Which States House Hollywood's A-List Vacation Homes?
Wyoming and Hawaii pull at the heartstrings (and wallets) of L.A.'s trophy hunters as snowy lodges and warm resorts vie for the industry's elite travelers.
A robust economy along with an increasingly wired world are inspiring Angelenos to buy vacation homes again as they flock to getaways both snowy (think Park City and the newly hot Jackson Hole, Wyo.) and steamy (Palm Springs and Hawaii, where Julia Roberts' Kauai estate now is listed for nearly $30 million, more than double the $13.4 million she paid for the 2-acre beachside property only four years ago).
"The ultra-wealthy are buying what they want — ranches or in posh neighborhoods or in the mountains," says Madison Hildebrand, president of the Malibu Life Team and founding partner of Partners Trust Malibu. "I go on a listing appointment almost every other day for baby boomers who are selling their big house to buy another more downsized home in L.A. and a second home elsewhere." And with smartphones and the Internet, it's easier than ever for buyers to stretch out their time in their vacation homes by telecommuting. "I have a client from Malibu who has a screen in his [Hawaii] house that shows a mirror image of his office in L.A.," says Anne Hogan Perry at Coldwell Banker International Previews in Honolulu. "He pulls the screen down, and he's at work."
This 9,000-square-foot five-bedroom has a heated pool,12-seat theater and Teton views.
Wyoming: 'An adventure lifestyle...a bear comes strolling down the road'
While Angelenos may pull on sweaters and boots when temperatures drop below 70, they hardly experience what most people call "winter." Those looking for something more authentic head out of town for snow and crisp air. Wyoming, where many stars, executives and tech startup billionaires have been scooping up high-end lodges, has a unique appeal: The state doesn't charge income tax. "If they make their second home their primary residence, it could come with great tax benefits," says Josh Flagg, an agent with Rodeo Realty Beverly Hills. Adds Matt Faupel, owner of Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates, an arm of Christie's International, "There's pressure in New York, Connecticut and California, but we are a haven."
Among the top destinations is Jackson Hole. The region, encased by Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, is so picturesque, it's been featured in films as varied as Django Unchained and, in animation, Pixar's The Good Dinosaur. Especially since California's top-tier state income tax exceeded 13 percent in 2013, Jackson Hole real estate has been booming at the high end, with market volume up 200 percent compared with 2014 on homes priced at $5 million or higher.
The area's laid-back culture has drawn the likes of Harrison Ford, who owns an 800-acre ranch on the Snake River, and Sandra Bullock, whose 1,750-acre property includes an equestrian center. Visitors have included everyone from Justin Timberlake to former World Bank president James Wolfensohn. There are direct flights from 13 cities, including L.A., into the tiny commercial airport, replete with wood-burning fireplace and cowhide chairs. Private jets at a nearby airfield are stacked so deep, they often break regulations. "This is the only place in the U.S. where you'll see someone land in a private plane and drive off in a beat-up Subaru," says one local.
"We are in our fifth year of improving market conditions since the recession, and there are pockets of the market that are actually back to peak 2007-08 pricing," says Brandon Spackman, an associate broker with Jackson Hole Sotheby's International Realty. Among the area's top home listings — there currently are about 60 priced at $3 million and up — is a 6,500-square-foot Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired mountainside four-bedroom with interiors by French minimalist designer Christian Liaigre for $15 million. There also is a private resort on the East Gros Ventre hillside known as Petite Aman, styled after the Amangani Hotel, the Jackson Hole outpost of the luxury hotel chain. The 11,000-square-foot home features five bedrooms, with skiing on the property, and is listed at nearly $12 million.
Those seeking larger swaths of land needn't look much farther than the Walton Ranch, owned by the family behind Wal-Mart. The 1,848-acre cattle ranch provides 3 miles of frontage on the Snake River as well as a 2,234-square-foot house and is on the market for $48.7 million. That's a steep discount from the original price of $100 million four years ago.
Actor Lyle Waggoner (The Carol Burnett Show, Wonder Woman) and his wife, Sharon, were lured to Jackson Hole 15 years ago. They own about 175 acres near the Snake River Sporting Club that they haven't developed yet as well as a house closer to town. The couple had been visiting from Los Angeles for many years — "mainly through skiing events with Connie Stevens" — before deciding to make the move permanent.
