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Wednesday, April 26, 2006 - Page updated at 08:25 AM

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$5.3 million down, a $301,000 monthly mortgage — and it's yours

Seattle Times staff reporter

Naturally, it's got a view. You'd expect that from a $9 million house.

It's also got a dining area that could host a benefit auction, with tall ceilings and an adjoining Italian-style terrace overlooking Puget Sound. "You can seat 100 people in here," says Windermere Real Estate agent Lisa Strain.

Advertising executive Ron Elgin and wife Bonnie are downsizing, and it's time to sell. If rising home prices lift all mansions, that's good news for them — and a lot of people, apparently: Last month, CNBC reported that the U.S. Census Bureau estimates more than a million homes nationwide are worth $1 million or more.

In addition, the Elgins' four-bedroom, five-bathroom Magnolia waterfront estate — priced at $8.9 million — is one of nine Puget Sound-area properties listed in the second annual edition of Ultimate Homes, a glossy, 170-page, Princeton, N.J.-based publication compiling the 1,000 most expensive listings nationwide.

Leading the way in your local listings? A $53 million Medina waterfront estate built by the late medical-eyewear magnate Peter LaHaye. The 30,000-square-foot, six-bedroom manse has been on the market since the late 1990s, when it was listed at half that much. It's even got its own, registration-required Web site: www.medinawaterfrontestate.com. Don't even think about moving here if you can't lay down a 10 percent down payment and a $301,000 monthly mortgage.

No, these aren't your daddy's megamansions. These fortresses of the fabulously wealthy go for an average $14.5 million, and some could pass for vacation resorts, corporate offices or Russian train stations. "At this level, it's not about shelter anymore," publisher Rick Goodwin says. "It's about creating a property that reflects their success and their personality."

In other words, you haven't made it until you've got the means to have centuries-old, two-ton fireplaces disassembled in Europe and shipped to your estate to be reassembled by master stonemasons. Forget granite countertops — those are so passť. Today's tycoon must have Jerusalem limestone.

The costs of living large


So you want to be a billionaire? Well, then. You've got to have a crib deserving of your dough. But what's it going to cost you? We took a stab at figuring out one of the properties:

Property: $53 million waterfront estate in Medina (pictured on A1).

Details: Six bedrooms, six bathrooms, 30,000 square feet.

Down payment: 10 percent ($5.3 million).

Monthly mortgage: About $301,000, with 30-year loan at 6.5 percent.

Property taxes: According to Zillow.com, $289,500 in 2004.

Housekeeping: One Bellevue house-cleaning service typically charges $200 every two weeks, for a 4,000-square-foot, five-bedroom, three-bathroom house. "Something [this] size would definitely have a live-in staff," one representative says. For example, a $40 million home also on the market has a staff of seven.

Utilities: The typical 5,000-square-foot house on Puget Sound Energy's system runs up about $2,000 a year in energy bills, says Mary Smith , manager of residential energy efficiency. "These houses are easily going to use up to 10 times as much," she says, depending on amenities such as swimming pools, home theater systems and high ceilings. There might even be separate meters for adjoining staff quarters or boat docks. "We're talking about sort of an average income per month," she says.

Source: LivingChoices.com, Zillow.com, Puget Sound Energy

Marc Ramirez

As Goodwin puts it: "Billionaires are looking to separate themselves from mere millionaires."

The listing that trumps all is, fittingly, a 75,000-square-foot Palm Beach property that Donald Trump picked up for $41 million at a bankruptcy auction. After a little remodeling — Trump added 12 bedrooms to the original three — the so-called "House of Friendship" now lists for $125 million.

Lots of 'em

Back in the day, a million-dollar home might have been all that, but the Census Bureau's 2004 American Community Survey says there are 14,000 of those in the Seattle area alone.

