The housing market took a rough hit in 2008, as the mortgage industry was both the epicenter of the financial crisis and the slowest to recover. In the years since, however, the housing industry has won hard-earned gains. One litmus test that may well indicate just how close to recovered the real estate industry is, is the sale of the “Palais Royale,” possibly America’s most expensive single-family home. The story of the palatial estate itself is a microcosm and reflection of the recession as a whole.
In 2012, the film “Queen of Versailles” debuted to rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival. The documentary follows a family headed by the wealthy owner of a timeshare company. In 2007, as the film begins, the family is riding a wave of success and building a nearly 200,000-square-foot home. The humble abode of their dreams is modeled after the Palace of Versailles, home of the French monarchy. In the best tradition of nouveau riche opulence, every surface and material used in the structure is imported from some exotic locale. The estate is designed with a 30-car garage, an 8,000-square-foot swimming pool, a 1,300-gallon aquarium, and an 18-seat home IMAX theater. As the great recession hits, however, the family’s fortune begins to evaporate. They are forced to abandon construction and reign in their feverish spending. The movie ends without any resolution to the financial woes.
After the film was released, economic recovery arrived just soon enough for the original owners to keep the property. They finished the Palais Royale so that they were able to put it on the market in early 2014. With an asking price of $139 million, the estate was instantly vaulted into the ranks of the most expensive homes for sale in the country. Unfortunately, the place failed to move and has remained off the market and uninhabited. Nobody, it seemed, had any need for a garish, 17-bedroom faux beaux-arts style dwelling in Orange County, FL.
In late November of 2015, the house went back on the market, for $20 million more than the original asking price. The home was appraised at an undisclosed sum well above $100 million, and the owners clearly believe that fortunes have improved enough over the two-year span to warrant the increased asking price. At $159 million, it tops the list of expensive homes for sale in the United States. If it sells for the asking price, or even close to it, the Palais Royale will likely become the most expensive single-family home in the United States. The current record-holder is the $147 million mansion in East Hampton, recently purchased by hedge fund manager Barry Rosenstein. There are, of course, homes for sale in Europe-actual palaces-that are worth far more, some that have even sold for close to $500 million. Still, the purchase of such an opulent estate would be a strong signal that American real estate is regaining, and possibly surpassing, its value prior to the crash.