By CANDACE JACKSON
Claudio Stivelman spent five years building his 11,000-square-foot dream house in Golden Beach, Fla. The house, completed in 2011, has six bedrooms, 8½ bathrooms, a movie theater, a wine cellar and a 37-yard-long swimming pool. Mr. Stivelman says he loves the home, but he is moving out—to a 3,635-square-foot condo in the Muse, a building he is co-developing nearby.
Mr. Stivelman, who lives with his longtime girlfriend, discovered he needed a small army to keep up his giant home: two housekeepers, a weekly handyman and regular visits from a pool guy, landscaper and pesticide sprayer. “One thing you get tired of is all this maintenance,” he says. “It comes to a point where you say, ‘enough is enough.”
Many homeowners dream of more space. But some find the reality of an enormous house to be more daunting than they expected. Upkeep can be cripplingly expensive. Security is a constant concern. Some owners discover that the very thing they were seeking in a big house—privacy—is elusive in a home that requires a large staff for maintenance. And then there is the problem of tracking down family members when they are out of shouting range.
Carolyn Mullany-Jackson lives in a 20,000-square-foot Paradise Valley, Ariz., home with her husband, Craig Jackson, the CEO of car-auction company Barrett-Jackson. The home has an intercom system if Ms. Mullany-Jackson needs to reach her husband or a guest several rooms away, but she doesn’t bother with it: “Sometimes I’ll just text them,” she says.
When she first met Mr. Jackson several years ago, he was in the process of doubling the size of the house by adding a 9,000-square-foot garage to display his car collection. Ms. Mullany-Jackson said she initially tried to oversee the house herself, but soon hired a house manager and a mechanic who cares for the cars. “The biggest challenge for me was that I’m a hands-on person, and I had to let go and have someone else care for part of the home,” says Ms. Mullany-Jackson, a real-estate agent in Nevada. “At first, I thought I should do everything. Then I felt like the house ran me.”
Eric Thies, founding partner of VIA, a home-technology installation company, says clients with homes larger than 10,000 square feet typically need a commercial-grade network to handle all of their internet-enabled devices and systems across a large space. Those networks can cost from $6,000 to $30,000. “The type of system you’d find at Google’s corporate headquarters, you’d find at these homes,” he says. Homeowners in large homes also often request separate Wi-Fi networks for staff and homeowners for security purposes.
Though the typical American home is getting larger—the size of the average newly built home last year rose 3.7% from 2012, to 2,598 square feet—living in a very big home is, of course, not common. In 2013, builders constructed more than 20,000 homes larger than 5,000 square feet—just over 3% of the overall market, according to the National Association of Homebuilders. Only 0.22% of homes for sale on Trulia, a real-estate website, have more than 10,000 square feet, the company said. The median asking price is $3.5 million.
Norm and Linda Snyder are selling their 14,000-square-foot dream home on 30 acres of waterfront on Maryland’s Kent Island. When they built it, they included everything they ever wanted in a house, including a nightclub with a full bar and stage for band performances, a 6,200-square-foot car showroom, a guesthouse and a two-level movie theater with a balcony. Completed in 2004, the home has eight bedrooms and 11 bathrooms. “It took me six months to find my way around and feel comfortable,” jokes Mr. Snyder, the retired founder of Conquest, an electronics company he sold to Boeing in 2003.
“The type of system you’d find at Google’s corporate headquarters, you’d find at these homes.”
Technology helps them maintain the house. In addition to lighting and climate controls, 14 security cameras and 145 sensors allow the couple to monitor the home remotely.
The house has been on and off the market for about two years for $6.9 million; now they plan to sell it at auction with DeCaro Luxury Real Estate Auctions.
When it comes time to sell, real-estate agents say larger homes require patience, because the pool of buyers looking for 20,000 or 30,000 square feet of space is limited. For very large homes, showings themselves can be difficult. In 2012, Zar Zanganeh, a Las Vegas real-estate agent, sold one of the largest homes in the country—a 73,000-square-foot estate on 11 acres. Showings for the home and property, which includes polo grounds, multiple master suites, chauffer’s quarters and housekeepers quarters, took at least two hours.
“The hardest part of it is making sure you keep the potential buyer’s attention,” says Mr. Zanganeh. “If it’s a car guy, I might improvise and look at the cars next if the energy is dropping.” A stop at one of the home’s several kitchens and bars could include a snack or drink and recap of what they’ve seen so far. The home, reportedly built for Prince Jefri Bolkiah of Brunei, originally had an asking price of $60 million. After several price cuts, it sold for $15 million.
Bryan Peele, an estate manager who oversees several large estates owned by a Los Angeles-based family, including their 10,000-square-foot-plus primary residence, says people underestimate what it takes to run a big household. When he cares for a home, he does a morning walk-through to make sure the home doesn’t need any immediate repairs. He typically keeps detailed binders, Google documents and spreadsheets that lay out the home’s rotation of inspections (regularly checking gas fireplaces and their battery-operated remotes and starters, for example), cleanings and appliance updates. He also likes to photograph each home in detail so everything is put back in exactly the right place after cleaning or other work.
Mr. Peele, who also is president and founder of the Estate Manager’s Coalition, says he advises homeowners to have at least one daily housekeeper on staff for every 5,000 square feet of living space, and for very large properties, an estate manager to oversee everything. A typical salary for a manager overseeing multiple properties, he says, starts at about $150,000.
John Blazevich spent 17 years building Hacienda de la Paz, a 51,000-square-foot home on 8 acres in Rolling Hills, Calif., a gated community near Los Angeles. Mr. Blazevich, who manufactures wine, olive oil and food, says that when his home was completed about 10 years ago he started out with a huge staff, including a property manager, an administrative assistant, five gardeners and three maids.
Eventually, he decided he no longer wanted to live with that many people buzzing around the property. They “see everything about your life,” he says. He replaced the outdoor landscaping with compatible plants and flowers that require little maintenance and almost no pesticides. To cut energy consumption, he spent a year retrofitting the house with a geothermal system, and removed a hotel-grade cooling tower on the property. The home also has a series of conduits that make it easy to upgrade and rewire as technology changed.
Today, he shares the home with his fiancée, TV host Alex McCleod, and has three staffers who come by five days a week. He says his energy costs are about 65% less than they were, and staffing costs are about 75% less. A few months ago, he put the home on the market for $53 million with Marcie Hartley of Hilton & Hyland; he plans to relocate out of the city, possibly out of the country.
The Snyders, of Maryland, say they are selling to move closer to their seven grandchildren in Severna Park. But they won’t go too small. They plan to build a house of about 10,000 square feet. “It makes you feel so good that you created this thing and that you get the opportunity to live in it full time,” says Ms. Snyder.