Billionaire Richard Branson’s Extreme Submarine

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In today’s rough economy, it is interesting to view how American’s are thriving in today’s financial climate. Gallup’s life evaluation poll ask’s people on a scale of one to ten their contentment with their lives. Result’s are given in three cells thriving, struggling or suffering.

So which state is content with their lives despite the declining job market? It is no surprise that Hawaii takes the lead as the most satisfied. The ten most satisfied places are as follows:

  1. Hawaii– 65.5% of residents feel they are thriving
  2. Alaska –  59.5%
  3. Wyoming –  57.7%
  4. Maryland — 56.8%
  5. North Dakota –  55.5%
  6. Georgia — 55.3%
  7. Texas — 55.1%
  8. New Mexico — 54.7%
  9. Louisiana — 54.7%
  10. Utah  — 54.3%

When asked what residents expected their well-being will be in 5 years, the top ten with the most  positive outlook are as follows:

  1. Hawaii: 8.2 on a scale of 1 to 10
  2. Georgia — 8.0
  3. Alaska — 7.9
  4. Maryland — 7.9
  5. Texas — 7.9
  6. Louisiana — 7.9
  7. Mississippi — 7.9
  8. Utah — 7.9

The U.S. overall rate of well-being of 66.3% stacks up well against the rest of the world. Our Canadian neighbors rate theirs at 62%, Mexicans at 52%, Cubans at 24%. In Europe five countries exceed the U.S. : Denmark (82%), Finland (75%), Norway (69%), Sweden (68%), and Netherlands (68%).  The UK comes in at 54%, France at 35%, and Germany at 43%. Only 9% of China’s people believe they are thriving, India’s, 10%


World’s Most Unique Travel Destinations

A big part of travel is that feeling you get when experiencing something completely new, something you haven’t seen or done before. Many travel destinations offer an amenity or two that other places don’t–but there are only a few locations in the world that offer a truly unique experience.

Some of these places are wonders of nature–a spot where the flora or fauna can’t be found elsewhere, or where the mountains stretch the landscape to impressive formations. Other destinations are unique because of man-made features–entire islands created out of sand, underwater museums designed to decay, or hotels shaved from ice.

There is a small but growing business in the odd industry of housing people for a night in rooms made of sculpted ice. Redesigned and rebuilt every winter, these hotels cater to a clientèle looking for the ultimate in singular sleeping experiences. Although there are ice hotels in Finland, Quebec, Canada, Norway and Romania, the hotel at Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, is the oldest and most famous of these frozen inns.

For a different kind of frozen adventure, load up your iPod with Bjork and Sigur Ros and head on north to Iceland.

“They call it ‘The Land of Fire and Ice’ for a reason,” says Anne Banas, executive editor of What draws her most to the country, she says, is the stark beauty of its many geothermal baths–the Blue Lagoon in particular. “It’s one of those things that you have to do in a lifetime. You’re swimming in these silica mud waters, but then it’s snowing outside.”

Stay for longer and splurge a bit at the Blue Lagoon Spa, where you can take a geothermal steam bath, or have drinks while you bathe in the lagoon.

For a mixture of European flavor and a unique mid-Atlantic cultural heritage, Banas recommends the Azores. Explore the dramatic natural beauty and bounty of crater lakes in this collection of nine volcanic islands in the middle of the North Atlantic. Portuguese by language, it has a culture and cuisine all its own.

“There’s one place you can go where they take all this food and cook it in this geothermal heated area, put the food in the earth, let it cook for several hours, then they take the food out of the ground, then it gets shipped by truck and served in fine restaurants nearby,” says Banas. Called cozido das furnas, they often consist of mixtures of meats and stews and are a feature of the area near Sao Miguel.

Some places remain unique because they are remote, and have been for a long time. Madagascar, sitting approximately 225 miles off the Eastern Coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, is so isolated it’s seen one-of-a-kind evolutionary developments. Ninety percent of its native plant life is found nowhere else in the world.

“It still feels like a lost wonderland, with unique and diverse plant and animal life,” says Tom Hall, a U.K.-based writer for Lonely Planet. “Whales pass close enough to be spotted from paradise beaches, avenues of baobab trees dot the landscape and Indri lemurs hoot like car alarms.”

