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June 2016

Who Really Owns Old London's Largest Private House?

In northwest London, a tony suburb called Highgate is the site of London’s largest private house — estimated to be worth more than 100 million pounds (approximately $142.3 million).

Witanhurst — an eleven-acre property with an expansive, multi-level mansion — has been the subject of rumors for many years, because no one has been definitively named as the owner. And with massive renovations taking place for nearly a decade, rumors and complaints are common among the Highgate community.

These changes have included: demolishing the old service wing and replacing it with a 3-story, Georgian villa called the “Orangery”; a new, connected basement measuring more than 40,000 square feet and including a 70-foot swimming pool, movie theater and parking for 25 cars; a second connected basement beneath the gatehouse, and more.

Once the renovations are complete, the home will have about 90,000 square feet of interior space — making it the second-largest mansion in London, after Buckingham Palace.

While the original estate dates back to the 1770s, the current “Queen Anne style” house was built between 1913 and 1920 for Sir Arthur Crosfield, a wealthy soap merchant. It’s currently “Grade-II” listed, which is an important historic and architectural designation.

With 25 bedrooms, a 70-foot-long ballroom and views over nearby Hampstead Heath and London itself, Witanhurst (“Parliament on the Hill” in Old English) has had several owners since Crosfield.

But as of 2008, no family had lived in the home regularly for decades. However, it had been used as a location for filming movies and TV shows, including The Lost Prince, Tipping the Velvet and Fame Academy.

The ownership of the home was the subject of much debate for years. Public records were unclear. Real estate agents, architects, contractors and attorneys kept quiet and even claimed to have signed confidentiality agreements. Recent rumors claimed that the home belonged to a family from Russia, but their identity remained a mystery.

In the last decade alone, the property exchanged hands several times. It was put on the market in 2005, then bought by a developer for 32 million pounds in 2007. The local council demanded that repairs be made, and after they were completed, it was again put up for sale — with an asking price of 75 million pounds.

And then, Witanhurst was sold for 50 million pounds in 2008. The buyer was an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands, said to be owned by the family of Andrey Guryev.

A Russian businessman and legislator, Guryev is one of Russia’s 30 richest people. According to Forbes, his personal fortune is approximately four billion dollars. But like the property that his holding company purchased, Guryev is a quiet man who remained so even during his career in politics and public service — rarely taking the floor to speak.

Why has Witanhurst maintained such public — even international — interest? A huge, luxury mansion that rivals a nearby royal castle, with a unique and mysterious history of ownership — it makes for quite an intriguing story.

Imagine having Witanhurst as YOUR listing!


A Luxury Home — On The High Seas!

For some, a dream home is a gorgeous mansion with acres of beautiful greenery. For others, it’s a elegant penthouse in an urban skyscraper. For Florida widow Lee Wachtstetter, it’s a 1,070-passenger luxury cruise ship — the Crystal Serenity.

During her 50-year marriage, “Mama Lee” (as she’s known aboard the ship) went on nearly 90 cruises with her husband. And during her eight-year stay aboard the Crystal Serenity, she’s done nearly a hundred more, plus 15 world cruises. After her husband passed away, Wachstetter decided to sell their five-bedroom, 10-acre home in Fort Lauderdale and make her new home in a “location” that she had grown to love — the ocean.

Although she admits that her single-occupancy, seventh-deck stateroom has “limited” space, Wachstetter enjoys all of the amenities of the Serenity, which set sail on its maiden voyage in 2003. Approximately $164,000 a year covers her cabin, regular and specialty restaurant meals (with beverages available at lunch and dinner), gratuities, nightly ballroom dancing with hosts, and Broadway-type entertainment. In addition, there are the captain’s frequent cocktail parties, movies, lectures and other scheduled daily activities.

And this isn’t Mama Lee’s first “home” aboard a cruise ship — she previously lived for three years on a Holland America ship. But when they discontinued their dance host program — she’s loved to dance her whole life — she decided to “move” to the Crystal Serenity. After all, the Crystal Cruise Line is always rated among the world’s best, and the Serenity is their newest ship.

And Wachtstetter enjoys the communal dining experience of a cruise ship, regularly sitting at a table for eight and making new friends. Of course, with all of the delicious culinary options on the menu, she confides that she’s working on losing a few extra pounds that she gained since coming on board.

Most days, Mama Lee can be found doing needlepoint in the Palm Court lounge — it’s “her second love.” Everything that she makes, she gives to staff members of the 655-person crew; in turn, they have become like family to her, providing a near-concierge-level of service. 

She’s able to keep in touch with her three sons and seven grandchildren via her laptop computer. And whenever the Serenity docks in Miami — as many as five times a year — she visits with the family members that live nearby.

Mama Lee isn’t the only full-time resident on a Crystal cruise ship — there are three others living a similar lifestyle. But Wachtstetter has been doing it the longest. She credits her late husband, who told her “Don’t stop cruising” before he passed away. Today, Mama Lee claims that she’s living a “stress-free, fairy-tale life.”


