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This piece of Beverly Hills is selling at US$1b
A PROPERTY about to go on the market here consists of 64 hectares of hilltop land in Beverly Hills. With its 360-degree views, you can spot many of Los Angeles' major landmarks in the distance.
The asking price?
A cool US$1 billion.
Aaron Kirman of Pacific Union Real Estate, the listing agent, recently drove a couple of visitors around the property, reeling off its numerous highlights. The site, which is in an area of Los Angeles known as Beverly Hills Post Office and has been newly branded as the Mountain of Beverly Hills, comes with permission to build nearly 1.5 million square feet of living space across multiple buildings.
With views into some of Los Angeles' priciest mansions and their swimming pools below, it had the surreal feel of an empty, mountaintop golf course in the middle of a city, with large, manicured lawns.
As Mr Kirman drove up towards the highest point, a helicopter buzzed by in the distance, not much higher than eye level. He is going to have to sell someone on the idea that plunking a billion dollars into a personal property is a good idea.
No one has yet to come close to crossing that threshold, at least not publicly. In 2014, an oceanfront Hamptons compound sold for US$137 million - the record for a single-family home in the US. This year, a Malibu property sold for US$110 million, Los Angeles County's record. A Saudi prince paid US$300 million for a property in France, thought to be the highest price ever paid for a home in the world.
All these properties included houses. This Mountain of Beverly Hills does not.
Billy Rose, a co-founder and the president of The Agency, a luxury real estate brokerage that is unaffiliated with the billion-dollar listing, said flat lots in the priciest neighborhoods of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills could go for nearly US$40 million per hectare, and higher if they have views.
"We're seeing prices for land that we've never seen before," he added.
Over the past decade or so, Los Angeles' luxury real estate market has been experiencing an unprecedented boom. The city is increasingly a draw for wealthy buyers looking for properties that have plentiful indoor and outdoor space.
"You can have a palatial estate here," said Mr Rose. "You can't buy land like this in other major metropolitan cities. Here you can have your house, your car and your garage."
With so much money pouring into Los Angeles, large estates that were divided into smaller lots in the 1950s and '60s are being reassembled, said Jeff Hyland of Hilton & Hyland.
But unlike properties during previous booms, the priciest today are often out of reach for Hollywood stars. Billionaires and tech titans are the new trophy estate buyers, he added.
Stephen Shapiro, president of Westside Estate Agency, said the market for properties above US$60 million was particularly strong but that the Mountain of Beverly Hills was wildly overpriced.
"For a billion dollars, you could buy it multiple times," he said, adding that he had got feelers that suggest US$200 million might be within negotiable reach.
Ronald Richards, a lawyer who represents Secured Capital Partners, the current titleholder on the property, said such queries were a common way for lenders to get a sense of whether their debts could quickly be recovered if necessary, not an indicator of the property's market value.
Although this prime parcel is zoned for six lots, Mr Kirman is marketing it as a family compound for a single buyer.
Pulling out a colour-coded spreadsheet that he said included the names of about 2,800 billionaires, he explained that by his calculation, roughly 50 to 100 of the people on that list would be in the market for such a property.
It's unlikely that a developer would be able to make enough money by subdividing such pricey land and building multiple nine-figure mansions to justify the risk.
One challenge: The buyer will have to come with not only an extremely high net worth, but also some vision. "To be impressed by dirt is hard," Mr Kirman admitted.
Another challenge: This dirt has quite the history. Decades of legal battles, scuttled mansion plans and huge egos partly explain why such a vast, beautiful piece of land in the middle of one of the hottest real estate markets in the country remains vacant.
Known until recently as Vineyard Beverly Hills, the property has been the subject of so many lawsuits and ownership disputes that even the lawyers seem to have lost count.
Celebrities, including Tom Cruise, have tried to buy it in the past. Previous owners have drawn up grand plans to build homes, never to follow through.
Partly to emphasise the property's fresh start, the new ownership changed the name from the Vineyard to the Mountain of Beverly Hills, since it is so large that it's visible from the flats of Beverly Hills - and because there is, in fact, no vineyard on the property.
Mr Kirman said "authenticity" was going to be a big part of the branding. He has reached out to five of the billionaires on his list and planned to fly to London, Qatar, Russia and China to meet with as many of them who are in his network as possible.
"Everyone so far has been super intrigued," he said, adding that in the next few weeks, he'd be commissioning a designer to build a large glass cube on the property where he can entertain potential buyers, and that he was considering ways to allow qualified billionaires to spend a night there, possibly Bedouin-tent style.
The next owner of the property, Mr Kirman said, will most likely come from overseas and be looking to make a splash with a bold purchase.
"I think the price will make someone quite well-known," he said. NYTIMES