Guy Bradshaw, managing director at Sotheby’s UK, picked up his phone. It was about a super prime London home he was due to put on the market, valued at more than £40 million. But it wasn’t his client — a “young, spiritual billionaire” — on the end of the line. It was her consultant astrologer. Mercury was in retrograde, and the house sale would have to wait.
“Her consultant advised her to pause before entering into any arrangements or purchases of high value until Mercury has passed through the retrograde period to avoid potential hiccups and problems,” says Bradshaw, who put discussions on hold until January 18. “It did come as a surprise — but I guess in today’s world, maybe it shouldn’t.”
The luxury homes of the super-rich and the very specific requirements of their owners have long held a fascination for those of us eager to see how the other half live. Remember Bill Gates’ trampoline room? Celine Dion’s $20 million waterpark? Or Cara Delevingne’s vagina tunnel in her living room? Imagine being their estate agents.
“There must be so many different stories from agents — there are plenty of things that go on in our industry,” says Bradshaw. Intriguing. Bradshaw himself is no stranger to the idiosyncratic request.
A client would not proceed on a house until a wizard practitioner had checked that it was spiritually sound
There was, for example, the client who commissioned a survey of the air conditioning system on a property to be completely sure that it could not be used to poison him while he slept. Or the client who would not proceed on a house in Belgravia until a wizard practitioner had checked that it was spiritually sound.
“This gentleman turned up, quite frankly dressed as a wizard,” says Bradshaw. “I genuinely didn’t know what to do, so I hovered outside and let him do his thing. He had this very, very long cane and was going round with it saying strange phrases, tapping the walls and floors and calling out the spirits.”
They received the wizard practitioner’s report a couple of weeks later, which highlighted some problems with the top room of the house where furniture was being stored. It had “significant links to death and Africa” in it. When Bradshaw spoke to the client selling the house, it transpired that they had been storing ornaments, wooden carvings, spears and shields bought on a trip to South Africa in the room. Maybe there was something in it after all.
“I remember it vividly. The transaction went through, but I have never seen a wizard since then,” says Bradshaw.
“We’ve had all sorts,” says Marc Schneiderman of Arlington Residential. “A tennis court as close to central London as possible. There is a house with a tennis court in St John’s Wood. But as you start going closer to town, houses with tennis courts can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand, not including the thumb.”
Schneiderman has had requests for full leisure complexes, underground garages to house car collections, music studios, artist studios — even properties with nightclubs in them. Do those come easy? “In my many decades as an agent, I’ve probably only seen three or four houses with dedicated nightclub areas. Actually, the buyer did find somewhere, but they created the space themselves.”
For Schneiderman, finding a property with specific requirements is a challenge to sink his teeth into. One that draws on his years of expertise. Except, that is, when a buyer turns down a property he’s spent years searching for.
Recently, he presented a house —Georgian, with a studio and facing a particular direction — in north-west London to his client after more than two years of looking. She viewed the property, made enquiries and realised it had previously been owned by her ex-husband. It was an instant no.
“It was quite a frustrating situation because the buyer in question was looking for something very, very specific. There were very few houses that were ever going to work for her — it wasn’t a question of affordability, it was a question of availability,” explains Schneiderman. “The house that we presented to her ticked all the boxes on paper. It was the house that she’d been waiting for.” He is still searching for the right property, but he’s added a new condition to the list: no ties to an ex.
For Trevor Abrahmsohn, who buys and sells properties to some of the world’s wealthiest people at Glentree International, no request is too absurd — and nor is the means of obliging it. Abrahmsohn once settled a £12 million negotiation between a developer and a vendor by flipping a coin, so that the developer wouldn’t miss his private jet. The buyer won and paid £500,000 less. “They couldn’t believe I was doing it…but it brought it to a conclusion in four minutes.”
Abrahmsohn has been asked for — and located — a house in north-west London with sufficient space to land a helicopter in the garden for one client (“that was one of his prerequisites”); a property with a 10-foot-wide porch to accommodate a Tardis for another (“he didn’t want people to know who or where he was”) and a house with an underground, nuclear-proof air raid shelter (“he was very particular”).
One client, a royal from Asia, bought an entire 10,000 square foot house to turn into a badminton court. “It looks like a normal house from the outside. Inside is a badminton court with a 40 foot-high ceiling,” says Abrahmsohn. Did they play professionally? “They liked to play badminton, but I don’t even think they were good at it, actually. They had a limitless budget — a price beyond avarice.”
That was a one-off. But panic rooms, says Abrahmsohn, are rising in popularity amongst the rich and famous. “People love the panic rooms which are bolted and have a secure telephone line.”
And — whether it’s a helipad, badminton court or panic room — wealthy buyers are not willing to compromise on these features. “If you can’t provide one, they don’t want the property.”
Not all requests are about acquisition. Not all requests are ridiculous, either. The demands of the super-rich are changing, with Vastu Shastra and Feng Shui, the ancient Indian and Chinese arts of creating a positive home, playing an increasingly important role.
Abrahmsohn once conducted a multi-million-pound deal in which the offer had to be divisible by nine, down to the penny, while Sri Lankan fraudster Emil Savundra was once so taken by a house on Bishop’s Avenue with an elephant — a symbol of positivity and prosperity for Vastu — on the gate that he offered the owner so much money that they eventually sold it to him. Alterations to the layout of a housebased on its Feng Shui elements are now commonplace.
“In the core markets and buying markets, investors will absolutely look out for the Feng Shui elements. That is quite common,” says Bradshaw. In fact, Sotheby’s China team now has a trained Feng Shui master, who can give reports on buildings and advise on what needs to be done to improve the flow of energy inside. Some developers will even remove certain numbers from front doors, such as unlucky four, in order to prevent any issues.
“You have to have a cultural appreciation,” says Bradshaw. “We live in a multicultural society, and you have to embrace it. That’s why cities evolve; how people learn — how business evolves. It’s important.”
“Buying a home is a very emotive purchase for pretty much everybody,” Schneiderman adds. “It’s got to be right.”
And that’s the thing. A property is the biggest purchase of our lives, even for the rich and famous. Buyers of any budget are allowed to be particular. It’s just that some can afford to take that to new extremes.
My question is: is any request too much?
For Abrahmsohn, the answer is simple. “Nothing stops us… We go to the most ludicrous extents to do deals. We’re procurers. Whatever is required, we’ll get it.”
There you go. You can ask for anything — if you can pay for it.