Madoff's Montauk home: Big views, modest decor

The U.S. Marshals are preparing Bernie's beach house for sale. CNNMoney takes you inside.

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By Les Christie, CNNMoney.com staff writer

Inside Madoff's beach house
As the government prepares to put Bernie's Montauk home on the market, a U.S. Marshal gave the press a tour of the house. Here's what they saw.
ceiling_Picture-55.03.jpg
Plain wood beams span the Cathedral ceilings and triangular window arches frame the view of the sky.
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There are some odd details, like a panel in the fireplace that hides the television.
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Marshal Roland Ubaldo gives the press a look at Madoff's pool.
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The only thing that's truly spectacular about Bernie Madoff's Montauk, N.Y., beach house is its stunning views of the Atlantic.

The rest of the four bedroom house, which was seized by federal authorities after its owner was sentenced to 150 years for swindling investors out of billions of dollars, is fairly unremarkable considering its previous occupant's staggering wealth. Think Formica countertops and smallish bedrooms.

The U.S. Marshal's office announced Tuesday that the home will be marketed by noted New York area real estate broker, the Corcoran Group.

The Feds hope the house will fetch at least its listing price of $8.75 million, all of which will go to Madoff's victims.

The biggest selling points: It's set on 1.2 acres and the house is within 150 feet of the beach -- a proximity that federal zoning laws no longer permit. As a result the home has extraordinary ocean views -- and faces a big flood risk.

"Every room is situated so that you have a left to right, 180 degree angle of the Atlantic Ocean," said Roland Ubaldo, supervisory deputy US Marshal, who conducted a video tour of the property for the press last week. "It's a panoramic view. You're talking about guest bedrooms, master bedrooms, foyer, you name it, [all of them] have a view of the Atlantic Ocean; it really is breathtaking."

What that view is worth

That view is a key element to the home's value, and there is considerable debate about just what it's worth. Some agents have speculated that the property could fetch as much as $10 million.

Zillow, the real estate valuation Web site, estimates that the property value is closer to $4 million. Even at the height of the market in late 2005, the company's "Zestimate" was for less than $5 million. Tax assessors value it at around $3.3 million.

The home's waterfront location probably doubles what it would otherwise be worth, according to Jonathan Miller, of Miller Samuel, a prominent New York appraiser. "I really appreciate how close it is to the beach," he said.

The proximity to the waves is such a selling point that Miller finds "it hard to imagine any risk of flood being an adverse marketing element."

The home's interiors are comparatively simple. The main attraction is the soaring cathedral ceiling in the open-plan living room, which features simple exposed wood beams and windows framed with plain moldings. There's a big gray-stone fireplace that, somewhat oddly, has an unadorned panel that opens up to reveal a television. (See picture, at right).

The walls are covered in knotty, light-colored paneling, while the bare-wood floors are punctuated by oriental scatter rugs for a beach-casual look.

The rooms are light-filled and airy with low-key but attractive finishes. "There's an understated elegance, I believe, in this whole residence," said Marshal Ubaldo. "It's simple, stylish, but it is understated."

The look is pretty and appropriate, but not at all extravagant. A visitor probably wouldn't hesitate to walk in with sandy shoes.

Miller believes that little has changed inside the house since it was built. The kitchen's Formica counters, the bath decor, even the curved stairwell all say the 1980s -- emphatically.

This kind of time capsule is not unusual in expensive properties, according to Miller, who sees the same phenomenon in big Manhattan apartments. People move in, do a major renovation and then live there for years without changing anything again.

"Complacency sets in," he said. "They're comfortable. They don't do too much with the home except maintain it well. That's why new buyers often do a gut renovation before they move in."

From the outside, the house is similarly understated. The front walk up is a bit deceiving, according to Ubaldo. The home looks more impressive once you're inside.

"From left to right, you have [a] panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean, the 20-foot, 30-foot drop from the top of the stairs down to the ground floor -- it truly is amazing," Ubaldo said.

The 3,000-square-foot residence also has about 1,300 square feet of covered patios and a medium-sized swimming pool.

A felon's furnishings

The furniture, which will be sold separately at auction, is also unpretentious. The dining table is a round wood slab of plain planks and seats about eight people in wood-backed, dining armchairs. The sectional sofas look built for comfort rather than style, and the rugs don't make any big statements either.

Most of the Madoff possessions have already been catalogued and boxed. All of it will go on the block said Ubaldo, "from chinaware to silverware to the rocking chair that Ruth Madoff may have sat on while reading a book watching the waves roll in, to the desk that Bernard Madoff used ... to do his business."

Those proceeds, like those from the sale of the house, will help compensate Madoff's victims.

Experts including Miller, doubt that Madoff's crimes will hurt the resale value of the home. As a matter of fact, Miller said, the notoriety could help. "This property will get a lot more exposure than a typical property, and that could enhance its value," he said.

He pointed out that the marshals are certainly emphasizing the Madoff link. "They seem to think it's an advantage," he said.

The agent handling the listing for Corcoran, Joan Hegner, said she has already gotten an extraordinary amount of interest in the property that has nothing to do with Madoff. " It's a matter of supply and demand," she said. "We rarely get ocean-front homes. It's very desirable."

Whatever the house sells for, it's sure to be a great deal more than the $250,000 that the Madoffs paid for it back in 1980.

That may make it one of the best legitimate investments that Bernie ever made -- and, ironically, one of the few that his investors will actually profit from. To top of page

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