SURRY, Va. – Maybe it was the inescapable mind's-eye visions of the brutality inflicted on dogs in the rugged wooded area behind the fence. Or maybe it was the glare of the media spotlight.
Something kept Michael Vick's former dogfighting headquarters from selling at auction Saturday, disappointing a real estate developer who has about $500,000 tied up in the place.
"I didn't see the people in the crowd I thought we needed," Wilbur Ray Todd Jr. said after rejecting the only serious bid — $747,000, the property's assessed value for real estate tax purposes.
Todd said he thought the 15-acre country estate in rural southeastern Virginia was worth at least $1 million, even without "the celebrity factor." He now plans to list the house for a more conventional sale.
Vick is serving a 23-month sentence for a dogfighting conspiracy. The suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback and three co-defendants raised pit bulls and trained them for fighting in the area behind a 4,600-square-foot white brick house. Several dogs that did not perform well in test fights were executed.
Facing financial ruin, Vick sold the property to Todd for the bargain price of $450,000. The disgraced NFL star has lost millions in endorsement deals and will lose the final $71 million of his Falcons contract. He also might have to repay the team nearly $20 million, and he's being sued by three banks for allegedly defaulting on nearly $6 million in loans.
Todd spent about $50,000 sprucing up the place, which had been trashed by burglars and looters. People arriving for the auction noticed the most recent addition: a front-yard flag pole, with a Falcons flag rippling in the cold wind.
"It was the finishing touch," Todd said.
A container for donations to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was placed at the front of the driveway, and a small concession stand offered burgers, hot dogs and drinks, with proceeds going to the SPCA.
About 70 people packed the home's den and kitchen for the auction, but only six registered as possible bidders. Todd and real estate agent Kyle Thomas Hause Jr. clearly had hoped that despite the dogfighting conviction, the Vick name would help sell the house.
"This is the famous Michael Vick house!" Hause declared as he opened the auction.
A flier distributed at three open houses over the past week, and again Saturday, described the 1915 Moonlight Road property as "formerly owned by famous NFL football star Michael Vick."
Todd said he didn't think potential bidders were deterred by the property's infamous history. More likely, he said, they didn't want the attention they would get at a public auction on such a high-profile property.
Vick paid about $34,000 for the land in 2002 and had the house built in 2003. Behind the house and a full-size basketball court, partly obscured by a fence, are four outbuildings and dozens of dog cages.
According to court papers, some of the dogfights were held on the second floor of one of the outbuildings. There are other remnants of Vick's "Bad Newz Kennels" dogfighting enterprise, including a metal pole and chain that was used to restrain pit bulls.
The house has two master suites and a media room with wet bar. A double-sided gas fireplace separates the bathroom from the bedroom in the upstairs master suite.
Other amenities include jetted tubs, freshly refinished hardwood floors, a two-car garage and an expansive kitchen with center island, granite countertops and built-in stainless steel appliances.
The bidding on the house, land and outbuildings started Saturday at $345,000. After considerable coaxing by Hause, someone in the crowd indicated with a scratch of the nose that he would pay $747,000. Hause, who later said the bidder wanted to remain anonymous, and Todd retreated to another room for about five minutes and came back with the answer: No deal.
Todd said later that the $250,000 profit he would have made simply wasn't enough.
"By the time you pay a commission and taxes, it gets eaten up real quick," he said.
If he can't do better in a conventional sale, Todd said, he has other ideas for the property.
"We've talked about a bed-and-breakfast," he said. "All the bedrooms have their own bathroom, and we could incorporate the kennels in the back: Bring your pet."