As the super-rich grow in number around the world, so too does demand for ultrahigh-end luxury real estate. Members of this privileged elite are buying uber-luxe residences—sometimes with price tags of more than US$1 million per square foot. So what do they get for their cash? Superb locations, magnificent views, state-of-the-art amenities, gold-leaf fixtures, sweeping staircases, glass walls, historical value… You name it. But in the end, it sometimes simply comes down to how much someone is willing to pay for a property.
Given growing demand and skyrocketing prices in this exclusive sector, if you’re a billionaire on a global home hunt and one of these extraordinary properties comes up for sale, be prepared to snap it up fast.
1. Buckingham Palace
It is the most expensive private residence in the world, but it’s not likely to go on sale anytime soon. While Edward the Confessor owned the village that was there before the Norman Conquest, and Henry VIII reclaimed it for the Crown in 1531, Buckingham Palace has only been the official London residence of Britain’s monarchs since 1837.
Should it ever be listed on the market, it has an estimated value of US$2.69 billion, based on its size alone, according to estimates by Foxton’s estate agents. For that price you would get 775 rooms, including 52 bedrooms, 19 staterooms, 188 staff rooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms on an area of 828,821 sqft.
Rumour has it that Queen Elizabeth II has been advised to consider renting out Buckingham Palace for commercial events when she is not in residence (the Union flag is flown over the palace when the queen is out, not in, as some people think). Great location for a party once you get rid of the corgi hair. Location: London
Value: US$2.69 billion
Owned by: The British sovereign
Caveat emptor: Must ascend the throne to get the keys to this royal pad
This is actually listed as the most expensive home in the world, with a price tag of US$2 billion (but it’s trumped by the queen’s residence in terms of area). Quite incredibly, this futuristic 27-floor tower is a single residence used mainly by one family: the Ambanis.
Built for Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani, it sits on Altamount Road, Mumbai, one of the most expensive addresses in the world. The property boasts three rooftop helipads, nine lobby lifts, and space for 168 cars in the six-floor garage. The Ambani family of five lives on the top floors; should all nine lifts break down, they would be in for a long climb. Or a short helicopter ride.
Other pluses: a two-storey recreation centre that includes a gym, health spa, multiple swimming pools, Jacuzzi, separate yoga and dance studios, ballroom, theatre, gardens and, luxury of luxuries, an “ice room” where the walls spit out manmade snowflakes to beat the Mumbai heat. Sun and lotus motifs are found throughout the mansion in materials such as crystal, marble and mother-of-pearl.
Location: Mumbai, India
Value: US$2 billion
Owned by: Mukesh Ambani
Caveat emptor: The 400,000sqft building has a staff of more than 600 to keep it running
3. Villa Leopolda
This is not only the most expensive mansion on continental Europe, but it is also the largest in the world, nestled on 7.28ha of the French Riviera. Built in the regal belle époque style, it is also one of the most beautiful homes on this list. It includes a swimming pool, pool house, outdoor kitchen, helipad and separate guest mansion. The magnificent villa was famously used as a set in the Alfred Hitchcock classic To Catch a Thief.
The mansion belongs to Lily Safra, a Brazilian philanthropist and widow of the Lebanese-Brazilian banker Edmond Safra, who was killed in a fire at his Monaco home in 1999. Included in the price is one of the most incredible vistas in the world.
Location: Villefranche-sur-Mer, France
Value: US$736 million
Owned by: Lily Safra
Caveat emptor: Mikhail Prokhorov, one of Russia’s richest men, lost his US$39 million deposit for Villa Leopolda when he pulled out of a 2008 purchase.
4. Four Fairfield Pond
In the US, the Hamptons in upstate New York is the ultimate symbol of wealth when it comes to summer properties. This 29-bedroom estate set on 25ha has a combined floor area of 110,000sqft, with more than half of that in the central house. It also has three swimming pools, two tennis courts, a squash court, basketball court, bowling alley, US$150,000 hot tub, 28-metre-long formal dining room—and 39 bathrooms. And that’s for the adults. For the kiddies, there is a two-storey playhouse that, at more than 7,400sqft, should be just about big enough. The owner is junk bond billionaire Ira Rennert, who had it built for himself. Location: Sagaponack, New York Value: US$248 million Owned by: Ira Rennert
It also has three swimming pools, two tennis courts, a squash court, basketball court, bowling alley, US$150,000 hot tub, 28-metre-long formal dining room—and 39 bathrooms. And that’s for the adults. For the kiddies, there is a two-storey playhouse that, at more than 7,400sqft, should be just about big enough. The owner is junk bond billionaire Ira Rennert, who had it built for himself.
Location: Sagaponack, New York
Value: US$248 million
Owned by: Ira Rennert
Caveat emptor: The property tax bill in 2007 was estimated at US$397,000; similar sums in taxes have been paid every year
5. 18-19 Kensington Palace gardens
Steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal paid US$128 million for this property on London’s Billionaire’s Row in 2004, buying it from Bernie Ecclestone of Formula One fame. Previous occupants include Paul Reuter, of the Reuters news agency, and the Rothschild family. Neighbours include the Sultan of Brunei, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
The 55,000sqft, 18-bedroom mansion on one of the world’s most exclusive streets was first refurbished by art dealer David Khalili, who spent three years and more than £20 million turning the two houses into one, building a swimming pool and indulging in his taste for marble floors and pillars—with marble from the same quarry as that used for the Taj Mahal.
Location: London, England
Value: US$222 million
Owned by: Lakshmi Mittal
Caveat emptor: Thanks to the fame of its various owners and royal neighbours, this trophy residence often attracts gawping tourists
(Text by Sooni Shroff-Gander)