- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2007

After about three minutes of an auctioneer’s chatter, the Bethesda house where Eugene McCarthy lived during his 1968 presidential campaign was sold yesterday for $1.5 million.

Its historical value was not the issue for the young couple that bought it.

“We really got a good deal,” said Steve Atkiss, 30, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection chief of staff, who said the house was appraised at $2.1 million.

The most recent owners, a retired couple living in Texas, simply wanted to get rid of the property quickly with as little disruption as possible, said auctioneers from the Fairfax auction house Tranzon Fox.

One of the few signs of the McCarthys’ presence they found when they bought the house in 1978 was a large number of oyster shells in an attached wooded lot, where the McCarthys are thought to have occasionally entertained the Kennedy family, who lived on Cape Cod.

Mr. McCarthy, a former Democratic senator from Minnesota sometimes known as “Clean Gene,” owned the house at 5916 Bradley Blvd. from 1964 to 1969. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 1968, pledging to end U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He made another unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1972.

Mr. McCarthy was 89 when he died in 2005 in the District.

The four-floor house, with a swimming pool, guesthouse and 1.4 acres, is no different from many upscale Bethesda and Chevy Chase houses.

What is different is that the owners decided to sell it on the chopping block, where prices often are lower than selling through a real estate agent.

A slowdown in the housing market has roughly doubled the number of high-priced homes being sold at auction in the past two years instead of through agents, the auctioneers said.

“Two years ago, you didn’t need an auction,” said Stephen Karbelk, Tranzon Fox’s regional president. “There was just so much money chasing these properties, a seller could sell in a week.”

Owners impatient from months of waiting to find a buyer or who suffered a dip in income that disrupted their monthly loan payments turn to auctions as a quick method to cut their losses, he said.

“Now, it’s common to have million-dollar loans on houses,” Mr. Karbelk said. “In this area, people tend to have not a lot of equity but a lot of income. If they have a hiccup in their incomes, that tends to put them in distress.”

Today, Tranzon Fox is scheduled to sell 40 acres outside New Market, Va., that they said is likely to attract wealthy buyers looking to add more real estate to their portfolios.

Mr. Atkiss and his wife, Erin, a television producer, plan to start a family in their new house. Too much traffic around their downtown Washington row house figured into their desire to move.

The swimming pool in back is surrounded by 12 dogwood trees, which the auctioneers said were planted by Mr. McCarthy.

Other historical trivia has disappeared along with the previous owners.

“So many people are just not here anymore,” said Rachel Rabinowitz, a representative of auctioneers Sloans & Kenyon, which contracts with Tranzon Fox to do real estate auctions.

The house reflects the style of houses built in 1954, such as a slate floor in the dining room and a washer and dryer in the kitchen next to the oven.

The new owners plan no major changes to the house.

“We’re just going to do some little things here and there to modernize it,” Mr. Atkiss said.

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