Cool Stuff

From Carbon Footprints to Your Client's Blueprints

Luxury home buyers have become increasingly sensitive to their carbon footprint, allowing architects and engineers to use innovative processes and materials in creating and renovating high-end homes. Staying on top of these trends and technological advances will help luxury real estate professionals know what to look for and what questions to ask when assisting affluent clients who are seeking ways to recycle, reuse, and reduce.

As Earth Day approaches (Saturday, April 22), we are taking a look at some of the latest trends in design and construction that minimize environmental impact while maximizing functional design and well-being for homeowners.

Recycled Construction

“Renovation and reuse projects typically save between 50 and 75 percent of the embodied carbon emissions compared to constructing a new building.” The American Institute for Architects (AIA) notes that reusing and recycling materials, reduces carbon emissions and saves on construction and design costs. In renovating a Cambridge, Massachusetts home, Wolf Architects, Inc. utilized reclaimed lumber originally harvested in the 19th century that proved to be a higher quality than equivalent wood species today.

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Wolf Architects, Inc. milled reclaimed lumber for the exterior cladding on this Cambridge home that proved stronger than today's wood. Photo by Eric Roth

Sustainable Materials

Thanks in part to the success of IKEA’s Sinnerlig collection, sustainable cork products have trickled up into the luxury design world. The cork used in products from wine stops to insulation comes from the just the bark of the cork oak tree, allowing the tree to continue to grow. Aesthetically pleasing, tactile, and warm, cork is also a very functional material that is resistant to mold, mildew, water, termites, fire, cracking, and abrasions.

Renewable Energy

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Tesla unveiled its design for solar roof tiles. Photo Tesla.com

One of the most talked about materials in design and construction this year is the solar roof tiles developed by Tesla, known for its electric cars. While traditional solar panels come at a high cost, when not factoring government rebates and tax credits, Tesla claims that its solar roof tiles will cost less than an equivalent roof, opening the possibility for more than just luxury homes to produce and conserve renewable energy.

Learn More

See Dwell Magazine’s latest list of LEED-certified residences that use the latest technology and renewable resources to minimize environmental impact.

AIA's Ten Steps to Reducing Carbon Embodied Emissions during the construction and renovation process.

Check out the REALTOR® Magazine 2017 Home Design Trends featuring several environmentally friendly ideas.


The San Pellegrino Effect: Wealth, Cuisine and Travel

The list is here! For many, the announcement of the Top 50 Restaurants in the World is a harbinger of vacations to come, and entire trips are planned around a twelve course tasting menu. Snagging a reservation at any of the restaurants on the 2017 list is hard enough, but a new trend has emerged making just getting to some of these gastronomic paradises even more difficult.

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A tasting plate at Eleven Madison Park, named the best restaurant in the world for 2017. Image source theworlds50best.com

In past decades, a majority of the restaurants honored on the San Pellegrino Top 50 Restaurants list were (and still are) in the expected culinary destinations of the world: London, New York, and, of course, Paris. Each of these cities is also an economic capital of the world, so it comes as no surprise that where the wealthy live and work is where they eat. The restaurants that emerge in these cities rely on their affluent citizens to sustain them year after year. In line with that expectation, Tokyo's notoriety for fine dining came only after years of sustain economic growth throughout the 1990s.

However, recent years have seen restaurants added to this list from unexpected places without the support of sustained economic growth or a concentration of high net worth individuals. Wealth-X, a leader in global wealth research, explains that social media has "super-charged" word of mouth, meaning that the sharing of reviews and the awareness of awards makes the remote locations of some of the newest top restaurants a destination for the jetsetting crowd. As Winston Chesterfield, custom research director for Wealth-X, notes:

An entry in the list acts as a siren call to luxury concierges, jetsetters, and the world’s elite – and as such, almost guarantees full tables for the next 12 months.

The native, resident populations are, most often, not the focus for these modern marvels of food. Though they are, no doubt, a discerning group whose palates often inspire the innovative menus, the close presence of internationally renowned, multi-starred, celebrity-visited establishments is largely inexplicable and as remote from their existence as the cities from which these international individuals visit.

These individuals are the intended, the chosen ones. The premium-cabin-flying, luxury experience nomads, whose moving meccas are the next travel experience, the next luxury hotel concept, the next cuisine. These experiences have become as much a currency as the designer wallets which they plonk on the tables, and perhaps even more so than the motor cars they arrive in.

Read more about the changing trends in fine dining and where your clients may be eating next at LuxurySociety.com.


PYRAMID-SHAPED YACHT "LEVITATES" WITH LUXURY

This story is about a luxury yacht with expected amenities — such as gorgeous sun decks and elegant eating areas — but also a high-tech twist or two.

Created by London-based architect Jonathan Schwinge, the Tetrahedron Super Yacht’s unique design is based on a three-based pyramid shape. But beyond the vessel’s four faces and six leading edges (which provide greater stability), it actually appears to float above the water — thanks to a single vertical strut on a torpedo hull that remains underwater.