7 "Uber"-Like Companies for the Jet Set

Thanks to technology, taxis and limousines no longer have a monopoly on on-demand automobile travel. Companies like Uber, Lyft and others have harnessed mobile app technology — and a ready workforce of freelance drivers — to change the way people get from Point A to Point B without even buying one car.

So it only makes sense that this concept is changing air travel for people who use private jets for business or pleasure. Here are seven of the most popular companies who are making private air travel more accessible and convenient for the jet-set:

Blade 

A crowd-sourced, short-distance air travel provider that focuses on flights between New York City, the Hamptons, Mohegan Sun Casino and major surrounding airports. Launched in 2014 by co-founders Rob Wiesenthal (a former music executive) and Steve Martocci (GroupMe co-founder), travelers use a mobile app to instantly book seats on helicopters and seaplanes.

Ticket prices range from $395 to $695, although for a higher price travelers can do a custom charter flight to a destination of their choice — or even fly on a faster aircraft.

Jet Smarter 

Founded in 2012, this company enables private jet charter around the world via a mobile marketplace. Travelers use the app to connect to chartered flights, including more than 3,000 aircraft of all makes and models.

To offer this convenience, JetSmarter takes advantage of the “empty legs” of the aviation industry — which means the vacant 1.5-million-plus hours of flight time spent en route to pick up other passengers. The company buys about 35,000 hours of reservations on those flights ahead of time, which are then available exclusively via the app.

Members pay a $3,000 initiation fee and $9,000 a year for unlimited access to private flights. On the flip side, carriers can use the app to manage their inventory in real-time to fill their flights instantly.

Magellan Jets 

One of the earliest of these innovators in the air travel space — becoming the first private jet company to have an app on iTunes, as well as the first to guarantee in-flight WiFi. The company was launched in 2008, and is renowned for its personalization options — even down to the snacks and magazines — providing customers with all the benefits of owning a plane without actually owning it.

Travelers can book flights based on origin, destination and type of aircraft they prefer, and it will arrive anywhere in the U.S. in eight hours. 

NetJets 

In 1986, the NetJets program was created as the first fractional aircraft ownership program. After enjoying the NetJets service for three years, Berkshire Hathaway Chairman & CEO Warren Buffett acquired NetJets Inc. for $725 million in 1998. While other companies allow users to buy seats on existing flight routes, NetJets actually has its own fleet of planes — selling fractional ownership to corporations or wealthy individuals in exchange for flying time on the largest private jet fleet in the world (more than 650 aircraft worldwide).

NetJets offers several different programs, but the basic offering is guaranteed access to an aircraft with as little as four hours notice. Users pay a monthly maintenance fee and an “occupied” hourly operating fee — which is only charged when an owner or guest is on board, not when the aircraft is going to pick up a passenger or flying to another destination after completing a flight.

SurfAir 

Created for business executives who needed to travel between Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, SurfAir offers “all-you-can-fly” unlimited flights for a fixed monthly fee of $1,950 a month (plus a $1,000 signup fee).

Since 2013, the airline has provided West Coast flights that now include Burbank, Carlsbad, Hawthorne, Monterey, Oakland, Napa, Palm Springs and Santa Barbara, among others. Travelers can book a seat “on demand,” but need to choose from already-scheduled flights. They can make reservations up to a month in advance or as close as 15 minutes before a flight leaves, if seats are still available.

Wheels Up 

This company offers membership programs that greatly reduce the cost of flying privately, enabling travelers to use their app to book flights, arrange a ride-share, and even plan a luxury experience at their destination.

The company, founded in 2013, is unique in that joining the “club” requires no up-front financial or long-term commitment. Members pay an initiation fee and low annual dues to have access to flights at a reduced rate with guaranteed availability; pricing is set on a “pay-as-you-fly” basis, so travelers pay only for hours flown.

In addition, membership includes enrollment in the exclusive “Wheels Down” program, which is billed as “the ultimate lifestyle, events, concierge and partner benefits program.”

XOJET 

Established in 2006, the company provides fixed-price, one-way private charters between major U.S. cities. Customers can buy a set number of flight hours to use per year.

With 40+ super mid-size business jets, XOJET’s private jet charters and flight programs enable travelers to choose their arrival and departure locations, then book if the flight is available — or use a fixed-price charter on predetermined routes when available. Depending on their preferences, members can pay a deposit of $100,000 or $200,000 for the ability to charter a jet whenever they want. The company also offers specially designed VIP experiences, such as rainforest excursions to Costa Rica, wine-tasting vacations to Napa, and deluxe skiing trips to Whistler.

All in all, travelers who can afford the extra cost — and prefer flying without airport hassles and more-cramped-than-ever cabins inside commercial airplanes — have plenty of new options for private air travel. With the advent of innovative, easy-to-use technology, it’s more convenient and personalized than ever!