Bruemmer’s top rental property in Jackson Hole is a 16,000-square-foot log cabin on 56 acres.
"We thought, 'This is so gorgeous; we have to have a place here,' and we made the move," Lyle says. "It's a lifestyle — a Western wildlife adventure lifestyle. At our house, moose come up, there's a herd of elk, or a bear comes strolling down the road." It's not an unusual story, according to Morgan Bruemmer, who owns luxury rental and sales brokerage Clear Creek Group in Jackson. "About 40 percent of our rental revenue is from repeat guests, and after about three or four years, they come to us and are interested in purchasing something," he says.
Teton County, where Jackson Hole is located, was listed as the wealthiest in the country last year by the IRS, with the highest average income in the United States (about $300,000). "We have a lot of billionaires and extremely successful people, but you'd never know it because they aren't showing it off," says Spackman. "If you have a big ego and you want to be glitzy, this would not be the place. Aspen would be a better fit."
Hawaii: 'Relax, have a mai tai and go into a real estate office'
Otto has the listing on this 7,800-square-foot beachfront home in a gated Maui enclave.
Last year when Mark Zuckerberg purchased a 700-acre parcel of land on Kauai for more than $100 million, it started waves across the market that are continuing to swell, not just on Kauai but throughout the state. That's great news not just for Neil Young, who sold his estate on the Big Island's Kohala Coast for $20 million last month (one of the top sale prices in Hawaii this year), but also for other high-profile and high-net-worth names — such as Oprah Winfrey and Owen Wilson — who call the state their second home. "The real high-end is setting new ground," says Matthew Beall, owner of real estate agency Hawaii Life. "We have far more eight-figure deals than we have had in Hawaii's history. I think there's about 20 listings both public and private that are north of $10 million, and that's not counting new high-end penthouses in Honolulu."
This Kauai home was built in 1910. The island’s Bounty House, below, is a local landmark.
On Kauai's North Shore, Will Smith's former home — now owned by Russian heiress Ekaterina Rybolovleva — is listed for $29.5 million (the Smiths sold the property for $20 million in 2011). In the island's Hanalei district, the number of home sales jumped 42 percent this year over last, according to Hawaii Life data. Bidding wars are breaking out too. The "Magnum, P.I." estate on the Waimanalo Beach garnered eight offers before it sold for $8.7 million this year to a Chicago attorney who has worked with the Obamas.
This 8,200-square-foot, six-bedroom, six-bathroom home on Maui is listed by Otto.
Hawaii "has always been a destination for the rich and famous," says Betty Sakamoto at Sakamoto Properties Ltd. on Maui. "In the early days of Kapalua, Carol Burnett and [TV producer] Joe Hamilton bought properties." USA exec Jackie de Crinis worked from Maui for four years before returning to L.A. last year, and still has a home there. Legendary manager and producer Shep Gordon, who's had a home on Maui since the 1970s, is known for hosting dinner parties for the likes of Winfrey and Clint Eastwood. Another top dinner spot: the perennially booked Mama's Fish House (stuffed mahi mahi, $56). New York Times best-selling author Susan Casey, who lives blocks away, fields dozens of calls at the holidays from VIP friends seeking help in wrangling a reservation. No luck, she says, unless you turn up at 4:30 and sit at the bar.
Lately, some of the most coveted Hawaii homes haven't been beachside. "You have to provide public access on the beach," says Dean Otto, also a Sakomoto agent. "It's very rare to find oceanfront with privacy, so [buyers] are looking for larger, private estates on the hill with views."
While Hawaii prices are peaking, they're a value compared with similar product — if such properties even exist — on a coveted mainland beach such as Malibu. The decision isn't always that logical, though. "Most of the people we get are buying their second, third, fourth or fifth home, and when they come to Hawaii, they generally haven't come to buy, but they relax, have a Mai Tai and go into a real estate office," says Coldwell Banker's Perry. "It's a very emotional buy."
This story first appeared in the Dec. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.