Need a break from the craziness of work for a few minutes? Looking for some conversation starters for your next Zoom office cocktail hour? The Close has you covered.
Here are 23 outrageous but true real estate facts you can use to lighten your day and impress your friends.
1. There’s a Secret Apartment at the Top of 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 over $1,000 (equivalent to over $25,000 today) for a chance to spend just one night in the most exclusive apartment in France, but he never rented the space to anyone. However, he did occasionally entertain “thinkers and artists who inspired the world,” including Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla (on separate evenings, of course.)
2. There Are Secret Oil Rigs Hidden in High-rise Buildings in Los Angeles
It’s no secret that there’s oil in them-there California hills, and evidently, downtown Los Angeles is no exception. There are secret office towers and industrial buildings in this southern California mecca that are actually empty of actual offices because they house massive oil drilling operations. One installation outside of The Grove shopping center has produced close to 20 million barrels of oil.
Many LA residents have no idea these wells are there and may walk past (or drive, since this is Los Angeles) a thriving industrial complex every day.
3. Canada & Denmark Are Technically at War Over Some Vacant Property
We know—when you think of land grab and aggressive expansion of sovereign territory, you don’t think of Canada and Denmark. But these two countries actually have a pretty long-running dispute over a piece of vacant land that is technically in water controlled by Denmark, but due to an international law giving countries the right to claim land within 12 miles of their coastline, also gives Canada a legitimate claim to it.
Before you worry about World War III breaking out, remember who you’re dealing with here. The two countries have kept a pretty good sense of humor about the whole thing. Denmark naval officers will occasionally visit the island, leave a Danish flag at the center with a bottle of Danish brandy. Then, some months later, a Canadian naval vessel will stop by, leave a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey, and replace the Danish flag with a Canadian flag.
Both sides respectfully fold and keep one another’s flags, and drink one another’s booze, so we’re pretty sure this “conflict” has persisted because the navy of each of these countries enjoys the occasional cocktail.
4. Back in the Day, FOX & Pepsi Built & Gave Away a Life-sized Replica of the Simpson’s House
Back 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 over 100 episodes of the Simpsons together to get the details just right.
5. Fairytale Mushroom Houses Are a Real Thing
We know this looks like a set piece from “Lord of the Rings,” but this (and about two dozen others like it) are real homes that you can actually rent on Airbnb in beautiful Charlevoix, Michigan.
The homes were built by Northern Michigan native Earl Young and constructed mainly from stone and boulders from Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix, which happen to be right across the street from many of these unique properties.
6. Hitler Owned a House in the Pacific Palisades Near Malibu
Yes, you read that right. Through a number of subsidiaries, Hitler came to own a chunk of property and a small home on the outskirts of Malibu in the Pacific Palisades. The property was originally purchased as a “refuge and retreat” for his supporters in America, but historians also believe that this was meant to be a West Coast retreat for Hitler himself if and when a successful ground invasion of America reached the West Coast.
The property has been turned into a nature preserve and hiking area now, and as you can imagine, there are some pretty strong feelings about what to do with the actual structure. The home is considered a living art installation by many and a reminder of what could have been.
7. Less Than 500 People Own More Than 50% of the Land in Scotland
Much of Scotland’s privately held land belongs to a group of people small enough that they could all fit on a Boeing 747. This has a lot to do with Scotland’s early societal caste system, where high-born Lords owned much of the land and the low-born worked it (and paid taxes to the owners).
Before you get too alarmed here, remember, 67% of the landmass in Scotland is used for animal grazing, another 17% is forest and woodland, and 9% is used for growing crops, making private ownership of typical home plots less common.
8. Mark Zuckerberg Bought the 4 Houses Directly Next to His for a Very Specific Reason
What would you do if you had a lot of money? OK, now what would you do if you had Mark Zuckerberg money? When it comes to real estate, just about anything you want.
Back in 2013, the multibillionaire and Facebook founder learned of a developer’s plan to purchase one of the homes next door to his primary Palo Alto residence, renovate it, and offer it for sale using the marketing angle “live next to Mark Zuckerberg.”
Zuckerberg didn’t take too kindly to this. He bought the home out from under the developer, and for good measure, bought the three other closest homes as well, spending a collective $30 million on all four homes to prevent developers from using his neighborhood presence as a selling point.
Oh, and before you start worrying about Zuck’s checkbook status, according to calculations done by Business Insider, he earns about $1.7 million an hour with Facebook, so he recouped the cost of those purchases in about two days.
9. You Can Book a Stay in Luke Skywalker’s Boyhood Home for About $10 a Night
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 as little as ten bucks a night.
Just watch out for Jawwas.
10. The Mall of America Is Owned by a Canadian Real Estate Company
When you think Americana, you think baseball, hotdogs, Friday night football games, and mall food courts. What you probably don’t think of is poutine being served at those food courts.
The Mall of America, quite possibly one of the most amazing and terrifying places in all the country, is actually owned by the Triple Five Group, a real estate conglomerate based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 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.
