Jeff Bezos, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen Led 2020’s Biggest Real-Estate Deals

Jeff Bezos, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen Led 2020’s Biggest Real-Estate Deals

Many U.S. billionaires got richer during the pandemic, thanks in part to the recovery of global stock markets. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that, while individual markets were impacted to dramatically different degrees, the ultra-high end of the real-estate market didn’t crash in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

While the New York City market took a gut punch as wealthy Manhattanites fled the city, markets such as the Hamptons, Greenwich, Conn., Palm Beach and Los Angeles boomed. Local realtors attributed that uptick in part to the increasing fortunes of the wealthiest Americans, a desire by the rich to get out of densely populated environments and a rise in the number of people who wanted to upsize to larger homes with space for work-from-home friendly amenities like offices and gyms.

In the third quarter, sales of Manhattan luxury homes—defined as the top 10{911ea05452e114f1778c76ca86733b6032c246f8f651bb1f01d12abf04b54efb} of transactions—were down by 46.7{911ea05452e114f1778c76ca86733b6032c246f8f651bb1f01d12abf04b54efb} compared to the same period in 2019, according to a report by Douglas Elliman. Just 3.6{911ea05452e114f1778c76ca86733b6032c246f8f651bb1f01d12abf04b54efb} of transactions followed a bidding war, the lowest level in more than 11 years, the report shows. By contrast, sales of luxury homes in Palm Beach and high-end single family homes in Los Angeles were up by 87.5{911ea05452e114f1778c76ca86733b6032c246f8f651bb1f01d12abf04b54efb} and 33.5{911ea05452e114f1778c76ca86733b6032c246f8f651bb1f01d12abf04b54efb}, respectively, Elliman’s numbers show. In Greenwich, luxury sales were up 68.2{911ea05452e114f1778c76ca86733b6032c246f8f651bb1f01d12abf04b54efb}, marking the end to a more-than-decade-long slump in the affluent Connecticut city.

“It’s the strongest luxury market in the history of Palm Beach, record prices in every single category” said Danny Hertzberg, a luxury agent with Coldwell Banker Realty in South Florida. “We can barely catch our breath. It’s nonstop. Basically everything that was on the market has been sold so we’re calling people to ask whether they would consider selling.”

Of the top 10 deals closed in 2020 nationwide, two topped $100 million, down from a record six in 2019, according to data from appraiser

Jonathan Miller

and research by The Wall Street Journal. Five were recorded in California, in the Los Angeles area or in the celebrity-studded Montecito enclave in Santa Barbara County. Two were recorded in Palm Beach, and two in the Hamptons. The one remaining deal, recorded in New York City, was the result of a closing at the new Billionaires’ Row mega-tower 220 Central Park South. The deal was not actually signed this year–the nature of the new development market provides that the time from contract to closing can often take years –and does not reflect the current performance of the local market.

Read on for a closer look at the year’s biggest deals.

An aerial view of the Warner Estate in Los Angeles.



1. The Warner Estate in Los Angeles, Calif. | $165 million

In many ways, Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos has been a key figure during the pandemic, as his company’s stock price skyrocketed amid increased demand for online shopping. In April, he closed on a deal to buy the Warner Estate, the glamorous 1930s-era mansion designed for the late Warner Bros. president Jack Warner, from David Geffen for $165 million, setting a price record for a Los Angeles home. It was a direct, off-market deal with no agents involved, The Wall Street Journal reported. Neither Mr. Bezos nor Mr. Geffen commented on the deal.

Sitting on 9 acres, the property, located in the Benedict Canyon area, has its own 9-hole golf course, several guest houses, a tennis court and sprawling gardens. “No studio czar’s residence, before or since, has ever surpassed in size, grandeur, or sheer glamour the Jack Warner Estate on Angelo Drive in Benedict Canyon,” wrote veteran Los Angeles real-estate agent

Jeff Hyland

in his book, “The Legendary Estates of Beverly Hills.”

Jade Mills of Coldwell Banker Global Luxury, who was not involved with the deal, said the gargantuan transaction inspired others to get out their checkbooks. “It helps our market to have those very high sales,” she said. “People feel if the billionaires are buying then it’s a good time.”

Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Beverly Hills home recently sold for $125 million.




