Busy Real Estate Market Bypassing Rattle & Snap

'Not a legitimate offer' on Maury's storied antebellum mansion, says owner Amon Carter Evans

Where's a dot.com millionaire when you need one? Or any kind of millionaire, for that matter.

That's got to be among the questions that runs through the mind of 67-year-old Amon Carter Evans, owner for 22 years of Rattle & Snap, the vast and elegant Maury County mansion built by George Washington Polk and Sallie Hilliard Polk in 1842. Pricey, one-of-a-kind properties all over Middle Tennessee are changing hands, but Rattle & Snap, with its 10 columns and half-dozen outbuildings, has remained for sale for pretty much the last 15 years.

It's got some undeniably attractive features, as far as dream houses go: National Historic Landmark status, enough space for a helipad, nine bedrooms, eight bathrooms, 10 fireplaces, horse facilities, even historically accurate furnishings. And now that Mr. Evans has sold off the 4,000 surrounding acres, the price is more attractive: it's $5.9 million instead of $15 million. So why can't an aging beauty find a suitor?

"I haven't had a legitimate offer on it since I owned it," said Mr. Evans, "and it has been for sale literally since I bought it, except for the five years it took to restore it."

Mr. Evans purchased the mansion with proceeds from the sale of stock in The Tennessean newspaper, which his father, Silliman Evans, published. Gannett purchased it for about $50 million in 1978.

Mr. Evans and his wife Denise have operated the house as a tourist attraction for the last seven years, collecting revenue from $10 house tour tickets and tours for groups of schoolchildren, tours of the interpretive farm and tickets for the grounds only. They also serve a $10 lunch each day and dinner by group reservation.

Mr. Evans said that he never dreamed he'd be in the tourist business after 29 years as a journalist. "I moved out here to retire as a gentleman farmer," he says. "I'm too old to continue feeding thousands of tourists and visiting with thousands of tourists every year. I’m not only the cook, but we'll put 30 or 35 thousand people through Rattle & Snap this year. That's a lot of people. I'm getting too old."

Although he has always been willing to part with Rattle & Snap, Mr. Evans' efforts have intensified somewhat in the last year or so. Rattle & Snap is listed with an agent, Nancy Hutcherson, who happens to be the third of Amon Evans' six ex-wives. She and Mr. Evans do not have a contract, strictly speaking, but she says she will receive the equivalent of a commission on the sale of the house.

Despite the Internet listing, Ms. Hutcherson says that she has had only five serious inquiries on the house since posting the listing on Realtor.com last year. "The ones that want it can't afford it and the ones that can afford it don't want it," she said.

Realtor Neal Clayton says the failure of the manse to find a new owner is likely a combination of maintenance issues, which he called "a commitment" in such a house, and the location, between Columbia and Mt. Pleasant in southern Maury County, probably 90 minutes from Nashville.

"The buyer for that place…" Mr. Clayton mused, then paused, "…I don't know who the buyer for that house is." He said that such a specialized property needs specialized marketing. "You have to study who the buyer is for that property and go market to that buyer, rather than putting it on the market and waiting for the buyer to contact you."

And the fact is, antebellum mansions are not the rarity in Maury County that they are in Davidson or Williamson counties. Oak Lawn, another surviving Maury mansion on 230 acres, is being sold at auction by Furrow Auction Company in a week or so and is expected to bring $3 million to $5 million, though there is no reserve price.

With a property like Oak Lawn or Rattle & Snap, said Rob Strickland, Furrow's vice president for real estate, "you're dealing with such a small percentage of the market that can afford it, and how many of them are really going to like it?" He thinks auctions are best for unique properties, he said, because they force everyone to the table at the same time to do business.

If it was all about the profile of the place, just the story of Rattle & Snap's name would sell it. Rattle & Snap is named for the game of chance, something like dice (but using beans), in which William Polk, a Revolutionary War hero from North Carolina, won the property.

To read more about Rattle & Snap as a tourist attraction click here.

To read more about Rattle & Snap as a piece of real estate for sale, click here.