Billionaire mansions: Don’t you want one?
by Tim Broadway
Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, 26, may have recently shelled out $7 million for a Palo Alto home, but when it comes to billionaire real estate, that purchase is downright thrifty. Many of the world’s richest people spare no expense when it comes to home sweet home, throwing down tens and hundreds of millions of dollars on mega mansions designed to suit every possible fancy.
Take industrial billionaire Ira Rennert’s 43,031 square-foot Fair Field estate in Sagaponack, New York. Valued at $200 million according to tax assessments, the sprawling 29 bedroom, 39 bath manse is one of America’s largest single-family homes — and arguably the most expensive. Amenities include not one but three dining rooms, three swimming pools sitting side by side, two courtyards, an orangery, a 164-seat screening theater and a pavilion housing a basketball court, a gym, and a 2-lane bowling alley. There’s even an on-premise power plant to keep everything running. In April, rumors that Rennert was building a private museum to showcase his massive art collection surfaced when the town of Sagaponack issued a stop-work order on new construction that had been started without the proper permits.
On the opposite coast, Russian venture capital billionaire Yuri Milner recently forked over $100 million for a 25,000-square foot, French chateau-inspired mansion in Silicon Valley. The Palo Alto estate touts indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, a ballroom and a wine cellar. If Rennert’s Fair Field estate could be the most expensive home in the country, Milner’s is its direct competition for that title. The Facebook and Groupon investor, who calls Moscow, Russia home, bought the place as a secondary property.
Many billionaire homeowners don’t move into their new digs right away. Once they’ve closed, which usually occurs through a third party LLC to keep the sale as private as possible, it’s time to retrofit the property for their lavish lifestyles, remodeling or in some cases, tearing down and rebuilding a brand new mansion altogether. This is a common occurrence in the ritzy Long Island, New York zip codes that make up the Hamptons, where billionaire investor Ron Baron dropped $103 million on 40 acres of beachfront land sans a house. In the most recent and extreme example, hedge fund billionaire David Tepper just knocked down the$43.5 million Sagaponack home he bought last year; he reportedly plans to build a house that’s twice as large on the empty site.
“A lot of people will buy a $30 million ocean front mansion, tear it down, and start all over again,” explains Alan Fiocchi, founder of AlchemyRED, a company that project manages the ground-up construction or intensive remodeling of multi-million dollar estates around the world. Fiocchi, who works on properties averaging $25 million with a typical renovation budget of $10 million, acts as Owner’s Representation for many billionaire clients, including many of Wall Street’s high profile finance gurus, one non-American Head of State and members of royal families.
Billionaires like their privacy. Fiocchi, who must sign non-disclosure agreements to take on a job, says it is common for clients to shell out money for technology that ensures safety. “We’ve done full security in terms of bullet-proof glass on all the windows,” says Fiocchi. “We’ve even had clients who were extremely paranoid about air quality, so we engaged engineers from Germany to make sure they had the highest air quality known to man circulating through their residences.”
The world’s richest spend millions on the finish work, especially stonework and millwork. Take the Maison de L’Amitie estate in Palm Beach, Florida that real estate mogul-turned-reality show star Donald Trump sold to Russian fertilizer kingpin, Dmitry Rybolovlev in 2008 for a discounted $95 million (originally listed for $125 million). The Donald snatched up the 60,000 square foot, oceanfront estate for just over $40 million in 2004 and set to work sprucing it up, adding gold and diamond fixtures and a 50-car garage.
Some billionaires collect pricey plots of land the way others might collect wine or art. Tech titan Larry Ellison is perhaps most famously known for his Woodside, Calif. compound, fashioned after a Japanese imperial palace with man-made lake, teahouse and moon pavilion. But the Oracle founder has also dished out hundreds of millions of dollars on more than a dozen Malibu and San Francisco estates in recent years. Earlier this year, he scooped up former billionaire Edra Blixseth’s 240-acre Porcupine Creek estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif. for a deeply discounted $42.9 million.
A smattering of expensive homes are currently on the market awaiting prospective billionaire buyers, like the Tranquility Estate in Lake Tahoe that recently dropped from $100 million to $75 million, and Manhattan’s Woolworth Mansion listed at a hefty $90 million. The $48 million “for sale by owner” transaction of the Vanderbilt townhouse by Sloan Lindemann Barnett, daughter of billionaire George Lindemann, to Libet Johnson of the Johnson and Johnson family, is pending and once closed, will become the most expensive Manhattan residence purchased since the 2008 economic downturn.
“When I think of a trophy property selling or something unusual entering the market that gets a lot of attention it…actually pulls more inventory out onto the market…and other properties that may be considered competing in this price point come out of the woodwork because the selling of them is optional,” explains Jonathan Miller, chief executive of Miller Samuel Inc, a New York City-based real estate appraisal company. He notes that while high-end aspiring homeowners have the money to shell out on uber expensive estates, many still tend to abstain from buying property that is wildly overpriced – just as their home-buying peers in the lower ends of the market do.