Million-Dollar Mausoleums – Luxury Cemetery Plots For Sale

August 18, 2013
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With Grecian columns and leaded-glass windows imported from Poland, Arthur Allan’s future New York home is a welcoming and luxurious space. But he doesn’t want to move in anytime soon—it is his private mausoleum.

Mr. Allan, a retired interior designer, purchased the 2,064-square-foot lot and mausoleum in historic Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx—the final resting place for J.C. Penney, Herman Melville and Miles Davis. Mr. Allan, 82 years old, paid $1.1 million in 2008 for the plot, which was once owned by real-estate heiress Leona Helmsley. (She sold it after complaining that a newly built public mausoleum blocked open views.) Over the past five years, Mr. Allan has poured about $150,000 into improvements, including a bronze statue of a Grecian fighter with his hand pointed up to the sky.

But not all the furnishings are in place. “I’m superstitious,” said Victor Szewczyk, Mr. Allan’s real-estate manager. “The statue will go there when [he] goes there.”

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For many people, a cemetery plot or mausoleum crypt is the last piece of real estate they’ll ever use. While there is no overall shortage of cemetery space in the U.S., coveted plots in exclusive or historic graveyards are commanding premium prices. The cemetery industry is projected to have $3.4 billion in revenue in 2013 and rise 2.1% in 2014, according to a July report by market-research firm IBISWorld. But revenue could soon shrink over time as more families consider cremation, which is about one-third the cost of burial.

To stoke demand, the cemetery industry is offering an array of high-end offerings that mirror the housing market, including “starchitect”-designed mausoleums, condominium-like crypts and custom-built family estates. And as cremation grows in popularity—about 43% of people opt for cremation instead of a casketed burial—many private mausoleums today are built with niches to hold the remains.

It’s a level of customization that industry experts say will become increasingly common as baby boomers come of age, so to speak. There were an estimated 2.5 million deaths in 2011, the last year for which data are available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And boomers, those born from 1946 to 1964, are now entering prime estate-planning years.

“The baby boomers are spelling out death on their own terms,” said Daniel Isard, president of the Foresight Companies, a Phoenix-based consulting group specializing in the cemetery industry.

At Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans, an eight-crypt mausoleum on a 32-by-32-foot lot is scheduled for completion in October with a price tag of about $1.1 million. The buyer, Ray Brandt, a 66-year-old attorney and auto-dealership owner, says he wants space for the whole family. The mausoleum will be carved from pink kershaw granite from South Carolina (his wife’s choice) and hold up to 12 burials. There will be two sets of bronze doors, one of which will open to a back patio with picnic-style furniture and a view of a lagoon. “Eventually everyone will end up somewhere,” he said. “I guess it’s the last house I’ll buy.”

Founded in 1872, Metairie, like most cemeteries, serves clients in all price ranges. But as the 156-acre site fills up, pricing in the more exclusive areas has risen. A tract of land along the entrance is nicknamed “millionaires’ row” because a plot of land there can cost $250,000, not including monuments, said Jeanne Keene, a sales executive for Stewart Enterprises, a Louisiana-based company that owns the cemetery.

Like Metairie, most cemeteries charge higher prices for more desirable land, such as a plot with a lake view or private garden. “Just like real-estate, it’s location, location, location,” said David Michener, president of Allegheny and Homewood cemeteries in Pittsburgh.

At Homewood Cemetery, a Pittsburgh man in his 80s recently purchased a 12-by-12-foot private room for his late wife inside one of the community mausoleums; today, it would list for $75,000. The buyer, whom the cemetery didn’t name, then commissioned an interior-design firm to fully remodel the space, adding $25,000 to the price tag. The redesign includes a bronze chandelier to match the Art Deco-style window, several pieces of furniture and area rugs to make the space feel cozy, said designer G. Thomas Catalucci of the Guiding Light. The family also replaced a metal gate outside the room with a velvet rope because “they felt it was a little prison like.”

In Buffalo, N.Y., Forest Lawn Cemetery is using a brand name. The owners built an outdoor, multicrypt mausoleum designed by American architecture’s favorite son, Frank Lloyd Wright. Called the Blue Sky Mausoleum, the 24-crypt structure was designed for Forest Lawn in 1928, but the family that commissioned the Wright design ran out of money. In 2004, the project was resurrected by the cemetery. The crypts are built into a hill overlooking a bucolic tree-lined landscape. The structure ascends like a staircase to a platform with benches. The mausoleum also includes a quote from Wright on the “noble effect” of an open-sky burial. Crypts range from $75,000 to $500,000 each, and five have already sold, said Joseph Dispenza, the president of Forest Lawn. As in the condo market, he expects that the last few crypts will sell for far more than the current asking price.

At Hollywood Forever in Los Angeles, where Rudolph Valentino, Fay Wray, Cecil B. Demille and other notables are interred, buyers have long challenged the basic conventions of burial. In an area called the Garden of Legends, a swath of waterfront property where graves sites start at $110,000, memorials are as unique as the owners. A bust of punk rocker Johnny Ramone on his guitar sits atop his gravestone. Burial near the Ramones legend is one of the most common requests the cemetery gets, said Noelle Berman, the director of private estates, who said it is a reflection of the changing clientele.

As the boomers get older, industry experts predict that monuments will get even more whimsical, says R. Michael Eddy, president of cemetery products at Matthews International, a Pittsburgh-based manufacturer of memorial products.

Even in cemeteries where land is scarce, boomers are making a statement. Mr. Eddy says he has seen monuments of all shapes and colors, ranging from granite roller skates to chiseled flamenco dancers.

He points to rapid changes overseas. In parts of Europe, ultramodern mausoleums resemble art installations, with sculptural elements and statuary. In the Philippines, Mr. Eddy has produced six- and seven-figure mausoleums with air conditioning, kitchenettes—even a hot tub. “Our demand is doubling every year” for private mausoleums, he said, from about 40 orders a year ago to doing “a couple a week,” he said. It’s only a matter of time before more of these ideas reach the U.S. market, he added.

Some already have arrived, noted Ms. Berman of Hollywood Forever, reflecting on some of the cemetery’s unique momento mori, which include a master-closet monument that will be filled with the decedent’s couture collection. “It’s forever,” she said.

[Via: WSJ Online]

Slide Show: Cemetery Plots To Die ForA-List architects. Custom chandeliers. Lakeside views. The luxury market for the last piece of real estate you’ll ever own.

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