An aerial view of the grounds of Villa Firenze in Beverly Hills, California.
When high-priced mega mansions for sale languish on the market — sprawling, flashy and unable to attract a buyer — some owners turn to a double-edged option: a real estate auction.
The auction block can move trophy properties with nosebleed-worthy price tags quickly, after years of idling. But it comes with a harsh reality.
An auction can act as a metaphorical real-estate guillotine, slicing inflated asking prices in half or worse, according to a CNBC review of recent sales.
The three highest-priced homes ever to sell at auction each came up for sale in the past 14 months. And while each transaction carried an eye-popping final bid, the three mansions saw their original asking prices slashed by 70% on average — leaving a combined $600 million on the table.
It’s an unfortunate fate that could plague a dermatologist-turned-developer and his home’s upcoming date with the auctioneer.
Dr. Alex Khadavi, a celebrity skin doctor in Los Angeles, was hoping for a quick sale and big payday when he finally completed a 21,000-square-foot mansion that took seven years and tens of millions of dollars to develop.
But a little over a year since he listed it for sale — with a price tag featuring a string of lucky 7s at $87,777,777 — the doctor’s dreams of cashing out are being crushed by a mountain of debt, unpaid contractor bills, bankruptcy court proceedings and trouble with the law.
Now he’s running low on luck, money and time.
Khadavi, who filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection about two weeks after putting the home on the market, hasn’t lost his sense of humor, though.
“The home is sandwiched between billionaires, and I’m the poorest guy on the block,” he told CNBC with a laugh.
Dr Khadavi seated on top of the DJ booth that rises from beneath the floor at his spec house in Bel Air.
Khadavi admitted he got in over his head developing the luxury residence, which includes seven bedrooms, 11 baths and over-the-top features such as a glass-encased industrial elevator, a giant car gallery, a stealth DJ booth that rises out of the marble floor powered by subterranean hydraulics, and a high-tech audio-visual system for projecting an NFT collection inside and outside the home.
“It kind of became a passion and obsession, and it cost more money than I thought,” Khadavi said.
Public records show Khadavi paid $16 million in 2013 for the lot at 777 Sarbonne Road, which included an existing home he later demolished. Then came a string of seven-figure financing deals, including a sizable loan in 2020 for $27 million.
Those nine years also brought a storm of financial trouble around the property including default notices, a government lien, the looming threat of trustee sales, and two mechanic’s liens filed by contractors who claimed they were never paid for their services.
On top of it all, last year Khadavi was arrested after he was allegedly caught on a surveillance camera in the lobby of his apartment building residence using homophobic slurs and threatening to kill his neighbors, who are a married gay couple. Khadavi pleaded not guilty and told CNBC he had no comment on the pending case.
Despite all his legal troubles, Khadavi managed to finish the home but said he never imagined he’d have to carry the cost for more than a year while waiting for a buyer who would never materialize. With few options left, he’s surrendered to the fact that his home’s value will soon be determined at auction.
“I can’t carry the cost. I had to do what I had to do,” he said.
A view of the driveway leading to the residence at 777 Sarbonne Road in Bel-Air, California.
Joe Bryant / Aaron Kirman Group
Hoping for a quick sale, Khadavi together with the home’s co-listing agents, Aaron Kirman of Compass and Mauricio Umansky of The Agency, decided to auction the house.
“He had a very tight timeline. And he was willing to give up a level of control … and let the market determine the price in a very tight, elevated moment,” Kirman told CNBC.
The sale will be handled by Concierge Auctions, the leading luxury home auctioneer, and includes a reserve set at $50 million, which means Khadavi won’t entertain offers below that number. The bidding is set to start on April 21, and the auction will unfold over five days — the standard duration for most of the company’s home sales.
A glass-and-marble bridge overlooks the living room and leads to the owner’s wing.
Marc & Tiffany Angeles / Aaron Kirman Group
“It’s a very short timeframe, which could either be good or bad,” said Kirman, who recently partnered with Concierge Auctions on the auction of 944 Airole Way, a mega-mansion that sold for a record $141 million.
Khadavi hopes that big sale will bode well for his upcoming auction. While he believes the view alone from 777 Sarbonne is worth his $87.78 million asking price, he admitted he’d be happy with millions less.
“My magic number is $77 million,” Khadavi told CNBC. (His favorite number is 7.)
“I’d like it to be that, it would be amazing.”
Skyline views from 777 Sarbonne’s infinity-edge pool.
