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Yours for $250m: the most expensive house in America

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Real estate developer Bruce Makowskys eighth wonder of the world targets a narrow market. Ive found a niche. Im trying to build houses only for billionaires

Bruce Makowsky does not believe in underselling, which is just as well because hes listed a house in Los Angeles for $250m Americas most expensive home.

I wanted to build the most spectacular house in the United States, said the developer. I wanted to have every spectacular thing in that house, in one place. This house is the eighth wonder of the world.

That may sound brash even for real estate speak, but 924 Bel Air Road is designed for a modern pharaoh.

Perched in the rarified hills of Bel Air, which make Beverly Hills feel ghetto, the 38,000 sq ft property boasts panoramic views, 12 bedrooms, 21 bathrooms, five bars, a massage studio, a fleet of luxury cars and motorbikes, an 85-foot Italian glass infinity pool, an outdoor hydraulic theater-sized screen, a James Bond-themed indoor cinema, a bowling alley, 130 art installations and, as a roof adornment, the helicopter from the 1980s TV show Airwolf.

Oh, and a crocodile-embossed elevator, a Hobie Cat sailboat, glass ping pong and billiard tables, two wine cellars, 56 TV screens, Willy Wonka-style cylinders filled with sweets and an interactive digital work starring Disneys Seven Dwarfs.

The aim, Makowsky said in an interview, is shock and awe. Its purely emotional. Someone walks through here and thinks, I have to have it.

Bel
The view from the Bel Air mansion. Photograph: Photos Courtesy of Bruce Makowsky/ BAM Luxury Development

Someone, that is, with a spare quarter-billion dollars. Ive found a niche. Im trying to build houses only for billionaires.

Makowsky, 60, created this California xanadu on spec all built, designed and furnished without any buyer lined up. It went on sale last week, priced far above the record $147m paid for an East Hampton estate in 2014.

Is he worried about finding a buyer? Absolutely not. Im not worried at all because theres so much super-wealth in this world. Its getting crazy. There are probably 100 new billionaires every single year. Super-yacht manufacturers are slammed with orders.

Forget the 1%. Billionaires are a caste so select (estimates range from 1,800 to 3,000) you could fit them all in the Royal Festival Hall.

Makowsky made his first fortune selling purses and handbags on QVC, a home shopping television network.

He got to know the Riviera crowd and noticed something that struck him as odd: billionaires would spend up to $200m on yachts and planes but live in homes worth far less. I thought: nobodys toy should be more expensive than their house.

So Makowsky who lives in a 27,000 sq ft estate once leased by Prince started building increasingly lavish mansions in Bel Air and Beverly Hills, where buyers commonly buy impeccable properties and demolish them to make way for newer ones.

Jaws dropped when he sold a $70m property to Markus Persson, the founder of Minecraft, in 2014. It seemed an absurdly high figure at the time but the developer was already working on what would become 924 Bel Air Road.

Tonnes of marble and other stone from Italian quarries, Lamborghini wall clocks, champagne-filled fire extinguishers it is a temple to luxury and whimsy. The house comes with a staff of seven including a masseuse and yoga instructor whom Makowsky will pay for two years. Southern Californian sunshine completes the package, he says.

The
The James Bond-themed indoor cinema. Photograph: Photos Courtesy of Bruce Makowsky/ BAM Luxury Development

When you put all those things together thats pretty much the magic. Its the best of everything put into one home. Its like youd never want to leave.

The developers website casts luxury in metaphysical terms: Opulence without substance has no meaning. Nor is luxury a synonym for unimaginable comfort. Indeed, luxury is an art the art of living well true luxury is rebellious, above the status quo it is lofty, it is life amplified by reverie, it is boundless beauty.

To some critics what is boundless is the extreme inequality of Kubla Khans inhabiting ever plusher redoubts while 43,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles County, a policy failure which leaves human misery on display in streets, doorways, parks and beaches.

Steve Lopez, a Los Angeles Times columnist, seethed at mega-mansions in 2015, comparing one to a giant tombstone marking the death of humility.

Widening inequality is global. Makowksys mega-home went on sale the same week that Oxfam published a report saying eight of the richest people on Earth own as much combined wealth as half the human race, and that a plutocrat moved into the White House on a promise of tax cuts for the wealthy.

All this growing hyper-wealth chases trophy assets in a few places the hills north of LA, Manhattan, London, driving up prices to stratospheric heights, said Walter Scheidel, a Stanford history professor and author of The Great Leveler, a history of wealth inequality from ancient times to the present.

Prospective buyers come from all over the world, which is not surprising since inequality in many countries is higher now than it has ever been China, India, Russia, not just the US. In this context of globalization and rising inequality it would be odd if the value of such trophy assets wasnt going through the roof; and as long as these two trends continue, there is no ceiling in sight.

Inside
Inside the Bel Air mansion. Photograph: Photos Courtesy of Bruce Makowsky/ BAM Luxury Development

Edward Kleinbard, a USC law professor and author of We Are Better Than This: How Government Should Spend Our Money, said the US undertaxed the very wealthy and underfunded education and other public services which could help the poor to move up. Because we do that, those with great wealth can accumulate even more. We are drifting towards neo-feudalism. Were making wealth a hereditary gene.

Makowsky bristled at mention of inequality and its cousin, excess. Bel Airs eighth wonder was many things, but not vulgar, he said. I dont think its garish. Its not a palace. We dont have a lot of gold in it. Its more contemporary, its like a resort, an oasis.

The opulence merchant espoused a hope Marx might have applauded. I didnt create this [inequality]. I think itd be great if everyone had the same amount of money.

Instead of sitting on his fortune, Makowsky said he had created 300 jobs during the houses construction. Now, all going well, a buyer will fork out $250m. Hopefully in my own little way Im helping the US economy. Im trying to unleash some of the wealth that the super-wealthy have.

He has competition. Nile Niami, a film producer and property developer, is reportedly building a 100,000 sq ft mansion with its own casino and 30-car garage with a target price of $500m.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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