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Harry Newton's In Search of The Perfect Investment Newton's In Search Of The Perfect Investment. Technology Investor.

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8:30 AM EST, Thursday, February 22 , 2007: Luck or intelligence? I'll take luck every day. The key is to be there. My friend has spent months looking for a ritzy house in the ski fields of Colorado. He's prepared to spend $5 million. As he drives to eye yet another one, he spies a sign for an Auction. He goes to the unpublicized auction (heck the house isn't even on the Internet), buys a bigger, better, fancier house (six bedrooms and an elevator) for $4 million.

My wife argues expensive houses "will hold their own." This prediction could be designed less for economic than for psychological reasons, i.e. to make me feel good that the house we're building is way over budget -- like 45%.

I'm learning there are "gotchas" when building a house:

1. Building material prices continue to soar, despite the housing turndown. I don't know why.

2. There are "levels" of building materials. Home Depot and Lowes have great fixtures, but sometimes not the precise thing you (or the wife, or your architect) want. For that, you're into "designer" stuff. Figure exponential increases in price. Talk to me about door hinges and door handles!

3. Labor prices are soaring, especially for some specialty contractors, like propane dealers. I don't know why. No one seems to have figured there's a housing slump. Toll Brothers today reported a 67% drop in net income in their fiscal first quarter.

4. It costs a lot more to heat a bigger house than a smaller house, especially when you use newer techniques like underfloor radiant heating.

5. Other than insulating your house with foam (not fiberglass), there aren't any viable "green" money-saving techniques that make sense for a house in the snow-belt. I've looked at geothermal heat, windmills, photovoltaic cells, wood burning heat exchangers and sun-heated hot water systems. But the payoffs are so far away that I'll be dead before I ever get money back -- and that assumes there'll be someone around to oil the windmill and maintain the motors that push the water around, as they transfer heat from one place to another.

6. Insurance companies bump their rates up dramatically when you bounce above the magic $1 million valuation (though we're still looking).

I'll run a picture of my new house, when it's finished -- if it ever is. Meantime, Forbes Magazine has a picture series on The World's Most Expensive Places. Click here. I thought I'd run these to make me feel good. I haven't spent this much money, yet.

At $138 million, this is the most expensive. Larger than either Buckingham or Hampton Court palace, this 103-room home has 58 acres of gardens and woodlands. Can you imagine the cleaning bills?

The triple oceanfront lot along the Pacific Ocean in Southern California is only part of what makes the Portabello Estate at $75 million so pricey. Try the kitchen. The design resembles a nautilus shell, with a "dramatic" grotto surrounded by "chambers." At least that's what the writeup says. Ordering in pizza is definitely not the way to go with a kitchen as large as a basketball court -- well, almost.

For $70 million, you can buy the top three floors of one of the poshest hotels in New York, The Pierre. This apartment comes with spectacular views of the city and central park. Moreover it's just across the road from the Apple Store in the GM building. Perhaps Steve Jobs will buy it?

As part of the apartment, you get the Grand Salon with a 23-foot-high ceiling. Having drinks here would seriously impress your friends. I tried to visit this apartment, purely out of curiosity. But to get an appointment, I had to submit a statement of my net worth and a letter from my bank. Clearly one way to keep the riffraff (like me) out.

I wouldn't want to join a country club that had me as a member:
Schmuel Moskovitz is talking to a friend of his, bemoaning the fact that he couldn't join the Grosse Point Golf Club.

"I don't understand it," he said, "I told them my name is Shmuel Moskovitz and dat I vanted to join der club."

"Sammy," his friend says, "The club's restricted. They won't let Jews join."

But Sammy really wants to join. He takes speech lessons, learns about boats, even tries to eat corned beef on white bread.

A year later, he appears at the same door wearing a conservative, three-piece suit and a copy of the Wall Street Journal tucked under his arm. The doorman lets him see the manager of the club.

The manager says, "May I help you, sir ?"

"Yes," Sammy replies in a clipped New England accent, "I am here to inquire about membership to your esteemed establishment."

"What is your name ?" asks the manager.

Sammy replies, "My name is Winthrop van Simpson the Third."

"And where do you live?" asks the manager.

"Why, Connecticut of course," replies Sammy.

"What is your income ?" asks the manager.

"My wealth is something I never discuss with strangers," replies Sammy, "but I don't mind telling you that I own three skyscrapers in Manhattan , and several factories in northern New Jersey ."

"Just one more question before you become a member," says the manager.

"What is your religious affiliation?"

Sammy's chest swells with pride at the thought of becoming a member as he says, "I am a Goy."

This column is about my personal search for the perfect investment. I don't give investment advice. For that you have to be registered with regulatory authorities, which I am not. I am a reporter and an investor. I make my daily column -- Monday through Friday -- freely available for three reasons: Writing is good for sorting things out in my brain. Second, the column is research for a book I'm writing called "In Search of the Perfect Investment." Third, I encourage my readers to send me their ideas, concerns and experiences. That way we can all learn together. My email address is . You can't click on my email address. You have to re-type it . This protects me from software scanning the Internet for email addresses to spam. I have no role in choosing the Google ads. Thus I cannot endorse any, though some look mighty interesting. If you click on a link, Google may send me money. Please note I'm not suggesting you do. That money, if there is any, may help pay Claire's law school tuition. Read more about Google AdSense, click here and here.
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