With prices for residential real estate hitting and then exceeding $250 million, stratosphere was the word often used in recent years to characterize the pinnacle of the market. This year, prices for the most expensive in the U.S. are holding steady, perhaps moderating slightly (Refer here for last year’s lists). With the ultimate price remaining at $500 million and the lowest of the top 10 at $135 million, down from 2018’s $138.8 million, it would seem “holding steady” would be an appropriate sobriquet this year.
When the ﬁrst edition of Ultimate Homes was published 14 years ago, the highest-priced property in the U.S., an extensive estate in the Hamptons with a huge array of amenities including a golf course, was $75 million. The prospect of a $100 million home was denitely on the horizon, but anything nearing a billion was not even on the radar. Yet, for the last two years, the reported asking price for a mega mansion touted as “the most expensive home in America,” has been $500 million; the lowest price among the top 10 exceeded $100 million for the last four years. Geographically, Ultimate stars have appeared in many of the country’s top luxury locales. Recent years have seen a move toward the West with L.A.’s million-dollar meccas dominating the top group. Timeless blue chip estates, many with extensive pedigrees including notable architects, owners and visitors, comprised most of the top 10 in the initial years.
La Follia, Palm Beach, Florida. Photo courtesy of Giles Bradford
Billion-Dollar Building Lot?
Undeveloped land without a house does not qualify for the Ultimate list, but it’s worth noting that last summer a $1 billion listing was posted in the multiple listing service for a 157-acre mountaintop spread in Beverly Hills. Since then, the price has been reduced by 35 percent to $650 million. Also, not on the Ultimate list is a $150 million parcel, One Enchanted Hill, that was the estate of Paul Allen, also in Beverly Hills. The property has many improvements including roads and two entrances, but the main house was razed.
Many see prospects for the premier market, particularly in L.A., as positive. Three years ago, Gary Gold with Hilton & Hyland sold the Playboy Mansion for $100 million, a record at the time for Los Angeles county. “Ever since then, we’ve seen more really big sales than ever before,” he observes. “The reason I think the ultra-luxury market is going to do well this year is there happens to be product worthy of big numbers. If there is no product available, nothing is going to trade, just because there’s nothing available. And there happens to be enough really nice, expensive big houses that are going to trade.”
Over the last 10 years, wealth globally has had a remarkable surge. Stephanie Anton sees growth in the number of ultra wealthy as a driver pushing the evolution of luxury, particularly in the highest-priced echelons. As buyer proﬁ les evolved, luxe penthouses in new super towers along with newly constructed mega mansions created new residential categories and pushed prices upward. Properties with provenance such as Chartwell and Beverly House, along with classic estates, still have a place among best of the best. The “ultimate trophy and legend cherished for generations” is the way Beverly Hills broker Jade Mills characterizes Chartwell, a Bel Air legend designed by Summer Spaulding in 1930. A French Neo Classical exterior comprised of symmetrical cut limestone imparts a timeless presence. Henri Samuel, whose work includes estates owned by the Vanderbilts, Rothschilds and Valentino, refurbished the interior in the late 1980s. Located in the heart of Bel Air, Chartwell sits on 10.3 acres and is often described as the crown jewel of
The property also includes a guesthouse designed by Wallace Neff and acres of manicured gardens. Multiple agents including Jeff Hyland and Gary Gold of Hilton & Hyland; Joyce Rey, Jade Mills and Alexandra Allen with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage; and Drew Gitlin with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services California Properties are representing the property. “Chartwell certainly ranks as one of the most prestigious and beautiful properties I have ever represented. Additionally, the acreage is most unusual with four separate parcels and the exceptional panoramic views of downtown Los Angeles and the Paciﬁc,” comments Rey. This property would appeal to a very speciﬁc buyer, explains Jeff Hyland, “one who has class, sophistication and taste.”
Steller architecture along with extensive and amazing amenities are a prerequisite for every top property. They add value and promote an over-the-top lifestyle, but architecture and amenities alone will not merit prices at the very top. Where they are located still matters and almost every property this year has a prime address.
“Location is still a top consideration for potential buyers,” says Rey. Also important for long-term value, according to Rey, is the land. Just ﬁve minutes from the Beverly Hills Hotel, with over seven acres, Villa Firenze is the largest single property in Beverly Park, the largest collection of single-family mansions to be built in the U.S. in the last 50 years. With its own street, the property is its own Italianate village and includes two guest houses in additional to a 20,000-square-foot mansion.
