What Is Trophy Real Estate?

Trophy Property Explained

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Trophy real estate is property that ranks in the top 2.5% in terms of value, demand, location or other high-quality attributes which increase market value. Bill Mundy may have first coined the term in The Appraisal Journal in 2002, and it’s reserved for the very best properties at the highest prices.

Only the most upscale properties are considered trophy real estate, and they can be very difficult to obtain. Buyers need to be highly motivated and willing to pay a hefty price to purchase trophy real estate. 

Definition and Example of Trophy Real Estate

Trophy real estate is categorized as investment property with a place in the top 2.5% of real estate. Their value is due to uniqueness in location, build, or other features attractive to high-net-worth individuals. According to Christopher Totaro, licensed real estate agent at Coldwell Banker Warburg, trophy properties are the best of the best.

  • Alternate name: Trophy property

One of the biggest signs of a trophy property is a high level of competition among buyers, Totaro told The Balance in an email.

“A trophy is something that is earned, and to earn it, you need to beat the field of competitors," he said. 

Parisa Afkhami, another agent at Coldwell Banker Warburg, agreed, telling The Balance in an email that trophy properties are characterized by their “scale, beauty, impressive architecture, and location.” 

Since there’s a high demand for these properties, they can be challenging to purchase. And when these properties are sold, they often receive media attention. 

For instance, Citadel CEO Ken Griffin’s $238 million Manhattan condo is a good example of trophy real estate. In 2019, the real estate purchase made headlines as the most expensive home sold in the U.S.

For a commercial property to be considered trophy real estate, it’s typically iconic, very expensive, and in a highly sought-after location. Totaro said the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the World Trade Center are all examples of commercial properties considered trophy real estate.

How Trophy Real Estate Works 

The term trophy real estate is subjective; there is no finite definition. It generally refers to the very best property available on the market. To receive the trophy designation, Totaro said three factors are usually present. 

The Property Is Hard To Obtain

One of the hallmarks of trophy real estate is its scarcity.

“Trophies are not easy to purchase—you have to really want it and be willing to pay up because a large part of its value is due to its scarcity, just like in art, diamonds, and classic cars,” Totaro said. 

He said the term trophy is often thrown around quite a bit in real estate marketing, but this can be misleading. An agent may market a $5 million property as a trophy, but there could be a dozen similar properties on the market.   

The Property Is Expensive and Upscale 

In addition to being rare, trophy real estate is also upscale and expensive. Totaro said that in an urban market like Manhattan, a trophy property would be the one with no equivalent.

An example would be a $169 million full-floor penthouse apartment with over 8,000 square feet, six bedrooms, and seven bathrooms. “One thing is for sure, regardless of the trophy’s price tag, to qualify as a trophy, it needs to be the best of the very best in its market,” he said.

The Property Is in a Highly Desirable Location

And finally, Totaro pointed out that the location plays a major role in defining trophy real estate. “Properties located in upscale locations like Beverly Hills, Malibu, Aspen, and Manhattan all have a good chance of becoming trophy real estate,” he said. 

For example, in addition to Ken Griffin’s Manhattan apartment, he has also made prime real estate purchases in Chicago, Miami, and London.

Pros and Cons of Trophy Real Estate

Pros
  • Rare and valuable assets

  • Might sell for a premium

  • May be a good investment for high-net-worth individuals


Cons
  • Difficult to obtain

  • Can be hard to sell

  • The price could fall


Pros Explained

  • Rare and valuable assets: Part of the appeal of owning a trophy property is its scarcity, just like diamonds or valuable artwork. The majority of buyers will not be able to purchase trophy real estate. 
  • Might sell for a premium: In theory, when you purchase a trophy property you can sell it at a premium to the next buyer. 
  • May be a good investment for high-net-worth individuals: Trophy real estate can be a good investment for certain individuals. He said that once you have a considerable amount of wealth, investing a large amount of cash in real estate can make sense.

Cons Explained

  • Difficult to obtain: These properties aren’t easy to obtain and aren’t available to the average buyer. 
  • Can be hard to sell: If the home is too large or the price is too high, these properties can be difficult to sell. These homes usually only appeal to a niche market of buyers. 
  • The price could fall: Real estate is typically an appreciating asset, but there is more risk when you’re purchasing luxury properties. From the market peak in 2007 to its decline in 2009, the price of trophy properties fell by 39%. 

Notable Happenings

Trophy property prices are recovering—global real estate consultant agency Knight Frank has published an annual report since 2008. The agency created a global luxury home index called the Prime International Residential Index, which witnessed an increase of 8.4% in 2021, the largest since the index was established—35 of the 100 luxury markets tracked experienced a price increase of 10% or more.

Key Takeaways

  • Trophy real estate is in the top 2.5% of properties available on the market due to their price, location, or features.
  • Trophy properties are defined by their scarcity, prime location, and extravagance.
  • These properties can be hard to obtain, and buyers will have to pay a hefty price to purchase one. 
  • In 2019, Citadel CEO Ken Griffin made headlines by purchasing a $238 million Manhattan combo, the most expensive home ever purchased in the U.S.

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