Mansions Off The Rack

Your first surprise when you visit the new development of Oceanfront, 23 miles south of Santa Monica, Calif., is that it's actually on the ocean; in real-estate parlance, a name like that may just mean it's in a state with a coastline. The houses aren't finished yet, but it's easy to imagine how nice it would be to come home to one after a hard day breaking in a new crew for your racing sloop. Visualize the four-car garages filled with Ferraris, the three crystal chandeliers gleaming above the 16-foot dining table. Dad's simmering in the hot tub while the fake boulders scattered about the grounds, which double as speaker enclosures, murmur Pavarotti. Mom is on the elliptical trainer in the gym, while the boys are in their rooms, playing Doom Warrior over the built-in computer network. All this can be yours for as little as $10 million. Better get that IPO out in a hurry, though: the houses go on sale Feb. 19, and only the first 79 families in line will get to buy one. After all those months of hard work it took to become rich, it would be a shame to let this opportunity go by.

Oceanfront is meant to solve an unexpected downside of the longest boom in history: a shortage of unaffordable housing. Hadi Makarechian, chairman and CEO of Capital Pacific Holdings, which is developing the 132-acre community on the Rancho Palos Verdes peninsula, stands in the tradition of the great suburban developers of the 1950s. Back then, of course, they built $5,000 homes for young families, but Makarechian's approach is the same: subdivide a tract of land into half-acre lots, build the models and wait for customers. What's changed is that while many young working families can't afford homes, the economy is producing so many new millionaires that we have to build tract houses for them. About 1,500 potential buyers from four continents have expressed interest.

But Makarechian's ambitions extend beyond supplying four walls and a roof--even if they happen to enclose 8,000 square feet and 16 rooms (counting the master walk-in closet as a room, since it's about the size of the dining room). For $10 million, you get not just a house, but a fully equipped life, with furniture on the floors, dishes in the cupboards, linens on the beds and pictures on the walls. All are of the highest quality and chosen to enhance the owner's preferred lifestyle fantasy. There's a choice of four: English country estate (reproduction pine furniture, with an overlay of palm fronds and wicker from the Ralph Lauren Safari collection), Tuscan villa (rough-hewn limestone in the kitchen), French Regency (cream-colored onyx floors everywhere, including closets) or New York penthouse (pared-down Zen esthetic, shiny black or metallic finishes). Says Makarechian: "We have set up these homes to attract the young generation"--people who are "about lifestyle and enjoying life." Formerly, those were code words used to lure retirees to Ft. Lauderdale, but today leisure is no longer wasted on the old, and neither are home theaters and wine cellars.

The other characteristic of youth is that it's technologically savvy. At Oceanfront, the phone lines are DSLs, the computers are networked and each plant on the grounds is served by a computerized drip-irrigation system attached to moisture sensors in the soil. Virtually anything that runs on electricity, from the lighting in the art gallery to the coffeemaker, is hooked up to a piece of hardware called an IBM Home Director. Among other tricks, it will mute the sound system if the doorbell rings, or phone you anywhere in the world if the temperature goes too high in the wine-storage racks. The entry system uses electronic "tokens" in place of keys, and can be programmed so that the pool man, for example, can get through the gate only when he's supposed to be there. Or, for around $20,000 per door, you can have a biometric entry system that reads fingerprints or even faces. "It's not that people should be paranoid, but this gives them comfort," says Jim DeMarco, whose company installs the security systems.

Security is what Oceanfront is all about, and not just the kind that comes from having surveillance cameras in every room. It's the security of knowing that everything you own is prescreened for taste, quality and fitness to your station in life; the social impregnability that comes from possessing a "library," "music room" and "conservatory," as well as a wet bar that would serve a small hotel. David Halle, director of UCLA's Neiman Center for the Study of American Culture and Society, agrees that young millionaires are often in need of reassurance. "Some of the rich do a lot of entertaining, and they want to make sure it's up to a certain standard," he says. "They have a lot of judgmental friends." Too often, society regards 28-year-olds with $50 million in stock profits as parvenus with more money than they know what to do with. Oceanfront exists to tell them what to do with it.

Mansions Off The Rack | News