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Fort Ben home, condos headed to auction

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The former home of the commanding general at Fort Benjamin Harrison and four condominiums at the old army base are being auctioned June 17, a reflection of the difficulty of selling high-end condos in a soft real estate market.

The condos are among 48 units in three historic buildings redeveloped by VLB & Associates, a development firm owned by Virginia L. Basham, who bought the properties in 1996, shortly after the federal government closed Fort Ben.

The condos are all two- and three-bedroom units and range in size from 2,050 to 2,800 square feet. They had been listed for between $290,000 and $350,000. All but four of the first 32 units that were developed sold before the real estate market collapsed last year.

Proceeds from the auction of the four unsold units will be used to pay debt service on the properties, said Mike Couch, the agent with Sycamore Group Realty who has the condos listed.

The auction is being conducted by Elkhart-based Hahn Auctioneers. A preview showing is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. this Thursday. An advertisement for the auction said all of the properties involved will be sold at well below market value, subject to approval of the seller and the companies that hold the mortgages on the properties.

A third condo building isn’t part of the auction. One of its 16 units is finished and sold. The developer is holding onto the other 15, which are unfinished, in hopes of putting them back on the market, possibly next spring if the market improves, Couch said.

The auction’s biggest draw might be the 8,100-square-foot commanding general’s home, which had been converted into three apartments before Basham bought it and restored it to its original floor plan in the late 1990s.

The three-story, 1903 home was the St. Margaret’s Guild Decorator’s Show Home in 1999. Basham intended to move into it but never did. It was listed at one time for more than $1 million but was most recently listed at $792,000.

The house and the condominium buildings are on Lawton Loop, the street in the old army fort where enlisted men’s barracks were located. The barracks buildings, which were built between 1901 and 1906, have historic details that Basham went to great lengths to preserve as they were converted to condos.

“Every unit was built as if the developer was going to live there,” said Joe McDonald, the manager of F.C. Tucker Co.’s Fishers office who formerly listed the units. “They did a great job with the product.”

McDonald said the high-end condo market suffered as residential prices fell across the board because of the real estate downturn. Buyers who might have been interested in a condo in the $300,000 range suddenly could buy a lot of house for the same price because of the drop in prices, he said.

He thinks the remaining Lawton Loop condos will find a market eventually because of their historic features and proximity to Fort Harrison State Park and its 18-hole golf course.
 

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