Could a Billionaire Buy All the Homes in Your City?

A blog about business and economics.
June 5 2014 12:28 PM

Could a Billionaire Buy All the Homes in Your City?

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Boston? Sounds good.

Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

Buying a private island is still the gold standard for extravagant billionaire real estate investments. But what if Bill Gates or the Koch Brothers wanted to up the ante? What if they wanted to, say, purchase a whole city to be their personal Xanadu?

Turns out, they'd have a few decent options in their price range. The real estate brokerage Redfin calculated that Gates’ estimated wealth could purchase all the homes in Boston.* The Kochs could snap up Atlanta, and the Walton family could turn Seattle (or Washington, D.C., or Austin, or San Antonio, or Dallas, or Miami, or Portland) into an estate. (Numbers on the graphic correspond to the cost of purchasing the city's housing stock).

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And yes, this is one of those stunt maps generated by a corporate PR department to get their name out on social media. But it’s a particularly fun one, and the methodology isn’t completely absurd. Redfin apparently added up MLS home sale prices for each city, then multiplied them for a total. So, as they put it, if 10 percent of homes sold for $1 billion total, then they decided the city’s housing stock was worth $10 billion. It's not exactly airtight, and of course it leaves out commercial real estate. (Also, if we wanted to be reallllly nitpicky, the mere act of buying up mass tracts of housing would probably drive up prices across a metro area.) But in you ever find yourself wondering which modern plutocrat could theoretically afford to turn your city into his own fiefdom (without running for mayor), now you have a rough guide.

*Correction, June 5, 2014: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Redfin as a real estate listings company.

Jordan Weissmann is Slate's senior business and economics correspondent.

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