It's going to be an ugly 2009, and sellers of the world's priciest properties are getting the message.
Last month, investor Marty Zweig pulled the plug on his $70 million Pierre Hotel penthouse listing after four years on the market. Financier Leonard Ross, who had asked $165 million for the Hearst Mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif., de-listed it in September.
World's most expensive homes
$100 million Tahoe trophy
Late last year, Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia removed his $135 million Aspen ski lodge from the ranks of available listings.
That means a $125 million Holmby Hills estate, sandwiched between Beverly Hills and Bel Air, rises from No. 2 to first on our list. The property known as Fleur de Lys doesn't disappoint with its 12 bedrooms, 15 bathrooms and Versailles-style accoutrements. It's also a sign of the times; the last time a $125 million home nabbed the top honor was in 2005.
Million-dollar starter homes
The world's top 10 car-owning countries
One bright spot was Donald Trump's $100 million May sale of Maison de L'Amitie in Palm Beach, Fla., to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. The only problem was the $25 million discount Rybolovlev received from the mansion's asking price, the largest single residence price concession of all time. Still, he made a sizable profit. Trump bought the home for $41.4 million four years ago.
Behind the top 10
Our list comes from property listings, high-end brokerages and conversations with real estate agents. The list is made up of homes on the market and not pricey properties that sold this year. We include only publicly listed properties; in Europe, especially, estates and luxury residences that might qualify are shopped privately for undisclosed prices.
World's next great cities
"In general, the most expensive estates in France are private mansions inside Paris called 'hotels particulieurs' with prices which can be above 100 million euros ($125 million)," says Thierry Journiac of Terra Cognita, a French brokerage.
This practice makes it difficult to gauge the top of the market. In August, an unlisted Belle Epoque mansion on 20 acres of the French Riviera that once belonged to King Leopold II of Belgium sold to an unnamed Russian for $750 million. Not putting a public price tag on properties can give sellers more leeway to demand a high price. It also saves them the Trump-like embarrassment of having to publicly mark down a house $25 million if the market softens.
The Riviera sale shows that those flush with cash are still looking for prime properties. After all, to a billionaire looking for a fourth or fifth trophy property, the emotional connection can often drive the decision--either because the homes are impossible-to-duplicate works of art or because billionaires keep score with one another when it comes to fine possessions.
"As long as there is sufficient demand, as long as a potential purchaser recognizes and is interested in an object, the price is secondary," says Emile Garcin broker David Stanley.
It's hard not to have an emotional response to a property like the $90 million French Riviera estate that sits on two and a half acres in St. Jean Cap Ferrat and has 11 bedrooms and 29,000 square feet of space, all of it oriented to the surrounding landscape and water views.
These buys are increasingly rare in some spots, as even the richest are waiting to see where the market goes. In Brazil, for example, high end brokers in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo are seeing less interest from abroad and a pullback of domestic wealth.
"The economy in Brazil has never been better. However, the world crisis is affecting us now as well," says Patricia Judice de Araujo Esteves of Judice & Araujo in Rio de Janeiro. With the foreign buyers' market slowing, local brokers are depending more on Brazilians, who haven't been picking up enough slack in the luxury property market. "Wealthy Brazilians are still buying first homes, but the second-home market has been slowing down."
In New York, buyers are expected to wait for a bottom before making serious bids. Dolly Lenz, a broker with Prudential Douglas Elliman in New York says that European buying activity declined in recent weeks as the pound and euro are now at two-year lows against the dollar.
That cuts both ways, of course, as European properties have become cheaper to those buying in dollars.
Updown Court, a Surrey mansion that's Britain's most expensive home, took a hit due to the pound's falling strength. At this time last year, its 70 million pound asking price meant a $138 million tag. Today, that's $110 million.
But price reductions, even if relative to currency, only go so far.
Now someone has to step up and buy these properties.