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Up for auction is a house on Ashland’s Skycrest Drive that has 118 windows, most with views of the surrounding hills. - Bob Pennell

Room at the Top

Gazing over the valley 1,000 feet below, Barney Spera feels like he's found his dream home.

"I'd never leave this place, if I could buy it," said the 77-year-old Rogue River bachelor.

Before his dream can come true, Spera must scrape together enough money to bid in a Thursday auction for this new, multimillion-dollar, craftsman-style home with 118 windows and a man-made waterfall that he says is about as close to heaven as you can get in Ashland.

"To swing this deal I'll have to get some kind of loan, unless I have the cash — and I don't," he said.

In the ultra-high-end home market, people are still shelling out millions of dollars even as the real estate market remains in a funk. The most expensive currently on the market is an $8.6 million, 10,500-square-foot estate on Valley View Road in Ashland.

Since January 2007, 35 prestigious homes have sold for more than $1 million in Jackson County. Sixty percent were in the Ashland area, 25 percent in Medford, and the remainder in Central Point, Jacksonville, Gold Hill, Talent and Rogue River. There are more than 50 of these luxury estates still for sale in the county.

Even in this rarefied world, the economy has left its mark as prices have dipped and sellers and real estate agents use every avenue to market these dream homes. Financing can also prove more difficult in these tough economic times.

"You have to be realistic in your pricing," said Barbara Allen, a broker for Windermere Van Vleet & Associates. She said she has seen a 5 percent to 10 percent reduction in the high-end market from a few years ago.

Despite the greater wealth of the buyers, Allen said they often have the same concerns as many other home buyers. They want to know how much does it cost to heat the house, or they want to be closer to town to save on gas. "More often than not they have a Prius in the driveway," she said.

Pricing is a complicated process that takes into account location, views, acreage, quality of house, proximity to downtown, the neighborhood and other amenities. Because there are relatively few homes that have actually sold in any particular neighborhood, it's sometimes tricky coming up with a price that reflects current market conditions.

Don't expect these properties to sell overnight, either, though some have been snapped up in less than a month.

While many homeowners sell for close to their list price, others must significantly drop their prices after homes have sat on the market for too long.

An elaborate house on Granite Street with an entertainment room larger than most people's living rooms sold recently for $2,601,829, making it the most expensive of the high-end properties sold since last year in Jackson County. The list price was $2,980,000 when the previous owner, Sid DeBoer of Lithia Motors, changed brokers this year to Barbara Allen and Melanie Mularz, who represented both the sellers and the buyers.

First listed in March 2004 with another real estate company, the craftsman-style home with copper gutters, an elevator and pool was originally put on the market at $3.3 million, so the final selling price represented a 21 percent reduction, or about $700,000. Even though it is a relatively new house, the owner wants to change a few things. New beams will replace those that were found defective in the house, which has an elevator, exotic hardwood floors, copper gutters and elaborate grounds.

Two other properties on Granite have pending sales after being on the market for about a month. One is for $1.8 million, the other for $1.95 million.

Spera, who does his homework before going to auctions, said he didn't want to disclose how much he would bid for the 260 Skycrest Drive house, but expected stiff competition during an auction that most likely will be over in a matter of minutes.

"I think somebody who is very wealthy is just going to come in and write a check," said Spera, who was a purser for United Airlines but has invested heavily in real estate over the years.

Even though there is no minimum bid required, Spera believes the house won't be sold cheap. To attend the auction, Spera said, participants must bring a $50,000 certified check to show they've got the right financial chops.

Originally on the market for $3.4 million, Spera said the price was dropped to $2.9 million before the owner decided to go through the auction company.

Spera will show up at 11 a.m. Thursday as the house, known as Ashland Manor, is sold through Alabama-based company J.P. King Auction. Company officials said it is not a distress sale and the owner just wanted to move back to San Diego, Calif.

The 4,500-square-foot home comes with all furnishings and other amenities, including Brazilian cherry floor, a hand-made front door, two dishwashers, a warming oven and a Viking commercial-style range, not to mention a 900-square-foot slate tile deck and porte cochere. "I'd keep it just the way it is, except I'd bring in my baby grand piano," said Spera.

Like most people, Spera also worries about how much he will have to pay in property taxes, which could cost in excess of $40,000 annually, he said.

While Spera considers a brand new house, there are also many vintage houses on the market for more than $1 million.

Down the hill from Skycrest at 165 Almond St. is an 1888 Victorian home just put on the market by Vava and Ron Bailey, who've lived there for 15 years. On a double lot, the home also comes with a separate two-story carriage house and shop.

The Baileys both turned 65 and have decided to sell because they want to move closer to their family, which lives in the Bay Area.

The wavy glass, the French doors and the veranda that wraps around the house are like a trip back in time. With a formal living, dining and family room, the 3,078-square-foot house looks like it might have in the 1880s when it was owned by a prominent local banking family.

"The house is pretty much historically intact," said Vava.

Their house recently put on the market, the couple is optimistic about selling the property despite the real estate downturn.

"We're not actually worried about it," she said. "It's unique."

Ron Bailey owns his own business, California Functional Foods, which requires he make frequent trips to Japan.

Like most people, the Baileys don't like wasting energy, closing off doors to other rooms in the winter to keep the library warm where they spend most of their time. Shade trees mean the couple rarely have to turn on the air conditioner in the summer.

"My thing is not how big your house is, but how careful you are about how you live in it," Vava said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

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