There’s a house in Sag Harbor that was recently put on the market. It’s not on the water, though it’s across the street from a marina. There are no views. At .7 acre, there isn’t even that much land. And the main house is 3,500 square feet, modest by Hamptons standards. However, the owners are asking $4.8 million because they know they have something special. Call it “magic.”
With cookie-cutter houses sprouting up around the South Fork like invasive plant species — real estate pros call it “Farrellization” after Joe Farrell, a builder of very large and often very similar houses — there is a premium on enchantment. Whether it’s a uniqueness or the owner’s vision, the elusive quality is the antithesis of builder’s blandness. In a sense, these sorts of properties embrace the essence of what the South Fork once was or could have been.
“There is a certain intangible factor that has an impact on price,” said Debra Reece, vice president of Sotheby’s Bridgehampton office.
In his attempt to explain what makes the Sag Harbor property so special, its listing broker, Paul Brennan of Douglas Elliman, used descriptors such as “one of a kind,” “eclectically wonderful,” “eccentric,” “quirkily European,” “artistic,” and “filled with collectibles.”
The house is owned by Elfi and Michael Eicke, who also own Christy’s Art Center in Sag Harbor, where they purvey Old Master paintings and high-end antiques. So, naturally, their house overflows with the treasures of the couple’s global travels, objects of beauty that spill into a series of outdoor rooms and onto the bewitching gardens. Perhaps the most delightful of its charms is a bridge that connects the 18th-century main house to a former artist’s studio dating from the previous owner, which now serves as a sort of great room-salon.
It is a shame that when asked about houses with “magic” many agents’ minds went blank. And it is no surprise that another property that came to mind is also in Sag Harbor Village. Gioia DiPaolo, an agent at Douglas Elliman, sold the antique house on 1.8 acres last Christmas. It had been on the market only a few days. Trying to put the elusiveness of its appeal into words, she mentioned “the way light comes into the rooms . . . the way things are arranged.”
“I have found that, even when a buyer says that ‘I can visualize,’ oftentimes they cannot,” Ms. DiPaolo said. “They are really attracted to spaces that are arranged beautifully.”
In that house, the floors were painted white, and books and art “made it seem like an intelligent person who has an appreciation for beauty lives here.” The irony is that the buyer is “practically gutting it.” There were problems for a contemporary owner, not least a kitchen and dining room that needed to be moved up a level. But it was, according to Ms. DiPaolo, “the bones and proportion of the rooms that create [its] magic, things [a buyer is] not even aware of.”
Linda Haugevik, a Sotheby’s agent, seems to have her pulse on magical properties. She lists three that could be said to fall into the category, and all are compounds — a category that is getting traction of late. “There’s magic in a compound as opposed to an enormous 12,000-square-foot house,” she said. One such property is that of Sandy Gallin, a former talent manager who traded in the entertainment biz in order to lovingly develop properties, one at a time. The main house on his Further Lane property in East Hampton is a modest 6,500 square feet, but there are several cottages where guests can seek privacy.
Yes, it has got a lot of bedrooms and bathrooms and other amenities such as a screening room, but that’s not the point. What gives it its magic? It could be the apple orchard, or stone paths, or outdoor entertainment areas, or the chef’s kitchen. Whatever the case, “the whole is more than the sum of its parts,” as its listing states. “It’s understated,” said Ms. Reece. “The [buildings] don’t overwhelm the grounds.”
“There’s something to be said for intimacy,” said Ms. Haugevik. “In a big house there’s an empty echo. It’s really all about energy,” she said. “There’s something about a compound that brings the house and the land synergistically together.”
Ross Bleckner’s house on Daniel’s Lane in Sagaponack, also Ms. Haugevik’s listing, is another property with multiple structures and rolling lawns. It also has an unparalleled Hamptons pedigree: It was the residence of Truman Capote. Being able to “hear, see, smell, and taste the ocean” doesn’t hurt either.
“There are certain properties that do have a magic,” said Ms. Haugevik, “and it’s worth something. It’s like a Picasso that sells for $10 million and someone’s painting they sell at a yard sale.”
Ms. Haugevik’s third magical property is that of Richard Gere on Actors Colony Road on North Haven, which just went on the market for $65 million, a price she came up with but which some have met with skepticism. She stands by it. After all, a house on a Sagaponack farm field: expensive. A house on the ocean: more expensive. A house with magic: priceless.