Peek inside Madoff's homes and boats
U.S. Marshals are preparing Bernard Madoff's boats and homes in Florida and Manhattan for sale. CNNMoney takes a tour of the properties - and the boat with an elevator.
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- In an age when the rich and famous often indulge themselves with huge, expensive mansions, Bernie Madoff played it relatively conservatively.
Based on his real estate holdings, you wouldn't have guessed that the felonious financier had victimized his investors by as much as $65 billion. His oceanfront cottage in Montauk is notable more for its vistas than its opulence.
That theme continues as we get closer looks at both his Manhattan penthouse and his Palm Beach spread, thanks to publicity videos hosted by U.S. marshals, who have been preparing the homes for sale.
On Wednesday evening, they selected brokers to list the properties, giving the Palm Beach house to New York luxury real estate broker Corcoran Group and the Manhattan house to the real estate division of famed auction house Sotheby's.
Corcoran is already listing Madoff's Montauk beach house for $8.75 million. The Palm Beach house is going on the market Thursday for $8.49 million, and the Manhattan penthouse is priced at $9.9 million. And they're not exactly palatial estates.
The Manhattan penthouse is nice, of course, but it isn't awe inspiring. It occupies the entire top two floors of an Upper East Side apartment building and features wraparound terraces with extraordinary views. The residence is about 4,000 square feet, which is large by Manhattan standards but still distinctly sub-McMansion.
"From what I've seen, I'd call it a fairly modest place," said expert New York appraiser Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel.
But a true penthouse carries a special cachet and puts Madoff's house in a vaunted category. Miller compared it to the Montauk home, which while modest has the distinction of sitting right on the beach. There are buyers who only want ocean-front property and will accept nothing less. Similarly, there are discerning buyers who only want penthouses.
Because these types of houses are rare, when they come on the market, they sell for premiums. The marshal in charge of the Manhattan sale, Roland Ubaldo, said his office was letting the brokers set he price, but he anticipates between $8 million and $10 million for the home where "Madoff spent the last days of his life as a free man."
The penthouse has attractive fanlights over many of the windows, parquet floors, four working fireplaces and a gorgeous curving staircase to go from the 11th to the 12th floor. Bernie's study is floor-to-ceiling cherry-wood paneled walls and bookcases. The kitchen is state of the art with stainless steel counters, custom cabinets and high-end appliances.
The home will be sold as a three bedroom, though that's not the current configuration. There's only one bedroom now. Bernie and his wife, Ruth, tended to have separate facilities, so the other two bedrooms were converted to his-and-her studies. Separate walk-in closets have cedar cabinets and housed the 45 to 50 custom made suits Bernie owned, as well as dozens of pairs of shoes.
At 6,500 square feet, the Palm Beach home is much larger than the other Madoff homes, but it is still comparatively modest and mostly, well, homey.
"There was nothing really extravagant, nothing over the top about it," said Barry Golden, of the U.S. Marshals Southern District Florida office, which is preparing the property for sale.
The Palm Beach County's property appraiser values the house itself, minus the lot it sits on, at only about $778,000. The land is what's really valuable: The half acre is appraised at close to $7 million.
"It's a beautiful home, don't get me wrong," said John Thomas, Palm Beach County's Director of Residential Appraisal. "But it's just another $8 million or $9 million property in the town of Palm Beach. In terms of the neighborhood, they're all spectacular."
It is, however, larger than either of its next-door neighbors, and it has an 80-foot dock on the Intracoastal Waterway, right behind the house. That's where Madoff kept his yacht. "We're hoping that will keep the price up," said Thomas.
From the street it is hard to see much of the property because dense plantings screen the building from prying eyes. But glimpses reveal a two-story wood-frame home with ground-floor and second-story verandas.
Inside, it's casual chic with uneven terra cotta tile floors, lots of windows and French doors, unpainted vaulted ceilings and exposed beams. The finishes here are a bit finer than that of the Montauk residence, which is more rustic. There is elaborate and extensive woodwork with beautiful moldings and built-in bookshelves.
The upstairs consists of a master suite with bedchamber, dual walk-in closets, an exercise room, a study and two baths.
Decor wise, the home features two recurring themes: fish and bulls.
"You can't help but notice all the bull reference in the house," said Golden.
There are what look like old English paintings of different breeds of bulls, as well as bull statues and figurines. Mounted on a wall is the 1969 blueprints for Bull, the Madoff yacht, a 55-foot, custom-made craft that the marshals also seized.
On Wall Street, the bull means optimism concerning the direction of the market. In everyday life, it has an alternative meaning, one Madoff's victims probably find more appropriate as a motif in his house.
Victims may also find the fish theme -- figurines, display cases of lures and tied flies, and wall-mounted antique angling gear -- equally apt considering how he angled for investors, reeled them in and then gutted and filleted them.
All the furniture and objets d'arte will stay in the house until it's sold, according to Golden. After that, they'll be auctioned off and the proceeds, like those from the home sale, will go into the fund to repay investors.
The most valuable of all the personal property is undoubtedly Bull the yacht. It was kept shrink-wrapped after it was seized in April until opened up for video display this month.
The Bull boasts a flying bridge that sits so high up that an elevator was needed to carry people up. Yes, you read that right: Bernie's boat has an elevator.
There's also a 38-foot Shelter Island runabout, a 1930's rumrunner-style boat with a high bow and an aggressive profile called Sitting Bull. Last, there's the little Maverick, a small open cabin boat with an outboard motor. It's name? You guessed it: Little Bull.
Golden is particularly interested to see whether the Madoff connection will bring out more boat buyers for the auction, which should take place soon. "We hope to keep the prices up so we can return the maximum amount of money to the victims," he said.
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