Looking for some conversation starters for your next networking event? The Close has you covered with 38 real estate facts (some wild and wacky, some head-scratchers, and some just plain interesting) that’ll brighten your day and impress your friends.
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Facts About Cities
1. NY Requires Sellers to Disclose That Their Property Is Haunted
In a case that made it all the way to the New York State Supreme Court, the decision from Stambovsky v. Ackley compels sellers of real property in New York State to sign a separate disclosure if they do, in fact, believe their property is haunted.
Popularly known as the Ghostbusters Ruling, the case is frequently discussed in property law classes, mentioned in textbooks, and cited by other courts.
“Ghostbusters,” by the way, was written by Dan Ackroyd and based on his own family’s long history of ghost hunting.
2. The Most Expensive Zip Code in the United States Is 94027 in Atherton, California
Atherton, California, has held the most expensive ZIP code title for more than three years. The exclusive homes in this San Francisco Bay Area sold at a median price of a cool $9 million in 2022, topping their previous price of just under $7.5 million in 2021. California is one of the most expensive states to buy real estate in overall, boasting 70% of the priciest ZIP codes, including six in the top ten.
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3. San Francisco Was Built on Sunken Ships
During the California Gold Rush, hopeful prospectors sailed to California from all around the world. Once they arrived, many sailors and captains abandoned their ships, hoping to strike it rich in the goldfields.
Because real estate in San Francisco was at a premium (even back then), the ships were repurposed as jails, houses, or hotels. Some rotted and sank in the harbor or burned in the fire of 1851. Enterprising speculators just continued building, right on top of the sunken ships.
When digging tunnels for the Bay Area light rail in 1994, crews discovered a fully intact ship, The Rome. Too big to dislodge, they just kept tunneling, which means the J, K, L, M, N, and T trains travel right through its hull. An estimated 70 ships lie buried under some of the most expensive real estate in the world.
4. The World’s Tallest & Largest Private Home Is in Mumbai, India
Antilia is the name of the private residence of Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani and his family. The structure stands an astounding 27 stories tall and has a total living floor area of 400,000 square feet. It was completed in 2010 and also includes a 168-car garage, three helipads, several swimming pools, a health spa, a ballroom, nine high-speed elevators, a 50-seat theater, terrace gardens, and a snow room that spits out snowflakes from the walls. It is also designed to withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake. Costing from $1 to $2 billion dollars to construct, Antilia is also on record as the most expensive private home in the world.
5. In Hong Kong, Many Buildings Skip the Fourth Floor
You may already know that some U.S. developers purposefully skip the 13th floor when planning mid- and high-rise buildings due to the superstition around that supposedly unlucky number, but there are other versions of this aversion across the world. When constructing buildings with multiple floors, Chinese builders often skip the fourth floor due to the belief that the number itself brings bad luck. Transversely, the eighth floor is considered rather lucky and typically goes for a higher price tag. In Chinese, the word “four” sounds similar to the word for “death.”
6. A Zero-energy, Self-sustaining Floating City Is Coming to Dubai
This is the coolest idea for reaching climate goals since Elon Musk announced his Tesla Solar Roofs. An Italian architecture firm proposed building a vertical city on the water in 2019 at Knowledge Summit in Dubai with a projected completion date of 2030.
The city will have a zero-waste policy and use renewable resources such as solar panels, wind turbines, and wind power. It will house 25,000 residents in its open structure with green areas on every level, allowing natural light and ventilation.
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7. There’s a Surprising Number of Laws About Bathtubs
Legislators seem to really want to restrict what homeowners can do with their bathrooms. Of course, every state has strange, inexplicable laws still on the books, but did you know it’s illegal to have a donkey in your bathtub in Brooklyn or to keep a ‘gator in your tub in Arkansas? And forget about keeping your horse in a clawfoot in South Carolina.
You may also be surprised to learn you can’t bathe after 10 p.m. in Piqua, Ohio, and you must be fully clothed to take a bath in Portland, Oregon. At least in most places, you can have a bathtub in your house. It’s technically still illegal in Virginia.
Facts About Tiny Houses
8. The Thinnest House in the World Is in Warsaw, Poland
Central Warsaw is running out of space and opening creative opportunities for architects. That’s why the Keret House is the skinniest house in the world at just four feet wide. It utilizes 30 feet of height, but is just 28 inches wide at its narrowest point and just over four feet wide at its widest. Despite its limitations, the Keret House somehow manages to fit a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and a small two-beverage refrigerator, in the span of three floors.
