Morgan Brennan

Morgan Brennan, Forbes Staff

I write about real estate markets, outrageous homes and cities.

6/07/2012 @ 3:19PM |6,428 views

Car Elevators Are The Latest In Luxury -- Just Ask Mitt Romney.

This story appears in the June 25, 2012 Investment Guide issue of Forbes Magazine.

In March presidential candidate Mitt Romney found himself in the kind of awkward situation reserved for One-Percenters: Blueprints for the renovation of his $12 million La Jolla beach house were leaked to the press and spread across the Web. Nothing in the plans—not the 3,600-square-foot basement addition or outdoor shower—caught gawking readers’ imaginations like the split-level garage, with the latest piece of must-have residential exotica: a car elevator.

The former Massachusetts governor, worth $230 million by FORBES’ estimate, has attracted criticism for this opulent amenity, but he is by no means the first high-end homeowner to install an auto lift.

“It may not be a common home feature, but its popularity is growing rapidly,” claims Brad Davies, owner of American Custom Lifts, an Escondido, Calif. company that manufactures the PhantomPark, Romney’s elevator of choice. “We have 19 on order right now; it used to be 2 to 3 on order each month.”

American Custom Lifts has installed PhantomParks in the modern-day palaces of billionaires and A-list celebrities. (Although in Romney’s case, “everything is on hold right now, and he’s waiting until after the elections,” notes Davies. Romney’s team confirms this.)

A basic PhantomPark model costs $42,000 plus installation, which typically adds $13,000 (Romney’s version is reported to cost $55,000). Customized models—for example, where the top level is designed to blend into its surroundings—can cost much more.

Like all things designed for the rich and famous in real estate, Davies and his team typically sign nondisclosure agreements to protect clients’ identities. He will say that projects have included grass-covered lifts for boat storage sunken into backyards, multiple lifts to haul catering trucks to an underground 50,000-square-foot ballroom, even lifts hidden under swimming pools that emerge while water drains down the sides of the pool perimeter as a car comes level with the patio.

“We’ve done one for an NBA player that wasn’t even for a car … it was for his billiards table to come up into the family room when he wanted to shoot pool,” chuckles Davies.

Davies installed his first subterranean lift in Aspen, Colo. in 2002 and has watched the orders steadily increase, most via word of mouth.

“My friend had one in Newport Beach … and I saw it and thought it would be perfect to keep my cars protected,” explains Jose “Pancho” Leon, the builder and owner of a $5.7 million estate called Chateau Suenos, in Calabasas, Calif. Situated in the tony, gated development The Oaks (where the Kardashians and Justin Bieber own neighboring homes), the 9,211-square-foot château-inspired estate offers a split-level garage equipped with two PhantomPark hydraulic lifts that store autos below ground, safe from playing children as well as the auto-eroding effects of SoCal’s warm weather. Leon, who lives full-time in a different custom-built home, currently stores his ’56 Thunderbird and Nissan GT-R in the subterranean space.

Despite its celebrity history—the home was rented by pop star Britney Spears for two years following her painfully public 2008 meltdown—and posh amenities that include a fountain-bedecked interior courtyard and wine cellar, Leon’s  real estate agent, Jeffery Biebuyck, emphasizes that the garage is one of Chateau Suenos’ biggest enticements. “Every single person who has toured this home has had a car collection,” Biebuyck, a director at Ewing & Associates Sotheby’s International Realty, says.

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  • jfogel jfogel 2 weeks ago

    A car elevator would be fantastic. Waterfront homes around here built after a certain date are raised about 8 feet with the first floor being garage and storage. Being able to get an expensive car to the second floor in the event of a flood would be great. Plus, if I want to look at my Enzo I can just bring it up and park it in the living room instead of having to go to the garage. What the hell is wrong with that? Nothin’ that’s what.

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  • Billy Billy 2 weeks ago

    Awkward silence…… somewhere off in the distance a dog barks.