What makes a home varies wildly around the world. From a small apartment in the heart of Dubai, to a hut in the steppes of Mongolia, to two-story prefab on a quarter-acre lot in Phoenix, houses come in many shapes and sizes. On occasion, they also come in monster size.
In 2012, the average cost of an American home was $178,600, and that includes everything from spanking-new "McMansions" to run-down ranches [source: National Association of Realtors]. There are those in the world, however, who pour entire fortunes into their homes. While even homes on the market for a few million dollars are out of grasp for most of us, there are some people who've exceeded even that expense, spending what amounts to the gross domestic product of some countries on their homes.
While every person's home is his or her castle, sometimes we still can't help but gawk at someone else's really large, really expensive house. It's in this spirit that we get to the bottom of just who has the most expensive home in the world? We settle the issue here, taking a glimpse at the top ten.
Nicknamed the "billionaire building," the ultra-luxury One57 tower, located at 157 West 57th St. in New York City recorded the most expensive purchase price the state's history in 2012: more than $90 million. The buyer of the 10,923-square-foot (1,012-square-meter) penthouse, which occupies both the 89th and 90th floors of the Midtown highrise, remains shrouded in secrecy [source: Barrionuevo]. The New York Post leaked that it was Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabar al-Thani, the prime minister of Qatar, but One57 spokespeople denied the rumor [source: Brennan]. Whoever bought the penthouse is getting quite a bargain, since it was originally listed at $115 million.
Even though the One57 tower is still under construction, more than half of its 92 apartments are spoken for [source: Barrionuevo]. The building will also be the home of the new Park Hyatt flagship hotel, and residents will benefit from the luxury hotel's renowned service. The penthouse features 23-foot (7-meter) ceilings and glass curtain walls offering a panoramic view of Central Park below. Its sales price of roughly $8,000 per square foot was actually cheaper than the $13,000 per square foot Manhattan apartment bought by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, but that penthouse went for a paltry $88 million total [source: Brennan].
The next most expensive home belongs to a famously outspoken New Yorker with luxury properties around the world.
Believe it or not, the famous business tycoon known as "The Donald" ranks a lowly second on this list. But Trump's beachfront property has skyrocketed in value over the years. He purchased the estate in 2004 from a bankruptcy court for $41.35 million. Maison de l'Amitie is the former home of Abe Gosman, an executive in the health care industry.
Trump put the house on the market in 2006 for $125 million, but took a hit when the market collapsed. It sold in 2008 to Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev for a "measly" $95 million [source: Chung].
The 80,000 square feet (7,432 square meters) of Maison de l'Amitie feature a ballroom and a conservatory, 15 full bathrooms and eight half-baths [source: Businessweek]. Not to mention the 18 bedrooms spread throughout the main house, guest cottages and tennis court. If the ocean is too salty for your taste, you can even take a dip in the 100-foot-long (30.4-meter) swimming pool.
If you've seen "The Godfather," you're already familiar with the next house.
The Hearst Mansion in Beverly Hills was the setting for the infamous scene in "The Godfather" in which a disloyal Hollywood movie producer wakes to find the severed head of his prize horse in bed with him. The mansion, formerly owned by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, is shaped like the letter H and features three pools as well as its own disco and movie theater. President John F. Kennedy stayed at the mansion during his honeymoon [source: Associated Press].
The Hearst Mansion shouldn't be confused with Hearst Castle on Sunset Boulevard, located a little farther north along the coast. The castle contains 58 bedrooms, while the mansion has a mere 29. However, the castle is an established museum, no longer a private home and not for sale.
In 1947, Hearst bought the 1920s mansion and its 6-acre (2.4-hectare) estate for $120,000 [source: Associated Press]. In 2007, the estate's current owner, attorney-investor Leonard M. Ross, put the home up for sale for $165 million. He took it off the market in 2008 when no one showed up with the trainload of cash needed to buy it [source: Forbes]. In 2010, Ross announced a drastically discounted listing price of $95 million, amid a bankruptcy filing, but as of December 2012, it was still available [source: Beale]
The next most expensive house was purchased by a billionaire who invested $200 million in Facebook.
The exclusive Los Altos Hills neighborhood in Northern California is one of Silicon Valley's wealthiest zip codes. The median home listing price in December 2012 was $3.8 million. But that's pocket change compared with the $100 million that Russian billionaire Yuri Milner paid for his 25,000-square-foot (2,322-square-meter) French-style chateau in 2011 [source: Associated Press]. For the record, that's a record. Before Milner, no one had ever paid $100 million for a single-family home in the United States. Which raises the question: How can a house with 14 bathrooms be considered a single-family home?
