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The Real Estate Follies of CNET Millionaire Halsey Minor

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Photos: Preservation Nation

Web entrepreneur Halsey Minor became a centa-millionaire off of the success of the CNET tech media company, but a combination of overly prolific purchasing and the recent financial crisis left Minor amid a mountain of debt, with his crumbling mansions losing value quickly. Perhaps none of his holdings was worse off than the historic Carter's Grove plantation, near Williamsburg, Va. Built in the 1750s for the grandson of an early Williamsburg land baron, the Georgian mansion at the heart of the property was constructed by English craftsmen and is recognized as one of the country's finest examples of Georgian architecture. A jewel in the crown of Colonial Williamsburg, it was nonetheless a bit too far from the walkable district to justify the exorbitant cost of upkeep, so the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation listed the 476-acre property for $19M. Minor purchased the house and surrounding acreage in 2007 for $15.3M, with $5M in cash and the rest financed through the foundation. At the time, Minor promised to undertake necessary renovations to repair the roof and planned to turn the property into a marquis equestrian facility, but after falling short of cash, he skipped the improvements and allowed the historic gem to deteriorate.

By 2012, the flagging estate was the subject of a Washington Post piece that bemoaned the "sorry fate of tech pioneer Halsey Minor and historic Virginia estate Carter's Grove." According to the Post, a February inspection by "Virginia's Department of Historic Resources found a leaking roof, broken climate-control system, pervasive rot, cracked paneling and indications that the house is shifting and may be unsound." A letter from that department to Minor claimed that "deterioration has now reached a critical level and is accelerating rapidly. Irreversible damage...has occurred." The LLC Minor formed to purchase the property recently declared bankruptcy, leaving the historic mansion's future in question. Meanwhile, an article from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, penned as a response to the Post, claims that the house is not beyond saving, and that the roof and HVAC system were repaired, thanks to the attentiveness of the state, the court-appointed trustee overseeing the property, and cash from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. While the issues have been shored up, it seems unlikely that Minor, who still owes around $4M on the property, will ever be the one to captain its return to glory.

? The Carter's Grove purchase was part of a cross-country buying spree by Minor—prompted, it seems, by divorce—that also included this Bel Air, Calif. mansion. In March 2006, Minor spent some $20M on this ultimate bachelor pad, then proceeded to tear out the oh-so-expensive interiors installed by designer Charles Allem at the behest of the prior owner. Yes, like many a millionaire buyer, he was probably planning on redecorating, but apparently failed to find the funds to complete this particular flight of fancy. Instead, Minor listed the property in 2008, hoping for a quick sale, with an asking price of $12.9M, or a whopping $7.1M less than he paid just two years earlier. Later, he dropped the price further, to just $11.4M, under pressure from creditors. Today, according to property records, he is still the owner on paper, but owes millions on the property.

? Minor remarried in 2008 and set about finding a suitable family home, settling on an outrageously extravagant San Francisco mansion known as Le Petit Trianon, after the Versailles pavilion favored by Marie Antoinette on which the facade of the San Francisco estate was modeled. After spending $20M on the mansion and a narrow neighboring lot, Minor planned to spend a rumored $15M to renovate, tapping Obama's White House decorator, Michael S. Smith, to do the heavy lifting. Well, like so many of the CNET entrepreneur's plans, it was a non-starter. Today, Minor is in default on Le Petit Trianon, which, as of March 2011, was classified as an abandoned building by the city of San Francisco. In an effort to clear his many debts—including $10.5M in back taxes owed to the state of California—Minor has this property listed for $25M.

? And now, back to Virginia, where Minor attempted to develop a hotel in his hometown of Charlottesville. Dubbed The Landmark, the tower was designed as a charming boutique hotel for this famous college town. Following Minor's insolvency, the project stalled and the hulking, half-complete project was left to mar the Charlottesville skyline until creditors forced a sale earlier this year. Purchased by an Atlanta-based hotelier for $6.25M, The Landmark is now back on track to completion.

? The final measure of Minor's dwindling wealth is his residence on the outskirts of Charlottesville, a sprawling horse farm known as Fox Ridge. By May of this year, the 205-acre estate was reported to be on offer for $12M, down from $15M in March, though it has yet to appear on the local MLS.
· The sorry fate of tech pioneer Halsey Minor and historic Virginia estate Carter's Grove [Washington Post]
· The Not-So-Sad State of Carter's Grove [Preservation Nation]
· Halsey Minor Takes a Loss in Bel Air [The Real Estalker]
· For a Mogul, Money and Magic Touch Have Limits [NYT]
· 3800 Washington St [Pacific Union]
· Atlanta developer buys Landmark for $6.25M [C-Ville]
· Halsey's houses: Fox Ridge offered as plantation deteriorates [The Hook]