Meadow Lane in Southampton, New York, priced at $150 million, offers 14 acres, four separate lots and a 12,000-square-foot main residence as well as a tennis court with a tennis house, two golf greens with golf houses, and a pool and spa house. Harold Grant with Sotheby’s International Realty says the views up and down the Atlantic, in addition to unobstructed views across the bay, will “take your breath away.” In Palm Beach, only a handful of homes reach from the ocean to Lake Worth. La Follia, priced at $135 million, is the only direct ocean-to-lake estate on the entire island, according to Ashley McIntosh, executive director of luxury sales at Douglas Elliman in Palm Beach. “It is one of the most signiﬁ cant properties on the island of Palm Beach,” she says. Italian Renaissance in style, the home is entirely wrapped in cream Coquina coral stone that extends into the two-story foyer. The top ﬂ oor was designed for the master suite, which has “staggering views” of the ocean, along with his and hers baths, each with a balcony and dressing room, overlooking the ocean.
Villa Firenze, Beverly Hills, California. Photo courtesy of Tyler Hogan.
In nearby Manalapan, a 15-acre estate dubbed Gemini offers approximately 1,200 feet of dune-lined beach on the Atlantic and 1,300 feet on Lake Worth. A series of tunnels, including one that is a 15-foot-wide gallery, connects the two. The site, perched on top of a dune, offers 360-degree views, yet it’s only minutes to Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. In addition to the main house, it offers two, four-bedroom beachside cottages, a seven-bedroom house, and an additional staff or guesthouse, making it a true family compound with more than 30 bedrooms. Like Gemini, many Ultimate properties would be difﬁ cult to replicate. Agents call them “once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.” Mesa Vista, a massive ranch in East Texas, is another such property. Billionaire Boone Pickens has devoted more than 50 years to transform this 100-square-mile expanse of Texas panhandle into an unmatched oasis and wildlife habitat.
Improvements include 20 lakes over the course of 20 miles. In addition to a 12,000-square-foot main lodge, there is a 33,000-square-foot lodge and several other houses, plus housing for staff. The chapel, a site for both weddings and funerals, is stunning, and a 6,000-foot runway and hangar facilitates getting there. The ranch is listed at $250 million.
“It seems impossible to comprehend all of the improvement made to this property, whether it is structural improvements, water enhancements, landscape or wildlife conservation features. To our knowledge, no other ranch can replicate Boone’s Mesa Vista Ranch,” says Monte Lyons, managing director of Hall and Hall, who is representing the property along with Chas. S. Middleton and Son.
In addition to being the most expensive, The One is also one of the largest homes in the country, with an estimated 100,000 square feet. The estate is nearing the end of a half-decade-long construction process, and agents expect completion in the next few months. It also reﬂects a new bent for ultra properties, particularly in Los Angeles, which takes the term “trophy property” to a completely new level. In addition to expansive views, a huge number of very premium amenities from multiple pools and elevators to garages, these estates include almost everything a newly minted billionaire might want, taking the idea of a turnkey home to a new level.
Billionaire, once again No. 6 on the Ultimate list, is priced at $150 million after a $38.8 million price reduction. It’s completely furnished, staffed and decked out with a huge array of indulgent features and additions, including more than 100 curated art installations, two stocked wine/champagne cellars, a multi-million dollar collection of cars in a custom design gallery and a 40-seat 4K Dolby Atmos Theater. Unlike custom homes which are designed for an individual buyer, new mega spec homes are geared toward a group of buyers with a great deal of speciﬁcity.
What hasn’t changed over the years are the diverse features of every Ultimate home, although what were once perks are now considered a “must-have,” including all of the tech bells and whistles, as well as privacy and state-of-the-art security. Wellness has always been a consideration, but now expands beyond space for gyms, yoga and massage. Priced at $135 million, 2571 Wallingford Drive is located in another prime Beverly Hills location and offers a one-of-a-kind indoor sports complex with basketball, pickleball, gym, a boxing ring, sports bar and outdoor lounging, according to Ginger Glass with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.
Meadow Lane Oceanfront, Southampton, New York. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s International Realty.
“These are consumers who can afford anything they want, but that is nothing new. Ultra high-net-worth consumers want it all, and they can afford it all,” says Anton. “Today in the ultra premium category, we are seeing demand for a lot of square footage in a beautiful setting, and/or view lots with fabulous outdoor space for entertaining and plenty of room to entertain guests, among other things. People are looking for homes that meet the needs of their busy, over-the-top, social, connected lives, but also for their home to be a safe refuge to get away from it all.”