Joe Bryant / Aaron Kirman Group
Laura Brady, founder and CEO of Concierge Auctions, told CNBC the majority of the company’s clients opt for an auction after unsuccessfully trying to sell on their own. But homes that sit on the market for an extended period of time with a sky-high ask aren’t likely to score that price at auction, either, she said.
“Those that have been on the market prior to auction, especially if they’ve been listed for a year or more, have a hard time exceeding their prior list prices at auction, as they’ve already been exposed at those prices,” Brady said.
If Khadavi’s home sells for $50 million or more, the modern mansion will command a spot among the priciest homes ever sold at auction.
Here’s a countdown of the top four most expensive sales ever achieved at auction, the massive price cuts they suffered at the auction block and a closer look at some of the key players in each of the mega-deals.
4. Le Palais Royal aka Playa Vista Isle
This 60,000-square-foot, Versaille-inspired mansion located in Hillsboro, Florida, first hit the market in 2015 with a $159 million record-breaking price tag. At the time it was the highest listing price ever for Broward Country, abutting Palm Beach to the north and Miami-Dade to the south.
The over-the-top home, called Le Palais Royal, was covered in 22k gold leaf accents inside and out and includes several waterfalls along with a 150,000-gallon, resort-size pool in the oceanfront backyard.
Gold-trim moldings in the master bedroom
The owner at the time was Robert Pereira II, an executive at Middlesex Corporation, a Massachusetts-based construction company founded by Pereira’s father. From 2015 to 2018, the home was on and off the market and underwent a name change from Le Palais Royal to Playa Vista Isle.
In 2018 Concierge Auctions brought the mansion to the auction block. Public records reveal the highest bid was placed by an LLC with reported ties to Teavana co-founder Andrew Mack.
The home, plus an undeveloped lot next door, sold for $42.5 million. At the time, the price was the highest ever achieved at auction — yet still $116.5 million short of Pereira’s original asking price, cementing a price cut of about 73%.
3. Villa Firenze
Villa Firenze in Los Angeles’ Beverly Park neighborhood reportedly took seven years to build and includes 20 bedrooms and 24 baths, according to the listing brokerage Hilton & Hyland.
The owner was Hungarian-born billionaire Steven Udvar-Hazy, who made his fortune in the airplane leasing industry and is currently the executive chair of Air Lease Corp.
By early 2021, he’d already been trying to sell the home for years.
Exterior view of Villa Firenze in Beverly Hills, California
The mansion first hit the market in 2017 for $165 million, which made it one of the most expensive homes for sale in America. But it sat on the market for four years with no takers, and it was unlisted and relisted several times before the price dropped just slightly to $160 million in 2020.
The $5 million discount didn’t convince any buyers to jump, and in early 2021 the residence at 67 Beverly Park Court went to auction with no reserve. Concierge Auctions ran that auction, too.
Public records show the deal closed in April 2021 for $51 million, including a 12% buyer’s fee and a 1.5% commission split by the brokers on the listing, according to the auction platforms website.
The home was purchased by the Roy L. Eddleman Trust. Eddleman is the founder and former chair of Spectrum Labs, which was acquired by pharmaceutical company Repligen for $359 million in 2017.
Eddleman’s winning bid for Villa Firenze represented a $114 million decrease from the billionaire seller’s original asking price — a bargain at 69% off.
2. The Hearst Estate aka The Godfather mansion
The Hearst Estate in Beverly Hills is one of the most storied homes to recently go to auction.
The eight-bedroom, 15-bathroom property was once owned by Randolph Hearst and made even more famous by films like “The Godfather” and “The Bodyguard” that featured the distinctive salmon-colored mansion.
Back in 2016, the home was listed for $195 million. Over the years, it came on and off the market and saw its price tag whittled down to $48 million.
In 2019 the LLC that owned the home was served with a notice of default on debt totaling more than $26 million. And in 2021 the estate’s owner, financier and litigator Leonard Ross, saw his home head to a courthouse auction.
Four listing brokers from three brokerage firms represented the listing, including John Gould of Rodeo Realty and Gary Gold with Hilton & Hyland. Both agents were present in the courtroom to witness the billionaire-bidding war that ensued.
According to Gould, five billionaires entered the courtroom and the judge started the bidding at $48 million.
“It was exciting,” he said. The judge looked around the room, fielding bids at $100,000 increments: “48-one, 48-two, 48-three… At about $54-55 million, the first ones started to say, ‘No, too rich for me.'”
With the excitement building, Hilton & Hyland’s Gold said, it starts to feel like the once-unattainable price tag could actually be in reach.
