The world’s richest man lives in the same five-bedroom, gray stucco house he bought in 1958 for $31,500.
That’s right. Legendary investor Warren Buffett, 77, still calls his humble digs in Omaha’s Happy Hollow suburb home, despite a $62 billion fortune that eclipses the gross domestic products of Croatia and Jordan combined. That famous folksiness is, of course, in keeping with his investment philosophy. “If you don’t feel comfortable owning something for 10 years,” he once told a reporter, “then don’t own it for 10 minutes.”
Of course, few billionaires live as simply and frugally as Buffett, who also professes a love for pub fare like burgers and Cherry Coke. (Not coincidentally, Buffett is a longtime investor in the beverage giant.)
But low-key is a relative term among the super-rich. Computer mogul Michael Dell claims to live simply, yet built a 33,000-square-foot manse in Austin, Texas, in 1997. Called “the castle” by locals for its high walls and tight security, the home sits on a 20-acre spread a mere stone’s throw from Dell headquarters.
It’s not so simple for other members of the Billionaires Club.
Oracle (nasdaq: ORCL – news – people ) Chief Executive Larry Ellison, a hard-core Japanophile, blew an estimated $100 million building a 23-acre, 10-building Japanese-inspired imperial villa in Woodside, Calif
But it doesn’t stop there. In recent years, he has spent an estimated $200 million snapping up a dozen commercial and residential properties in the ritzy beachside enclave of Malibu, Calif.
In January, Russian-Israeli diamond magnate Lev Leviev bought the Palladio, an extravagant 17,000-square-foot manor outside London, for $65 million. (That works out to $3,823 per square foot, roughly twice the average in greater London.) The home includes a bullet-proof front door, gold-plated pool, indoor cinema and hair salon.
It’s nifty amenities like these that help drive up the costs of billionaire homes. The $124 million sticker price for steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal’s 12-bedroom spread in London’s posh Kensington neighborhood includes Turkish baths and garage space for 20 cars. (No circling the block for an empty spot on Sunday nights!)
Visitors to Bill Gates’ 66,000-square-foot compound in Medina, Wash., have the option of climbing 84 stairs to get to the ground floor–or riding the elevator. In addition to tennis courts and bowling alleys, Renco Group’s Ira Rennert’s 29-bedroom behemoth in the Hamptons, reportedly worth $170 million, boasts its own power plant.
Of course, a handful of billionaires both live and work on their estates. Star Wars director George Lucas presides over Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, Calif. Skywalker Sound, a popular post-production outfit, is based on the 5,156-acre spread, which boasts its own fire brigade and draws the regular gaggle of tourists. (The ranch is not open to the public.) Star sightings are the norm. In 2000, Tom Hanks taped sound effects for Cast Away there; last year Sean Penn paid a visit to tweak Into the Wild. Lucas lives in the estate’s main house, where he displays Hollywood memorabilia like Charlie Chaplin’s cane, a prop whip used by Rudolph Valentino, and of course, Indiana Jones’ Holy Grail.
Across the country, Donald Trump occupies the penthouse triplex of his Manhattan-based Trump Tower. The $50 million apartment, a monument to marble and gold, underwent recent renovations following the 2006 birth of Trump’s fifth child, this one by his third wife, Melania. Little Barron secured an entire floor for himself, with decor inspired by–who else?–Louis XIV. The Donald need only hop on the elevator to get to his offices, housed in the same skyscraper, making his perhaps the shortest commute of any billionaire.
And when it’s a race to be the world’s richest, every minute counts.