Prices might be stratospheric, but what matters is often the same as it is for luxury buyers overall. “When they buy a house, they want to feel like they made a smart purchase, whether it’s a great buy or that they beat out somebody else. They want to make an intelligent purchase,” Gold explains.
The argument most often ventured by developers and brokers to justify heady prices is a comparison to the art world. Bruce Makowsky, developer of Billionaire — which at $188 million is No. 6 on our list — takes the analogy to the next level using mega-yachts as a measure. “If these guys are willing to pay hundreds of millions for a yacht that is a depreciating asset they use for four weeks out of the year, what would they be willing to spend for a land yacht?” he hypothesized.
Rayni Williams, also with Hilton & Hyland, is part of the team listing Billionaire. She says the land yacht comparison is appropriate. New mega spec homes are a complete package, taking the idea of turnkey to a new plane by including almost everything someone could want, and then some.
Billionaire is completely furnished, staffed and decked out with unparalleled amenities and features including more than 100 curated art installations, two stocked wine cellars, and a $30 million collection of cars in a custom display gallery along with a helicopter pad and one of very few residential theaters outfitted with Dolby Atmos.
“Spec homes are no longer developed with the intention of appealing to an entire market. With a specific luxury buyer in mind, developers are taking custom building to new heights with over-the-top features — and they’re in demand,” explains Jeff Hyland, president of Hilton & Hyland.
When owners of these homes come to Los Angeles, Williams says, “They want the ultimate entertaining home. They want to have parties for families and children alike. They want to have enough of the stage setting where they can have live bands…. They want that kind of space. They want a spa. If they want Botox, they don’t want to go to Beverly Hills to their doctor, they want their doctor to come to them.”
Days before this article went to press, a compound on Carbon Beach in Malibu sold for $110 million, setting a record for L.A. residential properties. The property wasn’t on the market — officially or unofficially — which in the ultra-world is not unusual. “When you have a highly qualified buyer, you tend to knock on doors, whether the house is for sale or not,” says Joyce Rey, executive director Coldwell Banker Global Luxury, whose sales over the years have established price benchmarks for the L.A. market. She says this recent sale is “a good indication of the strength of the luxury market in L.A.”
Another descriptor frequently applied to ultra prices is aspirational. Even though these properties do sell, eventual prices are often substantially less than the initial offering. Still, they set new benchmarks. In recent years, transactions shattering price thresholds include a $147 million East Hampton estate and Copper Beech, a $120 million waterfront property in Greenwich that sold in 2014. In L.A., the $100 million threshold was breached in 2016 with the sale of the former Playboy mansion.
“The sky is the limit. Once we hit the $100 million mark, we broke the glass ceiling — and we’re seeing home buyers comfortable with spending more than that,” says Rick Hilton, chairman and cofounder of Hilton & Hyland.
Continuing this year is a subtle geographic tilt toward California and Los Angeles. “People are showing a willingness to spend in the West. We’ve certainly got global wealth in New York. I think we’ve got a stronger market right now than they do in New York. Anyone who is making a lifestyle decision is going to be looking at Southern California,” says Wright.
Ultra properties built on speculation get the most media attention (who can resist writing about a candy wall or jellyfish room, one of the amenities of The One), but what sells depends on availability and the mix of buyers at a given time. “There happens to be a lot of spec homes out there at the moment. People are building these amazing houses, so they happen to be available. And they’re trading. These houses weren’t available in 2016 to the same degree,” says Gold.