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Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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For a mere $9 million ...

Times Snohomish County Bureau

As you pass through the gates of Westwold, you know this isn't your typical home.

Maybe it's the bubbling fountains, the smell of flowers in bloom or the pristinely manicured landscape, but it's easy to see that this 12,232-square-foot home on nine acres overlooking Puget Sound is one of the most expensive homes in the county.

It could be yours for only $8.95 million, although the county has assessed the home at $2 million less.

There are dozens of grand homes — daresay mansions — such as the Westwold in Snohomish County. Yet despite their size, these houses have gone somewhat unnoticed in a real-estate market usually characterized by new subdivisions.

From Woodway to Mukilteo to Lake Stevens, Snohomish County is home to some luxurious estates. With high bluffs on Puget Sound to the west and many lakes, the county has prime real estate for homes that rival those in King County's upscale areas.

There are large homes along the bluffs in Mukilteo and south Everett — former Everett Mayor Ed Hansen has one. There are some grand estates on Lake Stevens, including a 10-bedroom home once described in a real-estate listing as a "castle on the lake."

The largest concentration of Snohomish County's expensive homes can be found in Woodway. It's Snohomish County's "Gold Coast," one real-estate agent said.

About 140 million-dollar-plus homes for sale in Snohomish County were included in the Northwest Multiple Listing Service last week. They ranged from the Westwold in Woodway to a new home in Mill Creek that's within walking distance of the Town Center retail/office-development complex.

Elizabeth Erickson, a real-estate agent and owner of Gallery Homes in Mukilteo, said luxury homes have always been something of a buyer's market.

Pulling listing data for Mukilteo, where she does most of her business, she said that for the 22 active "luxury" listings in that city, there probably are two or three buyers at any one time. The average time those homes have been on the market is 91 days, she said.

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With luxury homes and their amenities, the rich can pick and chose.

Take Westwold, for example.

Touring the Woodway home, Jane Powers, a real-estate agent with Seattle-based Ewing & Clark, points out the 75-foot-long Pennsylvania bluestone pool, a 2,400-bottle temperature-controlled wine cellar, and his and hers marble-adorned bathrooms with an adjoining shower. Add to that the acres of gardens, complete with fountains and a koi pond, sweeping views of Puget Sound and a distinctive stone exterior.

The trick to selling a luxury home is to point out quality craftsmanship and features and to price the home right, Erickson said.

Most luxury-home buyers are looking for a custom home that fits well on its lot, meshes with its surroundings and is made of quality materials, she said.

One feature highly sought after is a main-floor master bedroom, Erickson said. Such a bedroom lets retired couples and couples without children do most of their living on one floor, but still have room for guests.

If there is one thing luxury homes have in common, it's a water view.

Large homes started popping up in the county at about the time the railroad got here, said David Dilgard, a history specialist with the Everett Public Library's Northwest Room.

People first got rich here through land speculation, Dilgard said. A parcel in what would become Everett became exponentially more valuable when the railroad came to town in 1892.

Many unlucky speculators, however, literally died waiting for the train.

"In this area, speculative nonsense was always kind of the rule rather than the exception," Dilgard said.

As people came into wealth, some built large homes, but others refrained.

Fewer mansions went up during the county's early years because a home wasn't necessarily seen as a place to express wealth, Dilgard said.

Until relatively recently, some people built only what they needed — a small home in which to raise a family — even if they had the means to do more.

"It just might be that the nature of the dream has shifted," Dilgard said.

But it might be shifting back.

Former Snohomish Mayor Liz Loomis said some of her clients show their wealth through ways other than a large home.

Loomis has been rubbing shoulders with the wealthy through a professional concierge business, My People, she started after losing her re-election bid last year.

It's a professional errand and personal-assistant service that helps wealthy clients with chores they don't have time to do themselves — buy groceries, transport kids, clean the house or anything else.

My People offers one-stop shopping for all sorts of personal services, Loomis said. She, a business partner and a couple of part-time employees research, do background checks and hire other individuals and businesses to help the rich with their daily lives.

For example, Loomis had one client recently who needed help getting ready for in-laws coming to town. My People lined up a handyman, housecleaner and personal chef.

Another client pays My People to arrange to have his car detailed every week, Loomis said.

It's a growing trend that wealthy people want to spend their money on lavish vacations and personal services rather than expensive, hard-to-care-for homes, Loomis said.

"People are sort of showing how wealthy they are now by where they go and how they get there," rather than how big their home is, she said.

"They want something they can shut up and leave, besides having to worry about maintaining," she added.

Erickson has found the same thing. Young people with new wealth and baby boomers whose kids have moved away often prefer smaller homes with nice views, rather than estates.

"They are not looking for a big house, but they are looking for that big view," Erickson said.

Some of the richest residents here also seem to be choosing town homes or condominiums, according to real-estate agents.

A posh condo or town home of a few thousand square feet may sell for as much as a luxury estate to a well-off couple who are preparing for retirement or who don't want to have kids, she said.

Brian Alexander: 425-745-7845

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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