Asking price for Hilbert estate drops below $10M

December 7, 2009

The Carmel estate built for Conseco Inc. founder Stephen Hilbert had relatively limited appeal when it was on the market for $20 million. And more than one offer to buy the 40-acre property fell apart because of difficulty lining up financing.

Now the estate is listed at $9.9 million—less than half of the original asking price and a third of the $30 million it was estimated to be worth in 2001.

“Conseco [officials] decided they wanted to move it,” said Reed Oslan, a Chicago attorney who represents the insurer in its efforts to collect on loans Hilbert took out in the 1990s to buy company stock. “We had quite a bit of interest, but nobody stepped up and got the job done. … Somebody’s going to get a fabulous house for probably a third of the original cost.”

Conseco won control of the residence during a court battle with its former CEO and put it on the market in 2005.

Built in 1993, the estate at 1143 W. 116th St. features a 25,000-square-foot main house, 15,000-square-foot “sports palace,” guest house, catering facilities and power plant on “33.6 acres of pristine, rolling grounds,” according to the real estate listing. Another 7.6 acres of land also is included, offering the buyer some development potential.

The estate seems to have it all, but price has been an issue since it went on the market in mid-2005. Property taxes alone are more than $100,000 a year.

“The universe of potential buyers for a home in Carmel, Indiana, in excess of $10 million is incredibly small, even in good times,” Oslan said. “We thought it was priced right at $20 million four or five years ago. But the world has changed since then.”

Indeed, a national credit crisis and soft real estate market have taken their toll. Conseco lowered the price to $15 million in early 2009, then dropped it again in August, said local broker Greg Cooper, who is marketing the property with colleague Dick Richwine.

“This is a very, very challenging market,” said Cooper, of Century 21 Real Estate Group I. “It sounds cliché, but it’s just going to take the right situation.”

Potential buyers submitted bids even before the price started dropping, but no transaction made it to closing. Cooper blamed the tight credit markets, which made financing difficult.

In September 2007, newly formed think tank Carmel Institute offered the full $20 million, but that fell through. Conseco seemed close to having another agreement two months later when an unnamed woman represented by a local Carpenter Realtors agent made a bid for the Hilbert home. She even paid $1 million into an escrow fund, but then couldn’t secure the rest of her planned financing, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the negotiations. The deal fell through, and Conseco kept the woman’s money placed in escrow.

When Conseco CEO Jim Prieur was asked by a shareholder about the Hilbert home during the company’s annual shareholders meeting in May, he quipped, “Mr. Hilbert’s home is still on the market. … If everyone would like to line up afterward and make bids, I’d be happy to receive them.”


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