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10412 Hunters Valley Road in Vienna

José Marinay had a $2 million house with a wet bar and a marble foyer, but he never moved in.

On March 26, at 11 a.m., roughly 60 people watched José Marinay’s dream house get auctioned off.

The mammoth yellow home—now completed but never occupied—sits on 2.8 acres of land in Vienna’s Hunters Valley, described by people who live there as a “horse community.” Some neighbors keep the animals on their land and ride around the properties; neighbors who don’t are left to drive through the piles of manure.

Marinay was drawn to the equestrian nature of the neighborhood.

“I love horses. I owned horses,” he says. “There are a couple of riding schools [there], where I wanted my girls to go.…My father is a horse trainer.”

Marinay, 43, designed the 11,500-square-foot house with a central marble foyer that stretches up three levels. That’s where the bidders and spectators gathered for the auction. Eight buyers submitted preliminary offers. Five made it to the live-auction round after “showing good qualifications and a strong opening bid,” says Jeff Stein, a representative from Tranzon Fox auction company.

The opening bid was $1.6 million. At around $1.9 million, the bidding started jumping by smaller $25,000 increments. The “hammer price” came in at $1.975 million. The final price, with added fees, was $2.073 million.

“It was a great sale,” says Stein. “Spirited bidding—and I think these folks got a great deal.”

The story behind 10412 Hunters Valley Road starts decades ago, when Marinay began imagining it. It’s “a house I’ve had in my mind since I was in high school,” he says.

Marinay, who grew up in Bogota, Colombia, moved to the D.C. area more than 30 years ago, when his mother got a job with the Organization of American States.

Marinay is the CEO of Smart Choice Settlements LC, a real-estate settlement firm that has landed him in the news several times, including an October 2007 piece in the Washington Post. “Jose Marinay wears tailored suits, plays racquetball twice a week and displays photos of family-owned racehorses in his Annandale office,” the story begins. (Marinay says the last point is incorrect.)

The real-estate boom of the 2000s was kind enough to Marinay that he could finally act on those high-school shelter visions. He started working with an architect on drawings as far back as 2004. In 2006, he bought the Vienna plot for $1.1 million from Seville Homes LLC, the developer that would build the house.

The plan wasn’t much different from your average new-home transaction in McMansionville, USA. Marinay took out a loan for the construction of the house, with a structure whereby he would receive more money as the developer completed certain stages of construction. “There was supposed to be enough money to finish the house,” says Marinay.

But like many dream-house narratives in the latter part of the ’00s, this one didn’t end as it was supposed to. Seville, says Marinay, was scheduled to complete the home by spring 2007, but that deadline came and went. The house was half-constructed when Marinay was forced to go back to the bank and ask for a larger loan—Seville had run out of cash. In the end, he went back two more times. Even on the third visit, the bank “kind of helped me out,” says Marinay.

Last December, Marinay sold the property to the bank—at a loss—for $2.35 million.

Marinay was no stranger to his developer. Seville CEO Steve Korfonta had once worked out of one of Marinay’s offices, in Annandale. Marinay says Korfonta was charged rent but never paid it. Similar slips occurred with Marinay’s house, he says. “Seville, for some reason, kept running out of money and couldn’t finish it. I kept borrowing more money, until finally I just couldn’t.”

Seville’s dealings have kicked up quite a paper trail in Northern Virginia. In August 2008, lawyer Henry St. John FitzGerald filed two claims against Seville Homes LLC and Korfonta. FitzGerald’s clients—all from Annandale’s Korean community, he believes—came to him after signing contracts.

“His typical deal—every deal that I’ve got—the contract was for the purchase of a lot owned by Seville Homes. They owned the ground. But they agreed to build a house on it and sell the finished house and lot to the buyer,” FitzGerald says.

The purchaser would put down a substantial deposit, usually around 10 percent. All of FitzGerald’s clients bought houses for a million or more. “So a [$1.1 million] house, they put something in the order of $110,000 down,” he says. “For my clients, nothing ever happened.”
Korfonta could not be reached for comment.

The painful part of Marinay’s ordeal is how close he came: His home was 90 percent complete when the money dried up. And for 10412 Hunters Valley Road, 90 percent is a lot of house (for a virtual tour, click on the previous link). The first floor has a nearly 600-square-foot living room, in addition to a 540-square-foot family room, a study, and a sunroom. Auction documents boast of further grandeur, noting that the “fully finished walk-out lower level features a large recreation room, a game room and a wet bar with kitchenette and wine room. This level also includes an exercise room with steam shower and a separate full bathroom, a hobby room, home office, and media/theatre room.”

On the day the house went to the highest bidder, neighbor Jill Campbell, 67, remembers seeing cars on the property but didn’t go in and has never met Marinay. “So it got auctioned off?” she asks. “I hope we get nice neighbors with it.”

This story will appear in this week’s issue of the Washington City Paper. All images courtesy of Tranzon Fox.