Robin Williams’ Longtime Home Newly Listed at $25.9 Million


The legacy of incomparable actor and comedian Robin Williams — from “Mork Mindy” to classics like “Good Will Hunting” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” — will live on forever. And now a piece of his personal history is hitting the market again — a venerable Napa, CA estate worthy of the man whose death this year came far too early.

Williams’ longtime vineyard residence, called the “crown jewel of Napa” in the listing, is currently available for $25.9 million. One of the Valley’s most notable estates, Williams called it Villa Sorriso — or “Villa of Smiles” — and there’s no doubt the luxurious property prompts smiles.

The main residence was commissioned by Williams and built in 2003 by David Gast and Associates. Inspired by the Palladian philosophy of dramatic architectural statements grounded with harmony and balance inside, the home manages to be at once extravagant and welcoming.

Perfectly suited for relaxing and entertaining, the elegant villa has 5 bedrooms and 10 bathrooms in 20,000 square feet. From the classic exterior of Portuguese limestone and oak-paneled rooms to a 12-seat indoor theater and climate-controlled wine and art storage, the estate lacks nothing. There is even the thrill of a private tower accessible via a bridge from the master suite.

For the outdoor enthusiast, a 9-stall horse barn, tennis court, hiking trails and a spring-fed pond for bass fishing provide endless opportunities. The home’s blue-tiled roof melts into the sky, and the infinity and lap pools overlook the mountains and nearby Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.

The 639-acre property is a working vineyard with more than 18 acres producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc varietals. The grapes are bought by Robert Craig Winery, a highly-rated vintner, says listing agent Cyd Greer of Coldwell Banker. Over 100 fruit-producing olive trees also dot the property, with plenty more acreage that could be cultivated.

Williams did try to sell the estate a few years back, and it was unofficially available earlier this year. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West were in the market, but opted for a much smaller property, purchasing a 3-acre estate with a vineyard this summer.

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Black Friday Deals on TVs, Laptops, Toys and More


If you’re out bargain shopping on Black Friday, here are some of the best deals you’ll see kicking off the holiday shopping season.

Laptops

laptop

Source: Aaron Patterson via Flickr Creative Commons

Prices on a budget, entry-level laptop — like one you might buy for the kids — start at just $99.99. That’s better than the best back-to-school prices from last summer. High-end laptops will start at around $650, according to bargain-hunting site DealNews.

Toys

Toy deals have sometimes been better in mid-December than on Black Friday, but this year looks like it will be different. Expect to find big discounts on a wide selection of toys on Black Friday, including action figures, dolls, electronics, board games and more.

Homes

Zillow looked at both the percentage of listings with a recent price cut and the actual discount as a percentage of the original listing price. The city with the most price cuts? Albuquerque, NM, where a whopping 53.5 percent of listings have been cut.

The city with the biggest overall discounts is Detroit, where home prices were slashed by an average 23.3 percent of the original listing price.

Home shoppers looking to double their chances of finding a great deal should look no further than Milwaukee or Philadelphia. Both cities ranked in the top 10 for most common and biggest price cuts.

Home appliances

washer dryer

Source: Whirlpool

Many shoppers think of the Black Friday weekend as an opportunity to buy presents, video games and other high-tech gadgets, because retailers focus on these items in sales promotions. But some of the biggest discounts are on home appliances. So if you need to replace an old laundry set or buy a new refrigerator, be on the lookout for deals — they’re out there.

Televisions

It looks like we’re in for a record-breaking Black Friday for TV deals. Retailers are slashing prices so aggressively that DealNews says it has already seen promotions better than four out of its seven predictions for this year’s best deals.

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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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Hearst’s Historic Penthouse Hits the Market


Before Gilded Age newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst built his famous San Simeon castle in California, he held court in two New York residences — both of which are currently on the market.

The Hearst penthouse at 91 Central Park West had reportedly been under contract by designer Giorgio Armani in October, but the deal has apparently fallen through. The 4-bedroom duplex is listed again for sale at $27.5 million by the Corcoran Group.