Jeffrey Katzenberg

Estate in Beverly Hills, Calif. | $125 million

In August, entertainment executive Jeffrey Katzenberg sold his Beverly Hills home for $125 million in an off-market deal to Jan Koum, one of the founders of the messaging service WhatsApp, according to people familiar with the deal.

At the time, a spokesman for Mr. Katzenberg said the sale was a move to downsize and that the buyer had submitted an offer that Mr. Katzenberg and his wife Marilyn Katzenberg couldn’t refuse. They had bought the site of the property for $35 million in 2009, records show. Mr. Koum could not be reached for comment.

Property records show the home spans about 26,000 square feet, and sits on almost 7 acres.

Kurt Rappaport

of Westside Estate Agency brokered both sides of the transaction.

A deal for a penthouse at 220 Central Park South was the largest sale to close in New York this year.


Kat Malott/The Wall Street Journal

3. 220 Central Park South #PH76 in New York, N.Y. | $99.9 million

A $99.9 million deal for a penthouse at 220 Central Park South, the new limestone tower designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects on Billionaire’s Row, closed in July, more than three years after the contract was initially signed. Together with a smaller unit on a lower floor of the building, which is designated in offering plans as a guest or staff space, the total price came to close to $102 million.

Though less than half the price of a nearly $240 million unit purchased by hedge-fund executive Ken Griffin at the building last year, the transaction was still the third priciest ever completed in Manhattan, according to public records. The identity of the purchaser could not be determined.

The four-bedroom apartment spans about 9,800 square feet, according to marketing materials for the property. Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group led sales at the building, which was developed by

Vornado Realty Trust.

The fact that no New York deals that began in 2020 appeared on this year’s list is symptomatic of how hard the local market was hit by Covid-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions, which impacted the number of active foreign buyers, according to local agents. However, contract activity began to pick up in the final months of the year, according to a report by Olshan Realty.

“To say the luxury market is thriving would be untrue, but it’s decent,” said Bess Freedman, chief executive of luxury New York brokerage Brown Harris Stevens. “We’ve started to get back some momentum.”

A Hamptons home purchased by hedge funder Ken Griffin for $84 million.



4. Hamptons Compound in Southampton, N.Y. | $84 million

In March, billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin closed on an $84 million deal to buy a modern Hamptons estate from designer Calvin Klein, according to public records and people familiar with the deal. The property was the latest in a long line of pieces of trophy real estate snapped up by Mr. Griffin across the country in recent years.

The roughly 7-acre property is located on coveted Meadow Lane in Southampton. Mr. Klein commissioned the modern house after buying the property in 2003. The site was previously home to an estate known as Dragon Head, which had a fortress-style design. It was formerly owned by the du Pont family, then by Jane Holzer, better known as the Andy Warhol muse “Baby Jane,” The Wall Street Journal reported. Neither Mr. Griffin nor Mr. Klein commented on the deal.

A pair of homes in the Trousdale Estates area of Beverly Hills sold to a single buyer for $75.5 million.


Simon Berlyn/The Beverly Hills Estates

5. Trousdale Estates Duo in Los Angeles, Calif. | $75.5 million

A limited-liability company tied to the family of Taiwanese billionaire

Terry Gou,

founder of iPhone assembler

Foxconn Technology Group,

paid $75.5 million for two neighboring homes in pricey Trousdale Estates area of Los Angeles in January, according to people familiar with the deal. The buyer could combine the properties into one of the largest private compounds in the Hollywood Hills, according to a real estate veteran familiar with the neighborhood.

The first property has six-bedrooms and is 17,000 square feet. It was asking $42.5 million and had finishes by design firm Armani/Casa, according to Zillow. It was developed by a partnership led by developer Farzin Aghaipour, records show.

The second property is a spec home built by Canadian businessman and Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini, The Wall Street Journal reported. The 16,000-square-foot home has an L-shaped infinity pool, a golf simulator and a roof deck.

Neither Mr. Gou nor the developers could be reached for comment.

Branden and Rayni Williams, then of Hilton & Hyland but now with Beverly Hills Estates, represented both sellers in the deals. Kurt Rappaport of Westside Estate Agency represented the family of Mr. Gou as well as the seller of the Armani/Casa house.

A Palm Beach estate owned by Robb E. Turner sold for $71.85 million.



