Would you like to have one of these obscenely priced homes? You think millionaires are any different?

by Tim Broadway

The 15 most outrageous home sales of 2011

Forbes Dec 25, 2011 – 8:00 AM ET | Last Updated: Dec 23, 2011 1:19 PM ET

Eric Gaillard/Reuters files

The U.S. housing market is still in the pits, closing another year marked by falling prices, lackluster sales volumes and a steady stream of foreclosures. For the rich and famous, though, it’s been a year of record-breaking purchases.

The U.S. housing market is still in the pits, closing another year marked by falling prices, lackluster sales volumes and a steady stream of foreclosures. For the rich and famous, though, it’s been a year of record-breaking purchases.

We sorted through the biggest, splashiest home sales of the year to bring you a recap of the 15 we deem the most outrageous.

One of the biggest purchases of the year just closed: an US$88-million penthouse condo in New York City’s billionaire-coveted 15 Central Park West. The 6,744-square-foot apartment, which hit the market in November, sold less than six weeks later to Ekaterina Rybolovleva, the 22-year old daughter of Russian billionaire Dmitriy Rybolovlev, reportedly for the full US$88-million asking price.

It is the highest individual transaction in Big Apple history and the second-largest transaction in the U.S. for 2011. Jonathan Miller, chief executive of Miller Samuel, a New York City-based real estate appraisal firm, explained to my colleague Luisa Kroll recently, “This sale is an outlier. It works out to be about $13,000 per square foot, the highest on record, for anything, that has ever occurred.”

The pricey pad belonged to former Citigroup chairman Sandy Weill, who purchased it with his wife in 2007 for US$43.7-million — less than half of what it just sold for. The Weills plan to donate the proceeds to charity and Rybolovleva plans to reside there while attending university in the area. Despite Miller’s insistence that the gargantuan 15 CPW sale is an anomaly, there were two other pricey purchases in New York City this year, both for US$48-million apiece.

California’s real estate market welcomed several huge sales as well. The year’s largest individual transaction was the US$100-million purchase in March of a 25,500-square foot Silicon Valley mansion called Palo Alto Loire Chateau. Russian venture capital billionaire Yuri Milner reportedly plans to use the nine-figure compound as a secondary residence. The Levi Strauss estate, with its humble 2,050-square foot abode, in nearby Atherton sold to an unknown buyer for a hefty US$53-million in September.

The Spelling Manor, a Los Angeles manse formerly known as America’s most expensive home for sale, secured a buyer this summer after nearly three years on the market. The hulking 56,500-square foot Holmby Hills estate was listed for $150 million, and ultimately sold to yet another 22-year-old billionaire heiress, Petra Ecclestone, the daughter of Formula One founder Bernie Ecclestone, for a more reasonable US$85-million. Like Milner, Ecclestone has no plans to reside there full-time, and will split time between the palatial crash pad and one in London.

But while US$85-million may seem like an exorbitant sum to throw down on what essentially will be a pied a terre, David Kramer, the Hilton & Hyland agent who represented Ecclestone for her L.A. purchase, says the wealthy British family consider it a good investment. “If you say to someone who has billions of dollars, ‘Hey I’ll get you 43% off of a landmark home that in a good market really would be a US$100-million or more home, they will say let’s do it.”

Many real estate experts, Kramer and Miller included, chalk up increased interest in the home market among the big-money set to the same thing: perceived bargains. The weak dollar coupled with depreciated home prices (even at the high end) have translated into investment opportunities, particularly for rich foreigners looking to hedge fortunes in brick and mortar assets.

All of the headline-grabbing sales that have transpired this year have led to even more high-profile properties hitting the sale block. A plethora of trophy homes are available like Manhattan’s US$90-million Woolworth Mansion, Guess co-founder Armand Marciano’s US$63-million Beverly Hills compound, a US$60-million private resort in Indian Creek, Fla., and the less expensive but equally noteworthy US$12.5-million former Sinatra estate called Farralone. A US$175-million ranch in Jackson, Wyo. also came to market this year.

“I am seeing unique, special properties that no one ever would have thought would come on the market,” says Kramer. “These are properties that, like a piece of art, can and will never be duplicated. They can be considered part of people’s collections.”

South Florida’s luxury market has welcomed big spenders, too. Miami clocked four transactions priced at roughly US$20-million or higher this year. The most recent, the sale of the Setai South Beach’s palatial penthouse for US$21.5-million, is believed to be the highest price ever paid for a Miami Beach condo unit. The Thai-inspired apartment, which had belonged to Netscape founder Jim Clark, had been listed for $27 million. Another Russian billionaire, Roustam Tariko, coughed up US$25.5-million for a Star Island estate, the highest price paid in Miami since 2006.

