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8 Bizarre Real Estate Deals

(polymath blues)

Let’s face it – the typical real estate transaction is pretty boring. Few of us can get all that excited about yet another “three bedroom, one and a half bath” changing hands in the town or city we live in. The daily occurrence of these deals – and the ordinary properties involved – are simply too commonplace to react any other way. However, every once in a while a truly remarkable property comes on to the market or is developed for sale. Whether it’s a house that’s only nine and a half feet wide or one made entirely of glass, these bizarre properties provoke more than a passing glance. The following are some of the most noteworthy:

World’s Most Expensive Home

Plenty of us have complained about our high mortgages or rent, but no one louder than whomever winds up buying this place. The German website Spiegel Online International describes the house for sale at an eye-popping €6.3 million (roughly $9 million US) What is even more mind-blowing about this particular deal is the size of the home. Most people would expect a sweeping, palatial mansion that casts a majestic shadow on passersby for such a steep asking price, but alas, the property clocks in at a tiny 322 square feet. Spiegal offers some hints as to the astronomical value of the property, which sits on the German holiday island of Sylt:

“According to owner Heinrich Haase the building stands on 2,400 meters of land in the millionaire’s neighborhood of Kampen on the island, off Germany’s northern coast near the Danish border…”

The property is also said to be situated amidst natural sand dunes and offer an unrestricted view of the sea. Interest is rumored to be high in the historically expensive home, including amongst people “whose names you would know.”

The Bubble House

Now may be the most inopportune time to be cracking jokes about bubbles and houses, but that didn’t stop Pierre Cardin from snapping up this bad boy. OddityCentral.com chronicles the story of this strange property in photographed, high-resolution detail, describing its early history as follows:

As the story goes, Pierre Cardin was looking to buy a nice house on the Cote d’Azur, but was horrified by all the unoriginal designs that he had seen and that didn’t match his avant-garde fashion designs. That one day he stumbled upon a construction site, where an architect by the name of Antti Lovag was building a bubble-house for some industrialist who happened to have died. Cardin was thrilled to acquire the almost finished residence that finally satisfied his exigent taste.”

OddityCentral goes on to note that the bubble house was far from an instant hit upon its 1990 completion. In fact, some even referred to it derisively as the “crazy-house.” However, it is today a popular landmark, visited by thousands of tourists every year.

The Harlem Castle

Few types of real estate are as compelling as domineering, Gothic castles that cast their shadows down from on high. This is precisely what we find in the recent sale of Harlem’s Grey Gardens castle, deemed by New York Magazine to be “the steal of the year” at $1.5 million. NY Mag’s reporters who researched the story noted that they were

“…blown away by the gorgeous 8,250 square feet of interior space, the quirky architecture, the original stained-glass windows, the herringbone wood floors and the coffered ceilings, the history (it was built by a circus impresario and was later a funeral home), and most of all the $3.5 million price tag.”

The $2 million discount (75% off!) came about due to the extensive repairs that will have to be done by the new owner, ranging from rotted floors to cracking plaster to a “jungle” in the backyard. However, the consensus is that the new owners got a steal and that there is “no other property like it on the island of Manhattan”.

New York’s Skinniest House

(Marcin Wichary)

Many an unhappy home owner has lamented the lack of space in their homes. Belongings pile up, discomfort builds, and life at home becomes too cluttered for our liking. But few of us know “small” like the owner of the house covered in a recent Yahoo! News story:

“It’s 9.5 feet wide and 42 feet long (2.9 metres wide by 12.8 metres long) and is billed as the narrowest house in New York City. But there’s nothing small about its asking price: $2.7 million.”

These absurd dimensions make the Greenwich Village house in all likelihood even narrower than the one pictured above. Yahoo also notes that the current owner paid $1.6 million in 2001 for the property, which a real estate broker quoted for the story describes as “a place for someone who wants a little history.” It remains to be seen whether the new, higher price will be met (especially in this economy), but the eventual sale of this property is sure to attract attention one way or another.

The Glass House

(Christopher Peterson)

Everyone’s heard the line about how people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but no one ever gets to say it to an actual glass house owner – that is, until this dwelling came along. Designed by American architect Phillip Johnson, the glass house was erected in New Canan, Connecticut in 1949 as Johnson’s own residence according to the house’s website. In addition to being declared a National Historic Landmark in 1997, the house passed to the National Trust For Historic Preservation upon Johnson’s 2005 death, and has been subsequently opened to visitors and tourists. The only non-glass materials used are brick for the floors and charcoal-painted steel for the exterior beams.

The $25 Million Bounced Closing Check

One thing all real estate deals have in common is the closing, where buyers and sellers (or their attorneys) meet up to consummate the final details and sign off on all remaining paperwork. Typically these are rather ordinary affairs containing little of interest to outside observers. In 2006, however, a closing unlike any other in history took place in New Jersey. TheRealEstateBloggers.com tells the story of Solomon Dwek, a real estate investor from Ocean Township who deposited a $25,000,000 check from a closing he had just wrapped up nearby. The check was deposited from a drive-through teller window (which was apparently Dwek’s usual method of depositing) and promptly bounced, creating a domino effect whereby $23 million in checks written against the money bounced thereafter. The story behind the bogus check remained shrouded in mystery for several years, stating only that the FBI was investigating. In 2009, however, TillerStillers reported that Dwek had been arrested for using the illicit funds to repay old loans, as well as trying to cash a second $25 million check at a different PNC branch.

UFO House

(robinart.com)

Conspiracy theorists will find much to explore in Chattanooga, Tennessee’s UFO house. In an investigative piece on the property, Gizmodo.com conducts a photographed overview, describing it as “one of the most bizarre abodes we’ve ever seen” and recalling that it boasts “a button activated stair case, curved bar area and customized bathtub, as well as various UFO paneled controls throughout that are simply priceless, or so you would think.”

Unfortunately for the Gizmodo crew, the home’s asking price of $100,000 puts it “about $99,999 out of our budget.” Perhaps these extraterrestrial home owners will be forced to beam down their price a bit in light of the economy.

$1.8 Billion NYC real estate investigation

As the above example illustrates, some of the craziest real estate deals involve not just the property itself, but the insane manner in which the deals are carried out. Another fascinating example is the $1.76 billion Riverside South project in NYC, on Manhattan’s West Side. According to the New York Post, the deal (which involved 77 acres of waterfront real estate destined for luxury condos and is said be the biggest in NYC history) saw a Chinese consortium “evade taxes by having the buyers, developers Extell and the Carlyle Group, pay a $17 million finder’s fee to a British Virgin Islands-based shell corporation.” As of September 19, 2009 there had already been one arrest in connection with the convoluted deal, which alleges that consortium members funnelled bonus money and other payments through illegal tax havens in foreign countries.

Charges brought against Barry Gross thus far include “grand larceny, falsifying business records and offering a false instrument for filing.” It remains to be seen how much more chaos unfolds from this strange and apparently deceptive deal.