6. Waterfront Florida Estate in Palm Beach, Fla. | $71.85 million

Financier and energy entrepreneur Robb E. Turner and his wife, Lydia Turner sold their more than 2-acre lakefront estate on S. Lake Trail in Palm Beach for $71.85 million in June, property records show.

The 1930s-era, Neo-classical property was designed by the late John L. Volk, a prominent architect whose work helped popularize the British Colonial, Georgian, and Bermuda architectural style in South Florida.

The identity of the buyer, who bought through a limited-liability company, could not be determined. The Turners had paid $27 million for the property more than three years earlier, records show. Mr. Turner could not be reached for comment.

A Palm Beach mansion once owned by the Kennedy family sold for $70 million.


Jessica Klewicki Glynn for The Wall Street Journal

7. Kennedy Winter White House in Palm Beach, Fla. | $70 million

A Palm Beach mansion formerly owned by the Kennedy family, and used by President John F. Kennedy as a winter retreat, sold for $70 million in June to a real estate developer, who filed plans to upgrade it.

The seller was the New York real estate billionaire Jane Goldman, who bought the property in 2015 for $31 million, records show. The Kennedys owned the property starting in the 1930s when it was purchased by John F. Kennedy’s father,

Joseph P. Kennedy,

according to the book “The Kennedy Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America’s First Family for 150 Years,” by Edward Klein. The family sold it in the 1990s, records show.

The property, a sprawling Mediterranean-style estate spanning more than 15,000 square feet, is located on North Ocean Boulevard. Neither Mr. Panattoni nor Ms. Goldman could be reached for comment.

Entertainment and sports executive Casey Wasserman sold his Beverly Hills home for $68 million.


Simon Berlyn

8. The Foothill Estate in Beverly Hills, Calif. | $68 million

Entertainment and sports executive Casey Wasserman, grandson of the late Hollywood mega-agent Lew Wasserman, sold his newly completed Beverly Hills home for $68 million in June, far less than its original $125 million asking price. The purchaser was David Geffen, according to a person familiar with the deal.

The roughly 18,548-square-foot mansion sits on more than 3 acres and includes a gym, a screening room and an art studio. Outside, there’s an entertainment deck with an 85-foot infinity pool, a pool house and a four-car garage as well as motor court parking for about 25 cars.

Mr. Wasserman completed the house in 2016. He assembled the site using land formerly owned by his grandparents, the late Edie and Lew Wasserman, and a property next door formerly owned by Frank Sinatra, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Westside Estate Agency co-founder Stephen Shapiro represented the seller and co-founder Kurt Rappaport represented Mr. Geffen. Neither Mr. Wasserman nor Mr. Geffen responded to requests for comment.

An East Hampton estate designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects sold for $67 million.


Lena Yaremenko

9. Hamptons Compound in East Hampton, N.Y. | $67 million

A 3.4-acre East Hampton estate with a roughly 8,000-square-foot oceanfront mansion designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects with a waterfront pool sold for $67 million in October, according to a person familiar with the deal. The estate also includes a 6,000-square-foot guesthouse, which also has its own pool. The houses were formerly owned by the late former Morgan Stanley executive

Charles G. Phillips,

his wife, Candace Phillips, records show. The identity of the buyer could not be determined.

Ed Petrie, James Petrie and Charles Forsman of Compass represented both sides.

An aerial view of Rancho San Carlos in Montecito, which sold for $63.25 million.


Google Earth

10. Rancho San Carlos in Montecito, Calif. | $63.25 million

Rancho San Carlos, one of the largest residential properties in Montecito, Calif., a celebrity-packed residential community in Santa Barbara County, sold for $63.25 million in October. Though the property sold for only about half its original $125 million asking price, the deal still set a price record for the area.

The sellers were the family of the late rancher and property investor Charles H. Jackson Jr., and his wife, Ann Jackson, who bought the land in the 1920s. The buyers was a limited company tied to construction and engineering entrepreneur Riley Bechtel, records show.

The roughly 240-acre property comprises a 30,000-square-foot Monterey Colonial-style house with 12 bedrooms as well as 10 cottages, office and equestrian facilities, and roughly 100 acres of citrus and avocado orchards, The Wall Street Journal reported. Neither Mr. Jackson nor Mr. Bechtel commented on the deal.

The property was listed by Suzanne Perkins of Compass and Harry Kolb of Sotheby’s International Realty.

Write to Katherine Clarke at [email protected]

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