Your Money > Your Home

Who lives in million-dollar homes?
Here's a peek at today's luxury homeowners.
February 12, 2004: 9:57 AM EST
By Sarah Max, CNN/Money Staff Writer

BEND, Ore. (CNN/Money) Fancy addresses bring out the Peeping Tom in all of us.

We drive below the speed limit in well-to-do suburbs, strain to see what's on the other side of iron gates and, if the opportunity presents itself, peek in windows. (What you can see from the sidewalk is, after all, fair game.)

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"Who are these people?" we ask.

Having seen an increase in million-dollar home sales recently, Coldwell Banker asked the same question of 200 sales associates who had sold at least one $1 million home in the past year. The results of the poll were released Tuesday.

As you could probably guess, buyers with a seven-figure budget are just a little different from mainstream home buyers.

Mind if I pay cash?

First of all, these homebuyers aren't exactly scrambling to come up with a 20 percent down payment.

According to the survey, 31 percent of people who paid more than $1 million, paid entirely in cash.

Among those who did take out a mortgage, 17 percent paid at least 50 percent of the sale price up front.

Where do they get that kind of money?

Coldwell Banker president and CEO Alex Perriello explained that many such buyers are not only reinvesting the money they've made from other real estate investments, they're adding to that sum money they might have otherwise put in the stock market.

"They're taking money that's been sitting on the sidelines in money market accounts and saying, 'Let's put it in a nice home," he said.

Corporate executives and entrepreneurs are the two most common professions cited in the poll, with 68 percent of all million-dollar buyers described as "new money."

Boot strapping is just one way into a dream house.

"We are hearing the same story over and over again of a couple in their mid-40s or -50s who've inherited money and are looking at real estate as a place to put it," said Perriello, explaining that a tremendous amount of wealth being passed between generations is another factor driving demand for luxury homes.

Even after plunking down all of that cash for a house, these buyers still have money to spend. Nearly half of all seven-figure buyers said they planned to turn around and pay a small fortune for renovations.

"That was a lot more than I had expected," said Perriello.

Why should I trade down?

Conventional wisdom says that older buyers want to trade down. After all, who needs all of that space when the kids finally move out?

While 66 percent of luxury buyers are ages 35 through 55, more than 28 percent of million-dollar homebuyers are ages 56 and older.

"They aren't just looking at condos," said Perriello, who was surprised by the number of older buyers. Rather, many are shopping with the idea of creating family retreats where their children and grandchildren can gather in comfort. (See "Sweet Home Oregon.")

According to Coldwell Banker's survey, 49 percent of million-dollar homes sold ranged from 4,000 to 6,000 square feet, with the majority of buyers requesting four to five bedrooms.

Of course, size alone does not make a million-dollar house. Designer kitchens were a top priority among buyers on a large budget. Next in order of importance were media rooms with theater-style seating, wine cellars, tennis or basketball courts, indoor swimming pools and ballroom/cigar rooms.

Going to Grandma's never sounded so good.  Top of page

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