatively quick sale and several months on the market. "Everybody wants top dollar," Ms. Lazzaro said. "But we're in Toledo, and it's difficult to get top dollar."
Contact Gary T. Pakulski at: email@example.com or 419-724-6082.