9. Tiny Homes Are Nothing New in England
Located in Conwy, Wales, the smallest house in Great Britain is known as “Y Tŷ Lleiaf ym Mhrydain Fawr,” or the Quay House. It measures 72 inches across, 122 inches high, and 120 inches deep. It was built in the 16th century and, despite its size, has been home to numerous families throughout the generations.
The most recent occupant was a fisherman named Robert Jones, who bought it in 1891 for £20 (about $27). He lived there happily for many years, despite being 6’ 3” tall.
When the local council condemned the home, considering it to be uninhabitable, Jones protested by traveling the country, measuring homes to ensure that his was, in fact, the smallest in Great Britain. By officially affirming this superlative, he saved his home, which is still a tourist destination.
10. One Lucky Winner Rejected a Life-sized Replica of the House From ‘The Simpsons’
In 1997, Pepsi and FOX ran a contest that offered a grand prize of a full-sized, habitable, accurate-down-to-the-furniture version of the Simpson’s house. The winner of the contest could take the home or $75,000 cash, and tragically, they opted for cash instead.
But, the house existed. Architects, interior designers, furniture makers, and about a dozen other professionals were said to have gathered in a Las Vegas ballroom for weeks (the home was built in nearby Henderson, Nevada) and watched more than 100 episodes of the Simpsons together to get the details just right.
11. A Secret Apartment Sits Atop the Eiffel Tower
As a part of his commission for the design and construction of the most famous Parisian landmark, Gustov Eiffel built and maintained ownership of a secret, 1,000-square-foot apartment near the top of the Eiffel Tower.
French aristocrats, international VIPs, and even royalty frequently offered Eiffel more than $1,000 (equivalent to over $25,000 today) for a chance to spend just one night in the most exclusive apartment in France.
While he never rented the space to anyone, he did occasionally entertain “thinkers and artists who inspired the world”—including Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla (on separate evenings, of course; it’s a pretty small pad).
12. Sears Used to Sell Mail-order Homes
If you think that Amazon is the pioneer of purchase-and-ship products, you’re forgetting about the mail-order giant Sears & Roebuck. In the early 20th century, you could buy just about anything through their giant catalogs, including a surprisingly large selection of homes.
These homes would be delivered to your address in the form of materials, instructions, and sometimes even tools. Sears bragged that, “Any man of reasonable strength, size, and intelligence can assemble a Sears & Roebuck home.” The company sold close to 75,000 of these kits during the early days of the 20th century. We’ve highlighted some of our favorites that you can still buy today (on the resale market, of course).
13. Billionaire Warren Buffett Still Lives in His Modest Home in Omaha, Nebraska
Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, one of the wealthiest men on the planet with a net worth of approximately $94 billion, apparently likes living in his unassuming home in Omaha. He bought it in 1958 for $31,500, which translates to about $250,000 in today’s dollars. Now it’s worth well over $833,000, but he’s not selling it any time soon.
Nestled in a quiet neighborhood with plenty of trees, the home boasts 6,570 square feet with five bedrooms and 2½ bathrooms. Buffett calls it “the third-best investment I ever made.”
14. The Shire Really Does Exist (Sort Of)
We know this looks like a set piece from “Lord of the Rings,” but it’s actually just one of more than two dozen real homes you can rent on Airbnb in beautiful Charlevoix, Michigan. The homes were built by a Northern Michigan native, Earl Young, and constructed mainly from stone and boulders from Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix.
Facts About Huge Houses
15. You Can Stay in Luke Skywalker’s Boyhood Home
The next time you’re passing through Matmata, Tunisia, and need a place to crash for the night, make sure to check out Hotel Sidi Driss. This location, from the original “Star Wars: A New Hope,” is hallowed ground for many of us nerds here at The Close, and you don’t even need to speak Bocci to book a room here.
Yes, you can sleep in Luke Skywalker’s house for around sixty bucks a night. Just watch out for Jawas.
16. The Most Expensive Home Ever Sold in the United States Is a Penthouse in New York City’s Central Park South
Billionaire Ken Griffin, founder and chief executive of the global investment firm Citadel, purchased the penthouse at 220 Central Park South for $238 million in 2019. The property was unfinished at the time of the conspicuous purchase. When the deal closed, it became the most expensive residential sale in United States history.
17. John Travolta’s Driveway Is Actually a Runway
Not only is John Travolta an accomplished actor with serious dance moves, he is also a certified private pilot. It was always his dream to live in a place where he could pull his plane right up to the house, and he made that dream come true with his house in Jumbolair Aviation Estates, just outside Ocala, Florida.
