Concierge’s third auction of the year in Big Sky

By Emily Wolfe Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – The Big EZ Lodge exemplifies many things Big Sky: Here, luxury meets the allure of the West, with views into the mountains of the Greater Yellowstone, golf and bocce in the backyard, and elk, bears and sandhill cranes acting as witness.

And now it’s for sale, listed by Montana Living ~ Big Sky Real Estate and set for live auction without reserve through Concierge Auctions on Aug. 9.

Texas entrepreneur R. Steven Hicks and his wife Donna, who built the lodge, started construction on the approximately 23,000-square-foot mountain estate in 1997, designing it as a corporate retreat. Selling their company, AMFM Radio to Clear Channel mid-construction, they opened the lodge as a luxury bed and breakfast in 1999.

The Hicks named the lodge after New Orleans’ nickname, “The Big Easy,” said exclusive listing agent Martha Johnson. “They had a special affection for New Orleans. They liked the sound of it, the casualness of it.”

They had searched the West to build this dream property, Johnson said, and appreciated Big Sky’s amenities, combined with its casual atmosphere – “the fact that you could wear jeans to dinner. It’s sophisticated, but it’s casual.”

In 2004, Andrew Harpers Hideaway Report rated the lodge ninth in its “World’s Best Hotels, Resorts and Hideaways – 23rd Annual Survey of Sophisticated Travelers.”

The lodge was the first building on that 7,000-foot wooded ridgeline southeast of the Big Sky Town Center, and the entire area is now colloquially known as the Big EZ. The Hicks sold the surrounding 55 other 20-acre estate lots, 17 of which now have homes on them. The 4.9-mile, private road that accesses the development is gated and paved.

Located on more than 60 acres, it was listed July 1 at $24.5 million. Prior to this, the property has never been for sale.

The Hicks closed the B&B over the last five years and remodeled it into a private luxury home. Features include 16 bedrooms between the main lodge, caretaker’s apartment, garage and barn; game and exercise rooms; a wrap-around deck with views of the Gallatin and Madison ranges; an 18-hole, par-72 putting course; two trout ponds; and a 26-person hot tub with a cascading waterfall.

“It’s a big property but it’s got an intimate feel to it,” Johnson said.

This auction of the Big EZ – a significant holding in a market of notable properties – is part of what appears to be a larger pattern developing in the area.

Concierge Auctions, a New York City-based luxury real estate firm, held its first auction in Big Sky in March 2012. Since then, it auctioned four other properties in 2012 and two in 2013. The auction house also has a track record in other mountain towns like Jackson, Wyo., and Aspen, Colo.

With an absolute auction – also known as an auction without reserve – there is no minimum bid. On auction day, the property sells to the highest bidder.

For the Big EZ, interested parties must register before Aug. 7, and take part in the live auction Aug. 9, either in person or by calling in, said Laura Brady, president of Concierge Auctions.

“Typical auctions range between 5-12 bidders,” Brady said, “but it all depends on the property, and we don’t know how many bidders there will be until a few days before an auction.”

Since Concierge sells luxury properties nationwide, its buyers are “often purchasing vacation homes and aren’t necessarily geographically contained,” Brady said, explaining why Big Sky is a good market for this type of real estate transaction. “They’re just, for example, looking for a ski home and open to opportunities in Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming or Montana.”

The owners, Johnson said, are selling because “they own 1,600 acres in the area that they’re going to focus on… They’ve enjoyed it immensely for roughly 15 years, but after converting it from a lodge to a luxury residence, they feel that the timing is right to sell it.”

Johnson was the agent on all 55 of the nearby 20-acre properties adjacent to the Big EZ, and her husband Scott was general manager for the lodge for seven years.

After announcing the auction July 1, Johnson estimated she’d had 100 inquiries in the first week.

Even so, Brady said, “We’re still early in the auction period, and we really won’t know what the property is going to bring until auction day.”

The auction of the Big EZ Lodge, located at 7000 Beaver Creek Road in Big Sky, will be held on Aug. 9. A 2.5 percent commission is offered to the buyer’s representing broker. The property is open for preview daily from 1 – 4 p.m. and by appointment. Find more information at bigskyauction.com.