A voyeur lives inside all of us. We’re human. We look.
I particularly like looking inside others’ homes. When it’s dark out and the lights are on in someone’s home, and their lives and lifestyles are on display as if in a movie, I look. No, I gawk. Don’t tell me you don’t.
I get an extra vicarious delight — and I know this is unbecoming — when peering inside famous people’s homes. While I’m not one for tabloids or celebrity gossip, I do have a weak spot for TopTenRealEstateDeals.com. When that listing of high-end homes comes out, I devour it like teens eat pizza.
This week was especially gratifying for the home voyeur in me. I virtually saw inside Olympian Michael Phelps’ waterfront condo in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and also into the King Ferry, NY, estate of famed ceramic designers Richard and Victoria MacKenzie-Childs. I ogled over the Beverly House in Beverly Hills where John and Jackie Kennedy honeymooned and the South Beach mansion of late fashion designer Gianni Versace.
Who could resist? If you say you could, I’m betting you had a curiosity bypass and are as boring as a termite.
All but Phelps’ home is on the market. The all-time Olympic champion’s 4,080 square-foot, three-bedroom townhouse sold this week for $1.25 million. He took a $400,000 loss. I felt somewhat better knowing that even our heroes aren’t impervious to the housing recession.
The whimsical MacKenzie-Childs’ estate just dropped its price to $975,000. The 4,300-square-foot flight of fancy — much of it ceramic — is what you’d expect from the artistic English couple famous for their dishes and tiles.
The 1790 farmhouse has a carriage house, an art studio and dandy eye candy in every room. In the black-and-white-checkered dining room, for instance, you expect the March Hare and Alice to join you any minute.
You’ll recognize the Beverly House from its real estate roles in the Godfather and The Bodyguard, where it played Whitney Houston’s home. The Spanish-Italian, 21-bedroom (are you kidding?) estate is on the market for $95 million. If you can’t commit, you may rent it for $600,000 a month.
On the opposite coast, the Versace Mansion, one of America’s most famous homes up there with Hearst Castle in California, is for sale. Located in Miami’s South Beach, the 19,000-square-foot manse with its gold-lined swimming pool ties for first (with a French-inspired place in Los Angeles) for being the most expensive listing in the country today. Asking price: $125 million.
However, a telecommunications executive bought the mansion in 1997 for $19 million (after Versace was shot and killed on the front steps), which tells me there may be some flexibility in the price.
Peering at these places online gives me my house fix, all right. And any envy I ever had about seeing my non-Olympic body in any of these palace pools evaporates when I think of the cost of pool maintenance on these places.
I call Genelle Brown, senior writer and project director for Top Ten Real Estate, for the scoop on today’s mansions. “When the recession hit, mansions were the last to hit the skids,” said Brown, “and now they’re the last to come back.”
No kidding. Celebrities are listing their houses for hugely reduced prices. Poor Barry Manilow dropped the price of his Malibu mansion from $12.6 million to $6.95 million. And Meg Ryan whopped $8 million off the $19.5 price tag of her Bel Air estate.
This spring, however, was the hottest mansion market in six years, said Brown. So if you want a deal on a mansion, better grab it now! But first know what you’re getting into. Here’s the scoop on buying these celebrity homes.
The celebrity bump. If a home is owned by a celebrity, or is famous for other reasons, it will fetch more dollars than a comparable house just for its caché, said Brown. “But less so since the housing slump.”
You think the house’s price is high? That’s nothing compared to the maintenance cost. The upkeep, utilities and taxes are prohibitively expensive for these mansions. Yards and pools alone create a massive expense. “Anyone who doesn’t own one of these homes can feel instantly better about having a smaller place,” she said. Oh, and then there’s the staff. Many owners don’t live in these homes year round, yet employ full-time caretakers. Ka-ching.
Look but don’t touch. Move-up buyers who end up in these mansions often don’t understand the importance of preventive maintenance, said Brown, “They let structures go so long without repair that they require total replacement.” The take home for the rest of us: Don’t let a small maintenance problem become a nightmare due to neglect.
Why gawk? “The best reason to look at these homes is for ideas you can adapt into your home for a lot less,” said Brown, who is singing my song.
No preview for the hoi polloi. Want a home tour? Don’t count on it. Those interested in seeing a gazillion-dollar home in person must usually first get screened to assure they have the means to make the purchase, said Brown. So, for now anyway, I will have to settle for my virtual tours.
But I bet I made you look.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (DaCapo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.