Milner, who is an investor in tech firms like Facebook, Groupon and Zynga, bought the mansion, known as the Palo Alto Loire Chateau, for $50 million in cash. The other $50 million was financed through a personal loan from the sellers [source: Chung]. The home is opulent by any standard; it's modeled after an 18th-century French chateau and features indoor and outdoor pools, a ballroom, a 4,600-square-foot (427-square-meter) guest house, two three-car garages and a private car wash. But even with all of those ritzy amenities, real estate experts believe that Milner wildly overpaid. The county tax assessor claims the house is only worth $50.27 million, half of what Milner forked over [source: Brennan]. That's the kind of mistake only a billionaire can afford.
Well-heeled Francophiles will salivate at the next entry in the $100 million club.
Arguably the most expensive home in the United States, the Fleur de Lys in the exclusive Holmby Hills enclave of Los Angeles has been on the market since 2007. The price tag? An unapologetic $125 million.
The 15-bedroom, 45,000-square-foot (3,809-square-meter) mansion -- which was inspired by the 17th-century French chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte (itself an inspiration for Louis XIV's Versailles) -- was built by Texas billionaires David and Suzanne Saperstein, but ended up in Suzanne's hands after a nasty divorce involving his affair with a Swedish nanny [source: W Magazine].
Among its authentic Francophile flourishes, the home's exterior walls are covered with imported, handpicked French limestone. The interior is bedecked with 24-karat gold trim and museum-quality furniture, including Napoleon's favorite chair and Marie Antoinette's personal fire screen [source: HGTV]. If you get bored ogling the interior, you can always watch a Jean-Luc Godard flick in the 50-seat screening room [source: Forbes].
The next home isn't just opulent -- it's got a pretty spooky history.
Thanks to Vlad Tepes (better known as Vlad the Impaler, or Count Dracula), Bran Castle -- built on 20 acres of a mountaintop in Brasov, Romania -- became a museum in the 1980s. Legend has it the cruel count spent all of one night there. In 2007, the castle's current owner, Archduke Dominic Habsburg, offered to sell the macabre museum to the Romanian government for $80 million, but the offer was rejected. Soon after, he announced that he would sell the castle in 2009 for an undisclosed price, although real estate experts projected a ballpark figure of $135 million [source: Associated Press]. So far, no takers.
The castle was built in the late 14th century as a fortress to ward off invading Turks [source: Bran Castle Museum]. The Habsburgs, Romania's royal family, moved in in the 1920s. The castle boasts 57 rooms, including 17 bedrooms, decorated with handcrafted Old World antiques and furniture [source: Wright]. Even if you don't have the $135 million to buy Dracula's former haunt, you can visit Bran Castle for only 25 Romanian lei (about U.S. $8) [source: Bran Castle Museum]. A photo fee is included, so don't forget your novelty vampire teeth.
The 19th century villa on the next page has come a long way from its former status as a girl's prep school.
Elena Franchuk, a businesswoman and AIDS philanthropist from Ukraine, is reported to be the undisclosed buyer of a newly upgraded home in southwest London for 80 million pounds (approximately U.S. $129 million). The home is a freestanding, five-story, 10-bedroom Victorian villa, and underwent 10 million pounds' (approximately U.S. $16 million) worth of upgrades, including the additions of an underground indoor swimming pool, movie theater, panic room, sauna and gym [source: Daily Mail].
The home served as a girl's prep school until 1997. In 2006, developers purchased the property for 20 million pounds (U.S. $33 million). They put in the upgrades and reputedly sold it to Franchuk. The selling price broke the former English record for home sales of 67 million pounds (approximately $108 million) [source: Evening Standard].
Why are the British Special Forces already planning to stand guard over the next house? You'll learn on the next page.
In 2011, Ukranian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov bought the two top floors of one of the towers in One Hyde Park, London, for 140 million pounds or U.S. $214 million [source: Hawkes]. This was the highest price ever paid for a residence in the U.K. The 17,000–square-foot (1,670-square-meter) penthouse apartments overlook London's largest park and contain every luxury imaginable, from private gyms to his-and-her studies, and are reserved for the wealthiest of the wealthy [source: Barrionuevo]. There are just 86 units in this ultra-exclusive London real estate development. The "smaller" units in the development went on sale in 2007 for $20 million apiece. Despite shelling out all that cash, the apartments are apparently not luxurious enough. Akhmetov's spokesman confirmed that he would spend an additional $90 million on renovations [source: Barrionuevo].