“We have had an influx of rich people that have come to the city recently,” says Farid Moussalem, a ONE Sotheby’s International Realty agent who represented the buyer of Sunset Island’s Villa Tranquilla estate. The property was sold by American billionaire George Lindemann for US$19.8-million this summer, about 34% off the initial 2009 asking price of US$30-million. “I don’t think this is over; I think next year we will see more of these kinds of high-end sales,” says Moussalem.

Some ritzy residences didn’t find buyers this year until their asking prices were drastically cut. Oracle’s Larry Ellison, No. 3 on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, picked up Porcupine Creek in Rancho Mirage, Calif., for US$42.9-million, 43% off the initial US$75-million asking price; fertilizer billionaire Alexander Rovt scooped up New York City’s Sloane Mansion an hour before its foreclosure auction for roughly US$33-million, or about 48% off the initial US$64-million ask price. Perhaps the biggest high-end discount sale of the year was Le Reve, a massive Versailles-like compound just north of Atlanta, Ga., that finally sold this summer for US$9.5-million. It had been originally listed at US$45-million.

Also making our roundup were two infamous foreclosures, both repossessed by lender Bank of America. Patricia Kluge’s Albemarle estate in Charlottesville, Va., once listed for US$100-million, was taken by the bank in February for US$15.26-million; and San Francisco’s St. Regis penthouse, once listed for US$70-million, earned the title of most expensive bank-owned property when it was sold back to the bank by former owner-developer Victor MacFarlane in lieu of foreclosure. That penthouse found a buyer just recently for US$28-million.




Seven millionaire myths
Claire Bradley
Published Thursday, Jan. 05, 2012 6:22AM EST

We all have our preconceptions about millionaires: they’re tax evaders who just inherited their money from rich aunt, and they hang around the golf course all day with their snobby, elitist friends. So what’s the average millionaire really like? Here are seven millionaire myths, and the real facts about the ones who seem to have it all.

Millionaires Don’t Pay Their Taxes

Fact: It is estimated that millionaires, those in the top 1per cent of earners, pay about 40 per cent of all taxes. Current tax regulation shifts may change these numbers to make this even larger than that – so think twice before accusing the millionaires of not paying taxes. (Do you know when you’re going to retire? It might not be as soon as you think. Read The New Retirement Age.)

Millionaires Just Inherited Their Money

According to Thomas J. Stanley’s book, “The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy,” only 20 per cent of millionaires inherited their riches. The other 80 per cent are what you’d call nouveau riche: first generation millionaires who earned their cash on their own. Many millionaires simply worked, saved and lived within their means to generate their wealth – think accountants and managers: regular people going to work every day. Most millionaires didn’t get their riches overnight when a rich relative died – they worked for the money.

Millionaires Feel Rich

From the outside looking in, you would think that millionaires feel rich and secure, but that’s not so. Most millionaires worry about retirement, their kids’ college fund and the mortgage just like the rest of us. Those worries are greatest among new millionaires, the people who just recently acquired their wealth. (For more, see Don’t Forget The Kids: Save For Their Education And Retirement.)

Millionaires Have High-Paying Jobs

It certainly doesn’t hurt to be gainfully employed, but half of all millionaires are self-employed or own a business. It does help to have a college degree, as about 80 per cent are college graduates, though only 18 per cent have master’s degrees.

Millionaires All Drive Fancy Cars

You can get that idea of the rich guy in a fancy German car out of your head when you think of a millionaire: they actually drive a Ford, with the carmaker topping the millionaire preferred car list at 9.4 per cent. Cadillacs run second on the millionaires’ favourite car list, and Lincolns third according to onmoneymaking.com.

Car payments are an investment with little return, which is why someone looking to grow wealth avoids high-priced vehicles in favour of a more economical set of wheels.

Millionaires Hang Around the Golf Course All Day

Those millionaires are all retired, with nothing else to do but hang around the golf course, right? Wrong: only 20 per cent of millionaires are retirees, with a full 80 per cent still going to work. It’s not as glamorous or fun, but millionaires go to work just like you do; it’s how the money gets in the bank.

Millionaires Are Elitists

We’ve already established that most millionaires earned their money not inherited it, still go to work, drive a Ford and worry about their kids’ college expenses. Sounds a lot like the rest of America, right? Millionaires come in all shapes and sizes – some may be elitists, but most are just regular Joes who successfully managed their money.

The Bottom Line

Maybe you see a pattern here: today’s millionaires are people who live within their means, budget and spend wisely, and focus on financial independence first. These are habits that take discipline, but ones we can all adopt to begin growing wealth. If these facts prove anything, it’s that every one of us can strive to become a millionaire – you can start by driving your old car with pride.