published Friday, January 31st, 2014

McKee mansion in Ooltewah sells for $2.3 million

  • photo
    Ellsworth McKee had a tower built in the center of his house, which is one of the unique aspects of his $3,790,000.00 mansion in Ooltewah.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
    enlarge photo

MILLIONAIRE'S CLUB

Five most-expensive Chattanooga-area home sales in the past year

1. 2363 Heavenly View Dr., Ooltewah- listed at $5.3 million, sold for $3 million

2. 7998 Giorgio Cir., Ooltewah - listed at $2.79 million, sold for $2.3 million

3. 1635 Edgewood Cir., Chattanooga - listed at $1.5 million, sold for $1.5 million

4. 1721 Morris Hill Rd., Chattanooga- listed at $1.59 million, sold for $1.35 million

5. 1618 Riverview Rd., Chattanooga - listed at $1.39 million, sold for $1.3 million

Source: Linda Brock, Chattanooga Realtor

A Chattanooga-area mansion sold for $2.3 million this week when Ellsworth McKee, son of McKee Foods' founder O.D. McKee, sold his Ooltewah dream home for $1.1 million less than what the Hamilton County property assessor's office said it was worth last year.

McKee listed the 14,362-square-foot home in 2012 at $3.79 million. The home was finished in 1991, and was at the time surrounded by forests, McKee told the Times Free Press in Sept. 2012. Now the home, which sits on the water near Harrison Bay, is surrounded by other homes and a golf course.

After the home was put up for sale, McKee said it was time to downsize.

But since he listed the 8-bedroom home for sale in 2012, there hasn't been a single offer.

McKee dropped the asking price to $2.79 million, which he said led to Debra Fowler -- his daughter and the inspiration for the "Little Debbie" snack cake logo and name -- and her husband, Randall, to buy the home for $2.3 million.

The home is on 4.28 acres and includes a boat dock and 800 feet of railroad track, steam locomotive included.

McKee said the Fowlers may turn around and sell the home if they wish. He isn't bent on keeping the property in the family.

The McKee mansion follows other multi-million-dollar homes in the Chattanooga area which have sold for less than their appraised values lately.

November 2012 saw the record high in Hamilton County real estate transaction history, when a Riverview community home sold for $4.15 million.

No sale has reached that mark since. Last May, an Ooltewah mansion owned by the widow of Southeast Motor Freight founder Clyde Fuller, Elizabeth Fuller, was listed for sale at $5.3 million and was later auctioned and sold for $3 million, a third of the $15 million it supposedly cost to build.

McKee said when he saw the reduced sale of the Fuller mansion he recognized the difficulty of selling multi-million-dollar homes in the area and began talking about selling the home to his daughter.

Last fall, a Soddy-Daisy lakeside home listed at $2.8 million went to auction and sold for $990,000. Closing was never finished on that purchase, so the home went to auction again, and was sold again, but the price has not been released.

And earlier this year, Astec Industries founder J. Don Brock sold his Missionary Ridge home -- listed at $3.5 million -- for $1.3 million at auction.

But million-dollar homes are still selling in Chattanooga. Since January 2013, 21 homes have sold for $1 million or more and Linda Brock, a Chattanooga Realtor who has sold several multi-million-dollar properties, said the high-end market isn't as bleak as recent marquee transactions suggest.

"The real estate climate in Chattanooga is really, really good and is really, really strong," she said.

Seven of the 21 million-dollar properties sold since last January did so at their listing price. And Brock said the ones which didn't hit the mark are no different than run-of-the-mill properties, which get negotiated down and compromised.

And in some cases, she said, high-end owners just want to get rid of a home.

Many sellers in the million-dollar market are "motivated by moving forward with their quality of life," she said.

Sometimes that means taking a big loss to get out from under a property.

"And they can afford to do it," Brock added.

And there are age-old arguments for why extravagant properties don't sell at their listing price. Many are custom built, which means their value is subjective. And many people would rather spend $5 million on a house built to their own taste, not someone else's.

"I think the people who build these multi-million-dollar houses know they are building them uniquely for them," Brock said.

But there's also the obvious reason, which is that there's "a limited number of $5 million buyers," Brock said.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.

about Alex Green...

Alex joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 as a region business reporter. He is a native of Dayton, Tenn., located 35 miles north of Chattanooga, and he is a fifth-generation Dayton native. Alex came to the Times Free Press as an editorial intern in July 2013. He was previously a correspondent at The Herald-News, located in Dayton, through college and editor-in-chief of the Triangle, Bryan College's student-led media group. Alex was ...

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