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Life after Hugh: Crystal Hefner designs a real estate-focused future

Life after Hugh: Crystal Hefner designs a real estate-focused future
Crystal Hefner, Hugh Hefner's widow, outside a modern contemporary home on Queens Court in the Hollywood Hills that she is selling with a current asking price of $5,495,000. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Before she became a Hefner, Crystal Harris studied psychology at San Diego State University. While there, she entered a photo contest for an invitation to the Playboy Mansion in 2008.

“I’d heard of Hugh before,” she said. “But I didn’t think he would pick me, let alone where my life would end up.”

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Not only did she win the contest, but she met the Playboy magnate at the party and spent all weekend there. When she returned to San Diego on Monday, she got a voicemail from an unknown number. It was Hugh Hefner. He asked her to come live in the Holmby Hills mansion.

Thus began a new life for Harris: a party-centric, decadent decade of photo shoots and “The Girls Next Door” reality-show appearances that saw her become Hefner’s girlfriend, wife and widow.

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When he died of cardiac arrest last year at 91, Crystal, 32, retreated from the public eye to grieve and figure out what’s next.

For starters, she took over as vice president of the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation, tasking herself with keeping Hugh’s legacy alive.

Most of her efforts, though, will involve a deeper dive into an industry she’s already familiar with: real estate.

She owns five properties across L.A. — a small empire she amassed both with Hugh and on her own — and plans to sell them all in the next year. Two are already on the market.

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The first is the home she and Hugh bought together in 2013 for $4.995 million. A modern-vibe estate perched up in Hollywood Hills West, it’s now listed for $5.495 million.

“In terms of architecture,” Hefner said, “it’s so different from the Playboy Mansion,” a Gothic Tudor-style estate spanning 20,000 square feet with 29 rooms, a tennis court, orchard, swimming pool, grotto and a bird- and monkey-filled zoo out back. The complex sold in 2016 for $100 million.

This one tones things down a tad.

It offers four bedrooms, five bathrooms and an indoor-outdoor floor plan across 6,471 square feet. The master suite soaks in city light views, and the bottom level holds a game room and movie theater. Walnut walls and pocketing doors touch up the living room.

She likes the place, but — having traded in the butler-served meals of the Playboy Mansion for a more self-sufficient lifestyle — she finds the home simply too big.

The second property, which she lives in and owns through her limited liability company, sits a few houses down. On the market for $2.499 million, it holds two bedrooms and four bathrooms in 2,487 square feet.

Highlights include a hardwood-lined living room, a tile-splashed fireplace and a pair of balconies. Out back, a garden and flagstone patio adjoin a swimming pool and spa.

Her third home in the area is found a few blocks north. A contemporary build brimming with balconies and walls of glass, it’s currently being leased by a Tom Ford designer. Once he’s out, she’s considering expanding the square footage down the hillside to take advantage of the views.

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For Hefner, real estate runs in the family. Her mother, Lee Lovitt, worked as an agent for years, which drove Hefner to get her own real estate license at 18. When living in the mansion, she and Lovitt would take Sunday trips to open houses around L.A., a tradition that led to purchasing the county-spanning collection that she’s now hoping to flip.

“My mom’s a real go-getter, which has helped her a lot in real estate,” Hefner said. “My strength is developing properties of my own.”

Lovitt lists the homes, while Hefner buys and develops them.

One project is in Malibu, where she’s waiting on the California Coastal Commission to approve the addition of a second story for an expansive master suite. She bought the property three years ago for $1.1 million and figures to turn a healthy profit if she can make the additions.

As of now, the home holds a bedroom, a bathroom, a chrome-covered kitchen and an indoor-outdoor living room with an ocean-view balcony in 1,120 square feet.

Another project resides in Beverly Hills, where she’s leasing out a one-bedroom, one-bathroom bungalow she bought last year for $1.05 million. Once the renters are out, she’s planning to tack on a second level and make renovations that capitalize on the yard.

“Over time, you get used to the market,” Hefner said. “I know the areas where I can buy a house for $1.2 million, tear it down, build something better and sell it for $3 million.”

Her time in the mansion with Hugh was well spent, but after years of a catered lifestyle of chefs, butlers and maids, Hefner said she’s ready to return to farmers’ market runs and plotting out her own projects. The fast-paced lifestyle, she said, is addicting.

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