Playing dress-up with luxury real estate

Mood of the Market

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 8, 2011

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Mood of the Market

Tara-Nicholle Nelson
Inman News™

You might find this surprising, but I've never been a huge fan of houses, per se. I love real estate (no surprise there), but I when I got into the business years ago, I chose it more for its power to improve people's lives, and for my love of contracts and negotiations.

Every home I've owned was either a reluctant choice or a home I just happened to stumble across while showing homes to clients and was able to score a great deal on -- I've been very happy in the final analysis with every home I've owned, but I've also always prioritized location, comfort and value.

But the other day, I was thumbing though a book of luxury homes and had a "Eureka!" experience. I had found my house -- the house in which I was destined to live. It even had a name: La Villa Contenta.

Or, as I said it when I told my friends and family about it, "La Villa Contentaaaaahhhhhh." Sited on eight pristine acres of lawn rolling down to Malibu shores, La Villa Contenta is a Mediterranean fantasy, complete with 18th-century amethyst chandeliers, an orchid greenhouse, secret gardens, a Hermes fireplace, Hearst Castle-style indoor pool, and a private terrace hovering above the waves of the Pacific Ocean (the better to deliver Shakespearean soliloquies from, my dear).

My pals spouted objection after objection, but I overcame them all. They said that I don't live in Malibu -- and that I can't stand Los Angeles-area traffic; I pointed out that I could telecommute from my library at La Villa Contenta.

They expressed concerns that I'm an empty nester and might not need so much space; I said that the guest suite in the fern grove could be theirs when they visit. They balked at the $75 million list price; I pointed out that (a) it's a buyer's market, (b) I'm a crack negotiator, and (c) Candy Spelling's place a few miles away just sold for a 40 percent discount, and La Villa Contenta is listed for half her home's asking price (what a bargain!).

Clearly these conversations were entirely tongue-in-cheek. But in some ways, just the fantasy and window-shopping experience I had with La Villa Contenta lived up to the promise of the home's name.

Would it be amazing to live in a place like that? Sure! But if I actually had $75 million handy, do I think the incremental benefits to my life, compared to the already wonderful life I live in my current home, would be worth the expense? No.

I don't know that I'd be all Warren Buffett about it, if I had that kind of wealth -- the Oracle of Omaha (the world's third richest man, according to Forbes), is famous for (among other things) still living in the same home he bought for $31,500 in 1958.

But I like to think I'd spend my disposable millions feeding Somalian kids, or educating American ones, or something in that vein.

It turns out that I am pretty "contenta" in my home now, and more consciously so after mentally trying on the high life at La Villa Contenta.

It also turns out that I'm not the only American housing consumer who is playing "house up" (that's what I call this real estate version of dress-up) with luxury homes.

On the Web, some of the most popular real estate sites are those dealing exclusively in pics of celebrity homes, like the Real Estalker blog, and other outlets specializing in real estate eye-candy like HomesOfTheRich.net and PriceyPads.com.
Every once in awhile, these homes offer some inspiration in terms of design themes, paint colors or even little conveniences "normal" people can integrate into their lifestyles.

But more frequently, the people I know who are addicted to this so-called house porn love it more for the opportunity it presents to ooh and ah, then to shake one's head, stating a morally self-righteous position to the effect that you wouldn't drop that kind of cash on a place even if you had it.

Rather than being green with envy, these days many smart homeowners who salivate over (or sneer at) uber-luxe homes leave their house-porn hobby more grateful than ever that they have such great lives and such great homes for such small fractions of these homes' gargantuan price tags -- especially in light of the short-sale and foreclosure epidemic that has hit celebrities and laypeople alike.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman's Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website, www.rethinkrealestate.com.

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