MCLEAN, Va. - In all their years selling high-priced homes to the rich and famous, they said they had witnessed nothing like it: a sale for $1 million more than the asking price.
Jaws dropped in real estate offices throughout metropolitan Washington as word spread in February that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and his wife, Vicki, had agreed to sell their suburban Virginia estate for nearly $6 million after asking for only $4.975 million.
"It's unheard of," said Pamela Yerks, a Weichert Realtors agent who specializes in multimillion-dollar homes in McLean. "Even in the late 1980s, at the height of the market, people would pay more than the house was listed for, but nothing like a million dollars."
A few months after the Kennedy sales coup, the episode has become the stuff of lore in Washington real estate circles, another curious tale of power, prestige, and passion for a piece of property.
The story raises a central question: How did the Kennedys reap an extra $1 million?
The answer hovers at the nexus of three international dynasties: the Kennedy clan, the Saudi royal family, and the Hotungs of Hong Kong, whose merchant ancestors inspired James Clavell's novels "Tai-Pan" and "Noble House."
It was Eric Hotung who won a bidding derby against Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, for Kennedy's 6.5-acre estate overlooking a panoramic stretch of the Potomac River that separates McLean from the nation's capital.
When the bidding stopped, Hotung, a British citizen and wealthy industrialist with homes in Hong Kong and Connecticut and ties to China, had offered $100,000 more than the prince for Kennedy's home of 35 years.
"Without question, this is not a regular occurrence," said Thomas B. Anderson, senior vice president of Sotheby's International Realty, the Kennedys' agent.
The property sold so swiftly - less than three weeks after it hit the market - that Sotheby's had yet to snap photos for a sales brochure.
In large measure, the Kennedys have Bandar, the nephew of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, to thank for their unexpected windfall, according to sources familiar with the sale.
Bandar, who lives next door to the Kennedys and Senator Chuck Robb, a Virginia Democrat, on Chain Bridge Road in McLean, has gobbled up nearly every piece of adjacent property that has reached the market since he bought his original 4 acres in 1981. He now owns 12 acres with a 38-room mansion and a 12-bedroom house for the help.
But as much as Bandar wanted to expand across the Kennedy estate, he could not match Hotung's apparent hunger for the property.
Interest in high-priced properties has surged in recent months, which helped former attorney general Elliott Richardson sell his riverfront home in McLean last year in 48 hours for the asking price of $2.2 million, according to his agent, Cathie Gill.
But Gill and other agents agreed the Kennedy property is unique because of the Kennedy mystique, its striking location on a high bluff that offers several spectacular views of the Potomac; its features include: six bedrooms, nine baths, a maid's suite, a tennis court, swimming pool, and hot tub.
Since Kennedy had the house built, in 1962, numerous world leaders have visited, including Presidents Reagan and Clinton, the late Chinese leader Deng Xiao-ping and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
All the features apparently appealed to Hotung, who has ties to the Washington area, having attended Georgetown University and donated $1 million to build a cultural center there.
Hotung, who could not be reached for comment, also has an interest in getting close to American leaders. After his wife, Patricia, a US citizen, gave the Democratic Party nearly $100,000 last year, Hotung attended one of the controversial coffees with President Clinton at the White House.
Hotung also hired a Washington law firm two years ago to lobby Congress on behalf of Chinese interests.
Kennedy's office said the senator had no contact with Hotung before the sales agreement, knew nothing about Hotung's ties to China, and had no connection to any other Hotung concern.
At Sotheby's, Anderson said the sale resulted from a professional private bidding process. "All things considered, while the result was unusual, all the conditions worked favorably in this case" to produce the extra $1 million, he said.
The bottom line, said Yerks, is that Kennedy "is a very lucky man."
Pub Date: 4/14/97