“You’ve got all these people absolutely putting their money up ready to make a purchase, sitting there with other people wanting to do the same thing,” Gold said.
“The difference is with these types of sales is there’s no contingencies, the gavel goes down and you are buying that house,” he said.
The top bid, plus the 12% auction fee, brought the final sale price to $63.1 million and transferred the home to Berggruen Holdings, the investment vehicle of billionaire Nicolas Berggruen’s Charitable Trust.
Each of the listing agents split a reduced commission on the deal, approved by the judge.
In October 2021 when the deal closed, the Hearst Estate edged out both Playa Vista Isle and Villa Firenze to become the most-expensive home to ever sell at auction, but the price was still about $131.9 million lower than the 2016 asking price, a 68% cut.
Neither Gould nor Gold were involved with the home when it first listed on the market, but both men said the disparity between an asking price and an actual sale price, whether at auction or in a traditional sale, often says more about a seller’s unrealistic expectations than it does about market conditions.
“Anyone could ask anything they want for a property, as far as I’m concerned,” Gold said. “When they were originally asking $195 [million]… That was just some sellers, you know, pipe dream.”
Rodeo Realty’s Gould said he sees a lot of “ego-pricing,” where an owner asks a broker to list the home with a giant price tag, based more on the homeowner’s pride than on market-based valuation.
In reality, he said, the homes “may not be worth anything near that.”
1. ‘The One’
The megamansion is sometimes referred to as “the space station” because of its massive size and unusual shape.
The infamous mega-mansion called The One sits high atop Bel Air and spans 100,000-plus square feet with 21 bedrooms, 42 baths, a 30-car garage, 60-foot indoor pool and massive night club.
The behemoth was originally publicized by developer Nile Niami with a $500 million price tag.
Developer Nile Niami (left) walks with CNBC’s Robert Frank (right) during a 2017 interview at “The One” while the megahome was under construction.
It took ten years to build the residence located at 944 Airole Way, and along the way the developer racked up a mountain of debt topping $120 million, according to court filings.
The mega-mansion wasn’t even completed before it landed in bankruptcy court proceedings and headed to the auction block with no certificate of occupancy and a new asking price of $295 million.
The auction, also handled by Concierge Auctions, didn’t carry a reserve that would prop up a low-end threshold for bids. But in this case, the winning bid would require the final approval of a bankruptcy court judge, an unusual scenario. Only 5% of Concierge Auction’s sales involve distressed properties, according to CEO Brady.
The One mega-mansion brought in a top bid of $126 million, delivered by Richard Saghian, the CEO of fast-fashion retailer Fashion Nova. Saghian paid the auctioneer’s standard buyer’s premium of 12%, or about $15 million, bringing the total sale price to $141 million — far and away the most paid for a single-family home at auction.
The formal dining room includes seating for 20 and an over-sized glass wine cellar for displaying large-format bottles.
Weeks after a bankruptcy court judge approved the sale, Saghian seemed more than content with the deal.
“As a lifelong Angeleno and avid collector of real estate, I recognized this as a rare opportunity that also lets me own a unique property that is destined to be a part of Los Angeles history,” Saghian told CNBC through a spokesperson.
He paid just $1,342 per square foot in a neighborhood where high-end homes can command three to four times that number. But experts say Saghian will likely need to spend many millions more to actually finish the home and obtain a certificate of occupancy.
The mansion’s foyer includes 25-foot ceilings, a large serpent-like sculpture and panoramic views of downtown LA.
“We did everything that was humanly possible to get the highest number,” said Compass agent Kirman, who served as a court-approved listing agent, along with Williams & Williams.
Kirman was openly disappointed with the auction outcome.
The broker, who split a judge-approved 1% commission on the transaction, told CNBC he hoped the sale would top $177 million, a record price set in October for a much smaller mansion in Malibu.
“I wanted to break a record. I mean, I wanted to hit, you know, $200 [million] or more,” Kirman said. “We were disappointed in it… but the market spoke.”
The megahome’s view of Los Angeles at dusk.
Even after the auction fees, the fast-fashion mogul managed to hack $359 million, or almost 72%, off the original price tag of 10 years prior.
“It’s ludicrous,” said Kirman of the 9-figure disparity. “If you look at the high end of luxury real estate, more often than not, when you’re talking about a mega-mansion, they have sold for pretty much half the price.”
Correction: A mega-mansion at 777 Sarbonne Road will go up for auction starting on April 21, 2022. An earlier version of this story misstated the date.