Some places offer such a unique natural landscape that visiting can make you feel as if you’ve left earth and are floating among the stars. The bioluminescent Mosquito Bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico, captures and retains large amounts of naturally occurring dinoflagellates that glow when disturbed. Row out to the middle of the bay with a tour group then take a swim in a starfield–an experience to which no photo can do justice.

Hot or cold, undeveloped or overly elaborate, these locations offer something you can’t get anywhere else, which is as good a reason as any to plan a trip.

By: John Giuffo (Forbes)

The Most Expensive Celebrity Real Estate For Sale

Celebrities are a picky bunch when it comes to buying homes. Among the amenities they may regard as necessities: screening rooms to watch their celluloid selves, entertainment spaces to host A-list parties and elaborately equipped gyms to keep those tabloid-gracing abs rock-hard. Other must-haves are high-tech security systems and secluded locations.

“The home really should be set off the street or down a private driveway,” explains Jade Mills, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Previews International of Beverly Hills, who regularly handles celebrity real estate deals like the late Dennis Hopper’s $6.2 million compound, which she currently shares with fellow agent Jane Gavens.

It’s no surprise then that the properties celebrities like Ricky Martin, Dr. Phil McGraw and Anjelica Huston have on the market are walled-in fortresses tucked into exclusive neighborhoods. Many are in Beverly Hills, where the average police response time to calls for assistance in a speedy three minutes.

We tapped online listing sites and Trulia to round up a list of the most expensive celebrity-owned real estate now for sale. We narrowed the search to Multiple Listing Service (MLS)-listed properties that currently belong to high-profile people in entertainment or that did so in the past. The result is a list of the 15 priciest properties for sale from America’s rich and famous stars.

Boston Red Sox third-baseman Adrian Beltre no longer needs his $19.8 million Bradbury, Calif., home, thanks to his team transfer. TV personality Dr. Phil has listed for $16.5 million a posh Beverly Hills home he purchased in 2002 for $7.5 million cash. McGraw has already snatched up another local home.

Some of these properties’ celebrities owners have passed away. That includes Michael Jackson’s Holmby Hills French chateau-inspired home, which is now up for grabs. The home is listed for $23.5 million and includes everything the superstar could have dreamed of to keep the paparazzi at bay. Among the amenities are an in-house spa, plush home theater and an elevator. The only hitch? It’s also where the King of Pop suffered his premature, drug-induced death.

Candy Spelling, the widow of hugely successful TV producer Aaron Spelling, and mother of actress and reality star Tori, owns the most expensive celebrity residence currently on the market. It’s price: a jaw-dropping $150 million, making it one of the most expensive residences for sale anywhere.

Spelling Manor sits on 4.7 acres of lush landscaping and boasts an orangery and a 56,500-square-foot mansion filled with everything from a two-lane bowling alley, game arcade and billiard room. There’s even a professional flower-cutting hall. If you don’t want to pay cash, Spelling Manor can be yours for monthly mortgage payments of $881,961, as calculated by Trulia.

It probably comes as no surprise that homes in this league can take time to sell, and some on our list have been for sale for half a year or more. “Even in good times the market for these more expensive homes is elongated. You don’t sell these right away,” says Joyce Rey, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Previews International who has brokered sales for Nicholas Cage, Jennifer Lopez and Hugh Hefner. “It’s not as if there are 50 buyers out there looking for what you are offering.”

How do you get to tour such a home? Not during a Sunday afternoon open house, that’s for sure. Instead, the process of viewing a celebrity home as a potential buyer is an arduous one. The Coldwell Banker brokers rigorously screen those who claim to be in the market to shelter celebrities from “vanity showings.”

The high-profile owners of some of the homes on our list are struggling to drum up interest. Ricky Martin’s posh Miami mansion was listed a few years back, pulled off the market and relisted in 2010. Some celebs would rather wait than get burned in a fire-sale; others slash their asking prices. Actor Val Kilmer’s 6,000-acre Pecos River Ranch first hit the market in 2009 with a $33 million price tag. Since then it’s been chopped 44% to its current $18.5 million asking price. Kilmer has fallen up other hardships with the property; as of early January Kilmer’s failure to pay income taxes had straddled the New Mexico nature preserve with a nearly $500,000 lien.

