The Legends of Ultimate Homes

The Manor from Unique Homes 2017 Ultimate issue.

Photo courtesy Hilton & Hyland.

As we mark the 17th “Ultimate” edition of Unique Homes, we look back at the exceptional properties and agents who have been a part of the annual celebration of the most expensive real estate in the U.S.

Over the 50 years since the first issue of Unique Homes rolled off the presses, countless estates have graced our cover. Hundreds have captured a top position on Ultimate Homes’ list of the most expensive, but only a very few are real estate legends. Trackback through record-setting sales and property listings, and a handful of properties filter to the top, including an equally select cadre of real estate agents.

What destines a property for legendary status? Rarity, provenance, architecture, land and location all play a role. “We have represented and sold many properties that are above and beyond, but what makes them legendary is the architecture and the history of the property, including notable prior owners, location, and the property amenities that set the bar for other luxury properties,” explains Judy Zeder, a member of the Jills Zeder Group (along with Jill Eber and Jill Hertzberg) with Coldwell Banker Realty in Miami.

“What truly makes an incredible luxury property is that it’s something that someone else would never have. It’s not just another house with a different material feature,” shares Shari Chase, founder of Chase International Real Estate in the Lake Tahoe/Reno region. “Rarity is huge,” she says, as is “not being bumper to bumper with a lot of mega mansions that are exactly the same.”

The 2016 sale of the Playboy Mansion cracked the $100 million benchmark in L.A. 

Photo by Jim Bartsch.

Owlwood, Pickfair, Le Belvedere, Greenacres and Chartwell: the list of legendary properties that Joyce Rey, who heads Coldwell Banker Global Luxury’s division for Southern California, has sold is only surpassed by the number of accolades she has received over her more than 40-year career. Her sales have achieved price records multiple times, sometimes for the same property. In 1976, she sold the Sonny and Cher mansion for $1.2 million, a record at the time. Two years later, she sold it again for $4.2 million, which surpassed all other prices, setting a new high in the U.S. and worldwide. “It was a really big deal,” she says. “It changed the marketplace.”

The storied history of this property, which was renamed Owlwood to honor owls living in the estate’s towering trees, continues to the present day. The acquisition of neighboring properties and additional acreage over the years enhanced the value. Last offered for sale well above $100 million, it appeared on Unique Homes’ Ultimate list last year at $115 million. It sold in December in an off-market transaction for a reported $88 million.

Once dubbed “the Crown Jewel of Beverly Hills,” Owlwood’s resume includes a number of other high-profile names and celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe.

Ultimate Manhattan? The Tommy Hilfiger penthouse at The Plaza in New York City graced the cover of Ultimate Homes in 2014.
Casa Casuarina, seen here on the Unique Homes Fall 2012 cover, was the home of Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace.

Having a much-loved celebrity often adds to the cachet of a property. “Americans love celebrities,” says Jill Eber. “When a celebrity is comfortable using their name in connection with a property, it really makes a difference. Every home comes with a story and a celebrity’s story just makes it more interesting. A lot of properties are sold by very successful business people and the properties are just gorgeous, but when a home is sold by a celebrity or athlete, buyers are curious and sometimes they are attracted to that cache.”

Few celebrity homes received as much buzz as the Miami Beach mansion owned by the late Gianni Versace. “Everything about the Versace property, known as Casa Casuarina, was fun and exciting,” says Jill Hertzberg, who, along with Eber, sold the property. “It was a totally iconic property known worldwide. Every room was different with the most extraordinary mosaic tile designs throughout. The property was built for fun and entertainment and the buyers who purchased it just loved it! They all jumped into the pool on the day they got it. Standing in front of the mansion with reporters from all over the world is something I will always remember.”

