Lifestyle & Simplicity / Money & Wealth

Owned by Possessions: Envying Luxury


A Greenwich, CT, property is currently listed for sale at $190 million, making it America’s most expensive listing.  It’s called Copper Beech Farm, not because it’s a working farm – it’s not – but because you can’t sell a house for $190 million without naming it something pretentious.

I suspect that properties like this have exactly one purpose: to inspire envy and desire.  That’s it.  This property doesn’t offer a single value that can’t be purchased for a small fraction of the cost.  It’s got an apple orchard.  Nice!  Last I checked, organic apples are going for maybe $3 a pound.  A private tennis court?  Awesome – the owner just saved at least $30/month at the local gym.  A wine cellar and private movie theater?  No need to spend cash on pesky movie tickets or local vineyard wine tastings.

But what does owning this house cost?  If it’s financed at 5%, it’s nearly $10 million a year just in interest; if it’s bought for cash, that’s $190 million that can’t be invested for profit, an opportunity cost of well over $10 million a year.  Owning this house also means serious upkeep.  The property taxes alone will cost several million a year and you’d need a pretty hefty full-time housekeeping and landscaping staff just to keep it pretty.  So we’re talking at least $20 million a year just for the privilege of ownership: consumption – which is pure loss – not investment.  In other words, the owner of this property is, in reality, owned by the property.  The king of the castle is its servant.  All for what?

I think we know the answer.  What’s the point of a monstrosity like this?  It’s to say: look who I am, look what I’ve accomplished, look how rich I am, look at me.  Just look.

But people who need attention this badly can probably spend their money more wisely.  A suggestion for potential buyers: if you are feeling insecure and trying to live up to the expectations of parents, your spouse, your friends, or even yourself, you can buy over 1.2 million counseling sessions with a licensed therapist at $150/session – which would take over 3,000 years if you had a session every day – instead of compensating with a $190 million property.  If you’re a socialite, you could go out and drop $1000 on food, booze, and partying every night for the next 520 years.  If you’re just trying to get laid, you could buy hundreds of thousands of prostitutes for the same price.

There’s got to be more than meets the eye.  Countless psychology experiments and publications show that above a fairly modest income, money does not buy happiness.  That is, once a person digs himself out of poverty and achieves a middle class status, additional dollars become an increasingly irrelevant stack of paper.  Dr. Madeline Levine discusses this relationship in her fascinating book, The Price of Privilege.  But a new study now suggests that wealthier people really are happier, assuming they spend their money on the right things.  So maybe the buyer of Copper Beech Farm will find happiness after all.

I’m not trying to be an asshole.  I really don’t get it.  On one hand, “luxury” properties like this seem like overpriced landscaping headaches to me.  Who needs twelve bedrooms? On the other hand, people envy and buy these properties for a reason.  My question is: why?  Capitalism thrives on envy – people wanting a better life and working their asses off to get it.  But never-ending envy also seems like a serious threat to our happiness.



5 thoughts on “Owned by Possessions: Envying Luxury

  1. Great post. You wrote so eloquently the exact same things I wonder all the time when I see these mansions. Once we took the “scenic” route home from Ft. Lauderdale to gawk at the Palm Beach mansions on the way. All I kept saying was “why?” Why would anyone needs or want a house AND a yacht this big? And how much do they pay to keep it all up? I guess they have money to burn. Such a waste.

    • Thanks for the nice words! A1A in south Florida is full of these houses, but they always look deserted. I suspect many of them are owned by high-priced attorneys who have to bill 60-70 hours a week just to make the mortgage — leaving no time to actually enjoy them.

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