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Ruth: Money can buy real estate, but not taste

A few years ago the Bombshell of the Balkans and I were invited to a chi-chi social soiree at a home within the posh-squared Avila subdivision, a place, it seems, where Botox goes to die.

It was our first and as it turned out our last time to ever set foot in the rarefied air of Avila, and as I drove around trying to find the address, suddenly a massive, looming edifice brightly illuminated by lights everywhere appeared before us. Ah, I thought to myself, the event must be taking place at the Avila golf course club house.

But no, the 450-million-square-foot (or so it appeared) building was indeed the home of our host.

Which brings us to one of those good news/bad news things.

The good news is if you are looking to relocate, there just happens to be a property available at Avila. The bad news is it will cost you $12.9 million to hang your velvet Elvis painting in the foyer.

And there's more bad news. For your $12.9 million, you have to live in a place that is to architectural design what Phyllis Diller was to Vogue.

It is probably just a hint that the career isn't probably going as planned when you acquire the word "disgraced" as part of your first name. In this case, the multimillion-dollar estate is owned by (altogether, now) disgraced gold dealer Mark Yaffe. It is also something of a question as to whether Yaffe's bigger disgrace is being forced into bankruptcy and owing gobs of seven-figure debt — or that he personally approved the design and construction of one of the gaudiest homes that looks like something Gomez Addams would have cooked up.

At 29,000 square feet with 10 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, 14 fireplaces, a wine cellar and a private basketball court, this is obviously just the ticket for a buyer with an overactive prostate and the delusional hope Michael Jordan might stop by to borrow a cup of sugar.

And 10 bedrooms? Please, it only encourages visitors.

What does Tampa's Xanadu tell us about the human condition? Perhaps it's simply this: Oodles of money still can't buy taste.

Yaffe's Tara was originally listed for $25 million, but alas not even the silk-stocking denizens of Avila are immune to the vagaries of the real estate market.

Two quotes come to mind. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: "The rich are different from you and me." And that certainly applies to Yaffe's monument to conspicuous consumption.

Most of us think if we won the lottery, we would certainly upgrade our housing. But perhaps nothing turns a fortune into dross quicker than 29,000 square feet of 29,000 square feet.

And there is this: "He who dies with the most toys, wins." The origin of the quote isn't known, although the gazillionaire publisher Malcolm Forbes was fond of uttering it.

When Forbes checked out he had yachts, chateaus, helicopters, vineyards and fabulous works of art. He certainly was in the running for the winner's circle. But he was still dead.

Mark Yaffe's Avila white elephant is a cautionary tale of a man who had it all, or at least thought that he did, only to wind up with an immense house that symbolizes the trappings of avarice rather than a place to hang one's hat.

Which brings us to one more quote. It's from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but it might as well apply to The Treasure of the Avila Money Pit.

"I now what gold does to men's souls."

Ruth: Money can buy real estate, but not taste 03/30/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 29, 2013 1:52pm]

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