Coolest find on Craigslist? Mansion living in Seattle, just $650/month

Wouldn't it be great to live in a mansion on the water, Gatsby-style, with your best friends and make art all day? That was the fantasy of Celene Ramadan, a twentysomething filmmaker and musician living in Seattle, who rented a lake house in Chicago with 17 friends while attending an improv festival. The rental only lasted a week, but it left Ramadan with the idea that her artist collective, Beta Society, should have a "frat house" of its own.

Then a friend forwarded her a Craigslist posting for a 10,000-s.f. mansion on Seattle's Puget Sound, available for rent. The subject line of the e-mail expressed the astonishment of the find: "really, truly, seriously."

The mansion had been languishing on the market for two years until the owner, web entrepreneur and indie-film financier Garr Godfrey, gave up and decided to rent it out at a loss. Ramadan spent months wrangling 10 tenants, enough to cover the rent -- and writing Garr a heartfelt letter expressing her appreciation for his house.

And so it was that Ramadan scored quite possibly one of the best Craigslist finds in history. The housewarming party, celebrating the signing of a two-year lease, lasted days. "I never thought anything like this would exist in Seattle," Ramadan said as she relaxed in her ivy-covered gazebo on a sizzling afternoon last week, during the Pacifc Northwest's mercifully rare triple-digit heat wave.

The mansion, built in 1952, is a gated, multitiered playground. Along with the gazebo, the backyard has its own kitchen with a pizza oven, a playground fit for a well-endowed elementary school, a massive lawn, and a seating area festooned with tiki torches and a telescope for stargazing over tranquil Puget Sound. Just past the palm-tree garden in the front yard is a hot tub and pool with a retractable roof and changing rooms, where the crew has been hanging out every day since moving in in April.

The sprawling interior -- nine bedrooms, 7.5 baths (and three bidets), a home theater (projector, 12 giant leather recliners), and entryway fountain -- gives its tenants plenty of room to roam; they could avoid each other for days if they wanted to. The house's 10 bohemian tenants have made the house a performance space. Last weekend, they hosted an interactive play inspired by MTV's longrunning reality series The Real World, in which the audience/party guests shuffled from room to room, voyeuristically checking out the drama in each. They even wrote and recorded a retro sitcom theme song for their mansion, inspired by the bidets.

"I've never been this popular in my life," says Ramadan. Even better, the high life is saving her money. She's spending $650 a month on rent, less than she was for her old apartment, and she's cut back significantly on bar tabs: her friends would rather meet at her place. But she's already living with most of the people she hangs out with anyway.

"This is the first time I'm excited to go home," says Ross Whippo, 29, a marine-biology student working at the Seattle Aquarium. The giddiness has yet to wear off, and the usual roommate tensions include "fridge wars" -- elaborate espionage games between the two fridges in the kitchen, each used by half of the household. One cunning retaliation included wrapping one fridge like a gift and leaving it on the backyard lawn -- still plugged in, of course.

If you're burning with envy, don't begrudge these people for their good fortune -- follow their example instead. If you know a dozen people you'd like to live with, now's the time to hit up your local high-end realtor to find a mansion for rent. The Wall Street Journal reports that there's no recovery in sight for the luxury housing market: It's still suffering overdevelopment, cash-hoarding jitters, and tight credit for massive mortgages. And the economy has challenged people's notion of how much home is enough.

In some luxury markets, the rich can afford to wait, says Doug Wright, an agent for Century 21 in the Southeast Valley of Phoenix, Arizona. "We're a global market here, unlike Seattle or some area that doesn't have the huge global tourism...We are seeing a number of sales, all cash. We're seeing 8, 10, 15 offers on a house, 50% of what it was 8-10 months ago."

"I'm seeing more flexible owners, willing to do lease options and vacation rentals," says Eric Colona, a realtor for multimillion dollar mansions on San Diego's coastline. As the owner of SDMansions, Colona advises any would-be "group tenants" to show off their responsible side to homeowners, including an academic transcript. "It gives them an idea of what type of lifestyle you have."

That line of thinking worked for Ramadan. To beat a group of what she calls "frat boys," she based her letter to her prospective landlord on two classic films, The Breakfast Club and The Goonies. "On paper we may not look like the best tenants....But we're not the jocks, throwing parties all the time, we're the dorks on the laptops who are going to stay up all night learning editing software. We're the dorks, and this is our time."

That letter, her realtor told her, is what got her the house.

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