The sprawling, once opulent former New Hope estate of Claire Risoldi, a Bucks County socialite turned convict, was on the auction block Saturday by order of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.
The estimated market price for the 10-acre property, which includes a fire-damaged mansion, was $1.3 million. But considering that it will need between $400,000 and $600,000 in renovations, according to auctioneer Mark Henderson, the starting bid was to begin at $700,000.
“It’s a unique property,” Henderson said. “Especially with its history.”
At the end of an anemic bidding session, the charred property sold to an unidentified contractor who offered $750,000, according to the Intelligencer in Doylestown.
Risoldi, who christened the estate Clairemont, was convicted in January of insurance fraud for exaggerating the losses from a 2013 fire at the home.
Prosecutors called the $13 million in false insurance claims she had filed desperate attempts to fund an increasingly luxurious lifestyle.
Glimpses of that lifestyle can be seen throughout the six-bedroom, 5½-bath home, which features an elaborate ceiling mural that depicts Risoldi as a goddess.
While that image remains, much of the rest of the ceiling was heavily damaged in the fire and the mural now rises above charred floorboards.
Gone are the lavish, gilded furniture and lush velvet drapes that once graced the home. The days of elaborate parties and political fund-raisers in the opulent manse are long behind Risoldi, now jailed on contempt charges while awaiting sentencing in the fraud. Prosecutors say she could face up to 60 years in prison.
A Doylestown jury found that Risoldi, 71, conspired to dupe insurers by filing false claims for more than 50 pieces of jewelry she said were damaged in three fires at the family’s estate between 2009 and 2013. At trial, prosecutors emphasized that Risoldi and her family expanded and increased coverage on the jewelry weeks before the third fire in 2013.
In 2014, she was charged with attempting to defraud the insurer, AIG.
The property, which Risoldi and her husband purchased for $900,000 in 2000, later was turned over to the state. The auction was to raise money for restitution to the insurance company.
Today, the house and grounds are a shadow of their past glory. The fires gutted the home, leaving a series of wooden frames outlining the rooms where Risoldi once hosted parties for the conservative elite of the suburban Philadelphia county.
The home, built in 1989, needs a new roof, new windows, and a full interior makeover.
The best-preserved element of the estate is the facade of the white-columned mansion, which resembles a Southern plantation house. The rest of the home is an architectural Lego box. It’s done in a historical style, but the layouts of the rooms fit more modern designs and are outlined with Styrofoam ornaments instead of historically accurate plaster flourishes.
The property has an attached three-car garage, and a second, detached three-car garage with second-floor storage. The rear of the home includes a pool that needs work, as well as a pool house with a bathroom and shower.
Toward the back of the property are a few fenced-off garden beds and a detached woodworking shed with a kitchenette and bathroom. A green plaque near the entrance reads “Tommont."
Throughout the estate, nearly everything needs work — a lot of it. And the property taxes on the place are more than $21,000.
“This is a sale that is not for the fainthearted,” Henderson said before the auction. “If you’re prone to stress, you probably shouldn’t bid.”