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I had a custom-built mansion. Here’s why I left it behind.


By Christian Jagodzinski

I sold my tech company a few years ago; in a deal that put a lot of millions into my account.

What do you do when you have a lot of money all of a sudden?

You start looking at buying the things that you always wanted, or the things other wealthy people have.

A Ferrari came to mind. A big house. A yacht. A private jet. A vacation home.

The Ferrari was a no-brainer… even though its $250,000 sticker price seems like a lot of money to someone on a conventional salary, it is really pocket change when you have $30m+ sitting in your bank account.

The Yacht / Jet / Vacation Home – I ended up not buying because I looked at the financials – and they didn’t make sense. It’s so much better to just rent/charter them when you use them. Saves you a lot of money – and a lot of maintenance headache – while giving you the same experience.

The house was different. It was not only “buying what I always wanted” – it was also building/creating something that was to my personal taste, and that I had to look at almost every day.

So I built this:

11,000 sq.ft., 5 bedroom main house, 2 bedroom guest house, 125 ft pool with waterfall and swim-in grotto, boat house… it even has its own beach volleyball court. $1.5m in custom built furniture alone which was shipped in from France. French artists staying there for 3 months to do all the interior wall paintings.

The son of my General Contractor at the time remarked: “Daddy, when are you finished with that hotel you are building?”

How did it end up so big? I wasn’t at all out for impressing other people. In fact, I deliberately did not plan any “gargantuan” features – such as a two-story high living room – as I saw in many other big homes, because it felt “too big” to be cozy. I wanted something that still gives you a feeling of “I’m at home” and not “I’m in a hotel lobby”.

The house was modeled after an old mansion that had been there originally. I made a list of things I wanted to have in addition to the original layout:

    • a large separate kitchen so that if you invite people and want a catering company prepare food, they have enough space
    • a formal dining room and a more intimate “breakfast area”
    • a large Master Bedroom suite with a large bathroom and a lot of funky shower modules
    • a large closet (people always run out of closet space after a while)
    • a home office
    • a home office for my (then) girlfriend
    • 3 additional bedrooms in the main house – at the time for guests, but later for up to 3 children
    • a pool billiards table
    • a home theater
    • a gym at the house
    • a roof terrace with a jacuzzi
    • a separate staff apartment for a live-in couple, or alternatively for a friend or a couple that could stay there for a period without being always “in your face”.

Once the architect was done incorporating everything on my list, we were at 11,000 sq.ft. Without making every space extremely large. It just adds up.

I liked what we designed, so we built it. Cost $8m (without the land) and took 3 years.

What I didn’t anticipate – and what surprises many other people without prior “mansion” experience – is how much maintenance you need to do in a big house vs. a small house. When you have 7 AC systems throughout your property as opposed to 1 – it is 7 times as likely for one to break. When you have 5 different pool pumps and 4 heaters – much more likely to need repair than if you have one. Generator. Home Automation System. Water filtration system. Fish tanks. Gym equipment. You basically need a full time property manager, a part time electrician, a full time housekeeper, a full time outdoor cleaning person, a gardener, and a handyman.

Which meant, as other answers have remarked, that during normal business hours, you don’t have any privacy anymore. Too many people everywhere. And everyone asking you questions “How do you want me to do this?”; “Does that look OK?”.

I ended up limiting the hours of staff at the property to 11am-3pm Mon-Fri. And during that time, I was always at my office anyway and thus didn’t have to deal with the house management crew. That actually worked out fine.

Things became more problematic once we had children. You see things in a totally different light then, because now it’s not anymore about you, it’s about your children. They need to be happy. They weren’t. The house was too huge, too scary for them. They get lost and nobody hears them cry. You can’t let them outside without supervision because all the different pools and the seawall are impossible to child-proof. There are too many steep staircases everywhere that need to be locked up. Too many storage areas with dangerous tools.

In the end, we moved to a 5 bedroom condo, with everything on one floor, and no childproofing issues. Large enough to have the space you might ever need, but small enough to hear someone cry on the other side. Manageable enough to walk from bedroom to kitchen within a few seconds rather than running 300 ft across 2 floors.

What have I learned?

A big house (like a big yacht) is fun to plan and design; it’s great to invite friends over, and it’s the perfect place for a big party once in a while.

It’s a nightmare to manage, and not good at all for a family with small children, or if you value your privacy.

When you start out, you worry about building/buying something big enough for a future family. You realize too late that you really need “manageable” rather than “huge” when the kids are there.

Originally shared on Quora.

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