Never say never: The infamous Southern California ranch known as Neverland that once belonged to the late superstar Michael Jackson has finally been sold.
The investor and billionaire Ron Burkle snagged the ranch for $22 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. He paid less than a quarter of the property’s original asking price of $100 million.
The discounted price dovetails with a hot market for large-acreage land grabs.
“Demand for property, especially more self-contained properties, is greater than ever,” says Kofi Nartey, founder and CEO of Society Real Estate + Development. “I don’t believe it was purchased just for land value, but 2,700 acres is hard to find.”
Built in 1982, the estate, designed by Robert Altevers, was purchased in 1987 for $19.5 million by the chart-topping singer, who lived there for over 15 years. Jackson died in 2009 at the age of 50.
Under Jackson’s ownership, the compound once held as many as 22 structures, including a zoo with exotic animals, amusement park rides, and landscaping that spelled out the word “Neverland.”
The enormous spread is anchored by a 12,598-square-foot, Normandy-style main house with six bedrooms, seven full bathrooms, and two-half bathrooms. The first-floor master suite features a private loft and two master bathrooms.
The location is just 5 miles north of the town of Los Olivos, about 50 miles from Santa Barbara. The grounds include a 4-acre lake with a waterfall, mountain views, a barbecue area, a pool, poolhouse, a tennis court, and a basketball court.
Multiple buildings stand on the property, including three separate guest homes, a 5,500-square-foot movie theater with a stage, several barns, animal shelter facilities, corrals, and a maintenance shop.
Watch for falling prices
Due to the allegations of child abuse that followed Jackson throughout the final decades of his career—and which were amplified in an HBO documentary following his demise—the property carried a stigma.
That infamy, coupled with the sheer size and scope of the property, ensured that the estate languished in real estate limbo, with no buyer interest for five years. Despite its worldwide recognition, the price was never right.
The late pop star’s home initially landed on the market in 2015 for a jaw-dropping $100 million. Two years later, the price was cut to $67 million, but the estate still failed to connect with a buyer.
Then in 2019—a couple of months after the damning HBO doc premiered— the 2,700-acre property reappeared on the market for $31 million.
The listing agent at the time, Suzanne Perkins, told us, “Nothing has changed, just the price—dramatically so. The ranch is still as beautiful as it was. The structures, landscaping, all are being maintained. Nothing’s really changed, other than the sellers have come to a realistic price.”
Rebranded as Sycamore Valley Ranch, the property was jointly owned by Jackson’s estate and a fund managed by Colony Capital, according to CNN.
The rebranding was intended partly to create a new history, to distract from the horrific allegations of abuse that followed the pop star’s legacy. Jackson had denied the allegations prior to his death, as had his family.
What’s next for Neverland?
So what to do with an enormous property with a tainted past? The property barely sold for more than Jackson bought it some 30 years ago, noted Shelton Wilder, CEO and luxury realtor of The Wilder Group.
As he says, “This property must have only been purchased for land value. I believe the new owner will demolish the existing structures on the property and rebuild. This is not a turnkey, bring-your-bag-and-toothbrush kind of property.”
Wilder also points out that existing infrastructure makes this parcel perfect for more construction.
“It is always easier to rebuild on land that has already been developed than on raw acres of land. In this case, most of the development of the land is probably already done, and the plumbing and electricity are already there,” he says, adding that Burkle “just needs to scrape it to the studs and rebuild.”
He notes that with 2,700 acres in the prime location of Santa Barbara County, Burkle will be sure to see a return on his investment after rebuilding.
Burkle has swooped in to save and restore other distressed, significant properties, such as Frank Lloyd Wright‘s eye-popping Ennis House in Los Angeles, which he sold for $18 million after pouring millions into a restoration.
“The buyer has an interesting backstory, since it’s evident he owns several significant properties. Since Neverland has a history associated with it which is very unique, it would fall into the perfect wheelhouse for this buyer,” says Emil Hartoonian, managing partner of The Agency.
“I do see this as a land value deal entirely, considering the buyer’s background and originally eyeing the adjacent property for his private club. It will be interesting to see what new horizons are in store for this unique property.”
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