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.
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.
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.”
Although she has been one of the world’s greatest stars as a singer, comedian and actress, Cher might have had an even more successful career as a real estate developer.
From Florida to California and Hawaii, Cher has had her hand in designing and decorating a number of homes including on the Big Island in Hawaii at the exclusive gated Hualālai Resort where she and her architect-partner, William Long, designed a stunning ocean-view, Bali-style house – a result best described as contemporary meets exotic.
The current owner, billionaire businessman Bob Parsons, who founded GoDaddy in 1997 and the founder of PXG/Parsons Xtreme Golf has put the home on the market fully furnished for $10.955 million.
Since 1970 when Cher and Sonny Bono bought their first serious home, Cher has been fully engaged in managing the decor, first in conjunction with decorator Ron Wilson. She would tell him what she wanted, he would say it was impossible, and she said, “just do it.” He always did and worked with Cher on her next five home acquisitions through 1991. In 1996, she bought a property in Miami Beach when she took over the decorating herself and also launched Sanctuary, her mail order catalog.
By now, her style was permanently grounded using large pieces and varied textures, simply without clutter. After selling the Miami Beach mansion in 2002 she bought and decorated another grand mansion in Malibu, then advanced from decorating to designing the actual home in Hawaii with the assistance of Mr Long in 2008.
Taking full advantage of Hawaii’s perfect weather and gentle tradewinds, Cher’s design maximized these climate elements by emulating the Balinese open-pod architectural style with great expanses of movable glass walls that create a vanishing threshold for indoor-outdoor living.
Since air conditioning is rarely necessary and overhangs prevent rain showers from coming in, it’s not only refreshing but also a practical approach to year-round living. Spread across just over three quarters of an acre, the 9,446-square-foot house is made up of a series of pods that are arranged with the owner occupying the central pod which contains the main living and dining rooms, kitchen, casual dining on the lānai, and master suite. Guests have separate individual pods at the courtyard entrance so they don’t have to traverse the main living area when coming and going.
Overall, the home includes six bedrooms, six full and two half baths. Some of the baths open to private gardens for outdoor showering. The master suite faces the ocean, has an office and private deck with wrap-around water feature. The master bath has custom-stone sinks and a free-standing soaking tub open to its own private garden. Outside there is an infinity-edge pool and spa with wide panoramic views of the ocean and the members-only Ke’olu Golf Course. The buyers will also have access to the resort’s shared amenities, which include tennis, golf, a swimming pool, private beach club, six restaurants and access to the Four Seasons Resort Hualālai.
Cher designed and decorated Bali-style house inside the gated Hualālai Resort is now for sale, priced at $10.995 million. The listing agent is Rob Kildow, director of residential sales at Hualālai Realty, Kona-Kohala Coast.
Photos courtesy of Hualālai Realty
First introduced to the world in the 1970s with a string of No. 1 hit songs and blockbuster movies, super-star actress, four-time Grammy winner and world-class beauty, Olivia Newton-John, is selling her Australia farm that she has owned for almost forty years.
Olivia bought her farm in the early 1980s after her roll in the 1978 film Grease, the break that would make her a super star. It was her Australian retreat where she would recharge in the peace of the rainforest and views over the land.
Now 70 and with Florida as her home base, when Olivia does return to Australia she and her husband, John Easterling, stay at the Gaia Retreat & Spa which she co-owns. Hoping to attract a buyer who is as close to nature as herself, she has put the 187-acre farm and its French Country-style home on the market for offers in excess of $5.5 million AU ($3.9 million US).
Located only 40 minutes from celebrity and tourist favorite Byron Bay, the farm is a mix of rolling pasture and green lawns with panoramic views, rain forest with a natural waterfall, two dams, a pond and a creek that runs through the property, which abuts the Victoria Park Nature Reserve National Park and acts as its boundary. Over the years Newton-John planted over 5,000 additional trees expanding the prolific wildlife habitat. Grounds include the main residence of three bedrooms and two baths and attached four-room guest quarters, two-car garage and tennis court. The home, positioned on a hill to maximize the views, was renovated in 2002 in the French rustic style.
It includes pine floors, textured entry walls with shells and pebbles from local beaches, and a large eat-in kitchen designed as a gathering spot for friends and family. Multiple outdoor porches and terraces, including a wide dock on the pond, invite outdoor living and sunset views. The attached, but completely private guest suite, has a large living room, a kitchenette, bedroom, bath and additional conversation nook, making a total of four bedrooms and three baths.
With more than 100 million albums sold, Olivia has won four Grammys, numerous Aria, Country Music, American Music and People’s Choice Awards, an Emmy Award plus ten #1 hit songs.
