Real estate in the Village of Sag Harbor has ascended to a plane where certain properties are commanding South of the Highway prices.
Though substantial historic Sag Harbor houses come on the market only rarely, a handful have sold or gone into contract recently, including the magnificent Howell House on Main Street owned by Nancy Richardson, a Victorian confection on Union Street owned by Ivana Lowell and known as the “summer white house” (because President James Buchanan was said to summer there), and a stately 1840s Greek Revival house on Madison Street owned by Cindy Sherman. When the sale of Ms. Richardson’s house — the pride and joy of a whaling family scion and considered one of the grandest residences on the East End in the mid-19th century — goes through, “it will be a significant sale for a property of that type,” said Gary DePersia, a co-listing agent with Seth Madore, both of Corcoran. In fact, according to Richard Demato, the buyer, it will most likely set a record for the village. The asking price was $9.95 million.
When Howell House went on the market, Mr. Demato, owner of an eponymous gallery on Sag Harbor’s Main Street, and his wife, Harriet Sawyer, an artist, saw it the next day, Nov. 16, which happened to be his birthday. “Within 45 minutes we put in an offer,” he said. The couple is downsizing from a six-acre property on North Haven with a 12,000-square-foot house, which is also in contract and also will set a record for North Haven when the sale goes through, said Mr. Demato. The 8,000-square-foot Howell House, set on an acre of property, shares many of the antique elements of the couple’s North Haven abode. “We’re excited about being able to walk to town,” Mr. Demato said.
Part of the allure of Howell House, and others like it, according to Mr. DePersia, is that it is an “estate-style property, three stories with a roof deck and finished lower level” similar to what you would find on such thoroughfares as Halsey Neck Lane in Southampton. The rest of the allure is the village itself, a place where Mr. DePersia himself has lived for four years and describes as a refuge with a bustling streetscape and quaint lanes that that lead to waterfront.
“Many of these houses have been loved and restored by people who adore them and want to enjoy them,” said Susan Sprott, an agent with Sotheby’s who has made the Sag Harbor market her focus for more than 20 years. “These houses have soul.”
Ms. Sprott is currently listing the L’Hommedieu House, an imposing brick edifice on Main Street. Her clients are selling not because they have tired of Sag Harbor, but, because as former South of the Highway waterfront habitues, they now want the best of both worlds: a historic house on the water. They found that “out of the area” and are now selling their lovingly restored house, with its “grand entry, elegantly proportioned rooms, and sweeping staircase,” according to the listing, and a veranda designed by Samuel White, an architect, for $3.6 million.
The owner loved the “authenticity” of the house. And it seems that prospects are feeling the same way. Ms. Sprott showed it over the weekend to a couple who spent more than an hour kicking the house’s proverbial tires. They were, she said, impressed by its “provenance, character, and sense of history.” They are, it turns out, potential emigres from South of the Highway who are fleeing an area that was once charmingly bucolic but is now inundated with “too many like properties.”
Ms. Lowell’s house was sold by Beata Moore, an agent at Sotheby’s, who described it as “the real thing . . . a great house with great bones, but needs a lot of work.” Fortunately the buyer is someone “with endless means to bring it back to where it should be.” Ivana Lowell, who inherited the house from her mother, Lady Caroline Blackwood, a Guiness heir who married Robert Lowell, a celebrated poet, intends to stay in Sag Harbor. Meanwhile, Ms. Moore is about to take on a listing of a house at 150 Madison, which — at $3.345 million — she expects to sell this spring.
And she may be right. “Sag Harbor has gone very rapidly to a market with no inventory of houses with enough size,” said Rylan Jacka, the agent who sold Ms. Sherman’s house. He bemoans the fact that “a year ago there was a lot to buy and now there’s nothing. It's hard to find a historic house that’s not really small, in a prime village location where you can walk to town.”
Cee Scott Brown and his partner Jack Pearson, both of Corcoran, have made quite a dent in the village’s high-end inventory. In April they sold an 1810 “saltbox manse” on Glover Street for $4.875 million. It had been on the market only 10 days. In October they sold an 1820 Greek Revival on Suffolk Street for $3.65 million, and a small 1890s traditional on Bay Street for $1.495 million “after just days on market.”
The appeal of Ms. Sherman’s house was its “masterful blend of original period details and luxurious 21st-century amenities,” according to the listing. While the exterior stayed true to its period, the interior was modernized. It has many of the features that buyers currently require including more bathrooms than bedrooms, 51/2 to 4, a chef’s kitchen, a 60-foot saltwater pool, and some Sag Harbor-style extras such as a covered dining pergola and a rose room. The house actually went into contract several months ago but didn’t close till this month due to a squabble with a neighbor over the property line. Not surprising in a village where space is at a premium.
Ms. Sherman’s and Ms. Richardson’s houses point to a new trend in town, the demand for “new old houses,” according to Gioia DiPaolo. “Buyers like the charm of a historic home with the amenities and warranties a new home offers.”
Ms. Richardson’s house underwent extensive renovations. With four levels of living space, including a third-floor loft with bath that leads to a widow’s walk with 360-degree views, it was outfitted with an elevator.
“The entire village owes Nancy a debt of gratitude for her tasteful and skillful restoration of what is arguably the most important Sag Harbor house still in private hands,” said Jonathan Morse, Ms. Richardson’s next-door neighbor. “Each of the four great houses on Main Street were originally owned by members of Sag Harbor’s whaling elite, and it is a miracle that all four of them, built in the 19th century, have managed to survive the collapse of the whaling industry and the Great Depression, to exist today in such a very fine condition.”
Mr. Morse, who has owned his house for almost 30 years, said that he has no plans to sell it anytime soon.