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Mansions on the auction block

By Judy Martel · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Posted: 3 pm ET

Looking to trade up to a mansion with all the extras? Now's the time to buy for a song. During the housing boom, average square footage for homes continued to trend upward according to the National Association of Home Builders, from 983 square feet for an average home in 1950 to 2,434 square feet in 2005. But when the market went bust, mansions turned into expensive white elephants for their owners, many of whom overextended their credit in order to lay claim to the biggest and most exclusive designs.

One showplace scheduled for auction this fall is in Winnetka, Ill. The owners, who want to sell because their children are grown, say it cost $40 million to build and furnish in 2008, but it will go up for auction at $32 million, with no reserve. The home is modeled after a chateau in France and has amenities like hand-scraped walnut floors, a beauty parlor and walls of Venetian plaster. Art and furnishings are included.

The European touches, as well as its move-in-ready condition, may appeal to international buyers, who have been snapping up cheap homes here since the recession. A report on CNBC says overseas buyers spent $41 billion on U.S. residential real estate last year.

Another property of note is the Franklin, Texas, ranch that once was a vacation retreat for former President Lyndon Johnson and assorted dignitaries. It sold at auction for $28.5 million, after being shopped for as much as $40 million, according to The Wall Street Journal. The 10,000-plus-acre ranch with one main home and several smaller homes includes an exotic game preserve.

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