There, Travolta is surrounded by runways (including the largest private runway in the U.S.) and fellow aviation enthusiasts. For a while, he had a giant Boeing 707 parked in his driveway (runway?). He’s since donated that aircraft, but his passion for planes and flying continues—right from his front yard.
Facts About Historic Real Estate
18. The Church of Scientology Owns a Ton of Historic Hollywood Real Estate
If you haven’t been paying much attention to who’s been buying up old, historic buildings in the Hollywood area, you might have missed that The Church of Scientology is now one of the largest real estate owners on the block.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, “The Church of Scientology owns, by most accounts, more historic buildings in Hollywood than any other entity and is one of the community’s biggest property owners.”
The historic buildings are just part of an extensive real estate portfolio owned by the church that was started in the 1970s by founder L. Ron Hubbard. It’s unclear what the church plans on doing with the old buildings, but it is an intriguing real estate fact, nonetheless.
19. The White House Is a Relatively New Invention
Generations of presidents called The White House home, but they didn’t officially call it The White House. Instead, they called it the executive residence, executive mansion, or the people’s house.
None of these have the same presidential ring as The White House, so it was Theodore Roosevelt who decided to make The White House official in 1901. It is repainted every four to six years to keep that symbolic white, which requires a staggering 570 gallons of paint!
20. The World’s Oldest Wooden Building Dates Back to 607 AD
This gorgeous Japanese Buddhist temple, built in 607 AD, has endured fires, wars, and centuries of weather, particularly lightning. The Hōryū-ji Temple, known for its stunning architecture and unequaled majesty, was commissioned by Prince Shōtoku as part of his efforts to introduce Buddhism to Japan. It’s believed he erected the temple to pray to Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of healing, on behalf of his ailing father.
The temple is officially registered in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest wooden building in the world at 1,416 years.
21. The Great Pyramids Are in the Suburbs of Cairo
When most people think of the Great Pyramids, they think of a mystical oasis accessible only by a journey across endless oceans of sand—on a camel. The reality is the city of Cairo has expanded so rapidly in the last 10 years that the city’s outskirts are practically on top of this ancient site.
After college, my wife took a trip around the world, including spending a few days in Cairo. She told me that while sitting in a Kentucky Fried Chicken, she could practically throw a rock and hit the Pyramids of Giza. When I asked what she was doing in a KFC in Egypt, she declined to answer.
22. A Canadian Company Owns the Mall of America
The largest mall in the United States, the Mall of America, is not American owned. It’s owned by the Triple Five Group, a real estate conglomerate based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (which also happens to own the retail complex known as American Dream in New Jersey). The massive shopping mecca, located in Bloomington, Minnesota, also has its own ZIP code (55425). As of right now, there are no plans to replace the mall cops with Mounties or Starbucks with Tim Hortons, but if that changes, we’ll (politely) let you know.
23. The Iconic Hollywood Sign Was Originally a Real Estate Stunt
Lights! Camera! Mortgage pre-approvals!
The iconic Hollywood sign built into the side of Mount Lee has gone through a couple of iterations over the years, but the original intent of the sign was to promote the sale of homes and property.
According to the L.A. Times in 1923, the area would provide “a clean, healthful atmosphere and beautiful outlook of the (Hollywood) Hills.” Hollywoodland was said to be “above the turmoil of the city,” and “the supreme achievement in community building.”
24. Russia Sold Alaska to the U.S. for 2 Cents per Acre
The United States bought the 375 million acres we now call Alaska from Russia in 1876 for $7.2 million, or about $126.5 million in today’s market. Though the Alaska Purchase Treaty certainly provided some upside to Russia at the time, the U.S. has come out a huge financial winner in the deal thanks to the massive oil deposits discovered in the 49th state in 1967.
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25. McDonald’s Is a Company Built on Real Estate, Not Burgers
You know that McDonald’s makes money on those delicious fries and Big Macs. But you may not know that fast food isn’t its only source of income. McDonald’s Corporation makes a substantial amount of money in real estate. In fact, in most business circles, it’s considered more a real estate company than a fast food business. The company retains ownership of each location’s land and charges its franchise owners rent along with the standard royalties and franchise fees each month. It’s a business model developed by Ray Kroc, the franchise founder, that helped keep them at the top of the food chain for decades.
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26. Almost All Millionaires Built Their Fortune Through Real Estate
Andrew Carnegie famously pointed out more than 100 years ago that “90% of all millionaires become so through owning real estate.” And there are many other quotes that allude to the riches to be found through real estate investing, like this one:
“Don’t wait to buy real estate. Buy real estate and wait.” —Will Rogers
Millionaires make up less than 10% of the population. But interestingly, according to business theorist Thomas J. Stanley, author of the book “The Millionaire Next Door,” 80% of U.S. millionaires are first-generation rich. That means new millionaires are made every year. So, how are they doing it?
