In today’s tough economic climate, Warren Buffett is setting a good example. The world’s second richest man lives in the same five-bedroom, gray stucco house he bought in 1958 for $31,500.
That’s right. Legendary investor Buffett, 78, still calls his humble digs in Omaha, Neb.’s Happy Hollow suburb home, despite a $37 billion fortune. That famous folksiness is, of course, in keeping with his investment philosophy. “If you don’t feel comfortable owning something for 10 years,” he once told a reporter, “then don’t own it for 10 minutes.”
Of course, few billionaires live as simply and frugally as Buffett, who also professes a love for pub fare like burgers and Cherry Coke. (Not coincidentally, Buffett is a longtime investor in the beverage giant.)
But low-key–even in these tough times–is a relative term among the super-rich. Computer mogul Michael Dell claims to live simply yet built a 33,000-square-foot manse in Austin, Texas, in 1997. Called “the castle” by locals for its high walls and tight security, the home sits on a 20-acre spread a mere stone’s throw from Dell headquarters.
It’s not so simple for other members of the billionaires club.
Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison, a hard-core Japanophile, blew an estimated $100 million building a 23-acre, 10-building, Japanese-inspired imperial villa in Woodside, Calif.
But it doesn’t stop there. In recent years, he has spent an estimated $200 million snapping up a dozen commercial and residential properties in the ritzy beachside enclave of Malibu, Calif.
In January 2008, Russian-Israeli diamond magnate Lev Leviev bought the Palladio, an extravagant 17,000-square-foot manor outside London, for $65 million. (That works out to $3,823 per square foot, roughly twice the average in Greater London.) The home includes a bulletproof front door, gold-plated pool, indoor cinema and hair salon.
It’s nifty amenities like these that help drive up the costs of billionaire homes. The $124 million sticker price for steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal’s 12-bedroom spread in London’s posh Kensington neighborhood includes Turkish baths and garage space for 20 cars. (No circling the block for an empty spot on Sunday nights!)
Visitors to Bill Gates’ 66,000-square-foot compound in Medina, Wash., have the option of climbing 84 stairs to get to the ground floor–or riding the elevator. In addition to tennis courts and bowling alleys, Renco Group’s Ira Rennert’s 29-bedroom behemoth in the Hamptons on New York’s Long Island, reportedly worth $170 million, boasts its own power plant.
Of course, a handful of billionaires both live and work on their estates. Star Wars director George Lucas presides over Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, Calif. Skywalker Sound, a popular post-production outfit, is based on the 5,156-acre spread, which boasts its own fire brigade and draws the regular gaggle of tourists. (The ranch is not open to the public.)
Star sightings are the norm. In 2000, Tom Hanks taped sound effects for Cast Away there; last year Sean Penn paid a visit to tweak Into the Wild. Lucas lives in the estate’s main house, where he displays Hollywood memorabilia like Charlie Chaplin’s cane, a prop whip used by Rudolph Valentino and, of course, Indiana Jones’ Holy Grail.
Across the country, Donald Trump occupies the penthouse triplex of his Manhattan-based Trump Tower. The $50 million apartment, a monument to marble and gold, underwent recent renovations following the 2006 birth of Trump’s fifth child, this one by his third wife, Melania. Little Barron secured an entire floor for himself, with décor inspired by–who else?–Louis XIV. The Donald need only hop on the elevator to get to his offices, housed in the same skyscraper, making his perhaps the shortest commute of any billionaire.
And in this economy, when there’s little time to waste on the way to the office, every minute counts.
In Pictures: Homes of the Billionaires
It’s no surprise that the world’s billionaires live in bigger spreads than the rest of us. But those deep pockets also buy the kind of eye-popping extras that stretch the imagination. It takes a nine-digit fortune to buy a home outfitted with a gold-plated pool, Turkish baths and a 2,500-square-foot gym. You’ll find these and other amenities in our annual tour of the homes of the billionaires.
1. Warren Buffett
Net Worth: $37 billion
The world’s second-richest man still resides in the 6,000-square-foot, five-bedroom gray stucco home he bought in 1958 for $31,500. The 77-year-old keeps fit on his very own handball court. In 2007 an intruder armed with a fake gun tried to break into the modest, ungated property, but was thwarted by security.
Net Worth: $40 billion
Gates’ 66,000-square-foot compound is built into a hillside on the edge of Lake Washington, near Seattle. Out-of-shape visitors can skip the 84-step hike to the ground floor and opt for an elevator ride instead. Among its enviable amenities: a 60-foot swimming pool with an underwater music system, a 2,500-square-foot gym and a 1,000-square-foot dining room, which seats 24.
2. Lakshmi Mittal
Net Worth: $19.3 billion
In 2004, Mittal paid $128 million for this 12-bedroom townhouse in the luxe Kensington neighborhood called Billionaires’ Row. Mittal’s mansion, tucked between Kensington Palace and the Sultan of Brunei’s spread, has an indoor pool, Turkish baths and garage space for 20 cars. The super-home is embellished with marble taken from the same quarry that supplied the Taj Mahal.
Net Worth: $12.3 billion
Built in 1997, Dell’s 33,000-square-foot manse sits on a 20-acre spread a stone’s throw from where he founded his eponymous computer company. It is known locally as “the castle” thanks to its high walls and tight security
3. Steve Jobs
Net Worth: $3.4 billion
In 2007 preservationists in Woodside, Calif., successfully quashed the tech superstar’s plans to demolish the Jackling House, his 30-room historic, though dilapidated Spanish Colonial revival-style home set on six acres. Jobs had hoped to raze the 17,000-square-foot mansion and build smaller, newer digs. No matter. Word is he and his family haven’t lived in the house for years.
4. George Lucas
Marin County, Calif.
Net Worth: $3 billion
The acclaimed Star Wars filmmaker lives and works on his famed Skywalker Ranch. The 5,156-acre spread, which boasts its own fire brigade, houses Skywalker Sound, Lucas’ post-production company (Cast Away, Million Dollar Baby), as well as five acres of olive trees, a herd of longhorn cattle and even bee colonies. Lucas displays his Hollywood memorabilia–the Holy Grail from the Indiana Jones series, Charlie Chaplin’s cane–inside the 50,000-square-foot main house.
5. Oprah Winfrey
Net Worth: $2.7 billion
The self-made media mogul paid $50 million in 2001 for the 23,000-square-foot Georgian-style home she calls the “Promised Land.” In 2007 the spread was appraised at just under $85 million. For such a public persona, Winfrey ferociously guards the privacy of her home, situated on 43 acres. At a Barack Obama fund raiser last year, guests were strictly prohibited from entering the house, and cameras were forbidden.