Most Expensive Home in the U.K. (and Possibly Anywhere) Sells for $220 Million

If real estate brokers in the U.S. are feeling upbeat about a recent run of good sales in the luxury end of the market, then their colleagues in London must be positively giddy over the recent sale of a $220 million penthouse in the city -- the highest-priced residential property ever sold in the U.K., or just about anywhere it appears. Ever.

The mystery buyer, believed to be (take your pick) a Russian oligarch, a Middle Eastern sheik, or a Nigerian oil mogul living it up on rising oil prices, will be the proud owner of a two-story, six-bedroom spread at One Hyde Park, a new development with park views, bulletproof windows, a panic room and, according to the developer's website, "ultimate perfection," when it comes to amenities and decor.

Even compared to some recent eye-popping sales in New York -- recall Mexican uber-billionaire Carlos Slim's $44-million contract for a Fifth Avenue townhouse -- the London price is a whopper, and reflects a return of super-rich buyers looking for trophy homes, brokers there say, while the overall market remains wobbly.

Sounds like a familiar story if you look at real estate on this side of the pond.
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According to The Wall Street Journal, luxury sales in the U.S. are making a comeback from a deep slump in 2009. Sales of homes priced between $2 million and $5 million rose 32 percent in the first quarter of 2010, compared to a year ago, the newspaper quotes CoreLogic as saying.

In Manhattan, there were 402 sales of $2 million or more in the first quarter compared with 311 in the same period in 2005, the peak year for existing-home sales nationwide.

Buyers in that range are feeling more confident, even if they don't own a Nigerian oil company, and are more sure of getting a mortgage. And of course with prices lowered, they see a big upside in buying now.

But it's still a fractured recovery. Despite some flashy sales in coveted neighborhoods around the country, foreclosures are stalking tony enclaves like Lake Forest, Ill., on Chicago's North Shore, and in hedge-fund haven Greenwich, Conn.

Miami-Dade County still has enough homes priced at $2 million or more to last 41 months at the current sales pace, the Journal notes.

And don't forget that more than 1.6 million properties went into foreclosure in the first half of 2010, on top of a record 2.8 million last year.

The high-end buyers are coming back, both here and in the U.K., which is good, but whether that buoys the rest of the market is an open question.

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