On three occasions Joyce Rey sold the most expensive home in the nation, establishing multiple benchmarks for price — in 1978 for $4.2 million, 1990 for $19.9 million, and 2010’s $50 million record. Last year, the highest priced sale was a $110 million oceanfront compound in Malibu, which was also the most expensive sale ever in Los Angeles. So far, 2019 could be seen as a record-setting year, with the sale of a $238 million penthouse residence at 220 Central Park South in New York, which was an Ultimate top property last year. The sale set a record for a U.S. residential property. Designed by Robert Stern and located adjacent to Central Park, the building has become one of Manhattan’s most renowned properties. The price is more than impressive and surpasses other records for the U.S., which include a $147 million estate in the Hamptons that sold in 2014 and Copper Beech in Greenwich, which sold for $120 million also in 2014. Both eclipsed previous records, including a Woodside, California, estate that sold for $117.5 million in 2012.
When it comes to indications of what might occur in the future, and even the correct context within which to understand the present market, a look back doesn’t always provide the best insights. Regarding this year’s recent record sale price, appraiser Jonathan Miller cautions in his blog that the price may not be an indication of future trends because the contract was ﬁnalized in 2015, at the height of Manhattan’s supertall and super-luxurious building craze. However, Jeffrey Hyland believes there are several good indicators that bode well for future ultra-luxury sales in California. He estimates a large number of IPOs this year. “All these people are going to have so much money they will be looking to dispose of.”
With the push for wellness-oriented spaces around the globe, interior designers are looking for different ways to incorporate this rapidly-growing industry to their styles. While including more plants and flowers into the home is known to brighten up the atmosphere, some designers are taking this theme to the next level. Here’s how:
When it comes to lighting, many chandeliers are starting to incorporate elements of nature to bring a more natural, elegant look. Both of these chandeliers are surrounded by vines and flowers, allowing the natural elements to be woven into the design. While critics may argue that the “unrefined” elements of nature decrease the elegance of the chandelier, these rooms prove them wrong. While remaining luxurious, the chandeliers’ design provide a warmer and more relaxed atmosphere.
Natural elements can also be incorporated into the wallpaper of a room, adding a bold yet comfortable piece to the space. Regardless of the individual’s style, nature-oriented wallpaper can be incorporated.
For a more feminine look, a bold, floral wallpaper does just the trick. The bright colors add a fun and relaxed style, while the natural elements of the flowers freshen up the atmosphere of the room.
If you’re looking for a less feminine wallpaper, however, incorporating nature to the room is certainly still possible. The darker wallpaper in this bathroom, although much less feminine than a floral backdrop, still adds natural elements to give the room a fresh look.
As the numbers climb into uncharted territory, one word emerges characterizing prices and properties at the pinnacle of residential real estate. “It’s a whole new stratosphere,” says Zachery Wright, executive director, Asia Pacific & Western North America for Christie’s International Real Estate.
By Camilla McLaughlin
Not too long ago, the possibility of even a $200 million home seemed outrageous. Today the most expensive home for sale in the U.S., dubbed The One, is more than twice that amount. Also off the charts is a square footage almost double that of the White House.
When the first issue of Ultimate Homes debuted in 2005, the most expensive residential property in the U.S. was $75 million. Today, $100 million doesn’t come close to the top 10 for Ultimate. Five properties are priced at $200 million and above, and anything below $138.8 million doesn’t make the cut. More than 50 are above $60 million. “Because we’ve seen so much wealth creation, these numbers don’t frighten many in the ultra world,” says Wright.
“It’s no surprise we are seeing such stratospheric prices today, because worldwide personal wealth is the highest it has ever been. Consider that the world’s population of $10 million-plus households is growing, and fast,” says Stephanie Anton, president of Luxury Portfolio International. More than 1.6 million households claimed a net worth of more than $10 million in 2016, a 91-percent increase since 2010. “If many of the properties on today’s list had come on the market even five years ago, it’s unlikely they would have been priced where they are today,” says Wright.
For potential buyers, lifestyle often justifies cost. “People will pay any price if it’s a prudent purchase. But getting there is a real shock. It takes a little while to figure out what things are worth,” says Gary Gold, executive director of Beverly Hills brokerage Hilton & Hyland. “There are very few people out there making sucker purchases. I don’t care how rich you are, very few want to be a chump.”
