Friday, May 22, 2009

The death of conspicuous consumption hits the rich

Even the very rich are giving up extravagance (free WSJ Digg link).

Richard and Amanda Peacock spent five years building their dream home, a 10,000-square-foot, orange mansion overlooking the ocean here. They filled it with leopard-skin chairs, pinball machines, antique Coca-Cola signs and six sports cars. It had a room full of 100 hunting trophies -- including a hyena and the head of an elephant -- and an aviary out back housing eight rare parrots.

On a recent Saturday, they held a one-day auction to try to sell it all.


Mr. Peacock's auction marked a new moment in the fall of the latest Gilded Age. Fire-sale auctions of mansions, yachts, sports cars and other trappings of wealth have become increasingly common as the rich become less rich. But Mr. Peacock is in the vanguard in attempting to downsize in just one day. The event was less an auction than a lifestyle liquidation, a clearance sale on a decade's worth of conspicuous consumption.

He has plenty of company among the once-wealthy. Half of all millionaires have lost 30% or more of their fortunes during the financial crisis, according to a recent survey from Chicago-based Spectrem Group. Whether unable to pay their bills or loath to appear lavish at a time of national thrift, many millionaires and billionaires are unloading their baubles. In a twist on the estate sales of deceased celebrities, "living estate sales" have become increasingly popular.