Can This House Sell for $500 Million?

This Bloomberg piece profiles the rise of the spec housing market, where developers are building houses prior to having negotiated a contract with a buyer. The hope is that ultra high net worth individuals will be able to tour the property once it is completed, fall in love with it, and purchase the property.

Case in point: a 74,000 square-foot house being built in Bel Air, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. Here is what this house will look like, per an artist’s drawing:

house

Bloomberg:

Nile Niami, a film producer and speculative residential developer, is pouring concrete in L.A.’s Bel Air neighborhood for a compound with a 74,000-square-foot (6,900-square-meter) main residence and three smaller homes, according to city records. The project, which will take at least 20 more months to complete, will exceed 100,000 square feet, including a 5,000-square-foot master bedroom, a 30-car garage and a “Monaco-style casino,” Niami said.

So can the house sell for $500 million? It seems possible but unlikely. Consider that the priciest home ever sold in the world was a $221 million London penthouse purchased in 2011, according to Christie’s. The most expensive properties on the market today include a $425 million estate in France’s Cote d’Azur, a $400 million penthouse in Monaco, and a $365 million London manor.

Regardless of whether this house sells for $500 million, it appears the spec market is booming:

New luxury mansions are proliferating in Los Angeles, often without buyers in place, known as building on spec. Niami, whose production credits include “The Patriot,” a 1998 action movie starring Steven Seagal, last September sold a Los Angeles home to entertainer Sean “Diddy” Combs for $40 million.

That was followed by the December sale of a Beverly Hills spec home for $70 million to Markus Persson, who last year sold his video-game company to Microsoft Corp. for $2.5 billion. In January, hedge-fund manager Steven Cohen closed on a Beverly Hills spec home for more than $30 million.

Los Angeles luxury homes have ballooned in size in the past 30 years, said Peter McCoy, contractor for a 53,000-square-foot mansion under construction on a Bel Air hilltop visible from Niami’s project.

The Unfair San Francisco Housing and Rental Market

Writing in the London Review of Books, Rebecca Solnit expresses her discontent at the unstable housing market in San Francisco, driven by new money from the tech boom (Google, Facebook, etc.):

At the actual open houses, dozens of people who looked like students would show up with chequebooks and sheaves of resumés and other documents and pack the house, literally: it was like a cross between being at a rock concert without a band and the Hotel Rwanda. There were rumours that these young people were starting bidding wars, offering a year’s rent in advance, offering far more than was being asked. These rumours were confirmed. Evictions went back up the way they did during the dot-com bubble. Most renters have considerable protection from both rent hikes and evictions in San Francisco, but there are ways around the latter, ways that often lead to pitched legal battles, and sometimes illegal ones. Owners have the right to evict a tenant to occupy the apartment itself (a right often abused; an evicted friend of mine found a new home next door to his former landlord and is watching with an eagle eye to see if the guy really dwells there for the requisite three years). Statewide, the Ellis Act allows landlords to evict all tenants and remove the property from the rental market, a manoeuvre often deployed to convert a property to flats for sale. As for rent control, it makes many landlords restless with stable tenants, since you can charge anything you like on a vacant apartment – and they do.

A Latino who has been an important cultural figure for forty years is being evicted while his wife undergoes chemotherapy. One of San Francisco’s most distinguished poets, a recent candidate for the city’s poet laureate, is being evicted after 35 years in his apartment and his whole adult life here: whether he will claw his way onto a much humbler perch or be exiled to another town remains to be seen, as does the fate of a city that poets can’t afford. His building, full of renters for most or all of the past century, including a notable documentary filmmaker, will be turned into flats for sale. A few miles away, friends of friends were evicted after twenty years in their home by two Google attorneys, a gay couple who moved into two separate units in order to maximise their owner-move-in rights. Rental prices rose between 10 and 135 per cent over the past year in San Francisco’s various neighbourhoods, though thanks to rent control a lot of San Franciscans were paying far below market rates even before the boom – which makes adjusting to the new market rate even harder. Two much-loved used bookstores are also being evicted by landlords looking for more money; 16 restaurants opened last year in their vicinity. On the waterfront, Larry Ellison, the owner of Oracle and the world’s sixth richest man, has been allowed to take control of three city piers for 75 years in return for fixing them up in time for the 2013 America’s Cup; he will evict dozens of small waterfront businesses as part of the deal.

Evictions, foreclosures, and legal loopholes. This doesn’t sound like a city I’d want to inhabit. A must-read for perspective.