According to Schwinge, the yacht will lift above the water (at speed) on side-mounted, adjustable hydrofoils. This enables the vessel to travel smoothly — even in choppy waters — and reduces seasickness by eliminating any rocking or heeling.

The yacht features a take-off speed of 15 knots (17.2 MPH), and can reach speeds as high as 38 knots (43.7 MPH) above the water line. Its range is 3,000 nautical miles.

Schwinge believes that his design will reshape the “modern superyacht” into a simple enclosure that can function as “an elevated mode of travel above the water line.”

While there is no price tag on the Tetrahedron Super Yacht, it’s easy to see that this kind of vessel would be coveted by high-tech fans who can afford such a luxury item.

 


Trendingwatch: High-Fashion with Designer Names

Today’s luxury homes feature dozens of amenities never seen before, or even dreamed of. One of the fastest-growing concepts in the luxury residential market is the “branded property” — a residence associated with luxury brands and high-end designers.

Among the big names working to develop these beautiful properties are Armani, Versace and Bottega Veneta, among others. These designers are each bringing their own unique styles and sensibilities to projects around the world.

Armani’s upcoming projects include the Smart Hero-Central Park Plaza complex in Beijing — the renowned designer will be creating the residential units, shared areas and various amenities, to be completed by the end of 2017 — as well as the Century Spire residential tower in one of the Philippines’ top luxury districts, due to be completed by the end of 2018.  

In addition, Versace has begun work on its AYKON Nine Elms project in London (scheduled to be completed in 2020), and is nearly done with projects in Beirut and Jeddah. Bottega Veneta recently started developing its initial residential design work. And Eisenzahn 1 — a major property in Berlin — will feature design work by creative director Tomas Maier and furnishings from the luxury brand’s home collections.

While a famous name on the side of the building is a major selling point, this trend is more about what each designer/fashion brand brings to the actual properties. Homebuyers and investors alike are looking for aesthetics, comfort, amenities and lifestyle when it comes to a luxury residence — and a world-famous designer’s creativity can give a property a decided advantage over other luxury homes.

There are varying levels of brand association per property — some projects and brands are limited to the design of the common spaces and individual units in a building or complex. Others have brand associations incorporated into the amenities and additional features of the property.

But some owners may pay for the privilege of having the brand’s interior design team on the project give them personal consultations to add an even higher level of customization to the residence — or a complete branded design with furniture at an exclusive price.

Overall, these branded residences are often priced 30% to 50% more than unbranded properties. Not that a larger price point deters luxury homebuyers; many of these projects sell out quickly.

This is likely due to one of the basic tenets of the fashion industry — reinvention can revitalize an entire product line. In this case, the reinvention is the concept of residential development, which is now incorporating a new level of branding and design into these projects to attract luxury homebuyers.

Because these branded residences are currently located around the world, they may be some investors’ first experience with an international purchase. This means dealing with a different country’s real estate laws, as well as the unique issues of owning a property halfway around the world. But having a world-famous brand associated with the home can boost an investor’s confidence and provide a sense of security.

While this trend has already taken hold in hospitality — many hotels have established associations with luxury brands — the enjoyment of high-end accommodations, amenities and conversation-starters is taken to a new, longer-lasting level with branded residences.

And while this trend creates substantial opportunities for investors, it’s also an appealing option for home-buyers to have a unique property created by world-class designers.

 


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!

 


LUXURY AND SAFETY — DEEP UNDERGROUND?

So if you’re one of the few people left on Earth, can you still live in luxury? What if you’re stuck in an underground bunker? Survivalists are already answering these questions — with incredible survival bunkers built with the luxury lifestyle in mind.

There’s one luxury bunker in Tifton, GA, built more than 40 feet underground. It features seven apartments, a 15-seat movie theater for residents, and even has working internet access. For practical purposes, it includes decontamination showers and an outdoor firing range. And of course, it can withstand a nuclear blast. But none of this comes cheap — the price tag is about $17.5 million.

Underground Bunker

About 687 miles northwest of Tifton, there’s an underground bunker (at an undisclosed location) called Vivos Indiana. Originally a government communications facility, it’s now been repurposed as a luxurious hangout for survivors of any type of catastrophe.

With 12-and-a-half-foot ceilings in the living area, plush carpets and rows of reclining chairs, the living area is a great place to spend some quality time. 60 varieties of freeze-dried and canned foods fill the cupboards, complemented by the fresh bounty of a hydroponic garden. Units designed for four to six residents feature double-queen bunks with gorgeous bedding — the kind you’d find at a Ritz-Carlton!

Pet kennels. A gun safe. Exercise and medical facilities. Powerful generators and high-grade filters built to keep the residents warm and safe. And just a $35,000 entry fee.

