K.C. Irving's former house on the market in Bermuda

It's a house that many New Brunswickers have heard of, imagined, and talked about, but have never seen — and now it's for sale.

K.C. Irving's former home in Bermuda, a property that was once a vital legal link to his offshore tax status, is on the market for $1.9 million.

The house, called "Skyline Cottage," is modest by Bermuda standards, with three bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms. It sits on two-thirds of a hectare of land.

The real estate listing describes it as having "great bones" but in need of "some cosmetic updating."

Jim Turnbull, a former Saint John broadcast journalist who once called on K.C. Irving in Bermuda, confirmed the house is the one he visited near the Fairmont Southampton Princess Hotel.

'Not high-end at all'

Real estate agent Sally Ann Smith, who is trying to sell the property, said it's "not high-end at all" in the Bermuda market and will need some work.

"In its day, I'm sure it was a lovely house," she said, suggesting that the kitchen will need "a complete remodelling."

"You've got a lot of much bigger and more luxurious houses than this one. But it has quite a lot of potential to some people. The golf course is just across the road and it has the facilities of the hotel right next door to it."

Smith wasn't aware of the name K.C. Irving when she was contacted by CBC News.

"I've never heard of him," she said.

She added that the Irving name is not attached to the current owner of the house. "That is not the name, no."

Avoiding death taxes

Irving moved to Bermuda in 1971 to avoid death taxes, and his Bermuda residence was key to the structure of Irving's offshore trust after he died in 1991.

Irving's widow, Winnifred, continued to live in the house for years after her husband's death. She was one of the three trustees of a Bermuda-based trust established by his will, which required the trustees to live outside Canada. Analysts said this was to avoid taxation.

The trust, which controlled several Bermuda-based Irving holding companies, was dissolved after Irving's three sons decided about a decade ago to divide up the family conglomerate.

It's not known if the house was owned by the trust or by an Irving family member. It's also not clear when Winnifred Irving moved out or whether it was sold to someone else before this sale. Smith said the current owner is Canadian.

No Irving response

J.D. Irving, Limited spokesperson Mary Keith did not respond to an email question about the house from CBC News. John Irving, a grandson of K.C. Irving, did not respond either.

Irving moved to Bermuda in 1971 to avoid proposed death taxes and duties that were expected to be as high as 80 per cent, his 89-year-old son, J.K. Irving, wrote in a letter last year to Atlantic Business Magazine.

"This would have been devastating to the businesses as they would have had to have been sold to pay the anticipated death duties and taxes," Irving wrote. The "collapse of a life's work of growing jobs and enterprises" was "not acceptable" to his father.

"He would move to Bermuda to ensure the survival of the companies and the related jobs," J.K. Irving wrote. "We would have much rather had him around." But the move allowed the Irving companies to remain in Atlantic Canada and "sustained thousands of jobs," he said.

JDI and its associated companies are now "owned and controlled by entities and citizens resident in Atlantic Canada," the letter added.

In his book Citizens Irving, author John DeMont said the billionaire lived in a small cottage first and then "razed" it to build a $2.5 million white stucco "mansion." But Smith said the original cottage is still there, attached to the larger house built later.

Price has dropped

The house has been listed for six months.

"I think it's priced reasonably well at the moment," Smith said. "It was higher."

She explained she had dropped the price once already because government regulations have designated it as no longer available for sale to non-Bermudians, "which obviously devalues it a bit because you haven't got that outside market," Smith said.

"It probably would have sold quicker had it been available," she said.

Smith recently had to tell a potential foreign buyer who stays at the nearby hotel every year that he couldn't buy the house as a retirement property.

She said she was unaware of the fascination that New Brunswickers have with the Irving name and the role of the house.

"You don't ask too many questions about previous owners and how they managed to get this property," she said.

"We've got other billionaires here who are Canadian."