Among our Ultimates, few have generated as much interest as The Manor, dubbed The Spelling Manor when it came to market in 2009 at an unprecedented price of $150 million, eventually selling for a reported $85 million in 2011. The buyer, Petra Ecclestone, daughter of Formula One billionaire Bernie Ecclestone, embarked on an extensive remodel, eventually bringing the estate back on the market in 2016 at $200 million. The 2019 sale price, $119.7 million, set a new, but short-lived, record for Los Angeles. Only a few months later, another legendary property, Chartwell, sold for a reported $150 million, achieving a new benchmark. 

Designed by Sumner Spaulding in 1933, Chartwell, like several other legends, including the Manor, was inspired by French chateaus. Located on 10 acres in Bel Air and surrounded by pristine gardens, it ticks off all the attributes of a legendary estate. Although it is notable for the highest list price, $350 million, in 2017, few other mansions are as familiar to so many. Featured on the 1960s sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies, it was home to the Clampetts.

It’s worth noting the estate is actually in Bel Air. The Bel Air Hillbillies might not have been as catchy a title as the Beverly Hillbillies, says Gary Gold, with Hilton & Hyland, one of the agents listing the property. Using a home at one address, but identifying it as being in another location in films and television is not unusual, according to Gold. 

Chartwell was listed by a team of agents including Rey and Jade Mills with Coldwell Banker Realty, and Gold and Jeff Hyland with Hilton & Hyland. When prices breach $100 million, it’s not uncommon to have multiple brokerages marketing the property.

“These big sales have many layers of complexity. It can be a trust, a bankruptcy or a probate, and everyone at this level is well represented. And at $100 million, no one is flexible,” explains Gold. Often the team of agents and brokers will divide the tasks depending on their expertise. Gold says he is always 100-percent committed to getting the deal done.

Having brokered the sale of the Playboy Mansion, Gold jokingly refers to himself as the “Roger Bannister of luxury real estate.” Like Bannister’s one-minute mile, the Playboy Mansion smashed the $100 million ceiling in L.A. and opened the door to a number of legendary estates trading at or over $100 million, including Chartwell and The Manor.

“These types of mansions usually come on the market once in a blue moon, once a decade, but recently a number have traded in the last couple of years,” Gold shares.

When it came on the market, the Playboy Mansion received lots of media coverage. Still, when Jade Mills, who represented the buyer, initially saw the property, she wasn’t expecting to find a zoo. The property had “been talked about, but not really the zoo and the peacocks and everything that was there,” she says.

“When I first went there, there were all of the animals, monkeys, peacocks were all over the property — I just thought that it was so amazing that right in the middle of Holmby Hills, you had all those fabulous animals. So, it was just fun to see, and to see the grotto.”

Gold says the number of birds increased over time as local avians decided it was a great place to call home and joined the menagerie.

Another interesting tidbit was an abundance of pushbuttons in this home, sort of a smart home before the era of home tech. For example, push a button and the bed would turn around. The grotto had an array of buttons, all glowing red, and a phone from which you could dial up whatever music you wanted

Foundation of Value

But for legends, it is the amount of land or an impossible-to-replicate location that usually sets them apart. A majority occupy sizable parcels, whether it’s hundreds of acres like Tranquility in Tahoe, or a dozen or less in Bel Air or Holmby Hills. The exception are places such as Malibu, where a setting on the beach is more prized and rarer than acreage.

“Regardless of the condition — like new, falling down or anything in between — each owner puts their heart and soul into these homes,” shares Robert Kinlin, co-owner of Robert Paul Properties, who works with some of the most expensive in Boston and on the Cape. “But a lot of times, people are buying the land and the feeling it evokes when they’re outside walking the property, because you can’t change the land, but you can change the house.”

“The biggest thing you can have with a beautiful estate is Mother Nature,” adds Shari Chase.

When Chase founded her brokerage in 1986, the word “luxury” really wasn’t part of the vocabulary. Instead, she says, “we talked about estates and extraordinary estates, and her tagline was Exceptional Properties for Exceptional People. “I wasn’t going to bother with just any kind of real estate. I only wanted the best, and whether I had one or two or three sales a year, it didn’t matter. I mean, as long as they were fantastic. I think the very first sale was lakefront.” Early on, Chase was involved in what she describes as “the most extraordinary sale we ever had at Tahoe,” the Thunderbird Lodge at a record $50 million. “It held the price record in the entire nation for over 8 years.”

