America’s priciest listing — developer Bruce Makowsky’s $250 million Bel Air spec home — is a flamboyant display of luxe living. It is surrounded by a moat-like canal and features an elevator lined in crocodile skin, Hermès plate settings and a Louis Vuitton-designed bowling alley. It comes with a $30 million car collection and comes both fully furnished and fully staffed for the first two years.
Makowsky purchased the site in 2013 for a mere $11 million, according to property records. Sources familiar with the development told The Real Deal he spent north of $50 million to transform it. If it sells for its record asking price, he would net a not-too-shabby $189 million return on his investment.
Whether or not that return expectation is realistic is another matter.
Industry experts have mixed opinions on whether the property, at 924 Bel Air Road, is really worth its hefty asking ask. Some said the price itself will sell the house to a buyer looking for a trophy estate, while others said it is likely to sell in a lower range.
“It’s beautifully done and fun to see,” said Rochelle Maize of Nourmand & Associates of the property, which is listed by Branden Williams and Rayni Williams of Hilton & Hyland, as well as Ben Bacal of Rodeo Realty. “But the price is inflated.”
All house, no lot
While the home is huge — a sprawling 38,000-square feet — there is not much land around it, which decreases its value, Maize said.
“It’s kind of smoke and mirrors,” she said. “When you think of someone that [will pay] $250 million for a home or second or third home, you’re thinking privacy or a lot of land and this is all house.”
Maize said the home’s actual value is likely around $135 million, a price point echoed by other brokers in conversations with TRD.
Josh Flagg of Rodeo Realty and Bravo TV’s “Million Dollar Listing” called the listing price “obscene.”
“You could buy 10 acres in Holmby Hills for $90 million,” he said. “Someone will buy it, but I don’t think at $250 million. That would be insane considering [the] Playboy [mansion] sold for $100 million.”
But others argued that the price-tag itself could be a selling point, since a flashy buyer may want to be known for owning the most expensive home in America.
“People take pride in paying a high number, the caché of it,” said F. Ron Smith of Partners Trust. “It would be naive to say what it will sell for. Homes in that range are going to sell for what someone wants to pay and there is something special about owning one of the most expensive properties — there is ego attached.”
The pool of people who can afford such an expensive property is obviously small. Since the home is flashy — with a massage parlor, massive entertaining spaces and a decommissioned helicopter as a roof adornment — the number of buyers is reduced further to those who want attention over privacy, several brokers said.
Smith said the price itself will send the memo to billionaires worldwide that the home is on the market.
“Once you get north of $80 or 90 million, it is rarified air, but that opens the fraternity or sorority to the rest of the world, because it becomes this landmark property,” he said. “What makes it a landmark property? The pricing.”
Peace of mind: priceless
A seven-person staff is included with the spec home, presumably trained by Makowsky to know the property intimately. The peace of mind that provides can tip a “maybe” into a “yes,” several brokers said.
“It takes a lot of pressure off,” Smith said.
Peter Mahler, the president and founder of Mahler Private Staffing, which staffs high-end homes in Los Angeles and elsewhere, said the cost of a seven-person staff could be as much as $750,000 to $1 million a year. But its value in the eyes of the buyer may be even higher.
“Anyone who can afford this house understands that finding the team to take care of it is a big job,” Mahler said. “Having a team in place that knows the house and the routine is a jump start.”
Even an unoccupied 38,000-square-foot home requires full-time staff.
“Homes of this magnitude require a high level of care and service, even if no one is there,” Mahler said.
The first hires should be an estate manager responsible for contracts and managing assets as well as a property manager who knows the systems of the home “and can roll up their sleeves” and an executive housekeeper. There should also be three junior housekeepers and a nightwatchman, he said.
Once the property sells, then a chef, a nanny and full-time security team of up to six people should be chosen based on the buyer’s needs, he said.
“I can’t imagine someone having a house this large and not having a staff of at least 6 or 7,” he said, advising Makowsky to choose “a team with a high degree of emotional intelligence” in addition to a “zen energy.”