In our last survey of over-the-top real estate for Maxim, we noted that $100 million listings, almost unheard of until a few years ago, had become the new benchmark for the ultra rich buyer. Now in the space of less than a year that figure seems to have doubled. In August one of the most expensive estates ever listed for sale, the historic Villa Les Cèdres in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera, once owned by King Leopold II of Belgium, sold to an undisclosed, but undoubtedly extremely well off, buyer for about $221 million. And that was after a 43% price drop.
Nor is the picturesque property, surrounded by a 34 acre botanical garden on a peninsula perched between Nice and Monaco, alone in that realm. A similarly well heeled house hunter can now write a check for $279 million for a 26,000+ square foot Colorado compound (see below) owned by Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks that comes complete with a car museum. Not to mention an airstrip, airplane hangar, helipad, horse stables, and private observatory, all on a total of 8,700 acres. And in January billionaire Citadel hedge fund founder Ken Griffin set a new record for the highest priced house ever sold in the United States when he paid $238 million for a New York City penthouse. With an unbelievable 24,000 square feet, its owner was immediately crowned the new king of Gotham.
If billionaire real estate deals are anything to go by, this has certainly been a banner year. In January private equity mogul Henry Kravis listed his White River Valley Colorado ranch on 4,600 acres for $46 million. The property comes with five miles of private fly fishing on both forks of the White River, as well as a Greg Norman designed four hole golf course; the famous golf champion has a place nearby. That same month banking billionaire Nurzhan Subkhanberdin closed on the sale of a pair of penthouses atop Manhattan’s Time Warner Center for about $20 million. They span a total of 4,743 square feet and could “easily be combine to create a grand home,” as the listing noted.
Speaking of grand homes, in February the billionaire investor, hedge fund manager and philanthropist Steve Cohen listed his 9,600 square foot Manhattan triplex for a not inconsiderable $33.5 million, then sold it just over a month later for close to the asking price at $30 million. In May Russian oligarch Andrey Borodin paid $23 million for an enormous equestrian compound near Palm Beach that was once home to the Lechuza Caracas polo team, to add to his real estate portfolio that includes the one-time most expensive home in England. And in June in Bridgehampton, natural gas billionaire Michael Smith sold a beachfront compound for close to its $42.5 million asking price; not to worry, he still has a $110 million spread in East Hampton as well as a another estate in Malibu worth the same eye-popping amount.
At times multiple properties have changed hands in a single megabucks deal. Also in May Howard Marks, the billionaire co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, spent $35 million to buy four properties in Amagansett from Barbara Zuckerberg, the ex-wife of former Goldman Sachs executive Roy Zuckerberg, according to the New York Post. He already owned a neighboring $30 million property, making his combined compound worth $65 million. That was dwarfed however by the news that billionaire WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton had quietly amassed a portfolio of adjacent properties—more than half a dozen of them on a single residential block—in Palo Alto, California worth a combined $86 million.
The summer was equally sizzling. In June billionaire British inventor and entrepreneur Sir James Dyson made headlines when he bought Singapore’s most expensive penthouse for a reported $54.2 million. It was actually something of a bargain considering the three story aerie complete with a private pool was once valued as high as $100 million. And in July an unnamed Chinese billionaire reportedly paid $75 million—cash—for a 24,000 square foot mega mansion in Bel Air that he “stumbled across” one day while idly browsing Zillow, the online real estate database.
So what do these extremely wealthy gentleman intend to do with such awe-inspiring properties? We may not find out for several years, but considering these are some of the most accomplished and successful men in the world, it’s reasonable to assume there’s a profit to be made somewhere down the line. In 2013 when Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev paid somewhere around $150 million for the private Greek island of Skorpios which was once owned by Aristotle Onassis, it was reported to be an investment for his daughter. This past summer his vision for the property was finally revealed.
“The investment project, expected to be completed in two to three years, includes a luxury resort complex with spa, restaurants, and marina,” as he told Wealth Management. “In addition, there will be showrooms, an amphitheater, a helipad, a farm, and recreation areas.” It will, he promises, be “unique in the Mediterranean.”
Having first sailed by on his yacht, “I remember being captivated by this ‘earthly paradise’ with its enchanting natural beauty,” Rybolovlev, owner of the AS Monaco Football Club among other assets, recounted. “After buying it and spending a lot of vacation there, Skorpios means so much to me.” He describes it as a “private shelter that helps me relax, recharge my batteries and return to my responsibilities.”
Want to acquire a private Greek island of your own? Private Islands Inc. has several listed for sale, ranging from 26 acres to over 1,300 acres, most of them uninhabited and ripe for development on a comparable scale to the Skorpios project. Of course if you just decided to live there quietly untroubled by nosy paparazzi, troublesome ex-wives or autograph seekers, we would hardly blame you.