There must be something there—most of the wealthiest people in the world own multiple properties and a seemingly endless stream of income produced from them. It makes sense since property values have appreciated at an average of 8.3% over the past 10 years.
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27. The Empire State Building Makes More Money From Ticket Sales Than Rent
Even before 2020 and the seismic shift in commercial real estate and work-from-anywhere economy, the Empire State Building wasn’t making much money from commercial rent. In fact, it’s estimated that about 70% of the building’s operating revenue comes from ticket sales to its observation decks. Perhaps this fact is less surprising when you learn that adult admission starts at $44 a pop.
28. Short-term Rentals Are Disrupting the Housing Market
You can bet that the hotel industry is feeling the impact of the rise in short-term rentals. But the boom is also impacting the housing market as well as the long-term rental industry. With so many Americans dipping their toes into the revenue-generating short-term rental market, more affordable housing is drying up for both purchase and long-term rentals. But that doesn’t seem to be slowing this train down.
It may seem surprising to most that 85% of hosts are located outside the United States. But there is a lot of earning potential for hosts. In fact, the average annual earnings among hosts have increased 43.8% since 2021.
However, if you’ve been considering getting into this trend, make sure you do your homework. Many cities and some homeowners associations are enacting regulations to limit the number of short-term rentals in communities.
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Real Estate Origins
29. Open Houses Used to Last for 12 Long Hours
The first Realtors were called “curbstoners,” and they were pretty much hustlers. When a house was for sale, they would rush over, put up a big sign, and sit on the curb in front of the house from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., ushering prospective buyers in for an “inspection.” The competition was fierce and it sometimes got ugly. It also limited each Realtor to selling just one house at a time.
As the profession became more organized and agencies grew, they could take on more listings. Instead of having a 12-hour “inspection” period, the industry shifted to a two- or three-hour open house. The first record of an open house offering incentives was in 1952, when an agent in Dallas, Texas, offered free Coca-Cola to attendees and a Cadillac to whomever purchased the property.
30. The Phrase ‘Making the Bed’ Used to Be Quite Literal
Bill Bryson’s fascinating history, “At Home: A Short History of Private Life,” has hundreds of interesting facts about how we have evolved to our current patterns of domestic life. Our favorite is about one of our most commonly used phrases (especially when planning an open house): “Make the bed.”
In the Middle Ages in England, people would gather and sleep in a great hall or living area in their homes. Private bedrooms weren’t a thing yet, except for very wealthy landowners who might enjoy their own sleeping quarters in their castle.
The living area served many purposes, so beds would have to be constructed every night out of straw or horsehair pallets, and picked up every day.
31. Barns Are Traditionally Red for a Reason: Cheap Paint
Farmhouses and barns across America are traditionally red, but that’s not by accident. Farmers, ever a thrifty bunch, experimented to find cheap ways to make paint. They used what they had on hand: lime, milk, and red iron oxide (what we commonly call rust) and mixed it all together. Why iron oxide? It turns out that it discourages the growth of fungi and mosses, making it a more effective sealant than lime alone. Voila, they made a nice red paint—and at a bargain!
32. It’s Bad Luck to Give a Knife as a Housewarming Gift
Superstition says that if you give a knife as a gift, you risk severing the friendship. But if you really want to give a knife as a housewarming gift, tape a penny to the blade. This way, the recipient can take off the penny and hand it back to you. Then they’re paying you for the knife, so it’s not technically a gift!
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33. Housewarmings Come From Burning Mortgage Paperwork
In the early days of the mortgage, interest rates were pretty high (sometimes up to 15% or 20%), and the loans would often culminate with a “balloon payment,” similar in size to today’s down payment. This made paying off a mortgage an even more momentous occasion, and homeowners would celebrate by throwing a big party and burning their mortgage documents.
Guests would bring gifts to help commemorate the home being owned free and clear, and this tradition has since evolved into what we now know as the housewarming party.
34. Architectural Eagles Symbolize Freedom From Mortgages
There are many ways that homeowners used to celebrate the full payment of their mortgage. But one of the more popular (and deeply American) ways was to put a cast iron eagle on the outside of a home. This announced to the world that the homeowner was free from mortgage payments.
Facts About Technology & Real Estate
35. Real Estate Wire Fraud Caused Losses of $6.9 Billion
Wire fraud is one of the most prevalent cybercrimes we face today, and scammers are only getting more sophisticated in their approaches. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), more than 2,300 complaints were received daily in 2021, leading to a staggering $6.9 billion in victim losses.
