As usual, my answer to why people build and/or buy mansions is different from all the rest.
I have bought and sold many mansions. They are called “grand villas” in Europe. I always bought many places that were way too big for my personal use. I moved into them and personally worked on them till I could sell them — usually at a profit of ten or even fifty times my investment.
What my family and I needed was at most a two-bedroom place. Later, maybe a 3rd bedroom with its bathroom for guests. When? There came a point where I was well off enough so that my wife and I didn’t want any overnight visiting friends and relatives and the occasional prodigal drop-in offspring flopping in the living room and using our communal toilet/bathroom.
I got into mansions only after a lot of experience fixing up smaller places or turning big homes into duplexes or tri-plexes.
Eventually, I bought some huge near palaces (and a few churches) for one reason only – I could make a lot of money by converting them into small apartment units that could be sold as condominiums!
There were and probably always will be periods of economic distress when the nouveau riche who built personal palaces are forced to sell. This happened when France imposed a large wealth tax. When a €5 million white elephant mansion with say 30 rooms becomes a distress sale and is auctioned off in a bankruptcy.
This is what always happens:
A custom-built place almost always has many features that nobody else wants or if they want them, they can’t afford to bid on or maintain such a place.
What are some of the unwanted features I have seen?
The funniest are big rooms they call in the trade “dungeons”. These rooms, filled with sex toys, are or were used for weird sexual activities like hoisting naked women aloft and spinning them around then lowering them slowly, and well, I won’t go into detail.
Other such features using up space are special use green-houses for maybe exotic plants, pet snakes, tigers or tortoises, special therapeutic hot tubs, mud baths, and king-sized jacuzzis.
Then there were racquetball courts and mini-golf courses. These, plus the more standard swimming pools with waves, special computer rooms, tennis or basketball courts are sometimes found indoors or even on roofs. Very common features are movie projection rooms with anywhere between 10 and fifty plush seats.
A famous musician’s place had a sound-proof studio with lots of electronics and recording facilities. What the mansions almost always had in common (and what I looked for) was the very best, solid construction materials, secret rooms for safe retreats and/or storing valuables, a grand staircase, clothes closets the size of normal bedrooms, etc.
For me, first of all, I could and would bid around 10% of the original cost. The more weird and unwanted custom features a place had, the fewer bidders there were. It was always a challenge to find the highest and best use of the space I acquired.
If possible, I would try to utilize and market any unique special features effectively. While a few could afford a whole mansion, sometimes I could market something like a 4 rooms apartment with as a “special feature,” a sex dungeon room. Guess what? For the special features, I sometimes got at a huge premium. Not always!
I never found anyone to buy apartments with the largest room being a movie theater. Thus I needed to take out seats, sell them off, level the floor, and just make them into a nice living room. One place had an ice-skating rink with a mobile dance floor that rolled out top of the ice.
When I encountered huge gourmet kitchens I left them alone just installed a dining area. Being part Polish, I remembered that when I was a little kid, our families always liked to eat and socialize in an over-sized kitchen. I made advertising pictures of my fabulous kitchens and sold apartments with them at a big premium.
Once, I almost bought an unused Hugh Hefner Playboy Mansion with some unusual features like a pole between floors to slide down to a swimming pool – Unfortunately, it was for sale without the “Playmates”. I was outbid on that one.
Needless to say, I always had plenty of critics whom I respond honestly, politely, and rationally. If that doesn’t satisfy or make them go away, I ignore them. People who yap, picket, and complain incessantly accomplish little or nothing. They are not worth a bean – to me or anyone else.
My “mansion days” critics claimed stuff like I was ruining the neighborhood by turning a twenty-bedroom mansion into say, ten very nice, affordable, condo apartments. Sometimes my mansions were better off converted to boutique hotels or multi-level nightclubs.
There were always plenty of frustrations from bureaucrats who were difficult about granting permits and zoning variances. Building inspectors seldom appreciated my creative re-use of existing facilities.
But if you are going to become successful, you have to come up with ways to turn unwanted or abandoned properties (lemons!) into lemonade.
I did that for years and taught other people how to do the same. I become financially independent in the process. Then I wrote books and articles like this, about how to do it and how my readers can do it. It does take the ability to “Think Like a Tycoon” and persistence.