Last year, a 40-acre Greenwich, Conn., property with a 21,897-square-foot, 14-bedroom Jacobean manor was listed for $125 million. It was the world's second most expensive home for sale.
It now sports a $60 million price tag and falls just short of making this year's list.
It's no secret sellers across the country are resorting to measures such as price cuts of 20 percent and higher to move their homes. What's new: That group is increasingly including owners of eight- and nine-figure properties. Last year, investor Marty Zweig pulled the $70 million Pierre Hotel penthouse off the market after it was listed for four years. Financier Leonard Ross, who had asked $165 million for the Hearst Mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif., de-listed it in September 2008. A few months later, Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia removed his $135 million Aspen ski lodge from the ranks of available listings. This year, "Hillendale," in Stamford, Conn., fell victim to the depressed housing market. It was listed for $95 million. It's no longer for sale. Others, such as the owners of an $85 million Wallace Neff-designed mansion, are leasing their properties until the market picks up.
Such moves, says Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of real estate appraisal firm Miller Samuel, are to be expected.
"There was a frenzy that caused the prices of these properties to be astronomical," he says. "Dramatic discounts are not as much a reflection of the market crashing, but a reflection of a reality."
While the number of buyers willing to invest in eight- and nine-figure homes has always been slim, a pullback in jumbo loan-financing has shrunk the pool even further. And some with the means to pay cash are waiting to see when the housing market will return to stability.
They may be holding off a while.
"First, the lower end of market started breaking," says Mike Simonsen, chief executive of Altos Research, a real estate statistics provider. "Then, it was only 12 months ago when the luxury market started to break, and just recently when the ultra-luxury market started to break. It may be years — it may be many years — before that market recovers. For this level, it will be even slower than the luxury market at large."
Owners resorting to new strategies
To entice buyers, owners and their brokers are resorting to strategies often reserved for sellers in more mainstream markets.
That's the tack the owners of the BootJack Ranch in Pagosa Springs, Co., adopted. In the last year, they lowered their asking price from $88 million to $68 million.
The home's broker, Bill Fandel of Sotheby's International Realty, hoped the discount would ignite interest. He says inquiries are coming from overseas billionaires.
"For those who have the wherewithal for a property like this," he says, "[they] now have to feel like they're buying well, that they're getting a great deal of value for these enormous prices."
Herald Grant, also with Sotheby's, de-listed an $80 million Southampton retreat that rounded out the World's Most Expensive list last year, rather than let it sit unsold.
"You put emotional prices on properties when people were spending," he says, "Now, sellers are being more conservative."
Spelling 'Manor' tops list
Grim forecasts, however, haven't deterred some sellers from listing their luxurious estates.
In March, Candy Spelling, wife of the late producer, Aaron Spelling, publicly listed their $150 million Holmby Hills mansion. Named "The Manor," the 100-room property tops this year's list. Despite plummeting home prices everywhere, it is priced higher than last year's No. 1, "Fleur De Lys," also in Holmby Hills and listed for $125 million. That property was modeled after Louis XIV's palace at Versailles, and is spread over 45,000 square feet.
The $100 million Albemarle House, a Charlottesville, Va., estate, is another newcomer to the list. Situated on 300 acres, and neighboring Monticello and Ash Lawn-Highland, the eight-bedroom Georgian home was designed by architect/designer David Easton.
Owners of properties outside the States also seem to be betting their properties' unique characteristics will draw buyers. Updown Court, the $117 million estate said to be larger than both Buckingham or Hampton Court palace, remains on the market. So does the $102 million, 11-bedroom, 29,000-square-foot Villa Leopolda on the French Riviera.
If their owners get antsy, perhaps they can consult Joel Horowitz, the co-founder of Tommy Hilfiger, and owner of "Tranquility" on Lake Tahoe. The $100 million, 210-acre property has been listed since 2006.