Olivia Newton-John is selling her much-loved Australian farm originally purchased nearly four decades ago during the era of her hit single, Physical. Seeking offers in excess of $5.5 million AU ($3.9 million US), the listing agent is also Newton-John’s lifelong friend Jillian McGrath with McGrath Estate Agents, Northern Beaches Office Australia.
Bar Harbor, the summer stomping ground of elites such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr., J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, the Astor family and President William Taft, is home to East of Eden — a mansion that survived a fire that destroyed most of the town in 1947.
One of Maine’s last Gilded Age mansions, East of Eden, is now for sale in Bar Harbor. The Gilded Age was a glittering era that took place after the American Civil War in the late 19th century, and was filled with economic growth from new technologies and new ways of organizing businesses. East of Eden, formerly known as Eegonos, was one of the few Gilded Age mansions in Bar Harbor that survived a fire in 1947 that destroyed most of the town. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
With its picturesque New England coastline, it wasn’t too many years after the British settled the area in the late 1700s that the people of the upper class decided Bar Harbor — originally known as Eden — would be perfect for their summer retreats.
Bar Harbor was the summer stomping ground of elites such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr., J. P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, the Astor family and President William Taft who enjoyed playing his golf there. Nelson Rockefeller was born in Bar Harbor and kept a home in nearby Seal Harbor for many years. Today, the resort town’s summer season is filled with film and television celebrities, writers, artists, lobster rolls, water sports and ordinary people enjoying the scenery and laid-back atmosphere.
Designed by Guy Lowell, the home is a blend of Beaux Arts and Mediterranean Revival style. Its 15,000-square-foot manse construction was completed in 1909. The 2.5 story house is positioned on nine private acres of waterfront with a deep-water dock to tie up a yacht or to enjoy the sunset. There is plenty of room for guests and extended family with fourteen-foot ceilings, eight bedrooms and twelve baths. Old world features include a large marble foyer, columned separations between major public rooms, fireplaces finished in marble and wood, ceilings with decorative friezes and medallions and hand-painted wall murals.
In addition its the detailed restoration, all mechanical systems have been updated. There is also an eight-bay garage to accommodate owners and overnight guests. East of Eden is a quick drive to Arcadia National Park and Bar Harbor’s restaurants and shops.
One of Maine’s few remaining Gilded Age mansions, The Knowles Company has listed East of Eden for $15.5 million.
Photos courtesy of The Knowles Company Realtors
Rappaport beat his own sales record with the $120 million off-market deal to Canadian billionaire developer Daryl Katz.
Westside Estate Agency co-founder and CEO Kurt Rappaport has sold his 7-bedroom Malibu mansion to Canadian billionaire Daryl Katz for $120 million. The home was designed by architectural designer Scott Mitchell, whose clients include Larry Ellison and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
The off-the-market deal, which closed on Friday, Feb. 9 according to the New York Post, had been rumored to be on the rocks in December, though neither Rappaport nor Katz would comment at the time on the nature of the alleged snafu, as The Real Deal reported.
Rappaport has broken his own record for selling the priciest home in Los Angeles — the previous record-holder was his $85 million sale of David Geffen’s Malibu estate, which he brokered last May.
The sale of his 15,000-square-foot home included everything inside the home, which is reported to include artwork by Damien Hirst, Ed Ruscha and Sterling Ruby. The house was rented out for $750,000 per month, and contains a private screening room, home gym and the longest pool in the state at 168 feet.
Katz is estimated to be worth just over $3 billion and owns the NHL franchise, the Edmonton Oilers. His wealth comes from managing pharmacy chains, including Rexall. However, now his company, Katz Group, has turned to real estate. The Katz Group is leading a more than $2 billion redevelopment project in Edmonton known as the ICE District and built a new arena for the Oilers in the city, according to Forbes.
Photo courtesy of Westside Estate Agency
Located within an exclusive gated community on the west side of San Jose, Costa Rica, this stunning mansion offers a secluded, private setting with incredible panoramic views.
“This home is perfect for entrepreneurs and TV [and] movie stars, as it has incredible privacy.” — Listing Agent John Ordonez
This private home is situated in the central valley and is less than five minutes away from Santa Ana and Escazu’s business area, Forum I, II Plaza Roble, shopping areas and gourmet restaurants.
“It is in an incredibly peaceful setting and has stunning views of the city and mountains,” says listing agent John Ordonez of Luxury Homes Costa Rica. “It is built in one of the most exclusive communities in central valley San Jose and although it is part of a gated community it has enough land to offer privacy and comfort.”
Offered for $4.5 million, the home features five bedrooms, six baths, a swimming pool, attached independent office space, a meeting room, maid’s quarters and more.
“The pool area and pool have won awards and are quite amazing,” says Ordonez. “The master bedroom is also stunning.”
The exclusive gated community offers a private entrance, 24/7 security and camera surveillance, cobble internal roads, tennis courts, basketball courts, and a club house.