If you are among the world’s dollar billionaires – of which Forbes reckons there are 2,043, up 13 per cent on last year – a mega mansion won’t be enough; you’ll be wanting a “giga mansion” according to Nile Niami, the 49-year-old American film producer and property developer who is building American’s most expensive new home.
Like all the world’s best giga mansions, Niami’s The One in Bel Air, LA – which, at 100,000 sq ft is twice the size of The White House – is not officially on sale. But let’s just say that if you happen to stroll into Hilton & Hyland, Christie’s International Real Estate’s affiliate agent in Beverly Hills, with $500m in your pocket, this extraordinary house with its 5,000 sq ft master bedroom, a casino, nightclub and walls made of jellyfish tanks could be all yours.
Another of Niami’s giga-bling creations in LA, called Opus, is available for $100m, also through Hilton & Hyland. That one comes with a gold Lamborghini, two original Damien Hirsts and an Andy Warhol portrait of Muhammed Ali thrown in for good measure.
These new-build behemoths are the epitome of ultra-luxury spec homes – turnkey mansions that are built on spec, without a buyer in mind, and designed and furnished down to the priceless art and car collection. It’s a trend among the world’s ultra high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) that Christie’s International Real Estate (CIRE) identify in their new Luxury Defined report.
“These spec homes first cropped up before the global crisis, mainly in the ‘finance corridor’, in places such as Greenwich, Connecticut. Then the crisis hit and they faded from view,” says Dan Conn, CIRE’s CEO. Now they are back – bigger, pricier and more packed with toys and collectibles than ever before, and this time it’s LA that is leading the way.
Conn mentions another perfect example: The Billionaire, a 38,000 sq ft Bel Air mansion on sale for $250m through Christie’s, with every conceivable form of leisure and luxury, including a 40-seat Dolby Atmos cinema, a four-lane bowling alley, a car gallery with cars worth $30m, and 100 curated installations – and a “candy wall” lined with giant sweet dispensers.
The nine-digit asking prices for such properties don’t surprise Conn. “A property has just sold in Hong Kong for $360m which the buyer is going to tear down and rebuild as a $600m family home and a house in mainland China recently broke the nine-figure mark for the first time,” he says. “There has been a lot of talk of this ultra-luxury end of the market being a bubble, but if you look at yacht prices, which have been escalating for years, it is clear that the world’s ultra-high net worth individuals are prepared to pay significant nine-figure sums for homes, whether they float or are on land.”
What does surprise Conn is that a buyer will pay half a billion dollars for “someone else’s vision”, he says. Perhaps it’s the old ‘cash rich, time poor’ thing taken to an extreme – or the fact that money can’t buy taste, so it’s handy if someone can present the entire lifestyle on a plate.
“Most of the world’s $100m-plus sales are resale properties and the new-builds at this level are collectables in their own right, sold with other collectables, including the art, car and wine collection,” Conn add. “Luxury is in the eye of the beholder. Land, location, provenance, architecture and turnkey luxury are all considerations driving the $100m price benchmark.”
That benchmark is no longer the pinnacle, however. Just two years ago, Christie’s earmarked $100m as the definition of ultra luxury. Today, there are 33 such nine-figure homes publicly listed for sale around the world (and countless more under the table). Instead, giga-mansions have reached a new frontier: the world’s first $1bn home – the 19th-century Villa Leopolda on the Cap Ferrat in the South of France, which is also unofficially, but widely known to be, for sale.
Unlike its new-build peers, Villa Leopolda has intrinsic value as a historic mansion with an illustrious past (it was once owned by Belgium’s King Leopold II) and a world-class location. With brand new giga mansions, there is no limit to what their creators will include to add value.
One big new fad for the ultra-rich, according to Christie’s, are super-sized closets. A walk-in wardrobe isn’t enough; buyers want clothes storage bigger than most people’s entire homes. “The most remarkable example is Ocean Lawn in Rhode Island, which recently sold for $11.65m,” says Dan Conn. “It was the home of Elizabeth Park Firestone, an early 20th-century fashion icon who expanded the closet so much that it took over two guest bedrooms, three servants’ quarters – and then she expanded it to include the entire floor above.”
And where once it was a sign of wealth to always eat out, now dining in has taken on new pizzazz for the ultra-rich, inspired by the popularity of TV series such as the US’s Top Chef and Bake Off here. Kitchens for the super-rich have become entertainment zones. “Cooking is a dance and the kitchen is a stage, with people focusing on the gourmet and organic experience,” says Conn of a trend that is seeing its way into London’s most luxurious new developments too, including the £13.25m Prospero penthouse at One Tower Bridge, where the show kitchen is part of the main living area and the functional second kitchen tucked away out of sight.
Leisure facilities know no bounds either. In the US, Christie’s are spotting ice hockey rinks, BMX tracks and football pitches in private homes. “One of the most fun features we saw was a slide from the master bedroom suite into the swimming pool,” says Dan Conn. Bringing a touch of The Billionaire and its ilk over here, new London developments are having fun with their leisure offerings too, including a private bowling alley at Berkeley St James’s The Dumont in Westminster.
So where next for the super-rich and their homes? “Amenitised panic rooms,” he replies. “No one has yet worked out a way of making these rooms places you can spend much time in, so that has to be next.” He also points to this year’s release of the first flying car, the AeroMobile, as the possible next defining moment in luxury living. “It would ideal for New Yorkers to avoid the traffic jams getting to their weekend homes in The Hamptons,” he says.
Giga mansions, in-house sports arenas and flying cars… it’s a world of limitless opportunity for today’s billion dollar buyers.