Virtual tours, clandestine showings, sight-unseen purchases—it has been real estate’s strangest year. But while the experts debate where people will want to move next (suburbia? Really?), one preference among the buyers with the deepest pockets has become clear. Whether they’re purchasing beachside estates, ranches on thousands of acres out West, or multiple apartments to combine into enormous urban skyscraper compounds, in 2020 the ultrawealthy paid a premium for privacy and, above all, space.
For the most part, sales of residential real estate initially cratered during pandemic-related shutdowns. But throughout the spring and summer there was a steady drumbeat of record (or near record) transactions at the highest end of the market.
The fact that this segment remained steady does not surprise Jonathan Miller, president of the real estate appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel. “Current market conditions have nothing to do with this particular market,” he said. “There is no pricing strategy. The focus for the buyers is on obtaining something that fits their needs whenever they think they need it.”
What meets the modern billionaire’s needs in 2020? Below, a list of some of this year’s most expensive residential sales in the United States.
In June, an anonymous buyer purchased the bucolic waterside estate once owned by the Kennedy family for $70 million. Joe Kennedy bought the house and adjacent property in 1933 and spent winters there with his family. It became known as the Winter White House when John F. Kennedy was president (he wrote Profiles in Courage and later formed his cabinet there after he was elected). Its most recent owner, billionaire Jane Goldman, did an extensive renovation to the 11-bedroom, 17-bath Mediterranean-style villa in 2015, adding a tennis court and enlarging the pool.
In June David Geffen bought the 3.5-acre Foothill Estate for $68 million from Casey Wasserman, whose grandfather, Hollywood powerbroker Lew Wasserman, purchased the property. (Geffen may have been feeling flush after selling another Beverly Hills estate to Jeff Bezos for $165 million.) The 18,000-square-foot stone, glass, and wood house, designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Richard Meier, was completed in 2015 and features six bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, parking for 35 cars, a private theater, gym, art studio, and pool.
An estate once owned by shopping mall magnate Alfred Taubman was sold in May to White Birch Farm, a company affiliated with billionaire Peter Brant, for $46.8 million. The 3.3-acre property, which overlooks the ocean on one side and the “lake” on the other, has a five-bedroom main house, a guesthouse similar in size, two swimming pools, a tennis court, and a private tunnel under the coastal highway to get to the beach.
Rio Blanco County, Co
In May, six weeks after ending his presidential campaign, former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg bought a 4,600-acre ranch from leveraged-buyout king Henry Kravis for $45 million. The spread includes a four-hole golf course designed by Greg Norman, hunting and fishing grounds along the White River, a tennis court, a heated outdoor pool, and a helipad and helicopter hangar. The five--bedroom main house has a game room and a library, and fireplace mantels imported from European castles. The estate, which Kravis built in 1991, has two large guesthouses, separate staff quarters, a carriage house, and stables.
In April, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought a three-bedroom, $16 million condominium at 212 Fifth Avenue, across from Madison Square Park. It’s adjacent to three other units he purchased in the building last year, including the three-story 10,000-square-foot penthouse, for $80 million. The combined apartments (paperwork has already been filed to join some of the units) comprise more than 20,000 square feet, and their total sale price is the most ever paid for a residence below 42nd Street in Manhattan. Amenities include a private elevator, wraparound balconies, and 360-degree views.
Holmby Hills, L.A.
Kylie Jenner bought a brand new “spec house” in Los Angeles in April for $36.5 million. It has seven bedrooms, 14 baths, game and bar rooms, and a gym. Outdoors there’s a swimming pool, basketball/sports court, and a projection screen. The property also has four guest apartments, 29 parking spaces, and a separate guard house with a full bath and kitchen.
In April an anonymous buyer paid approximately $200 million to purchase four adjacent apartments at 220 Central Park South, the skyscraper designed by Robert A.M. Stern on the new Billionaire’s Row. In 2019, Ken Griffin set a record for the highest price paid for a residence in the U.S. when he bought four floors in the building (which has a residents-only restaurant overseen by Jean-Georges Vongerichten) for $238 million.
In April an anonymous buyer bought the 6.7-acre oceanfront East Hampton compound once owned by Union Pacific chairman James Evans for $45 million. It has a five--bedroom main house, a three-bedroom guesthouse, and a heated pool.
In April, right before Florida’s stay-at-home order, Pharrell Williams bought a 17,025-square-foot waterfront home from former Univision executive Ray Rodriguez for $30 million. The nine-bedroom, 12-bathroom house has a 2,000-bottle wine cellar, a barroom, an elevator, and a separate wing for staff. Outside, spread over 3.3 acres, there’s a pool, a koi pond, an alfresco kitchen and dining area, and a boathouse.
Del Mar, CA
Bill and Melinda Gates bought a 5,800-square-foot, six-bedroom beachfront home in San Diego County in April for $43 million (the second-most ever paid in the area) from Madeleine Pickens, the former wife of the late Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens. The property has an outdoor swimming pool, a 10-person jacuzzi overlooking a firepit, a tennis court, a greenhouse, and two guesthouses.
In February, Citadel hedge fund founder Ken Griffin purchased a 7-acre estate on Meadow Lane for an estimated $100 million. The seller was Calvin Klein, who bought the property in 2003 and spent years redoing the previous house—and then tore it down and built a brand new modernist structure in its place. The estate has a separate guest wing linked by an underground tunnel and an outbuilding that is used as a screening room. The property was previously owned by Leonard Holzer and his wife, Factory regular Jane (aka Baby Jane Holzer). Before that it was owned by Henry du Pont, scion of the Dupont chemical family.
In February, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased a 9-acre estate in Beverly Hills from David Geffen for $165 million, a record price for a residential property in California. The 13,000-square-foot Georgian Revival–style house was built in the 1930s by Hollywood mogul Jack Warner, who hired famed designer William Haines to do its interiors. Geffen bought it from Warner’s daughter Barbara Warner Howard in 1990.
This story appears in the September 2020 issue of Town & Country. Subscribe Now
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