Abbe Lane, a songstress and actress of the 1950s and ’60s, has been trying to sell her Los Angeles home since 2008. Initially listed for $19.7 million, her home can now yours for $9.95 million.

While ultra-luxury real estate on average has not suffered to the same extent as the rest of the market, values have dropped 20% in places like Los Angeles, according to Rey. As with less opulent abodes, sellers can do themselves a favor by subscribing to several basic sales tenets.

“Price point is key,” emphasizes Mills. “If you can price something appropriately and it’s a desirable location, it will sell fairly quickly.”

By: Morgan Brennan (Forbes)

Watch “Untold Wealth: The Rise of the Super Rich”


From the award-winning team that brought you ”The Age of Wal-Mart” and ”Big Brother, Big Business,” CNBC presents ”Untold Wealth: The Rise of the Super Rich.” With more billionaires and multi-millionaires than at any time in history, the United States is in the midst of an unprecedented boom so big it’s being called the ”New Gilded Age.” The new Super Rich live in a parallel world of luxury alien to most of us, where multiple homes, personal staffs and countless possessions seem to grow more extravagant along with their outsized fortunes.

With unusual access, David Faber takes you inside the lives of a range of extraordinarily wealthy entrepreneurs, CEO’s, and Wall Street tycoons, revealing who they are, how they got there, and what they plan to do with their vast fortunes.

Is This The World’s First Billion-Dollar Yacht? (Photos)


It was only a matter of time. In November, Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani

welcomed guests into his new 27-story Mumbai home, thought to be the world’s most expensive private residence with a $1 billion price tag. Now, a UK yacht designer is giving the ultra-rich a chance to one-up Ambani by owning what is being described as the world’s first $1 billion yacht.

The 500-foot behemoth is called ‘Streets of Monaco’, and is actually modeled after the European principality, a haven for billionaires. On the top deck will be replicas of famous Monaco landmarks like the Monte Carlo Casino, Hotel de Paris, Cafe de Paris, La Rascasse, and Loews Hotel, as well as a fully functional go-kart circuit based on the Monaco Grand Prix race track. Other extravagant bells and whistles include multiple swimming pools, a swim-in Jacuzzi bar, a multi-use court for tennis and basketball, a ‘dance hall’, a spa with a hair salon, and enough space to accommodate 16 guests and 70 staff. And don’t forget the submarine and helipad.

Artist’s impression of the interior ‘oasis’ area

There is, of course, no guarantee that ‘Streets of Monaco’ will ever make it into the water. First, a client with a big enough wallet needs to come forward. “This is just a concept at this point,” said Scott Poxon, director of Yacht Island Design, the firm behind the project. “That said, there is a notable amount of detail in place. It would need a commission in order to finalize design requirements of the client and to commence the construction.”

Poxon added that while various newspaper reports have estimated that ‘Streets of Monaco’ could cost £700 million ($1 billion), which would make it the most expensive yacht in the world, the firm has yet to discuss price. “We have not ever quoted any price as this would be agreed between the client and the selected ship yard and would vary significantly depending on specifications,” he said.

The owner’s apartments aboard ‘Streets of Monaco’.

If an ultra-rich client indeed commissions his or her own floating replica of Monaco, it may be the most expensive yacht on the water, but it won’t be the biggest. That honor goes to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich’s 557-foot ‘Eclipse’. For now, at least. As with Ambani’s Mumbai palace, billionaire homes and toys only get more extravagant each year.


The World’s Richest Man’s New Mansion

If you stand on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and look across the street, you’ll have a small chance of glimpsing the world’s richest person.

On Thursday Mexican telecommunications tycoon Carlos Slim Helu, who is worth $53.5 billion, bought the Duke-Semans mansion, a beaux-arts townhouse directly across from the Met, for $44 million, public records show. That record-breaking price is the most paid for any New York home in nearly two years.

The mansion’s seller, Tamir Sapir, famously ascended from taxi driver to billionaire by trading in oil and then investing in real estate. He bought the property from the descendants of its original owner, tobacco mogul Benjamin N. Duke, in 2006, paying $40 million. That leaves him with a 10% profit–healthy, in a sluggish market.

Here’s what’s important to know about the sale, the home and how this transaction will change luxury real estate.

