Billionaire mansions brought to be torn down, Vancouvers housing market finally slowing down.

by Tim Broadway

America doomed mansions

One billionaire’s castle is another billionaire’s teardown. Never mind the existing mansion—it’s the location these moguls want, not someone else’s hand-me-down house. Instead of renovating, the very rich call in the wrecking ball and build their personal playgrounds from scratch.

We tracked 10 mansions that have been bulldozed or are soon to be. Some languished for years on the market, nary a buyer in sight. Others deteriorated to the point of no return. Some were gargantuan, outdated or, most often, just not suited to the new owner’s taste.

John Kean, an ultra high-end builder of stately US$3-million to more than US$75-million homes, “each a work of art,” in the New York metropolitan area, has torn down scores of old manor homes to build new, larger mansions that look like they have been there forever. The reason: “the land is so valuable, particularly on the water.” Besides, he added, “just because a celebrity owned it doesn’t mean it’s a great house.” The misconception, he added, is “that we are knocking down spectacular homes,” Kean says. “I am really knocking down something that might have been a mansion 50 years ago, but not by today’s standards.”

Last year, Kean’s wrecking ball snuffed out the 6,457 square foot Tudor home of the late comedian Alan King, which sold for US$12.75-million in 2004. Built in 1926 by the lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, the Kings Point, N.Y. mansion stood on 2.39 acres with a pool, a tennis court, a private rocky beach and sweeping views of the Long Island Sound. Though the builder doesn’t disclose any information regarding his clients, he said that the new mansion “will be a substantial home that is spectacular.”

Paul J. Mateyunas, a restoration consultant and an agent with Daniel Gale Sotheby’s in Locust Valley, N.Y. has tracked the demise of hundreds of Great Gatsby-era mansions.

“It’s sad; it’s losing a little bit of history,” Mateyunas said. “It is unfortunate when it happens. You can’t replicate a lot of these structures.”

For years, Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple wanted to tear down a 17,000-square-foot, 35-room Spanish-style mansion he owned since the 1980s in Woodside, Calif., south of San Francisco. He instead envisioned a smaller, likely more techno-savvy home for his family on the lot. After battling legal challenges to save or move the 1920s “Jackling House,” built by the California architect George Washington Smith for a prosperous copper entrepreneur, Jobs received a demolition permit. Howard N. Ellman, Jobs’s lawyer, said the house was bulldozed in February but Jobs’s dwindling health put the plans on hold. He passed away this month. Janet Koelsch, the Woodside town clerk, confirms there have been no applications for development received for the property since demolition of the house.

Then there are mansion owners who simply have a change of heart. A decade ago, uber luxury builder Mark Pulte of Mark Timothy, Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla., had completed 90% of a $40 million, 40,000-square-foot oceanfront mansion in Delray Beach, Florida when one of the owners, a thirty-something heir to the Coca-Cola fortune and his wife, decided they didn’t want to live there. “He said, ‘stop finishing the house,’” Mr. Pulte recalled. “They never moved in.” After six months on the market, Mr. Pulte “bought it back for $16 million.” First, he rented it out to filmmaker Michael Bay. What didn’t get torn up or blown up making the Will Smith movie Bad Boys II, Mr. Pulte demolished. He sold off the three lots it sat on for US$8-million apiece and replaced the mega-mansion with oceanfront homes.

Vancouver housing market finally slowing

Canada’s most expensive housing market continues to slow down amid signs of weakening demand and increasing supply.

October sales in Vancouver were off 1% from a year ago, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. It was the second worst month for sales in October in the past decade.

At the same time new listings were up 18.3% in October from a year earlier. The so-called benchmark price for all residential properties in Greater Vancouver was $622,955, up 7.5% from a year earlier. Prices have dropped 1% from the peak of $630,921 reached in June.

“Right now, prospective home buyers have a good selection of properties to choose from and more time to make decisions,” Rosario Setticasi, president of the board.