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Couture-Ready Real Estate

Wednesday, 2 May 2007 | 11:04 AM ET

As part of CNBC's "Rich and Richer" day, I contributed a piece on something called "Couture-Ready Real Estate." Ok, that's the fancy-brand ballyhoo that the PR rep invented; what it means is simply that you buy a huge stone mansion that is supremely lovely on the outside. Inside, it has every electrical outlet and air vent and steel beam and plumbing drain in place, but literally nothing else. The rooms are framed out, but there are no actual walls, floors, ceilings, appliances or cabinetry. That part is up to you.

The idea is the brainchild of a very rich developer in very rich Greenwich, Connecticut. Joseph Beninati made most of his money in commercial real estate, but he has a yen for big houses -- really, really big houses. Beninati's goal is to get you into one of his mansions and get it finished for you in about 3-6 months instead of the usual 3 years it could take from buying the land, to permitting, to construction from the ground up. And God forbid you should buy a 25 million dollar mansion off the rack, am I right?

Now I have to admit that when I got the pitch for this story from the very high-priced PR gentleman Mr. Beninati employs, I thought it was vaguely ridiculous. And then when I went out to Greenwich to see it for myself, I thought it was purely ridiculous. But as I was putting the piece together back here in the office, it occurred to me that I wasn't looking at this from the correct perspective. I wasn't putting myself in the potential customer's Manolo's.

Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that the bosses up in Englewood Cliffs suddenly recognize all the work I've done to stay ahead of the very, very big real estate story this year and decide to give me a 50 million dollar bonus (a girl can hallucinate, right?). So I decide to upgrade from my 3-bedroom in DC to something a little more spacious. I'm a working soccer mom, with games on Saturdays and Costco shopping to get through on Sundays. In other words, I don't have a whole lot of time on my hands to start interviewing contractors, cajoling architects and waiting on line at the city permit office.

I want my mansion now, BUT I'm a picky little millionaire, and I want my mansion how I want it. I don't want to buy something that needs a ton of renovation, and I don't want to be told by some over-priced tile man that the brand new limestone he just put on my bathroom floor is uneven because it's a "retro-fit." I want it new, I want it perfect, and I want it to be purely my own. And, again, I want it now. I mean, in order to buy this place, I'm going to have to sell my current place -- you know, to pay for the movers -- and I refuse to put my kids in some temporary rental apartment for a year.

Enter Mr. Beninati, who is offering me a 10-acre, 35 thousand square foot stone mansion, already complete, save all those personalizations, like the actual interior. I get to pick my faucets, my light fixtures, the type of wood floors, paneling, banisters. Do I want Viking or Thermidor? Do I go granite or soapstone? Should my low-flow toilet be Toto or something totally better? And my shower -- oh my shower, just imagine the possibilities!!

These are the choices I love to make, these are the tasks that make my heart race, these are the things I can do sitting online at my desk while I pretend to work. Suddenly it all makes sense. Suddenly I am ready for Couture-Ready Real Estate. Suddenly, my multi-million dollar mansion is truly mine.

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.com

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  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.

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