The home boasts “unrivaled views of the park and the iconic New York skyline.” Stained-glass windows, herringbone wood floors, large closets, built-ins, detailed moldings and a handcrafted Elizabethan-style wood-burning fireplace are just some of the features. According to the listing, the home “retains the grandeur and magnificent scale that is reminiscent of the early 20th century.”

Meanwhile, Hearst’s former quintuplex at 137 Riverside Drive is on the market for $31 million — after $7 million was cut from its original ask, according to Christie’s International, which holds the listing. Originally, Hearst leased the top three floors, but in 1913 he purchased the entire building for $950,000.

The five-floor residence is comprised of floors eight through twelve, and was at that time the largest and most opulent apartment in the city, which can be gleaned from the names of some of the grand parlors: the Greek Room, English Room and Julius Caesar Room. The 17-room residence offers outdoor spaces and is being called a chateau in the sky.

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About the Author

Laura Vecsey is a former sports columnist, news reporter and politics writer and has worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Baltimore Sun, Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union and Harrisburg Patriot-News. She was also a regional editor with Examiner.com. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College.


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When to Hire a Professional for Your Remodel


Although sometimes costly, hiring professional designers and contractors relieves stress and eradicates expensive do-it-yourself (DIY) remedies. But how can homeowners determine which projects to undertake and which to outsource?

We asked eight home improvement writers to weigh in on their process for determining when to pull out the tools or the checkbook.

Try before you buy

Overseeing house projects from start to finish gives homeowners total control over outcomes — minimizing the odds of remodel regret.

“My husband and I are pretty handy and we do most home improvement and redesign projects ourselves. We do this not only to save money, but also because we enjoy being a part of the creative process,” said Tiffany Hewlett of Making the World Cuter.

Undertaking a home improvement project can cut upgrade expenses by eliminating installation fees.

“We paid way too much money to have carpet ripped out and tile installed in our master bathroom in our old house.  If we had to do that today, we’d probably do it ourselves,” said Gennifer Grover-Hass of Life in the Hass House.

“I was recently quoted $8,000 for a bathroom reno[vation]. My husband and I decided to try and do the reno ourselves and will end up spending about $2,500 total.  That’s a pretty big savings,” recalled Erika Brendle of Retropolitan Hip.

Play on your strengths

Both DIYers and professionals can learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

“The DIYer can benefit from guidance, help in choosing color and help with an overall plan they can implement at their leisure. A professional can save them time and money by minimizing the ‘let’s try this’ and then the ‘oops, that didn’t work’ trial and error periods we sometimes go through as DIYers,” advised Claudine Barnett of Your Nest Design.

Handymen who lack interior design vision should hire professionals to select paint colors, cabinetry and furniture, but complete labor independently to reduce total costs. Similarly, design-savvy homeowners with big plans for aesthetics might only require assistance with assembly and installation, and therefore eliminate pricey consultations.

Know your limits

It’s easy to get in over your head, especially attempting common DIY projects. Regardless of difficulty, many home projects require professional input as a necessary safety precaution.

“Steer clear of any project that involves electrical work or changing the basic structure of a room. Knocking down a wall to change the layout could be a recipe for disaster if it’s load-bearing. When working in the bathroom, water and electrics don’t mix, so by law you should always consult a professional electrician who holds a Part P qualification to help you fix your bathroom lighting. If you don’t, not only will the work be illegal but it will put you in danger,” warned Natalie White of Rated People.

Not to mention, tackling arduous projects without proper knowledge can hurt your home and end up costing more to fix.

“I would NEVER attempt a major plumbing project because I’m not confident in my abilities. On the flip side, there are SO many resources online that can help you with almost any project. Also, check with your local home improvement store for classes like tiling or dry walling,” said Angela Lerew of Unexpected Elegance.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help

While you may be confident in your DIY skills, there’s no shame in asking for help. Even professionals accept support from colleagues and specialists, and multiple viewpoints ensures the project receives optimal attention and care — from start to finish.

“I am a firm believer in leaving some things to those that specialize in them. I am not afraid to admit when something is beyond my scope and it’s time to bring in the professionals. There is always going to be someone that can do it better and I’m happy to find that person to make the project turn out as perfect as I imagined,” said Gina Kleinworth of Kleinworth Co.