In 2022, real estate transactions remained the most frequent target of wire fraud, according to a report from CertifID, a wire fraud protection company. There are even predictions that cyberattacks and scams will double by 2025.
To learn more about how wire fraud happens and how to prevent it, watch our video about the top five real estate scams so you can protect yourself from them.
36. You Can Now Buy Real Estate in the Metaverse
Looking for another way to build your wealth portfolio? You might consider investing in virtual land. Yes, you can own real estate in the metaverse. Building a virtual portfolio may be the next big thing for those brave enough to explore a strange, less-touchable, new world.
First of all, the metaverse isn’t owned by any one person. It’s more of a string of 3D virtual networks that anyone can join. And if you don’t find a virtual world you like, you can create your own. Interestingly, the metaverse hasn’t been fully built out yet, so there’s still a lot left to the imagination.
No virtual reality (VR) headset? You can still explore the metaverse without buying expensive gear. You can access many virtual worlds right from your computer or even on a game console. The experience will be less immersive, but you can get a better understanding of what is available in the metaverse before investing in the total immersion experience.
If you’re eager to explore the metaverse, you can check some of them out directly from your devices, including your laptop. I explored Decentraland, Roblox, and The Sandbox to learn more about how to become a real (virtual) estate owner in these worlds. You’ll need to set up a digital wallet and convert your currency into crypto, but then you’ll be able to purchase land, build structures, and even host events in any of these virtual worlds.
Interestingly, virtual land has a lot in common with IRL real estate—it’s unique and in limited supply, you can use it to build leasable properties that generate income, and you can sell it and make a profit using non-fungible tokens that secure your ownership of any assets in the virtual world. It’s still a booming market, with sales exceeding $1.4 billion in 2022, so it make sense that more people are getting in while the getting’s good.
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37. Co-living Is Gaining Popularity, Especially Among Young Professionals & Digital Nomads
Remember your days in college crash pads where you had several roommates to keep your costs down? Well, that idea is making a comeback, but for very different reasons. Co-living is on the rise in today’s fast-paced, tech-heavy environment.
But it’s not just about keeping expenses down anymore. Today it’s also about staving off loneliness and creating a sense of community with younger Millennials and Gen Z. Growing up with so much technology has pushed an entire generation into solitude, but they’ve discovered how to bring back human connection with this new trend, and I for one am here for it.
Co-living isn’t a new concept. Most college students know what dorm life is like: young people forced to live together as strangers. But with rents continuing to soar, pushing young professionals to explore alternative living options, co-living is creating some peace of mind.
A co-living residence is typically a fully furnished unit with multiple bedrooms and usually includes common areas to encourage residents to mingle with each other, share spaces and tools, and lean on each other for their individual needs.
As a real estate investor, these co-living units have the potential to reap up to 50% more revenue since the rents are broken up among the renters. And the numbers are in: co-living is on the rise. The number of rooms available surged 20% in 2022 to 74,000, up from about 62,000 in 2020, according to data from Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate services company. If you’re interested in how this model works, check out Common, a leader in the co-living industry with service in several cities across the country.
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38. Technology Is Changing How People Do Real Estate
Technology moves faster every year and as it continues to evolve, more applications for using it become available. If you haven’t strapped on a headset and experienced a 3D virtual reality tour of a new home yet, you’re really missing out. And now even Zillow offers 3D tours of listings online.
Thirty-two percent of respondents in the 2022 National Association of Realtors technology survey said they believe Big Data and artificial intelligence (AI) will probably have an impact on real estate. Twenty-two percent believe it is already impacting the industry.
You’re probably already familiar with the level of sophistication in dedicated websites for listings, but what about smart homes? Familiarity with the Internet of Things (IoT) will soon become a necessity. Currently only 29% of Realtors report some awareness of IoT. But IoT is becoming more and more commonplace as more construction companies integrate smart technology into their new homes to make them more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
And now, as I mentioned already, real estate ownership is expanding into the metaverse. Who knows? Maybe we’ll soon need real estate agents to help with those transactions.
Agents can benefit from new tech to automate tasks, provide full-immersion experiences for clients, increase speed-to-lead with artificial intelligence chatbots, and so much more. They can also take advantage of the portability of technology and work from anywhere much easier. And for the 14% of agents who currently own some cryptocurrency, you’re already poised to start investing in virtual real estate.
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Got a wild real estate fact that belongs in this article? Tell us in the comments below. I’d love to include it the next time we update this article.