A comfortable home, a reliable car, a week-long vacation - just some of the little things that make most of us tick. Of course, these basics depend on the size of our bank accounts. So what happens when you have enough money to buy almost anything in the world? Well, for one thing, your list of essentials certainly improves.
Take Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. His lavish Woodside, California, estate, which has been estimated at $100 million (P4.3 billion), features feudal Japanese architecture, a man-made lake and approximately seven additional buildings. Bill Gates' 66,000-square-foot spread is built into a hillside on the edge of Lake Washington, near Seattle. It boasts a 60-foot swimming pool with an underwater music system and a 1,000-square-foot dining room.
Though the extent of luxury may vary - both homes are in stark contrast to Warren Buffett’s modest Omaha, Nebraska, abode, which he’s called home for nearly 50 years and is valued at $500,000 to $700,000 (P21-30 million) - one thing is for sure. Privacy and exclusivity are some of the most sought-after privileges among the billionaire set.
Only the very wealthy opt to have full ownership of a private jet, which carries huge maintenance fees, insurance costs, multiple permits and gas requirements. But it is a luxury so enticing that even Warren Buffett couldn’t resist. He is the proud owner of a Gulfstream IV, which he jokingly named "The Indefensible" after having once mocked corporate jet ownership. These planes, which can accommodate as many as 16 passengers, usually sell for about $16 million (P688 million) and up, depending on the make, mileage and amenities.
Should the billionaire ever feel a little airsick, though, it is necessary to have a backup - the megayacht. The Octopus, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's $200+ million (P8.6 billion+) sea monster, has a permanent crew of 60, two helicopters, a 10-man submarine and seven boats. So where are these billionaires heading on their jets and yachts? Why, to their private islands of course. Richard Branson purchased the 74-acre Necker Island (located in the British Virgin Islands) in 1982 and transformed it into a lush private resort that can accommodate just under 30 guests for about $1,700 (P73,100) per person, per night.
Most owners of private islands, though, prefer to keep them for themselves, as an escape destination or to at least keep publicity to a minimum. Billionaires Ted Turner and David Murdoch have laid claim to their own water-locked terrains, inhabiting St. Phyllis Island in South Carolina and Lanai Isle in Hawaii, respectively.
Those in the luxury business say the super-wealthy crave these essentials because they separate them from the general population. But when an item is rare, you can bet that it jumps to the top of the must-have list. "When you tell people with money [that] something is impossible to get, guess what they focus on?" quips Randy Mattison, general manager of Motorcars International, a dealership that specializes in providing exceptional luxury and exotic cars such as Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Porsches and Bentleys.
Mattison refers in particular to Ferraris and other ultra-performance sports cars that currently top the market. These cars are built only in limited quantities and often sell for $100,000 (P4.3 million) to $200,000 (P8.6 million) over sticker prices that are already listed as $350,000. Exotic carmakers like to ensure that there are more interested buyers than cars, and as a result, the consumers are willing to pay far above the listing price to get their hands on one. For example, only 64 street versions of the McLaren F1 supercar, produced from 1994 to 1998, have been built, and they sell anywhere from $1.3 million (P60 million) to $1.7 million. At last count, there were nine in the U.S.- and billionaire Ralph Lauren has two of them.
Many billionaire essentials are necessary simply because they make life easier. Personal assistants and domestic staff help eliminate tedious, everyday chores, such as scheduling appointments and meetings, fielding phone calls and maintaining the household. The private chef is just as essential, and rarely is there only one. "Most billionaires employ anywhere from two to three chefs because they usually have a traveling chef, and then they might have children, or a huge staff that needs to be fed," says Christian Paier, President of Private Chefs, a company that features Bill Gates and Ron Perelman amongst its impressive list of past and present customers. "And a lot of billionaires these days all own yachts. Naturally, on a yacht, the staff lives [there.]"
Ownership of professional sports teams is another popular choice, as are exorbitantly priced clothing, artwork and gadgets, all bought simply because billionaires can. One of Mr. Mattison's billionaire customers at Motorcars International traded his car 92 times in one year, and the cheapest auto he bought cost $70,000.
For the rich and super rich, some decisions are more complicated than choosing between the Bulgari and the Cartier. Indeed, those with a net worth exceeding a billion dollars have a limitless area for escape. And for these lucky few, a vacation spot is not just a place to bask in the culture and climate, it's a place to be seen with notorious neighbors and famous faces. One, of course, where the living is good. Indeed, whether the locales are snow-capped or sun-kissed, Monaco or Mustique, all offer the world's best service and amenities.
"When you have unlimited budgets, you can get whatever you want," says Susan Breitenbach, a Bridgehampton, N.Y.-based Senior Vice President of the Corcoran Group. And billionaires are "used to good restaurants and used to world-class shopping." Recently, the traditional break from the Big Apple, the Hamptons, has upped its ante, becoming a destination for Europeans eager to take advantage of the current exchange rate and to share a beach with billionaires such as Steven Spielberg.
The ultra-rich are also used to traveling without hassle. Private cars, personal jets and chartered yachts are a few of the perks. Todd Harris, senior vice president of hospitality and member services for the luxury destination club Exclusive Resorts, says gourmet kitchens, first-class spas, designer linens and state-of-the-art electronics are some of the amenities his mega-rich guests prefer while away from home.
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