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Original Issue

Unreal Estates

Selling the home of an athlete's dreams can be a nightmare

HE'S KNOWN as King James, but the mansion that LeBron James is constructing on a 5.6-acre plot outside of Akron looks more like something designed by King Croesus. The 35,440-square-foot pad, which should be ready for occupancy in 2008, will feature a bowling alley, a casino, a barber shop, a six-car garage and, on an outside wall, a limestone bas-relief of James's face. It's everything a young, fabulously wealthy athlete could want—and, most likely, nothing a prospective buyer will if James ever decides to sell the place. "I would recommend to a client not to overimprove to a point where another [buyer] wouldn't want your house," says Claudio Rivero, a real estate agent who specializes in luxury homes in South Florida.

Some of the alleged improvements become drawbacks when it's time to sell, especially in a market that, thanks to the real estate boom and renovation craze of the last decade, is now glutted with customized, high-end homes. Unless you're producing a segment of MTV Cribs, Shaquille O'Neal's indoor basketball court, Larry Bird's aquarium bar or Dwyane Wade's pool with his jersey number emblazoned on the bottom are not likely to impress you. "I've seen things like a ceramic bull mastiff in the dining room [and] pool tables in other dining rooms," says Barry Laughon, a real estate agent in suburban Atlanta. "My clients realize [those houses are] a total redo. And athletes tend to like real modern and new. I walk in with an executive who can afford those homes, but that stuff turns him off immediately."

The result: Many athletes have had to slash their asking prices and wait years to close a deal. In 2005 Martina Navratilova sold her 7,000-square-foot Aspen, Colo., house on a 100-acre ranch for $8 million—13 years after she put it on the market for $8.2 million. In early '06 Dan Marino put his 15,000-square-foot home (it has two guest houses and a waterfall Jacuzzi) in Weston, Fla., on the market for $15.9 million. It's still for sale, with a new price tag of $14.5 million. Terrell Owens is seeking to move two high-priced properties. His five-bedroom home in Moorestown, N.J., the site of his infamous driveway abs workout before the media in '05, was listed in October '05 for $4.4 million; it now can be had for $3.5 million, less than what T.O. paid for it in '04. Owens has also been trying to sell a $4 million, 16,000-square-foot manse in Lithonia, Ga., for more than a year. "He added a beach to his [Georgia] home," says Erica Lacey, Owens's New Jersey broker. "It's simple to overprice your home."

All of which means James might want to rethink doing both the casino and the barber shop. "Don't do super overimprovements unless you want the house for the rest of your life," says Rivero. "You'll never get your money back."

AGENT: Jill Eber/Jill Hertzberg, Coldwell Banker
OWNER: Shaquille O'Neal
LOCATION: Miami Beach
PRICE: $35 million
ON MARKET: Two years
Eight-bedroom, 19,440-square-foot spread has tennis court and custom eight-foot doorways.

AGENT: Bill Ransom, Jenny Pruitt & Assocs.
OWNER: Terrell Owens
LOCATION: Lithonia, Ga.
PRICE: $4 million
ON MARKET: 18 months
Six-bedroom manse on lake beach installed by Owens; master suite has 550-square-foot closet.

AGENT: Erica Lacey, Blue Chip Realty
OWNER: Owens
LOCATION: Moorestown, N.J.
PRICE: $3.5 million
ON MARKET: 18 months
Five-bedroom, 7 1/2-bath home includes cigar room and game room; requires 10 furnaces to heat.

AGENT: Peggy Mateer/Molly Lucas, Coldwell Banker
OWNER: Hulk Hogan
LOCATION: Belleair, Fla.
PRICE: $17.9 million
ON MARKET: One year
17,000-square-foot French country estate with views of Gulf of Mexico includes two boat lifts.

AGENT: Techrin Hijazi, PA,
OWNER: Dwyane Wade
LOCATION: Pinecrest, Fla.
PRICE: $8.9 million
ON MARKET: Two months
Seven-bedroom, 7 1/2-bath estate has elevator and Wade's nickname (Flash) tiled into bottom of pool.