For sale: castle with moat

And it can be yours, for only $3.4 million

Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006


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Photos by Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Posing at the entrance of his castle on Martello Drive in Silver Spring, Brian Colella built the structure over the course of two decades and now is trying to sell it for more than $3 million. Colella opens the small portal known as a speakeasy in the castle’s front door.






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Every man’s home is his castle, right? But how many guys really own one?

Brian Colella does and so can you ... if you’ve got a few million dollars burning a hole in your bank.

Take a look on eBay. For sale: one castle, 44 rooms — on 1.94 acres with a partial moat. The price? A mere $3.4 million.

Not exactly the roomy, historic home with water view you were looking for? You’re not alone. Colella says he’s had several inquiries since listing the castle on eBay. But while the Internet listing has yet to generate a serious buyer and the building is only about 80 percent complete, Colella is confident he’ll sell it.

‘‘This is a one-and-only and there’s a lot of people who want one-and-only,” he said during a recent tour of the sprawling home at 2702 Martello Drive in Silver Spring. ‘‘How many people out there do you know who have a moat?”

Or 11 bedrooms and five bathrooms over 15,000 square feet, for that matter. As Colella says, he’s practically in a market all by himself.

‘‘You just don’t have that many houses with that kind of square footage and in a residential area so close to D.C.,” he said. The state Department of Assessments and Taxation lists the actual square feet at 5,495 with an assessed value at $1.09 million. Colella says the state’s listing doesn’t include the basement.

Earlier this year, Colella had an offer from a Rockville church. Sticker shock ended that deal in April. But others have shown interest. An assisted living group home considered it, and so did a doctor and builder, Colella said. With its proximity to the future Intercounty Connector — about 900 yards, he says — and the D.C.⁄Baltimore area, Colella thinks it would make a great bed and breakfast.

Santiago Testa, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker’s Chevy Chase office, said the property had been on the regular market for 530 days, ranging in price from $2.5 million to $3.199 million.

Testa said there is nothing of that size in the immediate area; a seven-bedroom home in Calverton is going for about $539,000. The highest price in the neighborhood, he said, is $689,000 for a four-bedroom.

‘‘... I would say he overbuilt for the neighborhood,” Testa said. ‘‘If that house were off Burning Tree in Potomac or in Bethesda, no one would bat an eyelash. That’s what you get there.”

In its area, on a wooded cul-de-sac off Old Columbia Pike, ‘‘it overwhelms the neighborhood,” Testa said. ‘‘I think he’s going to be sitting on it for awhile unless he splits it up into townhouses.”

‘‘I feel for him,” Testa continued. ‘‘It sounds like he had a dream, a vision, an opportunity to use the land and the resources to build.”

Colella, 52, said the idea came to him in high school English class in 1970. A budding entrepreneur with an interest in music, Colella, who grew up in the Wheaton area, had started a lighting and sound business. While flipping through a book in class, ‘‘I saw a castle on one of these pages and was thinking, ‘Wow, you’d have to have a lot of sound and light to light that place up.’ ”

He named his business Castle Sound and Lighting, and later started Castle Productions, a graphics and digital printing company. And in between, Colella began building homes — big ones.

For his own home, big and castle made sense. But it wouldn’t be his if he didn’t build it himself — from design to hammer and nails.

‘‘I’ve been called eccentric,” said Colella, who also owned The Online Café in Rockville and started a water safety program for children called Kids Knowledge Necessary On Water, or Kids KNOW. ‘‘When I put my mind to doing something, I do it and nothing will stand in my way of doing it. I’ve always had big ideas and big thoughts about doing things.”

Colella began building the castle Nov. 6, 1986, after buying and then subdividing property off Old Columbia Pike in 1979. When he started, there were few resources for the big-time or small-time do-it-yourselfer — no HGTV, no computer programs for design or construction. So Colella toured England to find castle architecture.

The rest he picked up from his experience as a builder, a trade he said he learned by watching others and doing things himself. Details were added and dropped over time.

Colella, who said he built 98 percent of the castle with his own hands, had plans for a 60-by-80 indoor pool and three stories of living space. But, the then-bachelor soon realized he had more home than he could handle.

‘‘I looked at it and thought, ‘My God, what do I need all this house for?’” he said. Another set of revisions brought the third-floor designs to the second floor while maintaining many of the features on a grand scale.

Over 20 years, and after spending between $500,000 and $750,000, he continued to build while taking on other projects. He even ran a business there and lived inside for three to four years.

While he calls it a castle, he readily admits that ‘‘everybody would call it a McMansion,” the neo-Gilded Age domicile of someone who got rich and wants the world, or at least the neighbors, to know it.

Betty Pelzer-Sharper, a Realtor with Re⁄Max Realty Services on Fenwick Lane in Silver Spring, said both the seller and buyer of a property like Colella’s have to be smart.

The seller should spend time researching the going rate for similarly sized properties and market it toward likely buyers, both in the residential and commercial markets.

‘‘When you get into unique homes, you get into a lot of marketing money,” she said. ‘‘Because there are not a lot of people out there buying castles. You have to think out of the box.”

Listing it on eBay, or even sites like craigslist.com, reaches prospective buyers but also gives the seller feedback on price or possible uses, Pelzer-Sharper said.

So, with all this to think about, why does Colella want to sell his castle and his dream?

‘‘I think I’m done building and I really hate to give this up. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this,” he said.

And so did stress. Colella said he suffered a heart attack four years ago and his doctor told him he needed to change his lifestyle. He now lives in Shady Side and the drive from one home to the other was too much.

Besides, he said he’d rather spend time with his wife, Elizabeth, and their 3-year-old daughter than the 3,000 sheets of drywall and 8 miles of wiring in the Silver Spring building, even if it is his castle.

‘‘I was really contemplating finishing it,” he said. ‘‘It might take $50,000 to $80,000 with no real construction left. I figured if it doesn’t sell, and I hope it does, I’ll do a little bit of finishing on my own. ... I love that stuff, but I just don’t have the time.”

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