Not often are newly constructed homes destined to become legendary, but Le Belvedere, sited on over 2 acres in Bel Air overlooking the city with a romantic landscape that includes a swan pond, rose gardens and a 280-degree panorama of city lights, is the exception. Over-the-top features such as opulent materials, a ballroom seating 200, a media room seating 50, and a 500-bottle wine cellar, were exceptional when it came on the market in 2009, but the way every detail is executed, the stateliness of the architecture and the sense of harmony from all facets working in perfect sync pushes it from a “stellar property” to a legendary estate.

Le Belvedere, like Tranquility, is also exceptional for its amenities. At that time, shares Rey, “people weren’t building so many of those major theaters. Before that, only those in the industry had large screening rooms.

Rey was involved in the sale of Le Belvedere for $50 million — the highest in the U.S. in 2010 –— and again in 2018 for $56 million.

Amenity Wars

In recent years, there have been a number of newly built for-sale trophy homes, some with list prices stretching current benchmarks. What sets these properties apart is the number of over-the-top features, including curated art installations, stocked wine bars, car collections, an onsite staff and even a helipad. The objective — to include everything someone might want in a home — is aligned with the motives behind the inclusion of extensive amenities in classic estates.

Legendary Redos

No matter how exquisite a property, new owners have a penchant to put their own stamp on it. “I just think that it’s amusing that people must make even, you know, the most expensive, beautiful home — they must make it their own. So sometimes it’s just been remodeled, and then torn completely apart. And they start over,” shares Mills, who brokered the 2019 sale of The Manor. And this practice is not limited to prime estates. Instead, it reaches across the entire price spectrum, whether a house is $1 million or a $100 million.

Few other homes on our annual list have received as much attention as this estate. “The Manor was sort of like no other,” recalls Mills. With 123 rooms and more square footage than the White House, it is one of the largest in Los Angeles. Size and prices generated publicity, but it was the extensive amenities, including gift-wrapping rooms, vast closets, a barber shop, hair salon, bowling alley and nightclub that captured the public’s fancy. There aren’t as many closets as large as the one in the master,” Mills ventures, estimating it to be in the 2,500-square-foot range.”

This story originally appeared in Unique Homes Ultimate ’21. Click here to see the digital version.

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FIABCI: A Network that Works

In today’s unusual market, buyers and sellers benefit from luxury agents with international connections.

When Eugenia Foxworth tells you about the FIABCI network, one thing is immediately clear: it works.

FIABCI-USA is the U.S. chapter of the International Real Estate Federation, formed in France in 1951 (the acronym stands for Fédération Internationale des Administrateurs de Biens Conseils et Agents Immobiliers). To say that it’s been a key part of Foxworth’s business from the beginning would be an understatement.

Soon after obtaining her license in New York City in 2000, Foxworth started attending FIABCI events in the region. “As a matter of fact, one of the people responsible for my joining FIABCI was Christina Lodar, who was my Unique Homes sales associate. She asked me what did I want to accomplish in real estate? I told her that I wanted to grow my business. She told me about FIABCI and the opportunities that they offered. At that time, you needed to be sponsored. She was a FIABCI member also, and she sponsored me.”

The connections proved to be the business building blocks Foxworth needed.

Above photo: Rome – / e55evu

Cover photo: London – / sborisov

“FIABCI is an organization that works. As a new agent, I was amazed at all of the tools and advantages that they offered. The referral network, our sponsors, academics, our own listings on the FIABCI-USA and FIABCI-ORG website, publications with websites just geared to the luxury properties, et cetera — it was amazing. We referred clients and friends to each other. A lot of my business came from FIABCI members my first few years.”

