CROSSLAKE-Living in Denny Hecker's former 11,438-square-foot mansion may require a map for a new buyer-or at least a healthy set of lungs to yell across the house.
But for a mere $8.5 million, the compound on Cross Lake's Echo Bay, with its multiple houses and 800 feet of lakeshore on 5.6 acres, is available for a motivated buyer. Chad Schwendeman, broker/owner Exit Lakes Realty Premier, listed the home last fall.
The home's features provide a glimpse into the lifestyle of a man who was once at the top of food chain with his auto dealerships across the state, including in the Brainerd lakes area, before a long fall into bankruptcy and eventually a prison cell.
The gated complex on its own point on Cross Lake was constructed in 2007. Flat-screen televisions are in nearly every room. Burnished wood gleams on nearly every surface from floors to ceilings. The main house's front entrance opens onto an open floor plan connecting living area with formal dining and large kitchen. The vaulted two-story room is dominated by a stone fireplace and glass-wall view of a wraparound deck and Cross Lake. To the right, a billiard table and racked cues opens into Hecker's office with gleaming wood ceiling that resembles a polished boat deck. The office has a sitting area and view of the lake as well as the pool and is a short walk from a main-level bedroom suite. Another large bedroom suite is above on the second floor with balcony overlooking the pool area. On the other side of the home, the dining room includes a table with seating for 12. Counter seating rings the kitchen's center island with a den and bar nearby. Views of the lake are visible from nearly every vantage point.
Just down a hallway, an in-house movie theater provides a 10-foot view screen, stadium seating with mood lighting, popcorn machine and easy chairs.
Upstairs an open walkway connects the two bedroom wings. A guest, or mother-in-law suite, is at one end. A chairlift links to the garage below. The guest suite is basically another house with full kitchen, living room, bedroom and bath.
Schwendeman said the market for a home like this is nationwide. It's not the type of place with an open house on a Saturday afternoon. Instead, potential buyers need to be pre-approved with proof of funds before the home is open for viewing. At the asking price, for most people with 20 percent down, the mortgage cost is $42,000 per month. Schwendeman said most buyers in this high-end market, likely Fortune 500 CEOs, pay cash.
The mansion has seven bedrooms, each with its own bath. The master bedroom suite has a wet bar, private balcony and fireplace. Whirlpool baths and steam showers are part and parcel with the custom wood cabinetry and granite countertops. The complex includes five buildings. A basketball hoop and child's playhouse are near a large, four-car garage building with living space above it with full kitchen, living area and bedroom and bath. Schwendeman said it's rumored the space was used by Hecker's pilots. Garages abound on the site, but they were dominated by household items leftover from Hecker and large deck furniture. The main house has an eight-car garage. In total, the property has 18 garage stalls. A short distance from the main house is one of the guesthouses. Trees and landscaping separate the guesthouse so it has the feel of being out on its own with its lakeview. The home is actually two fully furnished homes together with a door between that may be locked or left open for a larger group. On the other side of the home is another full home off Echo Bay, which Schwendeman said could have been spun off and sold for more than $1 million on its own but the owners wanted to keep it in the complex. The guest house has its own dock and road entrance.
On the compound has a boathouse, hot tub near the lake, firepit and expansive deck on the main house with outside fireplace. The main house has five large air conditioning units outside. The main house has five fireplaces and there are 11 overall. Taxes on the property are $59,980 per year. This is the first time it's been on the market.
"I've been doing this since December of 1999," Schwendeman said of his real estate career. "I've never listed a house quite like this."
At the top of the market
At its asking price, it is in rarified air even in a lakes area known for multi-million dollar homes.
Looking at Multiple Listing Service data for Cass and Crow Wing counties just one home sold for more than $2 million in 2017 as of December. The home was on Schaefer's Point Road in Cass County, selling for $2.8 million. Between the two counties there was also one home sold for more than $2 million in 2016 on Gull Lake, selling for $2.5 million.
"That high-end buyer is a little more challenging," Schwendeman said.
Looking at the market for homes ranging between $1.5 million and $2 million saw more activity with 13 sales in 2016 and seven sales in 2017. Looking back to 2006, before the housing market crashed in the Great Recession, the two counties posted 10 sales between $1.5 million and $2 million with just four sold for more than $2 million.
"I think 2018 is going to be really strong," Schwendeman said, although he noted the housing market was holding its collective breath to see how the new tax bill will affect housing and homeownership, as well as the second homebuyer market, a staple for lake country.
Hecker had a large presence as an auto mogul across the state, including his Toyota dealership along Highway 371 in Baxter and his compound of homes on the southern end of Cross Lake. Three of Denny Hecker's Cross Lake properties, in Ideal Township near the city of Crosslake covering 5.61 acres of lakefront property, were sold in May of 2010 at a Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department mortgage foreclosure sale.
TCF National Bank was the lone bidder at $7,010,597. TCF had a $7.2 million mortgage on the properties. At the time, the three properties purchased by TCF had individual market values of $8,919,900, $1,480,300 and $1,408,600, according to tax information from the Crow Wing County auditor's office. For 2009 there were $49,462 in delinquent taxes due on the three properties and taxes of $88,682 due in 2010 that had not been posted, according to the auditor's office.
Hecker had owned 26 auto dealerships in Minnesota and Advantage Rent-A-Car. His holdings, included a Hyundai dealership as well as the a newly constructed Toyota dealership, both along Highway 371. All the dealerships were either closed or sold as Hecker went bankrupt. Hecker's former compound went to the auction block while he was awaiting trial on fraud and other charges. When he filed bankruptcy, Hecker declared the Cross Lake property as his primary residence. Creditors protested at the time that Hecker was just trying to protect the property from a sale. A judge agreed. Hecker filed for personal bankruptcy in June 2009.
In 2010, at age 57, Hecker filed for bankruptcy as he owned $767 million-largely due to personal guarantees he made on business loans-and faced 25 criminal charges of fraud, including bankruptcy fraud. He asked the court to allow him to spend time at his Crosslake home but the judge denied the request and Hecker, who was wearing a GPS-location detection bracelet, was ordered to stay in Medina.
In 2011, the Hecker Crosslake compound with its 11,438-square-foot main house, two guesthouses-one that was in effect two houses in one-plus a fully equipped living area above a large garage, were sold.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Michael Frank and his wife, Barbara, of Eagan purchased the mansion and two guesthouses-for $5.4 million in early December, far short of the $11.8 million assessed value.
The furnishings Hecker left behind, including a life-size Elvis statue, a Wurlitzer jukebox, a home theater, video game machines and a trophy American elk head, were part of the sale, according to a spokesman for TCF Bank, which acquired the property through foreclosure in May, the Pioneer Press stated at the time, noting the bank paid Hecker's bankruptcy estate $70,000 in the fall to keep the furnishings with the property. Michael Frank was a former senior executive with the Marshall Group and worked as a financial consultant, the Pioneer Press stated.
Hecker was released Oct. 5 from a halfway house in Minneapolis where he has lived since serving most of a 10-year sentence in federal prison.
Hecker pleaded guilty to bankruptcy and wire fraud and was sentenced in 2011. Prosecutors said he cheated Chrysler Financial and other auto lenders out of tens of millions of dollars while living an opulent lifestyle.
Now the home is once again available to a new buyer. And Elvis is still in the building.