Castles left in the air as fantasy prices fall

SHE promised to deliver rich American clients who would pay telephone number prices for some of the nation's most spectacular castles.

But Audree Mevellec's attempt to bring Palm Springs property values to rural Scotland has ended in failure, disappointed customers and claims she created a "false" market that could damage the industry as a whole.

The flamboyant, Texas-based estate agent stormed on to the Scottish property scene in 2004 when she sold Castle Lee in Lanarkshire for £7m, at least double the price anyone expected it to reach.

But Mevellec's efforts to repeat the Castle Lee effect have fallen flat and she has - temporarily, at least - retreated to the other side of the Atlantic.

Scotland on Sunday can reveal that Mevellec is no longer involved in the sale of Seton Castle, East Lothian, which she marketed at a colossal £15m, a price which would have made it Scotland's most expensive home.

The property, which has been on the market for over a year, will be relaunched this month at what the new agents describe as a "traditional" price.

Mevellec also masterminded attempts to sell Middleton Hall, Midlothian, a property which hit the headlines last week when the owners took £9m off the £13m asking price.

Mevellec insists American customers will wonder what is wrong with a Scottish property priced at under eight figures, but some Scots estate agents say prices have been inflated beyond what the market can bear.

Jamie Macnab, the residential property expert for FPD Savills, said: "We have been marketing good castles at up to £3m. But American agents have been putting some properties on the US market at ridiculous prices. One possibility is that the whole market gets a leg-up if a successful sale is made. The other is that you end up with a lot of unsold properties and the market is spoiled."

Mevellec first emerged on the Scottish scene selling Castle Lee, in the Clyde Valley, to Addison Fischer, an internet security tycoon and former aide to former US President Ronald Reagan. She is believed to have achieved a sale price of £7m for the 30,000 sq ft, 14-bedroom castle - including contents and a barony - which despite its size has only 260 acres of grounds.

She persuaded the owners of Middleton Hall, Seton Castle and Melville House near Cupar in Fife that she could achieve similarly high prices in the US.

The prices of both Middleton, which was bought three years ago for £2.25m, and Seton, purchased as a virtual ruin for around £1m but now restored, have now been dropped dramatically and Melville is expected to follow suit.

James Whitson, a spokesman for Rettie and Co, which will relaunch Seton on February 23, confirmed Mevellec was no longer involved.

"She had a success with Castle Lee, and other sellers were persuaded they could achieve higher prices than was normal. But those elusive American billionaires have not been found."

Middleton Hall, an 18th-century classical mansion set in 113 acres of its own grounds, potentially became Scotland's most expensive house when it was put on the market for £13.5m last spring. Its owners, an Anglo-American couple, had bought it in 2003 for £2.25m for a stud farm.

John Coleman, a partner at Knight Frank, said: "It was put on the market for a price you could never dream of in this country. Now it is being marketed properly."

Coleman concedes there was American interest at £13.5m, but still no buyers. "The way the market works over there is that pricing that is lower would have meant that buyers would have wondered what was wrong with it."

But the strategy priced out most of the rest of the world.

"We think [£4.3m] is consistent with the market here because it's one of the best houses in Scotland."

On her website, Mevellec, who was born in Juan-les-Pins on the French Riviera, reveals how she entered the real estate business after watching an Oprah Winfrey Show encouraging viewers to "get up off the couch and do something".

She got her Texas Real Estate Commission licence by completing a 180-hour course in a month and has now involved her son Olivier in the business.

She now works for the Texas franchise of Coldwell Banker, one of America's leading real estate groups.

Mevellec only charges her well-heeled clients after a sale is made, on a no-sale, no-fee basis. If successful, she charges a hefty commission.

She said she entered the Scottish market because Americans were attracted to Scotland's countryside, golf and whisky. "These things make it far more attractive than going to England," she said.

Mevellec added she had a buyer for Middleton Hall who was willing to pay up to £6m. "Middleton has been reduced, to my sorrow, because I had buyers ready to go for a lower amount than was asked but still a very good price of £5m to £6m. They should have taken those offers," she said. "But behind my back they put it back on the market for £4.3m."

Mevellec says she intends to stay in the Scottish market but it appears she is already switching her attentions to other countries as well. "I have just listed the most beautiful castle in South Africa for $1.4m," she enthused.

Article by: Jeremy Watson - http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com