Foxworth, who is the FIABCI-USA president-elect, isn’t the only one extolling FIABCI’s virtues. Christian Ross of Engel & Völkers Atlanta is the president of the FIABCI Southeast Council. She explains how the network has given her greater insights into markets all over the world, how she’s gained knowledge for marketing campaigns and global developments, and connected clients to potential investments. 

“For sellers, marketing to the international buyer and curating a marketing plan that targets and attracts a buyer from across the globe is essential. With that is also the knowledge of how to maximize currency exchanges, understanding the challenges of moving funds from certain countries and the geopolitical news that may affect all of those concerns,” Ross says. “For buyers, discovering and understanding how to connect them with opportunities they are exploring for international investments, as well as consulting with them to understand all aspects of their competition in the marketplace, helps them put their best foot forward.”

Hugh Gilliam, the director of International Real Estate at RealtyHive in Atlanta, is the current FIABCI-USA president. In almost 10 years, he’s gained dozens of listings through the network. When asked where he sees FIABCI going, he says the potential is unlimited.

“Our community comprises over 40 professions, including architects, brokers, developers, investors, financial institutions, and the list goes on,” Gilliam says. “In addition to expanding membership within these professions, we are adding new countries to the organization annually. This makes it very clear that the sky is the limit over the next decade.”

And Foxworth describes how even the pandemic has not impacted FIABCI’s effectiveness. “We have had many challenges throughout and we overcame the challenges,” she says. “Even at this time with COVID-19, we are continuing to do business globally. The Internet has allowed our members to work together very efficiently. The Zoom seminars and presentations are taking us to another level of selling luxury real estate, and we have several success stories.”


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The Beauty of Victoria

Victoria, British Columbia’s Capital City, is located on the beautiful Vancouver Island in Canada. From the minute your plane touches down, your lungs will expand and relish healthy, fresh, ocean-circulated air.

Here you can enjoy boating, beaches, world-class shopping and a super natural environment.

Looking to settle down in Victoria?

Check out this Unique listing!

Victoria boasts a spectacular setting of ocean and mountain vistas and offers numerous economic, cultural and recreational opportunities. 

Victoria has the mildest climate in Canada and with greenery in evidence throughout the year there is little wonder that it’s called the City of Gardens!

The Inner Harbour is the heart of Victoria and for many boaters is the gateway to the City of Gardens. Bordering the harbour are the ivy-covered Fairmont Empress hotel, the world-renowned Royal British Columbia Museum and the magnificent BC Parliament Buildings.

UPLANDS ESTATES in Oak Bay | Victoria, British Columbia

Privately nestled at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, away from all drive-through traffic, this rare artisan creation awaits. 9,878 square feet of interior luxury living. 1,745 square feet of exquisite patio entertaining areas including a full outdoor kitchen and gas fire pit. All with .71 acres of surrounding, ever-changing flowering gardens and trees highlighted by a meandering river and waterfalls. This is the first time this property has been offered for sale since completion in 2012. Visit the website for Floor Plans, Video, 3D Renderings & 100+ Photos. $6,995,000

Listing provided by Cathy Duncan.

Cathy & Associates Ltd. | | 250.888.9343

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Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Step Back in Time in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

This magnificent heritage home is one of Toronto’s most prestigious addresses.

It was built in 1901 with traditional red brick, stone, and wood detailing. The details maintain the striking Queen Anne Revival styling done by the prolific Toronto architect C. J. Gibson. It was thoughtfully restored from 2017-2021. The home rests on a 43-by-106-foot corner property. 

“It is a rare offering in Toronto’s Historic Yorkville,” says listing agent Jay Egan of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Toronto Realty. “Very seldom do properties of this size — that are completely renovated/restored — become available. The king of Lowther is one of the finest examples of Heritage revitalization in the city.”

 The Victorian exterior and remodeled interior are up to today’s standards. “Shumacher designs intentionally designed the interior to reflect its heritage with a seamless, well-thought-out modern décor,” says Egan.

Features include 6,800-plus square feet, six bedrooms, seven baths, two kitchens, a media room, and a nanny suite.

