Inside the homes of the world’s super-rich during the Covid-19 pandemic
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*This article first appeared in Property360 digital magazine
While the world’s population has been locked down in their homes, ultrawealthy property owners have been extravagantly expanding their brick and-mortar empires with facilities and luxuries that would put some hotels to shame.
From championship-size tennis courts and in-house beauty salons to cinemas, his-and-her studies and garden bedrooms, those with the money have not been holding back on transforming their homes into places they never have to leave.
Everyone who can afford to is looking to upgrade their homes right now, says local interior designer Will Engelbrecht of WillDesign. But, he says, it is the super-rich who are taking it to the next level.
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“Think your very own nightclub or cocktail bar. An outdoors sauna pod and even a real-life indoor garden.”
One client, on-trend with bringing the outdoors inside, had an entire wall made up of moss, with a sky roof and strategically placed water sprays. Such additions, as well as Instagram-worthy wine cellars, are a few of the features estate agents around the world say the well-heeled are craving.
Even as the vaccine roll-out gathers pace, experts aren’t expecting the desire for a more resort-like experience at the top end of the market to ebb anytime soon. Engelbrecht says the pandemic has made people reassess their lives and the super-rich are not immune to this.
Some other hot high-end trends include:
Tent-ready tennis courts It used to be pools, now it is tennis courts designed for champions that are drawing the buyers. In fact, last year, super-prime properties with tennis courts sold, on average, for 22% more than their court-less peers, according to Knight Frank research.
And before you think the super-rich are obsessed with staying fit, experts say the courts are actually seen as a great place for the kids to play and later to throw a marquee over for a celebration.
Bringing the outdoors indoors
The demand for indoor spaces with an outdoors vibe is rising. This sees dining rooms turned into gardens or jungle rooms – think misty rainwater, nature sounds, indoor trees, grass, living walls and a sky roof.
His-and-her studies are increasingly in demand, as are gaming facilities in cinema rooms and private spas. “People want to be comfortable in their homes doing what they do. If you’re a rich gamer, you want the best of everything, for instance,” Engelbrecht says.
Some properties around the world are even more outrageous, though, with • VIP panic rooms that offer luxury and safety, including bullet-proof walls and doors, plush beds and en suite bathrooms. • Climate-controlled car showrooms with car washes, petrol stations, car lifts, charging ports and state-of-the-art lighting. • Private golf courses. • Doggy grooming rooms. • Pet pads. • Beauty salons with all the bells and whistles. • Multi-purpose sports areas. • Bathrooms with tubs carved from rock crystal. • Bowling alleys. • Clean-air systems. • Private cigar and champagne bars.
And what about Bill and Melinda Gates’s Xanadu 2.0 – the home which is at the centre of their divorce? • The 6100m² lakeside mansion in Washington State is several pavilions built into the side of a hill. • It has a 20m indoor/outdoor pool with an underwater sound system. • A 230m² gym panelled with stone. • A trampoline room and an art decor cinema. • Each room has touch-pad controlled lighting, music and climate control. • The library has a dome, as well as two secret bookcases, one of which opens to a hidden bar. • A 20-car garage built into the hillside. • A beach outside, with sand imported from the Caribbean and Hawaii, and a stream for salmon and trout.
‘Whole Life' Homes
Rory O’Hagan, head of the Luxury Portfolio division of the Chas Everitt International property group, says across the world, luxury real estate is back in first place among the most favoured investment options for high-net-worth individuals (HWNIs).
He says the latest research by Luxury Portfolio International and Leading Real Estate Companies of the World shows between 30% and 50% of HNWIs globally are planning to buy at least one additional luxury property within the next 12 months, compared to just 20% a year ago.
“And in South Africa, we have already seen many affluent people buying additional superluxury (over R10 million) properties since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most were seeking a property away from the city and in a more remote country or coastal location.”
This trend was strengthened by the increased acceptance of remote working, which freed luxury buyers to spend more time at their country or holiday retreats.
“The pandemic has definitely altered the requirements of these individuals when it comes to all their homes in that what most buyers are now looking for are ‘whole life’ properties that not only offer luxury lifestyle and entertainment features but also extensive business, meeting and educational amenities.
“HNWIs want their holiday and investment properties, as well as their primary residences, to be totally self-contained safe havens where they and their families could ride out a pandemic such as Covid-19 – or any future world disaster – in safety and without making any major lifestyle adjustments.
“They are prepared to invest significant amounts not only to acquire such properties but to bring their existing properties into line with their vision,” O’Hagan says.
In South Africa, wealthy Millennials are going large with their first-home purchases, which are often multimillion-rand luxury homes, says Grahame Diedericks, manager principal of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Midrand, Gauteng.
“Millennials are quickly becoming a dominant force in high-end real estate and, although their specific needs do depend on their situation – whether they’re single, married, have children – most of these buyers have certain criteria and priorities in common.”
In addition to favouring new, clean and modern designs, more for the functionality and convenience than the aesthetics, wealthy Millennials commonly request hi-tech features and smart homes with systems that control everything from lighting and music to alarms and even the fireplaces.
“We expect to see luxury property developers integrate touchless, hi-tech features and energy-saving systems into more homes and greener building methods are likely to become par for the course.”
Other ultra-rich property owners in South Africa have turned to “whole-life” homes – places in which they can live, work and play never having to set foot into the “real” world. These homes even have nightclubs (yes, you read right) and theatres and are not dark and heavy bunker-style homes. Experts say that high-net-worth individuals worldwide are spending millions of dollars to acquire one or more of these “whole-life” homes.