THE NEW BEVERLY HILLS: RIYADH OVERRUNS RODEO DRIVEIn other Hollywood Hills news, The Vineyard Beverly Hills, a 157-acre piece of undeveloped property just south of Mulholland Drive and just west of the nice little Franklin Canyon lake where I go hiking, is available for a billion dollars.
One Saudi bought a $27 million estate by helicopter without walking inside, while the Peninsula hotel offers Muslim prayer rugs; those are just two examples of how the super-rich Saudis and Chinese are changing the culture and consumer habits of the Golden Triangle, with 63 percent of spending now coming from international travelers
DECEMBER 5, 2014 CHRIS GARDNER, MERLE GINSBERG
“I’ll take that one,” said a Saudi Arabian royal, pointing down from a helicopter while with his realtor on an aerial tour over Beverly Hills’ tony Trousdale Estates. He was picking out a massive 11,000-square-foot estate (complete with pool, picturesque views and two acres of property) — before stepping one foot inside the off-market listing, which was then home to Mary Hart and Burt Sugarman. Instead, according to property records, he paid north of $27 million from the sky to get the couple, who had lived there 25 years, to move out in three weeks so he and his family could celebrate Ramadan in their new digs (once owned by Elizabeth Taylor), says a source close to the owners.
… Welcome to the new Beverly Hills, where an influx of chopper-chartering, cash-flashing, uber-monied visitors from Saudi Arabia and China are making a huge splash while stuffing the coffers of real estate agents, restaurants, hotels and luxury retail outposts. These MMTs (Major Moneyed Tourists) are the new wave of Golden Triangle VIPs, supplanting the Japanese and Russians who had been pervasive spenders in the 90210 for years. …
Foreign cash is pocketed in all corners of Los Angeles, but perhaps no industry is counting its blessings more than the real estate business. And those who toil in the mega-mansions trenches confirm that they’ve seen a sharp rise in buyers from China and Saudi Arabia. … Realtors say the majority — if not all — of these types of deals are cash transactions, because of the extreme wealth of buyers and the difficulty foreigners have in obtaining loans from local lending institutions.
Madison Hildebrand of the Malibu office of Partners Trust Brokerage says the largest sale of his career came courtesy of a Saudi buyer who snapped up a Beverly Hills estate for $20 million. “Most often, they are looking for a compound where they can maintain their culture by having their family live in the ancillary houses on the property so that everyone can have enough space,” he says, adding that they even use their own butlers. …
… “When the Chinese travel, almost 60 percent of their activity is around shopping, a purely emotionally based decision,” he says. “Rodeo Drive represents that emotional connection to the American Dream.” Saudi Arabians “watch movies and TV all the time and love the life and style of California, from Malibu surfers to casual clothing to Hollywood. It’s very intriguing to them,” adds Sama Eyewear designer/honcho Sheila Vance.
… Speaking of the city, says Nissenbaum: “Beverly Hills has done a great job of creating a safe environment — safety is at the forefront of your mind if you’re a sheikh from Saudi or a tycoon from China.” Retailer Cameron Silver notes the resulting influx and laughs: “My Saudi friends complain that there were too many other Saudis in town.”
After years of young Middle Easterners summering in Knightsbridge with their Ferraris, Bugatis and Aventadors (amassing $30,000 in parking fines in 2013 alone), Arab supercar owners now are bringing their drives to Beverly Hills. Videographer and exotic car enthusiast Drake Mumford, who tracks their movements on his YouTube channel, explains that “until a couple of years ago, the main destinations were London, Paris, Cannes and Monaco. But over time, residents started getting annoyed with their driving habits, which caused police to check for paperwork and impound cars that are missing insurance or registration documents.” The hassles, says Mumford, made L.A., despite the logistics — it can cost $35,000 each way to ship a car by air from the Middle East — an attractive alternative.
The summer of 2012, Mumford says, was L.A.’s first “Arab supercar summer — most of the cool cars in Beverly Hills had Arab plates.” …
But not everybody is loading freight-sized shipping containers packed with high-end cars. Some visitors rent upon arrival, says a local luxury-car dealer. “Have we had as many as 25 cars out to one individual family and the entourage with them? Yeah,” the source tells THR, adding that the tab for such a fleet can run in the six figures. “There are a lot of things associated with that price — you add on drivers and security and bulletproof cars and armored plating.” Summarizes the source: “They come here and they spend like drunken sailors, God bless them.”
The sister of the Shah of Iran bought the ridgetop in 1977 to build a getaway palace for the Shah. Then Merv Griffin owned it and wanted to build a house on it bigger than Aaron Spelling’s 56,000 sq ft manse using the money he made, in part, by being chintzy with Jeopardy! contestants (like me). But Merv got outsmarted by Donald Trump in a deal and sold the land to the HerbalLife multilevel marketing supersalesman guy Mark R. Hughes. But in 2000 at age 44, Hughes suffered Non-HerbalDeath, leaving the land in trust to his small child. The head trustee and some random hustler from Georgia have been trying to, more or less, steal it from Hughes’ heir for most of the century. Lately it appears to be nominally in the hands of a Cuban racketeer who did three years in prison for ripping off H.U.D. by getting $60 million in fraudulent affordable housing mortgage loans for minorities like in that Sopranos episode. But the Cuban ex-con claims to be representing undisclosed Big Money in the Middle East, so I guess it’s legit. Now, the Cuban conman says he’s not going to sell the land for a billion dollars, he’s just going to continue to rent it out to Rihanna and Charlize Theron to hold parties on it.
Granted, there are no vineyards on The Vineyard Beverly Hills (that’s just grass), and it’s not actually in Beverly Hills. And only about 60 acres are level enough to be traversed without you being roped up and on belay. And it’s surrounded by dense greaswood brush that hasn’t burned since maybe 1961, so it’s due.
But it has nice views. Of course, you can get pretty much the same views by going for a hike in the area for free. And the views in Los Angeles are kind of pedestrian, but billionaires these days seem to be crazy for views (e.g., all the high rise construction near Central Park in Manhattan). But that’s not really the point, the point is that Big Money in the Middle East would really like to help with the Syrian Refugee Crisis, but keeping the good people of Beverly Hills solvent has to come first.