Mansion mania

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Purchasing a $100 million property is no easy feat. But the difficulty, perhaps surprisingly, has nothing to do with working out the mortgage payments. (Indeed, for most people seeking properties beyond the $50 million mark, there is no mortgage.) What makes the search tricky is that these days, there are more people with the money to buy these properties than there are properties available to buy. And often, the top tier of homes won't even be advertised.

While the real estate market on the "lower" end might be experiencing a softening this year, there is nothing but movement when it comes to the luxury market, with a 40% increase in home sales last year in the price range above $10 million. And once that figure more than triples, sales aren't flat, they're fierce.

"In the $35 million-plus properties, we're talking about a billionaire's poker game," explains Ernie Carswell, team leader at Coldwell Banker's the Carswell Collection. "They're sitting at the table trading houses, and when it comes to homes in the Los Angeles area, that's a poker chip every billionaire wants."

Purchasing a property in this price range requires not just cash but connections. First of all, supply is limited thanks to a low turnover rate. "The person living in that $50 million house isn't borrowing money to live there, and they have no place to go, so you have a lot of buyers chasing very few sellers," Westside Estate Agency co-owner Stephen Shapiro explains. "Even when someone gets divorced, the husband or wife gets the house because there's so much money -- they don't have to sell it. It's economics 101."

Additionally, many of the more prestigious properties are shown only in person, on a need-to-know basis. "I have a $100 million property that will never be on the Web," Shapiro says. The estate, a 50,000-square-foot French chateau located on 21D2 acres in Beverly Hills, is owned by a person Shapiro describes as "someone who doesn't want to be perceived as a seller because that might be interpreted as a sign of weakness. Clients like this are looking for discretion."

Following are some of the more prestigious -- and pricey -- properties currently on the market.

$75 million
The Portabello Estate, Corona del Mar
This 22,000-square-foot contemporary residence in the city of Newport Beach is situated on three oceanfront lots, with eight bedroom suites overlooking the coast. The grounds, which include a private path to the beach, are landscaped with a grotto and pools and also feature terraces and a garage (that holds up to 16 cars) consuming an additional 8,000 square feet. In addition, the property boasts a guesthouse, a fully stocked fitness center, a movie theater, a media room, a two-lane regulation bowling alley and a small-scale Kay Jewelers storefront -- perfect for displaying the family jewels.

"The $75 million to buy this property is well below the replacement cost," says listing agent John McMonigle of Coldwell Banker's the McMonigle Group. "The lots are valued at $18 million each, so that's $54 million in land right there. Then you have a 30,000-square-foot structure that's an engineering feat, which would cost about $1,000 a square foot to build. That puts the replacement value at $84 million." At $75 million, the asking price -- at least to some interested parties -- is a relative bargain.

$75 million
Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu

The price might seem a bit steep for a property that's due for a remodel, if not a tear-down, but the value here is in the remarkable land: almost seven acres located high on a bluff in Malibu, with a private road leading to a secluded beach. "You can drive your golf cart from the house to the beach," says Westside Estate Agency co-owner Stephen Shapiro, whose company is representing the property. "There are three guest houses, stables, a corral and whatever else you could possibly think of."

So, why not ask, say, $100 million? "Because no one has paid $75 million for it yet," Shapiro says with a laugh. "The house is impeccable, but it was built in the 1970s, so someone would want to remodel or build something new. It doesn't really satisfy instant gratification, and many people who come to L.A. from other places are looking for that."

$60 million
The Robert Taylor Ranch, Los Angeles

This Brentwood property consists of 112 acres and a Robert Byrd-designed, 17-bedroom house. The grounds include equestrian facilities, a tennis court and a pool. "I love the fact that it's so private -- you don't feel like you're in the city at all, yet you're 10-15 minutes from the beach and seven minutes from Brentwood," listing agent Joyce Rey of Coldwell Banker Previews International says. "You're in the thick of things, but you have a wonderful feeling of being somewhere else completely."

The hefty price tag, says Rey, is because of what's being fetched by the neighboring competition. "There was a recent sale in Beverly Hills for $35 million that was 25 acres way up in the hills," she explains, "and the house was only partially constructed."

$57 million
Villa del Lago, Newport Beach

Scheduled for completion by December 2008, this 18,000-square-foot Italian villa is situated on 12.5 acres of coastline and girded by nature reserves. Listed with McMonigle, whose development company, Monarch Estates, is building the property, the manse will include a 2,400-square-foot master bedroom with a sitting room, two fireplaces and his-and-her bathrooms on separate wings ("hers" features an additional fur closet that is accessed with a biometric entry). There are two kitchens (a family kitchen and a commercial kitchen); a fitness area with a steam shower, a dry sauna and a tanning booth; a full-commercial elevator; a vault; and a panic room. The grounds will boast a garage capable of housing 20 cars; a vineyard and fully functioning winery that will allow the owners to have their own label; a private lake; a guesthouse; a gatehouse; separate staff quarters; stables -- it's the only equestrian property on Newport Coast -- and a tennis court.

"This is a property that will be passed on from generation to generation," Monarch Estates vp Gilad Ganish says. "There's never going to be a chance to assemble this much property in Newport Coast again."

$43 million
Mediterranean Magnificence, Bel Air

The owner of this Bob Ray Offenhauser-designed property never needs to worry about inviting the entire family for the holidays, though a few guests will need to share a restroom thanks to only 34 bathrooms for the estate's 36 bedrooms. "Not a lot of people want that much room, but it's good if you have an entourage," listing agent Rey says.

The real appeal is the 31D2 acres in Bel Air. "It's the most prime location," says Rey, "and it's unusual to get that large a flat spread in the hills with a view." The estate features city and ocean views, five guesthouses, a tennis court and a pool.   
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