“Our neighborhood has an amazing Listserv where people will share resources. Any time you can get a direct referral from someone you trust, it’s bound to be a better experience!” said Mary Sell of Lemon Grove Blog.

Call a professional when you don’t feel comfortable tackling modernizations alone. With close observation and practice, you can learn the how-to’s to be more involved and save money for future home improvements.

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About the Author

Jennifer Riner writes about rentals, home improvement and design for Zillow Blog.


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Can You Afford to Buy a New Home and Rent Out Your Old One?


When it comes to buying a new home, most people decide to trade up to gain additional space, live in a better neighborhood, move to a home in better condition — or any combination of these. For many home buyers, particularly those with a good deal of equity in their current home, it begs the question: Do I have to sell in order to buy?

Real estate is always meant to be a long-term hold. Building equity and passive income are why so many people turn to real estate to build wealth. If you can afford to keep your home while purchasing another, do so.

If you want to make your first foray into real estate investing, you’ll need to take several steps. Meet with a mortgage and real estate pro, and do some early research to determine if owning two homes is feasible for you.

Determine your current purchasing power

If you were to sell your home and take out that equity, how much can you afford to spend on a purchase, and what type of home will that get you? Check with your real estate agent and go to open houses to see what you can buy for your money.

This number is going to be high because you would be putting all your eggs into the new purchase. If you choose to keep the old home as a rental, you may not be able to buy your dream house.

Understanding what you are giving up will help inform your decision of whether you want to be a landlord.

Calculate your purchasing power without that equity

If you keep your old home, you will likely have to compromise on your new home’s location, size or condition. Go check out homes at lower price points to understand what you will get for the money.

If you are open to becoming an investor and building wealth in real estate, this compromise won’t be a big deal. But if you aren’t comfortable with your purchasing power without your existing home’s equity, then it might not make sense for you.

Understand your monthly income and expenses

If you are open to taking the plunge, the next step is running the numbers to understand your potential new financial reality.

First, understand the rental market. You’ll have to know how much rent you can fetch for your current home. Browse rental listings online or ask your real estate agent to show you comparable rental properties.

Will the rent cover the mortgage exactly? Could it be a small loss? Sometimes an investor will be open to taking a small loss in the near term to build equity in the long term. As you run your numbers, take off 10 percent to account for issues like vacancies, necessary improvements and repairs.

Move forward with your decision

Just like someone who would be buying at the same time they are selling, someone who is keeping a home as a rental should prepare for stress. Timing it is never easy, and nobody likes to carry two mortgages for too long.

Unlike buyers — who can shop and make offers knowing they won’t move in for two to three months — renters generally search within weeks of their desired move-in date.

Once your new home is under contract and you have removed your contingencies, it’s time to get the existing property on the rental market. It’s better to show the home with your furniture than empty. If you can manage it, start showing the home for rent within a few weeks of your purchase closing.

Choose a renter wisely

Becoming a landlord means starting a business. You tenant will become your customer, and it’s better to have a good customer than a bad one. You’re better off with a pleasant, reliable tenant paying a little less than market value than a cranky or difficult tenant paying market value or more.

You also want a tenant who plans to stay. Turnover means wear and tear, and potential lost rental income.

Arrange for a helping hand

If you are moving out of the area, consider hiring a property manager to handle your new rental home. Not only can they deal with repairs or complaints from the tenant, but they collect the rent and enforce the terms of the lease, if necessary. Property managers have teams of repair specialists and contractors who can fix problems.

Research tax considerations

Owning real estate as an investment opens up a new world of tax issues and events. Before you sign on the dotted line, check with your accountant.

Understand the following important points:

  • Your new rental income is taxable.
  • Improvements and repairs have tax consequences.
  • You may lose the homeowner’s tax benefit when you sell the rental property. If you’ve lived in the home for two of the past five years, then you won’t pay taxes on any gain ($250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples) when you sell it. Once you pass this time frame, you are on the hook for the gain.

Being a landlord is not for everyone. As with any real estate transaction, never rush — and never go in with blinders on.

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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

About the Author


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