The Duke-Semans is one of a kind.
Location is critical in ultra-high end Manhattan real estate, and the Duke-Semans has a great one: The corner of Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street, on New York’s vaunted “Museum Mile.” But staking a claim to the right street (Fifth Avenue is the Holy Grail) isn’t enough to qualify for greatness. Buyers measure prestige in feet–as in, how many of them a building occupies on a coveted block.

The Duke-Semans has everything going for it: It stretches up 82nd street for 100 feet (a luxurious distance, in this part of Manhattan), then turns the corner, occupying 27 feet on Fifth Avenue. The combination of its unusual length, Fifth Avenue visibility, and corner location can’t be found in any other building. That uniqueness is what allowed Broker Paula Del Nunzio, of the firm Brown Harris Stevens, to originally price the home at $50 million.

But it might be a fixer-upper.
Samir reportedly intended to renovate the 19,500-square-foot house in the four years he owned it, but never did. Although the exterior is breathtaking, the house needs some work on the inside–a fact that helps explain Helu’s 12% discount off the asking price.

There’s more evidence to suggest the mansion boasts a less-than-sparkling interior: Brown Harris Stevens only provided press and prospective buyers with detail shots of ornate moldings and period elegance, not the sweeping shots of ballrooms, stairways and terraces that are typical for these kinds of sales. The home may be in need of major work.

It was snapped up quickly.
Brown Harris Stevens put the Duke-Semans on the market in January. If it were a normal home, stagnating on the market for nearly seven months would bode very poorly for a sale. But in the rarified world of luxury real estate, where homes fetch $10 million or more, it’s expected that properties may languish on the market for two or three years. Only a few thousand people in the world can afford homes like this, so sellers expect to wait. The fact that the turnaround was comparatively quick indicates wise pricing, and perhaps growing demand in the luxury market.

The broker may not have gotten a cut.
After all her hard work representing the home, Del Nunzio may not have reaped the reward of a handsome commission. It has been reported that Helu and Sapir agreed to the deal privately. Del Nunzio told Forbes she could not discuss the details of the sale.

Even if she was sidelined, Del Nunzio’s carefully calibrated pricing strategy may have been crucial to the home selling so quickly. Del Nunzio is known for reading the market extremely well, and pricing homes as close as possible to what buyers are willing to pay. As a result, she has logged $620 million in sales of 40 townhouses since 2007, and her homes fetch an average 97% of the asking price. That’s impressive in an era where unrealistically priced luxury homes have become notorious for slashing their prices as much as 40%.

In March she discussed her strategy for pricing homes with Forbes: “The right price is a matter of the temperature of the times, also the recent comp sales,” she said. “Each one is a separate instance at a separate time. We price them to the highest level that we can, given the conditions of the market.” (Click here for more from that interview.)

This is a sign that the high-end home market is stabilizing.
In the second quarter of 2010 the median sales price of a Manhattan luxury home (defined as homes above $3 million) rose 12% from the previous year. Demand for these pricey abodes has ramped up, and inventory has tightened, according to a recent report by Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

But even outside of New York, the super-high-end home market comprises so few properties that just one sale can change the tide of the market. Aside from the Duke-Semans, two recent sales give luxury brokers hope for the future:

In late April billionaire Kelcy Warren bought the 3,000-acre Bootjack Ranch in Colorado for $42 million, setting a price record for the year; just two months later, the Bel Air mansion Le Belvedere was sold for even more, to an unnamed European family.

“We see a stabilizing trend in the ultra-luxury segment, as high-net-worth buyers pursue the very best properties at opportunistic price points,” says Bill Fandel of Peaks Real Estate Sotheby’s International Realty, who handled the sale of the Bootjack Ranch, via an e-mail.

Del Nunzio agrees, calling the sale “a signal that for the property possessing the unique features a buyer wants, the buyer in today’s market conditions will not only pay as much as yesterday’s buyer, but even more.”

What does that mean for the rest of us? Unfortunately, not too much. Trends in luxury real estate rarely correspond to the housing market at large, where foreclosure and price statistics remain discouraging. But even if you’ll never be able to afford a treasure like the Duke-Semans mansion, take comfort that the museum across the street allows access to the trappings of great wealth and beauty–for as little as a penny.

By: Francesca Levy (Forbes)

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