But you don't just get a fancy address when you buy into One Hyde Park. Residents are protected by watchmen from the British SAS (Special Forces) and security features such as bullet-proof windows and iris scanners are the norm [source: The Telegraph]. The building itself has emergency exits leading to an underground tunnel to the nearby Mandarin Oriental Hotel, but the penthouse's residents could simply run to their panic rooms if something happens. During less stressful times, One Hyde Park dwellers can bathe in communal spas, play on the squash courts or drink wine in tasting rooms [source: Teather]. If you don't feel like cooking, the penthouses include 24-hour room service form the Mandarin Oriental Hotel [source: Moore].
London has one of the hottest housing markets in the world, including the Hyde Park mansion that comes in at number two on our list.
In September 2012, British news outlets publicized the private sale of a London mansion that, if bought for its 300 million pound ($484.51 million) asking price, would become the most expensive real estate transaction in the history of England [source: Hammond]. The 60,000-square-foot (18,288-square-meter) property, which overlooks London's Hyde Park, was built by former Lebanese prime minister and self-made billionaire Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in a Beirut bomb attack in 2005. Born the son of a humble Lebanese vegetable vendor, Hariri made his fortune in Saudi Arabia, where he developed ambitious real estate projects for the Saudi royal family [source: Sachs].
The seven-story home has 45 bedrooms, and though it appears conservative and stately from the outside, inside reports claim the mansion contains millions of dollars of gold leaf, an industrial-sized kitchen, swimming pool and bullet-proof windows [source: Hammond]. Hariri built the mansion as four separate family houses, but it's being sold as a single-family home, the largest such home in London next to Buckingham Palace [source: Pollock]. The London market for extravagant real estate has boomed in recent years, with prices in the top 5 percent of the market jumping 49 percent since 2009 [source: Hammond]. The 300 million pound asking price makes the Hyde Park mansion 815 times more expensive than the average London home, but that is likely to make the home even more desirable to the foreign billionaires who are seeking these trophy properties [source: Pollock].
Does it get any more luxurious than this? Yes. Learn who owns the most expensive house in the world -- and what that house includes -- on the next page.
The record for most expensive house in the world was set in 2010, when Indian multibillionaire Mukesh Ambani and his family finished their $1 billion, 400,000 square foot (37,161 square meter) Mumbai home: Antilia. And at that price, it will likely hold the record for years. Named after a mythical Atlantic island, Antilia needs a staff of 600 to keep it humming. The building is 570 feet tall (174 meters), and made mostly of glass. Forget going to the gym -- the 27-story tower has its own health spa, yoga studio and swimming pool [source: Hanrahan]. And the Ambanis' friends can drop by in droves because the six-floor garage holds 168 cars. (Should any auto troubles develop, the in-house mechanics will take care of them). The ultra-modern high-rise also features a 50-seat movie theater, three helipads, dozens of balconies, and its own Hindu temple [source: Reginato].
Mukesh Ambani is worth an estimated $22.3 billion, making him the 19th richest man in the world and the richest in India [source: Reginato]. That might explain why his new home has more floor space than Louis XIV's palace at Versailles. And because most floors are double the average height, Antilia is technically 40 stories tall. The towering house isn't too disconnected from nature; each level has lush gardens. It seems a refuge fit for a shy man referred to as "a modern-day Howard Hughes" [source: Portfolio]. But some have criticized him for building such an opulent palace in a place as poor as Mumbai.
For more information on homes and other related topics, visit the next page.
London's Platform 9 ¾ may not get you to Hogwarts, but it's still fun to take your picture there. HowStuffWorks takes you there.
Author's Note: Top 10 Most Expensive Houses in the World
I have a confession to make; I am square-foot challenged. If you quote a square footage figure to me, I have literally no reference point. You say the apartment is 25,000 square feet? Wow, that's big, right? But is it big like a basketball court or big like a football stadium? I am that impaired. If you're searching for a root cause, I'd say it's my poor to very poor multiplication and division skills and generally lousy ability to estimate any distance or quantity. I'm the same guy who stares at the water cooler bottle filled with jellybeans at the "Guess How Many?" booth and says, "I don't know ... 100?" My inability to wrap my head around any number larger than 100 might explain why I have such a small house. I'd tell you the square footage, but I have no idea.
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