Built by a former real estate entrepreneur — who sold shares of villas in luxury destinations such as Aspen and the south of France — these kinds of facilities are attracting the interest of many affluent Americans. (In the last several years, the U.S. has added more than 1.5 million new millionaires.)

And this isn’t a uniquely American phenomenon. The Vivos franchise extends to europe, where a similar-but-larger facility was built in a former munitions storage facility in Germany. This billion-dollar property can house 34 families for a full year, with swimming pools, a wine cellar and more — priced in the $3 to $5 million range.

Clearly, if you have a few million dollars to spend — and you’re a bit worried about war or meteors or nuclear plant meltdowns — you have options.

The folks at SurvivalCondo.com can help you build your own luxury bunker, with half-floor, one-level units at about 920 sq. ft. starting at $1.5 million. Full-floor units are about twice that size and price, while “penthouse” units of about 3,200 sq. ft. on two levels start at $4.5 million.

As is always the case with luxury real estate, the bigger the budget, the more options you have. Luxury survival bunkers are a growth market — and while there is a natural limit to how big it will get, there’s definitely a need.

So if you have a client who’s a bit paranoid about world-changing events — but also a predilection for the finer things — now you know what kinds of showings to schedule!


Luxury Garages Become A Swanky Social Space

Along with clothes, watches, and wine, high-end and vintage cars are a favorite collector’s item for high-net-worth individuals. And—just as many luxury homes have custom wine cellars and walk-in closets—luxury homeowners with treasured car collections are likely to want a special space for their high-end vehicles.

Luxury Garage

Top end luxury garages have little in common with the dusty cement rooms that immediately come to mind and they’re about much more than car storage. For individuals with prized vehicles—whether 1 or 100—the ideal luxury garage might be used for:

  • Entertaining. A high-end car enthusiast wants to be able to spend time socializing amidst their car collection, so luxury garages can boast an entertainment system, seating area, wet bar, and card table or billiard table to widen the space’s utility.
  • Showcasing. For car collectors, each vehicle is a work of art, and so a luxury garage acts as the gallery. Custom lighting and rotating turntable displays can enhance the presentation of a homeowner’s favorite vehicles.
  • Maintenance. Many car collectors like to get under the hood of their cars and a well-equipped maintenance bay is the perfect space to tinker.
  • Preservation. Finally, a collector will want their high-end vehicles to be cared for and protected from the elements, so climate control is a must in humid climates where weather can speed deterioration and encourage rusting.

If the luxury home is in an area without space restrictions, then an added garage can span thousands of square feet and accommodate dozens of vehicles without issue. For city dwellers, however, a car storage space can prove more elusive. One popular solution for wealthy collectors is a car elevator such as the PhantomPark, which starts at about $40,000, is custom built to fit the homeowner’s needs, and stores cars below ground. It is important to note, however, that while a lack of garage may diminish a home’s value and desirability, luxury garage renovations see a mere 52% return on investment in resale.


Luxury Bathroom Trends: TOTO Washlet

Even in the most extravagant homes, in which no expense is spared to make the homeowner and their guests feel pampered, Americans have historically deprived themselves of the ultimate in household luxury: heated, remote-controlled toilet seats with a built-in bidet feature. While the concept may seem too bizarre (or too indelicate) to those with American sensibilities, it is estimated that roughly 76% of households in Japan have such a technologically advanced toilet seat. In fact, the Japanese government tracks the popularity of electronic bidet seats as an indicator of economic prosperity. This luxury bathroom accessory is also used widely throughout Asia and the Middle East, and is even disrupting the market for traditional bidets in Western Europe. Although their use in the United States has mostly been limited to luxury hotels and a small cult following, the electronic bidet seat seems to be taking root.

TOTO, the largest plumbing manufacturer in the world, has sold more than 40 million Washlets, its brand of electronic bidet seat, since launching the product in Japan in 1980. Although only a few thousand Washlets are sold each month in the United States, TOTO’s U.S. sales figures have increased by 20% in each of the last five years.

TOTO

Why A Washlet?

In a recent press release announcing their huge sales success, TOTO described the revolutionary accessory: “Washlets use pure, clean water – and myriad technological innovations – to make their users cleaner, happier, more refreshed than they have ever felt after a bathroom break by reinventing the humble toilet seat as a warm water personal cleansing system.” And Toto seems to have succeeded in making its users happier. People who have had the pleasure of sitting atop a Washlet typically respond with rave reviews. In “The Cult of the Toto Toilet,” for example, The Times interviewed the owner of a Manhattan plumbing showroom who said that going back to a regular toilet seat would be like “going back to the Stone Age. It feels very uncivilized.”

Depending on how advanced an individual wants their electronic bidet seat to be, a TOTO Washlet can cost anywhere from $1,000 to almost $10,000. In addition to the standard features—heated seat, bidet wand, remote control—more high-end models might include UV light technology that kills bacteria and other cleansing functions to keep the luxury bathroom clean and fresh.