The home also includes a glass wine cellar, gas fireplaces, spa-style baths and a private patio with built-in grill.

The home is listed for $12.995 million and is perfect for “a family looking for a magnificent and rare downtown estate in the heart of the most sought-after locations in Toronto,” says Egan.

For more information contact, Jay Egan, 416.504.6133,, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Toronto Realty


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Outremont, Québec, Canada

Sophistication and Warmth in Outremont, Québec

An exceptional stone mansion

“It is nestled on prestigious Maplewood Avenue in the heart of Outremont in Montréal, Canada,” says listing agent Maureen Brosseau of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Quebec. “It is surrounded by lush park-like gardens and blends the charm of the old world with the convenience of the new.”

On 13,672 square feet, this residence boasts seven bedrooms, five baths and a lower-level ballroom. It is a true entertainer’s delight. Features include a formal living room, dining room, home office and gracious outdoor spaces.

 Enjoy enchanting terraces for al fresco dining under the stars.

“Timeless elegance abounds and the home offers superior craftsmanship for the connoisseur of vintage architecture,” says Brosseau. “It is ideal for those whose lifestyle demands the finest.”

For more information, contact: Maureen Brosseau, 514.995.4597,, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Quebec

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Birmingham, Michigan

Renovated Home in Birmingham, Michigan

Overlooking the 18th fairway on the Birmingham Country Club Golf Course

“My favorite room is the master bedroom that has views of the golf course,” says Kathy Wilson of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices HWWB Realtors, who is listing the property for 1.2999 million. The master bedroom suite also includes cathedral ceilings, a wet bar, a bath with dual vanities and heated marble floors, and French doors to the private upper balcony.

The home also includes:

  • Open kitchen with a center granite island and built-in wine fridge
  • Octagonal breakfast nook with a tray ceiling and inlaid wood floors
  • Formal dining room with custom millwork
  • First floor office with mahogany built-ins and a coffered ceiling
  • Four bedrooms
  • Three full and one half baths
  • Lower level with a theater room with a projector and large screen and a workout room

A covered front porch, balcony, and flagstone patio round out the property.

For more information contact: Kathy Wilson, 248.321.8700,, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices HWWB Realtors

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Burlington, Ontario, Canada

Fine Country Living in Ontario, Canada

This 75-acre property sits in one of the most sought-after Burlington, Ontario, Canada locations.

The gated property welcomes all with beautiful, rolling topography, mature trees, exquisite gardens and open fields.

“What this property offers is rare,” says listing agent Lesley Cumming of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada. “Not only with the 75 acres of privacy, but the uniqueness of multiple living spaces, which works so well for a family compound or work/life environment.”

The property includes a 5,000-square-foot main house,  a three-plus-one-bedroom bungalow, a four-car coach house with lofted living space above, a circa-1850s bank barn, 15 horse stalls, seven paddocks, two ponds, and so much more.

The main house features four-plus-one bedrooms.

“This home has a beautiful center hall plan with each space offering sophistication and comfort all at the same time.” says Cumming. “My favorite room in the house is the sunken four-season sunroom. It is spacious and cozy with one of four fireplaces and so many windows to take in the rolling topography and sunshine.”

This home was built by Mennonite builders 21 years ago. The main entry has a grand foyer with a sweeping staircase.

There is also a kitchen with a center island, which opens to the breakfast table, living room and sunroom — perfect for the entertainer and chef.

The lower level consists of a games room, family room, gym, office, 3-piece bath, wine room, and a separate entrance to the outside.

Outdoor living includes an inground pool, wraparound porches, and numerous terraces.

This property offers hiking, snowmobiling, snow shoeing, extensive trail rides and fun in the sun.

“This home would be perfect for a family to enjoy,” says Cumming, who is listing the home for $7.85 million CAD. “There is so much to offer for everyone. From a possible family compound with multiple living spaces to the barn, paddocks, indoor riding ring, many acres of farmed land, and more.”

