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Southern California’s mansion market had a historic 2020, led by Jeff Bezos

A Beverly Hills estate seen from above
Media mogul David Geffen paid $47.5 million in cash for the Beverly Hills estate of movie mogul Jack Warner in 1991. He sold the property to Jeff Bezos for a record $165 million.
(NearMap)

Even during a pandemic, this past year saw the ultra-rich swap estates at a blistering pace.

Some of the country’s wealthiest people, including Jeff Bezos, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg, closed huge deals in 2020, taking advantage of historically low interest rates and a widening wealth gap that saw their fortunes skyrocket even higher.

In a historic year for luxury real estate, California saw its all-time price record shattered.

More than 200 homes traded hands for more than $10 million, and two sold for more than $100 million. In the long-ago days of 2019, the $10-million-plus market fell well short of 200 deals. (The exact numbers are fuzzy because so many high-dollar transactions happen away from the Multiple Listing Service.)

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Here’s a look at Southern California’s priciest home sales in 2020.

Southern California home prices and sales have risen rapidly in recent months, raising questions if the torrid pace can continue in 2021.

$165 million — Jeff Bezos

A Beverly Hills estate, seen from above
Jeff Bezos’ $165-million purchase of David Geffen’s Beverly Hills estate broke California’s all-time price record.
(NearMap)
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The world’s richest man flexed his wealth in February, as Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos dropped $165 million on David Geffen’s famed Warner estate in Beverly Hills. The mammoth sale obliterated California’s all-time price record, which was set in 2019 by Lachlan Murdoch’s $150-million purchase of the “Beverly Hillbillies” mansion in Bel-Air.

The nine-acre estate offers a world of its own, with a golf course, tennis court and pool all surrounding a Georgian-style mansion erected in the 1930s for movie mogul Jack Warner. The purchase was the latest in a long line of real estate deals for Bezos, who owns other homes in Beverly Hills as well as properties in Seattle, Texas and Washington D.C.

$125 million — Jeffrey Katzenberg

A large home seen from above
Jeffrey Katzenberg’s 26,619-square-foot Tudor-style home sits on a six-plus-acre promontory in Beverly Hills.
(NearMap)
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Jeffrey Katzenberg kept L.A. County’s real estate market red-hot over the summer, selling his Beverly Hills compound for $125 million — good for the third-priciest sale in California history.

It was a massive return on investment for the Quibi co-founder, who paid $30 million for the property in 2009. He finished building the home three years later, aerial photos show. Wrapping around a giant courtyard, the U-shaped house spans 26,000 square feet with a vast lawn and swimming pool out back.

The property covers six acres on a promontory lot overlooking the Sunset Strip and Greystone Mansion below. Maybe the sale softened the sting of Quibi’s shutdown in October after less than seven months of short-form video streaming.

$68 million — David Geffen

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A large estate, seen from above
The artful mansion sits on a 3.25-acre lot where Wasserman’s grandfather, famed talent agent Lew Wasserman, once had a home.
(NearMap)

Media mogul David Geffen wasn’t finished after his historic sale to Jeff Bezos. A few months later he bought a little something for himself: a striking modern megamansion in Beverly Hills.

Set on 3.25 acres, the architectural estate was owned by Casey Wasserman, president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee. It was designed by Richard Meier and blends stone, glass and white oak across 18,500 square feet. Inside, highlights include six bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, automated steel doors, museum-like living spaces, a movie theater, elevator and art studio.

$63.25 million — Rancho San Carlos

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Montecito — a small Santa Barbara County haven where the wealthy go for scenic settings and peaceful isolation — saw a handful of huge deals in 2020, but none bigger than the $63.25-million sale of an estate known as Rancho San Carlos.

At 240 acres, the idyllic retreat is the largest on the list and centers on a 30,000-square-foot Colonial-style spot. Surrounding it are 10 cottages, a handful of equestrian facilities and multiple citrus and avocado orchards. The compound first surfaced for sale in 2014 at $125 million.

$61 million — Orange County price record

A pool overlooking the ocean
The dramatic double-lot property centers on a 19,000-square-foot mansion with six bedrooms and 12 bathrooms.
(Rob Giem)
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Orange County crowned a new champion in October, when a three-story mansion overlooking the ocean in Newport Coast sold for $61 million — the most expensive home sale in the county’s history.

It beat out a two-home compound just up the road in Newport Harbor, which raked in $55 million in 2017.

The estate combines two lots for nearly an acre and makes the most of its space with a 19,000-square-foot main house and 6,800-square-foot guesthouse flanked by manicured gardens and palm trees. Amenities include a movie theater, gym, sauna and game room. Out back, a deck with a pool takes in views of the Pacific Ocean.

$60 million — George Ruan

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One of Bel-Air’s most expensive homes sold half-finished when a limited liability company tied to George Ruan, the chief executive of online coupon company Honey, dropped $60 million on a three-story mansion still under construction.

There’s a reason the home hit the market prematurely; it was previously controlled by Robert Shapiro, the real estate developer who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for running a $1.3-billion real estate Ponzi scheme. In the wake of the allegations, a liquidation trust started selling off his real estate holdings, including the roughly 21,000-square-foot showplace picked up by Ruan.

$47 million — Nile Niami

A mansion seen from above
Designed by Paul McLean, the extravagant spec mansion comes with an indoor spa and dinosaur skeleton.
(NearMap)
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Spec developer Nile Niami sold another of his creations in Beverly Hills for $47 million, this time to San Marino real estate developer Bin Fen Cheng.

Dubbed Opus, it sits among the priciest sales of the year but still fell far from its original $100-million price tag in 2017, when it rolled onto the market hoping to capitalize on the “sex sells” mantra with a racy marketing campaign filled with scantily-clad women.

Designed by megamansion master Paul McLean, the 20,000-square-foot home holds many of the over-the-top toys typically found in Niami’s spec homes, including a car museum, indoor spa, movie theater and a massive dinosaur skeleton.


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