11. Fans of ‘Breaking Bad’ Are Still Throwing Pizzas on the Roof of Walter White’s House
If you’re a “Breaking Bad” fan, you know. For everyone who isn’t in on the joke, there’s a scene from the popular AMC show where Bryan Cranston’s character, Walter White, throws a pizza onto the roof of his Albuquerque, New Mexico home. This scene is a fan favorite, much to the chagrin of the current owners of the actual home in New Mexico, who regularly find pizzas on their roof.
Fran Padilla, long-time owner of the property, told NPR in 2015, “We’ve removed close to 200 pizzas from our property in the last year and a half. That is too many pizzas.”
12. The Empire State Building Was Once Known as ‘The Empty Space Building’
You can’t picture the New York City skyline without picturing the Empire State Building. For nearly 100 years, people have been living, working, and visiting this NYC landmark, but not so much at first.
Construction on this building finished in 1931, in the height of the Great Depression, and as a result, immediate occupancy rates were startlingly low. In fact, in the first year the building was actually open, only 23% of the building was occupied, leading many New Yorkers to nickname it the “Empty Space Building.”
13. The Pyramids of Giza Are Now 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. The reality is the city of Cairo has expanded so rapidly in the last 10 years that it is 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. When I asked what she was doing in a KFC in Egypt, she declined to answer.
14. Housewarming Is a Tradition That Comes From Burning Your Mortgage Paperwork
The mortgage is the backbone of the American housing market. Without it, the homeownership rates in the would likely be in the single digits. Even though the current mortgage is far from perfect, it has come a long way since the early 1900s.
In the early days of the mortgage, interest rates were pretty high (sometimes up 15 or 20%), and the loans would often culminate with a “balloon payment” similar in size to a 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 evolved into what we now know as the housewarming party.
15. The Empire State Building Makes More Money From Observation Deck Ticket Sales Than It Does From Rent
COVID-19 is almost certainly going to change the landscape of commercial real estate in major cities, driving rents down as demand plummets thanks to our new work-from-anywhere economy.
But, even before 2020, 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.
16. During the Recovery From the Housing Crash, the Most Expensive Real Estate in the Country Was in Aspen, CO
When most of us think of the most expensive real estate markets in the country, we think of New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Miami. But, during the recovery period after the housing crash of 2007 and 2008, none of these markets even came close to the insane prices in the little ski town of Aspen, Colorado.
In Aspen in 2010, the average sale price for a single-family home was over $6 million. The lowest-priced single-family home to sell in 2010 was a single-wide trailer in a trailer park with no land included for $559,000.
17. The U.S. Supreme Court Has Sleeping Quarters, a Gym & a Full-sized Basketball Court
Being on the Supreme Court is a massive responsibility. Judges here are appointed for life, and many report that they end up spending a significant amount of their time (both working and free time) in the Supreme Court building, which makes it essential that they have the amenities they need.
Though most of the newsworthy action of the Supreme Court happens on the first floor, up on the fourth and fifth floors there are offices, study rooms, sleeping quarters, a fully appointed gym and a workout facility, and a full-sized basketball court. The court has been affectionately nicknamed “The Highest Court in the Land.”
18. The Hollywood Sign in LA Was Originally a Real Estate Sales Promotion
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 that, according to the LA Times in 1923, 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.”
19. The U.S. Bought Alaska From Russia for $52 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 1967.
20. During the Early 1900s, You Could Purchase a Mail-order House From Sears
If you think that Amazon is the pioneer of purchase-and-ship products, you’re forgetting about the mail-order catalog giant Sears & Roebuck of the early 20th century. You could buy just about anything from this outfit via their massive catalogues, 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; we’ve highlighted some of our favorites that you can still buy today (in the resale market, of course).
21. The Creators of ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’ Had to Downsize Their Makeovers Because Winners Couldn’t Afford the Taxes & Utilities
If you’re like us, you remember watching “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and shouting at the TV, “That’s not how this works! That’s not how any of this works!” Sure, it’s fun to see a house literally transform into another home in the span of a single week, but those of us in the biz know that when you move into a house like that, you don’t just get to live there free and clear.
Despite the warning of real estate professionals, the show creators had to find out the hard way that this wasn’t a sustainable model when more than one of the deserving families that was awarded a home had their property repossessed and sold at auction due to non-payment of property taxes.
22. Before Becoming a Movie Star, Arnold Schwarzenegger Was a Self-made Millionaire Thanks in Part to Real Estate Investing
You may think of him as The Terminator—we prefer to think of him as Kindergarten Cop.
Whatever you think of when you hear the name Arnold Schwarzenegger, you should add “savvy real estate investor” to it. A graduate from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in business and economics, Arnold learned a few things early about the power of real estate investing.
With the winnings from his bodybuilding competitions, Arnold would invest in small, multifamily properties around Madison, Wisconsin, and by the time he graduated at the age of 22, was a millionaire.
23. New York State Requires the Seller of a Home to Disclose If They Believe the Property Is Haunted
In a case that remarkably 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, cited in textbooks, and cited by other courts.
Got a wild real estate fact that belongs in this article? Tell us in the comments below.