Your Muskoka-like setting, minutes outside of the city, doesn’t look any better than this.

For more information contact: Lesley Cumming,, 905.973.1275, Sotheby’s International Realty Canada

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Whitefish Lake, Minnesota

Once-in-the-Lifetime Opportunity on Whitefish Lake, Minnesota

Own a 3.17-acre peninsula with this Whitefish Chain estate on Whitefish Lake, one of the 14 connected lakes on the Whitefish Chain in Minnesota.

The full log-constructed main home includes three magnificent stone fireplaces.

“The sunroom is special,” says listing agent Bruce Larson of Larson Group Real Estate Keller Williams Professionals. “It’s a cat bird seat where the room is all glass and from there you have a view of what is happening throughout the grounds, at the docks, and at the cabins.”


This professionally landscaped peninsula is studded with mature trees and is complemented by fabulous decking systems, paver driveways, flagstone patios and flagstone walkways.

“The lodge gives you the feel of a great lodge in a national park,” says Larson.  “It offers phenomenal craftsmanship and detail.”

Enjoy the surrounding famous Whitefish Chain, boating, fishing, swimming, snowmobiling, and so much more.

Located 150 miles north of the Twin Cities and minutes from the resort town of Crosslake, Minnesota, amenities include a regional airport, great restaurants, premier golf courses, and unique retail shops.

“This home is perfect for someone that enjoys the best of lake living Minnesota has to offer,” says Larson. 

For more information contact Bruce K. Larson, 218.831.7653,, Larson Group Real Estate Keller Williams Professionals

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Owego, New York

River Views in Owego, New York

This historic and private 3.05-acre estate features direct Susquehanna River frontage in picturesque Owego, New York.

The Claude Bragdon-designed home (1902) includes original millwork, floors, a leaded-glass-front entrance suite, and an ornate dining room ceiling.

“Even the original door bell system which notified servants, is still installed and working to this day,” says co-listing agent Jeffrey Lamica of Keller Williams Greater Rochester who is listing the property with Christopher McCarthy.

This Georgian-style residential retreat welcomes all with multiple porches and a grand front entrance. It features 6 bedrooms with en suite baths and 5,700 square feet.

“This is a grand home from a by-gone era, with large windows and tall ceilings,” says Lamica.

Amenities include an in-ground pool, pool house, arbor garden, and riverfront gazebo, perfect for outdoor entertaining.

It is currently run as a turnkey, executive bed and breakfast and event center and the carriage house (1905) event center includes a full commercial kitchen. It is ideal for business or personal space.

“This home would be perfect for the entrepreneur who is interested in the hospitality industry or individuals who love to host large scale events at their home,” says Lamica.

For more information contact:

Christopher McCarthy, RE Salesperson,,  585.973.8245

Jeffrey Lamica, RE Salesperson,, 585.507.6345

Keller Williams Realty Greater Rochester: Broker, 585.362.8900

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Boston, Massachusetts

Historic Architecture Meets Modern Luxury in Massachusetts

“The home was once lived in by Nathaniel Hawthorne,” says listing agent Joshua Stephens of The Moving Greater Boston Team with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Warren Residential. “He is one of the greatest fiction writers in American literature and best known for The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851).”

This 5-bedroom, single-family home is in Beacon Hill, Massachusetts. It is the quintessential home — pairing Old World charm with modern conveniences and luxury. There is even a beautiful urban oasis in a private outdoor garden/patio.

Luxury living spans across the home’s five floors in a family-friendly layout. Detail throughout includes five fireplaces and ornate millwork, and the finest in home entertainment, WIFI, speakers, and security.

The chef’s kitchen is perfect for entertaining with an island, state-of-the-art appliances, and ample storage.

A large and inviting living/dining room on the second floor opens to a media room with a wet bar. Upstairs an expansive owner’s suite is complete with a walk-in closet and spa-like bathroom with a heated floor. The lower level doubles as an au pair suite or a home gym.

For more information, contact: The Moving Greater Boston Team, 617.744.4677

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