So if you really want to impress, you need a house with a USGA-rated, 18-hole golf course and 14 gardens and fish-filled ponds — the $75 million Bridgehampton, Mass., estate that's No. 2 on the list. No. 3 is a $70 million Manhattan penthouse atop the Pierre Hotel whose $45,000 monthly maintenance fee includes full use of hotel facilities. Its 3,200-square-foot living room overlooking Central Park, the literature says, "could be considered one of the most spectacular rooms in the world."

Along with the $53 million Medina home (No. 11) and the Elgins' Magnolia estate, the magazine's Seattle-area listings include two Mercer Island properties (a $40 million "mansion of fairy tales" and a $29.5 million home with tennis court and helipad); a Bainbridge Island manse ($8.2 million); and an $18.5 million "country estate" in North Bend, since repriced for a more pocketbook-friendly $13.875 million. (One other property, an $8.95 million, six-bedroom house in Woodway, would have made the rankings but just came back on the market.)

Getting into these homes requires not just a hefty bank account but an ability to translate Realtorese. These homes aren't just nice — they're "unparalleled," "resplendent," "truly incomparable" or "worthy of the highest distinction," with views that are alternately "sweeping," "unending," "panoramic" or "uncompromising."

Says one agent of his $65 million Beverly Hills listing: "A residential property's ability to flaunt such an impressive apportionment has simply not happened in recent memory."

All righty, then!

Just try imagining you and your breakfast-nook self traipsing around in homes with architectural features you can't even conceive owning — because you have no idea what they are. OK, au pair suites are one thing, but would you know what to do with architraves, a lath house or a porte-cochere?

In case you're curious, they're 1) the molded frames around doors or windows; 2) an open-sided structure giving shade to young plants; and 3) a carriage entrance or driveway shelter that covers you as you get in or out of your car.

No, just give us a home big enough for buffalo to roam, where the views are unrivaled all day. The estate with the 10 acres of Syrah-producing grapes sounds just fine. On the other hand, you couldn't go wrong with others featuring built-in wood-fire pizza ovens, fully automated home theaters with velvet stage curtains, Jet Ski docking stations or a 2,200-bottle wine cellar, either.

"It's got everything"

Back in Magnolia, the Elgins' 7,320-square-foot house has a fireplace big enough to walk into ("It's like the Rainier Club," Windermere's Strain marvels), laundry facilities throughout and a modest second floor that feels cozier than the first. There's the main bedroom, with its pop-up TV and water vistas; a fitness room; an office with kitchenette.

"It's got everything," Strain says. "You don't even need to go downstairs."

The house, designed by Michael Gibson of The Architecture Group, was built in 1995. The couple wanted a home that could accommodate not only frequent charity functions but visiting kids and grandkids.

Unlike other mega-mansions that demand to be noticed, this home is discreetly built on a low grade. Visitors must descend 38 steps to reach imposing front doors with knobs as big as a toddler's head.

The number of agents marketing homes at this level of the stratosphere is tiny, and they're always in touch with each other. In other words, don't try to fool your way into one of these ultra-luxury bad boys. Open houses? Forget it. No one gets in but high-end brokers and their clients.

And imagine: There you are, whistling through a house you'll never have, ogling those 14-foot-high ceilings — when you suddenly knock over a glass art piece that looks like a jellyfish. How are you going to pay for that, goofball? With your life, that's how.

The last thing agents want is a gaggle of looky-loos. Besides, having limited showings maintains the mystique.

"Who's been in a $9 million house?" Strain says. "Not many people. There's a high curiosity factor."

It also saves time. Trophy-level properties take forever to prepare for a showing. Sometimes there's cleaning to do. Today, it took Strain 15 minutes just to turn all the lights on — the hazards of the job of marketing properties that don't exactly sell overnight.

"You want the sex appeal, the sizzle," she says. Fancy Web sites with flattering photos are becoming the norm, and this home's site capitalizes on its Italian influences and amazing sunset vista. "It's all about wanting to be in a little Tuscan villa," she says. "It's the romance of living on the water and having your family and your 200 closest friends over."

Marc Ramirez: 206-464-8102 or mramirez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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