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Rich snap up move-in-ready homes

LOS ANGELES – When Elton John sold his pair of West Hollywood, Calif., condominiums last year, the buyer got more than four walls and the title.

LOS ANGELES – When Elton John sold his pair of West Hollywood, Calif., condominiums last year, the buyer got more than four walls and the title.

The units came with the singer's designer furnishings, knickknacks and tableware – even his snake-skin-covered bed frame.

Now, one of the condos is back on the market at $3.995 million, along with all the contents.

"Even though Elton doesn't own them anymore, they still have cachet," said Paul Czako, the listing agent.

Once the stuff of vacation rentals or corporate housing, fully appointed homes are the latest fad in the ultra-luxury market. Well-heeled buyers are purchasing places whose sellers have left them in meticulous move-in condition, down to stocked linen closets, full liquor cabinets and tissues on the dresser.

Some buyers are drawn by the dash of stardust that comes from owning a celebrity's onetime belongings. Others, such as time-stretched executives and those shopping for second homes from afar, want places they can use right away, without having to sweat the small stuff. Some are so smitten with a seller's taste or custom furnishings that they want the whole package.

Although the trend is popping up in other wealthy pockets nationwide, it's gaining traction in Los Angeles circles in which style and convenience trump expense.

"You are buying an instant lifestyle," said Mauricio Umansky, a listing agent with the Agency, a real estate brokerage in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Luxury-home buyers expect a loaded home's contents to be in keeping with the asking price. A $36 million home for sale in Beverly Hills features a putting green with stunning city views – as well as a $300 putter for the new owner to get in some practice strokes.

The builder hired designer Michael Palumbo to deck out the 11,000-square-foot contemporary with Italian furniture and high-end appliances. A $70,000 custom-built glass pocket door slides open with a "whoosh" to reveal a glamorous powder room stocked with hand towels, a plush chair and a contemporary end table. The master closet – with its shoe shelves, banks of hanging storage and benches – evokes a Prada store.

LED televisions, Villeroy & Boch dinnerware, exotic indoor plants and $1.3 million in furniture are included. The buyer doesn't even need to bring a toothbrush. A pair of $170 rechargeable Philips Sonicares are standing by in the master bathroom.

"You don't have to do anything," Palumbo said of the state-of-the-art home. "It's done."

For sellers, offering a fully outfitted home is a chance to leave behind decor suited to a particular home and start fresh on the next house.

Serial home remodeler Ellen DeGeneres and her spouse, Portia de Rossi, unloaded the contents of their 26-acre ranch in Thousand Oaks, Calif., in September when they sold the spread for $10.85 million. Pots, pans and potato peelers were part of the package of farmhouses and barns.

In Los Angeles, many luxury leases include furnishings. But actress Nanci Chambers and her husband, actor David James Elliott, also rely on small touches to make their 8,000-square-foot Brentwood home inviting.

Chambers, who played Lt. Loren Singer on the CBS series "JAG," stocks linens, towels and soaps. The pantry is filled with balsamic vinegar, sparkling water, coffee and teas. There are cleaning materials, toilet paper, paper towels and laundry soap. Even Band-Aids are on hand.

At $35,000 a month for a yearlong contract, this is not a vacation home, Chambers said, but a chance for someone quickly and seamlessly to plug in to a way of life.

"Maybe a director from New York comes into town or someone needs a place to live while their own home is being built," she said.

The five-bedroom villa has a swimming pool, a recording studio and a game room with dart boards, a foosball table and a popcorn maker.

Although adding furnishings, artwork and the like will increase a seller's take, it also can complicate negotiations if the homeowner is unrealistic about their value, said Rick Ojeda, one of the Partners Trust agents representing Chambers' lease house. "If the seller spent a half-million dollars on new furniture 15 years ago, for example, it could be worth only 25 cents on the dollar now."

In a worst-case scenario, negotiating possessions before settling on a home price can scuttle the entire deal, he said. "You get into dickering and itemizing."

After the house purchase is underway, and any inspection and termite issues have been dealt with, personal items should be bought separately, Ojeda said. Lumping personal property into the home sale price tacks on extra dollars that needlessly increase property tax.

Marina del Rey, Calif., condo buyers Lawrence Aldridge and his wife, Fran, hadn't originally planned to buy the contents of their luxury unit. But after landing the $1.45 million condo in a bidding war, the couple realized their challenges were just beginning.

Furnishing the unusually shaped 980-square-foot, two-bedroom unit would require expensive custom-built pieces and months of waiting.

"The furniture was part of the design," Lawrence Aldridge said. "It was so well done, we couldn't have done it better."

So the couple returned to the seller and bought nearly everything inside the condo – right down to the can opener.

"He left knives, forks, cups and saucers," Aldridge said. The all-in deal enabled them to move in at least six to eight weeks sooner than if they had bought the unit empty, he said.

This soup-to-nuts tactic also is being tried at newly built luxury condo developments. At the Carlyle Residences on Los Angeles' Wilshire Boulevard, buyers of two-bedroom units can opt for "turnkey" packages starting at $150,000. For three-bedroom units, the add-ons start at $250,000.

In a trial run, Granite Park Place in Pasadena, Calif., partnered with an interior design firm a year ago to create two ready-to-go units, both of which sold. The well-stocked condominiums combined contemporary furniture with vintage pieces as well as more mundane items such as towels and bath mats.

"In our experience there is a segment of the market that wants to have a fully furnished residence," said Paul Sunshine, president of the marketing and sales company Domineum. "They appreciate the convenience of not having to shop or furnish them."

Even so, Granite Park Place put the practice on hiatus when the market heated up and the added buyer incentives no longer seemed necessary. The 71-unit complex has had nearly two dozen sales in the last eight months.

Whether the fully appointed home is a passing craze remains to be determined by the housing market and buyer demand.

But for Mika Chandramohan, who landed one of the outfitted units at Granite Park Place, being able to unlock a door and settle in just made sense.

The AmeriCorps worker was relocating from San Francisco and had to rely on her parents to scout out her new home, which cost $1.24 million. "It felt nice to walk in and have it feel like home," she said. "I cried."


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