For most, getting to the $100 million level is a process that usually begins with a much less costly goal. Often, Gold says, buyers start in the $20-, $30- or $40 million range and discover those homes won’t meet their requirements. “They all buy what they want, the best thing available for their needs. In one of our big sales, the people were originally looking for an $8- or $9 million home. They ended up paying $85 million.”
2018 TOP 10:
|1. $500 million
Bel Air, California
6. $188 million
|2. $250 Million
Bel Air, California
7. $175 million
|3. $250 million
220 Central Park South Penthouse
New York, New York
8. $150 million
|4. $250 million
Mesa Vista Ranch
9. $149 million
|5. $200 million
Holmby Hills, California
10. $138.8 million
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.
Still, land and location convey the most value and the top 10 always reflect a mix of locations and property types. Gemini in Manalapan, Florida, extends from the ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway. Chartwell in Bel Air is a legendary estate with historical ties. Built in 1933 by architect Sumner Spaulding and restored by Henri Samuel, whose work includes estates owned by the Vanderbilts and the Rothschilds, Chartwell occupies 10.3 acres and is often described as the “the crown jewel of Bel Air.”
Views top the list of ultra attributes buyers consider most essential. Chartwell offers sweeping panoramas of the Pacific and downtown L.A., as do others including The One and Billionaire.
In New York City, dynamic views are part of the value equation for ultra properties. This year, only one Manhattan property finds a place among the top. Occupying four floors in the Robert Stern-designed 220 Central Park South, the residence easily could be considered the Ultimate penthouse. The $250 million price is a record for Manhattan and few other residences have been as large.
Property sizes range from just over an acre to 65,000 acres on Mesa Vista ranch in the northeast corner of the Texas panhandles. Like many Ultimate properties over the years, this ranch has been a labor of love, husbanded over most of a lifetime. “When I began assembling the ranch 46 years ago, I initiated a multi-decade program to help the land heal and over time invested millions on wildlife management,” explains owner T. Boone Pickens. Improvements also included 20 lakes over the course of 20 miles. In addition to a 12,000-square-foot main lodge, the property includes a 33,000-square-foot lodge and several other houses, plus housing for staff. The chapel, a site for both weddings and funerals, is stunning, and a 6,000-foot runway and hangar facilitate getting there. The ranch is priced at $250 million and, according to Pickens, much of the proceeds from the sale will be directed to his foundation. The property is offered jointly by Hall and Hall, and Chas. S. Middleton and Son.
A 60-acre estate in Bridgehampton, once placed at the top of the first Ultimate list, and one-of-a-kind properties continue to be a Hamptons’ hallmark. In 2014, an 18-acre property in East Hampton sold for $147 million, setting a record for the U.S. Many of these properties offer what many consider an idyllic mix — classic estate homes and a substantial amount of land, including frontage on the ocean or a pond and the provenance. The setting for Meadow Lane in Southampton, listed by Harald Grant with Sotheby’s International, is considered a trophy location. It offers 360-degree views and extensive frontage on the Atlantic across three lots, as well as an additional bay-front lot.
Commissioned and owned by the Ford family, Jule Pond offers the largest ocean frontage in the Hamptons with nearly a quarter of a mile on the water. Listed at $175 million, it is the most expensive property for sale in the Hamptons and No. 7 on our list. A complete renovation in 2008 preserved many original features, including molded ceilings with traditional chandeliers, Italian marble fireplaces, French parquet floors and antique bathroom fixtures.
Referring to the mix of the top 10, Rey says, “I think it speaks to a variety of interests. Some people are attracted to land. Some people are attracted to architecture. Some are attracted to views.”
As always, the question hovering over the market remains what will sell next and what will be the next stratospheric price?
. . .
Where are they now?
A look at what happened to the top of last year’s Ultimate Homes list.
Bel Air, California
to $188 Million.
Now No. 6.
Holmby Hills, California
Now No. 5.
to $138.8 Million.
Now No. 10.
|Off the Market.|
Southampton, New York
|Off the Market.|
East Hampton, New York
|Off the Market.|
Palm Beach, Florida
|Off the Market.|
Palazzo di Amore
Beverly Hills, California
Now No. 12.
The Pinnacle Penthouse
New York, New York
Now No. 13 (tied).
Murray Compound Estate
Southampton, New York
Now No. 15.