In the heyday of manufactured home sales in the 1990s, mobile-home magnate Ted Parker built his own mansion on the edge of Lumberton.
He flew in a woodworker from Switzerland, modeled the pool overlooking the Lumber River after a resort in Puerto Rico and installed chandeliers originally made for singer Michael Bolton. When the N.C. Department of Transportation refused to carve a turn lane on a rural and otherwise empty stretch of N.C. 72, Parker paid for it himself. He suspected the 13,000-square-foot house would attract rubberneckers craning to see over the mile-long wall in front of his 115-acre property. He was right, especially after a “for sale” sign went up several years ago. Now, a new agent from Myrtle Beach, S.C., has a prospect for the property: the Chinese.
It once seemed far-fetched that Chinese real-estate investors and tourists would make the 15-hour trip from Shanghai to Myrtle Beach, flying over preferred Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Then, Founders Group International scooped up 22 golf courses on the Grand Strand in 2014-15, while other Chinese investors scouted the touristy beach town for a location to build a $100 million theme park designed as a Chinese cultural village. As of mid-April, Founders’ parent Yiqian Funding was under investigation by the Chinese government for fraud, according to Chinese publications.
“If you’re flying halfway around the world,” says real-estate agent Craig Dierksheide, what’s another hour and a half to a Robeson County mansion? It is now on the block at $3.29 million, furnishings included. Dierksheide showed it to Chinese investors in March, and they may be his best bet.
Since Dierksheide became the listing agent, he has fielded dozens of calls, most from curious types who want to see the home theater, elevator, six bedrooms, two boat ramps, sauna and 10 bathrooms, including one with a built-in barber chair. In a county where the median sales price was less than $60,000 earlier this year, few locals could afford it.
“It takes a pretty special person to own a home like that in Lumberton,” a town of about 20,000 people, Dierksheide says. “If Hugh Hefner were a little younger, I might try to contact him.”
Others want to see the place of Parker’s fall from grace. Parker opened his mobile-home company in 1980 and sold it to General Electric and Ardshiel, an investment firm associated with GE, in 1998. Mobile-home sales peaked in North Carolina in 1997 at about 33,000, compared with about 3,000 last year. In 1999, Lumberton-based Ted Parker Home Sales filed for bankruptcy protection. In all, 42 dealerships were closed and 375 workers were laid off.
Dierksheide says Parker poured $12 million into the house. Now, Parker, who still lives in Lumberton but moved out of the mansion a couple of years ago, plans to keep only personal photographs. “I told him he overbuilt for the neighborhood,” says Dierksheide. “It was his dream. He didn’t build it for an investment.”