How to Buy a Mansion

There are many guides for finding cheap apartments, but almost nothing on how to buy a mansion. For this reason, many of the superrich make poor choices in their housing. To alleviate this chronic error, I have composed the following checklist for assessing a prospective mansion.

1) The “blade of grass” test

Walk innocently around the lawn, then pull one blade of grass at random.

Notice how the grass breaks. Does it pull up easily, or cling to the earth? (You want the latter.) A shoddy lawn can never be completely rescued.

2) Break a dish

In the kitchen, “accidentally” break a dish. As the cook sweeps up the shards, observe carefully. Are there tiny crevices in the floor? Are there little bumps? The kitchen floor must be flat and uniform.

3) Climbing into the ducts

Climb into the air conditioning duct and crawl at least 100 feet. Check for suspect aromas. Look for signs of dust. Remember, you will breathe the duct’s contents!

4) Outer walls

Though most mansions are built quite solidly, a few are not. Walk nonchalantly around the structure, then lean on one of the outer walls. If the wall tilts, this is a very bad sign.

5) The library

Enter the library, and look at the titles. Do you really want to live in a mansion whose former owner read Michael Crichton novels?

6) The acoustics

In the salon, play a short etude on the grand piano. If for some reason no piano exists, produce a portable instrument (e.g. a harmonica) and play. Observe the acoustics. Most mansions echo terribly. When you scream at the maid, do you want your words to ricochet around the room like fruit bats?

7) Beware of untruths

Many mansion-owners—and especially their real estate agents—stretch the truth when describing their homes. For example, if they tell you that Nether Henley (the name of the mansion) dates from the 15th century, be extremely careful. America was not settled until the 17th century!

8) The servants’ legs

Pay close attention to the servants’ legs (especially their calf muscles). Is the mansion so large that they must walk long distances, thus strengthening their lower legs? Do you really want athletic servants?

9) Gloom

The biggest problem of mansions is gloom. When examining a house, be sure to check for telltale signs of gloom—especially in the study and the conservatory. Here’s one test: walk into a room and laugh. Does the laughter sound unfamiliar?

Another test: walk through the house blindfolded. Do you feel as if you’re about to be attacked from one side? If so, abandon this dwelling and search for a happy mansion.

10) Ruins

Does the mansion have ruins? And what are they the ruins of? (The best ruins are of towers.) Examine the ruins carefully, if they exist, and ask numerous questions. What year do they date from? What type of stone are they? Who built them? Why did they build them? Did the person who built them go insane?

Personally, I see no reason to live in a mansion without ruins.

11) A maze

Be sure to ask if the grounds contain a maze (sometimes called a “labyrinth”). This is a pathway, generally bordered by hedges, with a series of confusing paths. A good maze should be almost impossible to exit from.

Mazes are as indispensable to a mansion as ruins, in my view. They are particularly useful for tormenting your children, who will otherwise lead an utterly privileged life.

12) A murder

Has anyone been murdered in this mansion? And who was murdered? By whom? In what manner? In what room? And was there only one murder? Or were there several? (You don’t want more than four murders. Five murders in a mansion is unlucky.) Remember, the current owners of the mansion may be cagey. It is best to hire a private detective to discover the exact number of murders, and the colorful stories behind them.

How to Buy a Mansion