Aging Playboy Mansion Asks $200M, Including Hefner; Some Call It a ‘Teardown’

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The famed Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles’ Holmby Hills is for sale: all 5 acres, 29 rooms, the storied grotto, a zoo license, and Hef himself.

The former playboy who founded Playboy almost 63 years ago comes as a package deal with the mansion: As part of a “life estate,” any buyer would have to rent the home to Hugh Hefner until he dies. Hefner, who turns 90 in April, rents it from mansion owner Playboy Enterprises.

The property is being listed at $200 million, which makes it the most expensive home on the market. A sale at anywhere near that price would make it the most expensive known home sale in U.S. history. (The record is thought to be Connecticut’s Copper Beech Farm, which sold in 2014 at a reported $120 million.)

We asked a few local luxury real estate agents – unaffiliated with the property listing, which is held by Drew Fenton and Gary Gold of Hilton & Hyland as well as Mauricio Umansky of The Agency – what they thought of the price and the property.

Catherine Marcus of Sotheby’s International Realty didn’t flinch a bit. She’s one of the agents who brokered the deal for America’s first $100 million house, billionaire Yuri Milner’s Silicon Valley purchase.

“I think it’s absolutely worth it — that land and that location alone is phenomenal.” She said the buyer will be a guy who says, “I want to live in this trophy property” (and yes, she definitely thinks it’ll be a man; “I can’t imagine a woman buying it”).

“Think about it! Right? You know: the mentality of ‘I want all the toys.’ … The guy who gets it, gets to be that guy.”

We asked her about TMZ’s report that local agents say it’s a teardown.

“I think it IS a teardown, but nobody is going to tear it down.

“I think it’s going to be the tackiest house ever” – but it’s a trophy. Maybe the buyer will build elsewhere on the property, since it’s plenty big enough at 5 acres. “That’ll be their party house and they’ll have their real home.”

“I guarantee you the place is in a state of disrepair,” she said, but “that’s what makes it so great, that it hasn’t been touched in that whole time.” In fact, “if anyone remodels it, it won’t be worth as much.”

In that case, is this what passes for history in Los Angeles?

“Of course!” she said. “Anything over 30 years old we knock down.” But this house is “part of Americana, when you think about it. … Every one of these tour buses, they drive by the Playboy Mansion.”

Josh Flagg, star of Bravo TV’s “Million Dollar Listing,” said the mansion is “one of the trophy properties of California” and “one of the top five great estates of Los Angeles,” so he thinks it’s conceivable that the home could attain the asking price. But he’s skeptical.

“Last year I had an adjoining 10 acres – the largest residential property in Holmby Hills – listed at $150 million,” and it’s still available, he said.

For the Playboy Mansion, “I could see someone paying possibly $100 million because of the cachet along with the value of the land. With the price of $200 million they will still receive offers and likely go with the best terms for the seller.”

He has visited the mansion and says that while “it’s a very dated home, the bones are incredible.”

“Anyone who says it’s a teardown is crazy,” Flagg said. Of course someone might tear it down, and “it definitely needs some remodeling and some cleaning up,” but “it’s not a teardown by any means.”

Ben Bacal of Rodeo Realty, on the other hand, thinks $200 million is wildly optimistic. He too has been to the mansion himself. “It’s pretty old and grimy,” he told Yahoo Real Estate. “It’s dated. It doesn’t have a cool factor.”

The lot is “terrific,” he conceded. “It’s very difficult and rare to find that much acreage in Bel Air.”

But the mansion?

“Yes, it’s a teardown.”

And the Hef factor – the pesky “life estate” contingency?

“That doesn’t help,” he said.

“I think [the price is] a little high. It’s probably worth a little less than half that,” maybe in the neighborhood of $70 million, he said. He compared it to the  estate next to Minecraft founder Notch’s new mansion (dubbed “L.A.’s most extreme home”); that promontory estate, which once belonged to comedian Danny Thomas, is “worth what they’re asking”: $135 million. “That is just an unreal property. … If somebody remodels it, it could be worth $300 million.” He called it “one of the last epic view properties – actually, maybe it IS the last one” in L.A.

Christophe Choo of Coldwell Banker Previews International has sold a couple of homes on Mapleton Drive, which backs up to the property and is (Choo says) “the best street in L.A.” He says he’d “be surprised if it got that price, let’s put it that way,” but he conceded that a buyer might want the property “just for the cachet of owning the Playboy Mansion.” He said he could see maybe a “very wealthy Chinese, where $200 million is nothing,” wanting to say he owns the Playboy Mansion.

As far as the property’s teardown potential, he said someone might want to, but he thought the L.A. Historical Society and other groups would make that very difficult. “Architecturally, it’s quite beautiful and significant,” he said. The mansion was built in 1927 by architect Arthur R. Kelly for Arthur Letts Jr., a department store heir.

The life estate, meanwhile, is “pretty unusual, and it does make for a very difficult sale.” Choo said he knows someone who bought a celebrity property with a life estate more than 10 years ago, and the elderly occupant survived for quite a long time. Such a situation “can be very challenging,” he said.

Playboy and Hef bought the mansion in 1971 for $1.01 million, a price that listing agent Gary Gold of Hilton & Hyland says was then “the largest real estate transaction in Los Angeles history.”

Oddly enough, in 2009 the company claimed the home was only worth $1.2 million, a number questioned by a shareholder lawsuit two years later, when the home was appraised at $54 million, according to Bloomberg.

Playmates who used to live there have described its rundown state.

In 2010, Hefner’s former girlfriend Izabella St. James wrote in her memoir, “Bunny Tales”: “Everything in the mansion felt old and stale, and Archie the house dog would regularly relieve himself on the hallway curtains, adding a powerful whiff of urine to the general scent of decay.”

She said most of the girls’ dogs were similarly un-housebroken, including those of Hefner’s then-“No. 1” girlfriend, Holly Madison. Madison’s two dogs moved into Hefner’s room with him. “They weren’t house-trained and would just do their business on the bedroom carpet,” St. James wrote. “Late at night, or in the early hours of the morning — if any of us visited Hef’s bedroom — we’d almost always end up standing in dog mess.”

A few months ago, Playmate Carla Howe said the house was in need of a makeover, but Hefner “refuses to change anything in the mansion and the whole place feels like it’s stuck in the 1980s,” she says.

Vice Magazine visited the mansion for a film screening in 2013 and found the place was “really, really sad” and “smelled like an old man.” The grotto was “rundown and depressing” and had mismatched, sloppy towels stacked haphazardly outside it. Another room, which the article’s pseudonymous author Jamie Lee Curtis Taete muses may once have been an orgy room, is piled with shiny brown pillows atop a teal green carpet.

“Wandering through the house gave me a feeling not too dissimilar to when a relative dies and you have to go to their place and figure out what to do with their things,” Taete wrote.

For what it is worth, the 20,000-square-foot mansion sits on slightly more than 5 picturesque acres in L.A.’s Platinum Triangle, the commingling area of ultra-wealthy neighborhoods Holmby Hills and Bel Air as well as the city of Beverly Hills.

The press release boasts that the mansion has every amenity imaginable, including a “catering kitchen, wine cellar, home theater, separate game house, gym, tennis court and freeform swimming pool with a large, cave-like grotto. The property also features a four-bedroom guesthouse and the property is one of a select few private residences in L.A. with a zoo license. So there’s that.

The property is being listed jointly by Drew Fenton and Gary Gold of Hilton & Hyland as well as Mauricio Umansky of The Agency.

[Editor’s note: This story was co-written by Jennifer Karmon and Michelle Huffman.]

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