How Do The Richest People In The US Buy Their Houses? It Might Not Be As You Expect.

The super wealthy are not like us. Not one of these billionaires has a herd of wild miniature donkeys. But check out what they did buy with all that money.

By Jeff Vasishta October 13, 2016
Photo courtesy of Sinead Kelly Hastings via Wall Street Journal

Do you fantasize about house you’d buy if you won the lotto? A nightclub in the basement, a ski slope in the back yard, a full size soccer field? If you dream of escalating your personal wealth, you could do a lot worse than take a look at “Forbes 400: The Full List of the Richest People in America” and see what the top five choose for their personal digs.

Related: Clinton Corner: Hill And Bill Buy Neighbor’s House For $1.6 Million

By far the most poignant lesson to be learned from the list comes in the form of Warren Buffet. He is No. 3 on the list and worth a staggering $65.5 billion. Yet he purchased the home he still lives in, in Omaha, Nebraska in 1958 for $31,500. It was originally built in 1921 and has, of course, undergone several expansions to make it a plush 6,500 square feet. But it’s an impossibly modest home for a man with such a gargantuan fortune. What’s the take away? Don’t spend your cash on things that won’t make you money. Unlike LA or New York, Omaha is not known for its high appreciation so from a purely financial point of view spending wildly on a house won’t give you much of a bang for your buck. That said, Buffet could buy something in line with the other billionaire’s on this list and no one would bat an eye. There’s something to be said for staying put. But don’t worry about him—he’s Warren Buffett—not Jimmy Buffett, so he has real estate investments elsewhere that I’m sure are doing just fine.

When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was packing books in his Seattle garage with his wife in the mid ’90’s he probably never expected to be worth $67 billion one day. With Amazon having offices throughout the US (and world), the CEO has become one of America’s largest landowners. He lives in the same town as fellow tech icon Bill Gates and Starbucks founder and CEO, Howard Shultz. Bezos’ home in Medina, Washington, near Amazon’s HQ sits on 5.35 acres and has 29,000 square feet of living space. There’s also a caretaker’s cottage and a 4,500 square-foot boathouse on Lake Washington.

Other J.B. residences include a 165,000-acre ranch in West Texas, a waterfront house in Washington state, three linked apartments in Manhattan’s Century Tower along with a 12,000 square foot Beverly Hills estate next to Tom Cruise’s place. With a company as vast as Amazon, Bezos is always on the move and so his disparate residences are not only equity builders but probably business tax write offs as well.

Jeff Bezos' Beverley Hills mansion. Photo courtesy of
Jeff Bezos’ Beverley Hills mansion. Photo courtesy of

Bezos’ neighbor Bill Gates retains his number one spot on America’s rich list. Aside from the horse ranches he owns throughout the US and shares in a luxury hotel chain, Gates’ personal home turned out to be one hell of a money spinner, too. He purchased the land in Medina, Washington for $2 million in 1988 and spent seven years and $63.2 million is constructing his hi-tech dream house. Its current value stands at $170 million according to public records. Finding someone to buy it, though, should he choose to sell, might prove more problematic than running Windows 8. Maybe Bezos or Shultz would be interested?

All the top three on Forbes Rich list tend to spend quite frugally on personal homes compared to their net worth. Only No. 5, Oracle Founder, Larry Ellison ($49.3 billion) has the kind of personal property that could be considered truly ostentatious. (No. 4 is Facebook founder & CEO Mark Zuckerberg—worth $55 billion— who owns a $7 million home in Palo Alto, Ca and 9.9-million pied-a-terre near Dolores Park in San Francisco). Mr. Ellison’s estate in Woodside, California has an estimated value of $110 million. It’s is modeled after 16th-century Japanese architecture, complete with a man-made 2.3-acre lake. But Ellison takes his investment real estate game to another level. He buys properties like whales ingest plankton. He has bought up large parts of whole neighborhoods in Malibu and around Lake Tahoe. He owns a $70-million Beechwood Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island; a garden villa in Kyoto, Japan and 98 percent of the land of Lanai, Hawaii’s sixth-largest island, which he purchased in 2012 for $500 million. When it comes to real estate he doesn’t just buy houses. He builds empires.

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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