Bel Air's 'Brick House' remains on market

A historic Bel Air-area home, dating back to the 1830s, remains on the market after its owner was not able to sell it at auction Saturday.

The home at 501 W. Gordon St. was not sold during the auction, which about 40 to 50 people attended, because the bids offered were not high enough to meet the "unpublished reserve" required by the owner for a sale.

The property remains on the market.

"We will be within active negotiations with the bidders who were here, and anyone else who is interested for that matter, and we believe a deal will be consummated in the near future," auctioneer Bill Fox, chairman and CEO of Fox Residential Auctions LLC of Lutherville, said.

An unpublished reserve sale is a type of auction during which the seller sets a specific reserve, or price which a buyer must meet for the sale to take place – the reserve is not made public to the potential buyers, though, according to Janice Nelson, senior project manager with Fox Residential Auctions.

Fox noted the "overwhelming majority" of non-judicial real estate auctions, meaning properties that are sold voluntarily, rather than as foreclosures, take place with the "reserve method."

The home has been owned by the Graybeal family since 1961 and is known as the Brick House, or the Kelly House, after its previous owner, Johns Hopkins Hospital co-founder Dr. Howard Kelly.

The home sits on nearly five acres next to the Harford County-owned Liriodendron Mansion; Kelly and his family lived in the Brick House for two years while Liriodendron was being built to serve as their summer home.

The property has a value of $1 million, according to two appraisals performed in the past year and a half.

Fox stood on the front steps and sought bids from members of the audience.

"You have an outstanding home with an amazing history to it," he said.

He noted the Graybeals "began a loving, and I mean a loving, restoration of this property" after they purchased it.

Fox estimated they had spent at least $250,000 on a "tremendous amount of work and improvements to this unbelievable home," such as installing central air-conditioning, upgrading wiring, plumbing and light fixtures, updating the slate roofs, upgrading the clay tennis courts and extensive landscaping.

"In my opinion, in the next few years it will appreciate dramatically [in value] from what you pay for it today," he told the audience.

The first bidder offered $200,000.

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," Fox joked.

The bidding stopped at $750,000, which Fox said was "not an acceptable price for this property to be sold."

Fox asked for the bidding to continue.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I need an advance in the price to make it happen," he said.

The bidding rose to $760,000, the highest amount offered.

Fox told the bidders it had to be withdrawn. He said after the auction that the unpublished reserve had to remain confidential.

Eagle gave The Aegis a tour of the eight-bedroom house and the grounds after the auction. The house is three stories and a basement; there are also outbuildings such as a brick smokehouse, corn barn and a greenhouse.

The foundation of the former icehouse now serves as a fish pond, and massive chestnut and tulip poplar trees are among the varied species of trees and shrubs on the property, which is surrounded by Heavenly Waters Park.

The Liriodendron Mansion can be seen uphill from the Brick House, through the trees.

"Their French horn music and their Scottish bagpipe music comes wafting over during weddings," Eagle said. "It's just lovely."

Eagles' parents, Eugene "Gene" Graybeal and Jean Reed Graybeal, owned the house and were heavily active in Bel Air and Harford County.

Gene Graybeal served on Bel Air's town board and as mayor, as well as president of the Harford County Board of Education.

He was also a liaison between the county school system and community leaders developing Harford Community College's Bel Air campus.

One of those community leaders was Eagle's uncle, Charles Hopkins Reed, a local lawyer whom she said spearheaded the development of the college.

Reed would go on to serve as president of the college's Board of Trustees.

Eagle said her mother helped create local parks such as Howard Park and Bynum Run Park; she and her husband were also members of the Liriodendron board.

Eagle is a lawyer, and she raised her son "and many exchange students" in the Brick House.

She hopes to sell the house and move to Hawaii, where she lives part-time.

"I hope to be in Hawaii more," Eagle explained. "I love the place dearly, but it's time for this beautiful property to be shared by others in the community."

She still hopes the county or the town will purchase the property – it is just outside the Bel Air town limits and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The property does not have a historic easement, though, and its zoning of R2 allows for housing development on the land.

Town officials did not express an interest in purchasing the property when representatives of Re/Max American Dream Realty of Bel Air made a presentation to them in January; the property has since been listed with Long & Foster.

Fox said he could not reveal if a representative of the town or county had offered a bid; he said bidders' information was confidential, but there were "numerous qualified bidders," those who could pay a $10,000 deposit in cash or with a bank check to bid.

"Where there's a will there's a way," Eagle said.

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