About Real Estate: Playboy mansion overpriced; beware ‘IRS’ tax scammers

DEAR MR. MYERS: Is it true that Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion in Southern California is for sale?

ANSWER: Yes. The five-acre, Tudor-style mansion in Holmby Hills — a community where prices often are higher than those in adjacent Beverly Hills — recently was put on the market for $200 million. That makes the 29-room, 20,000-square foot property the highest-priced home for sale in the United States.

The property is actually owned by Playboy Enterprises Inc., which rents it to the publishing magnate for about $1.3 million a year. It includes its famous pool and swim-in grotto — the site of numerous photo shoots — and is also one of the few homes in Los Angeles County that has a private zoo license. In the summer, its expansive backyard is filled with caged monkeys and exotic birds that screech and squawk at the rare Albino peacocks and other animals that are free to roam about the grass.

Much to the chagrin of neighbors, Hefner and his group rent part of the property out on a regular basis for crowd-filled private parties. I’ve been there twice for bashes thrown by real estate trade groups, but wasn’t too impressed: It seems to have a 1960s or ’70s “feel” to it.

A fellow reporter wrote that wandering through the home gave “a feeling not too dissimilar to when a relative dies and you have to go to their place and figure out what to do with their things.” That’s one reason why some local real estate agents say that the listing price could be $25 million or even $50 million more than it’s really worth.

Another marketing drawback: Any buyer must agree to let the 89-year-old Hefner remain in the mansion until he dies. “If you paid $200 million for a mansion, wouldn’t you want to move in right away?” one agent asked.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: Regardless of what the Playboy Mansion sells for, “Hef” and his company will make a beautiful profit. That’s because it was purchased for a “mere” $1.1 million in 1971.

DEAR MR. MYERS: Is damage caused by tornadoes covered by a homeowners insurance policy?

ANSWER: Yes. A standard homeowners policy, typically called an HO-3, covers damage caused by tornadoes. That includes wind damage to the structure itself and its contents, said catastrophe response director Lynne McChristian at the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute.

Homeowners policies also provide for additional coverage to pay the costs of living away from home if a house is uninhabitable due to damage from an insured disaster. That’s an important thing to remember for the folks who live in Texas, Oklahoma and the Southern states that suffered from the dozens of twisters that swept through in late December.

DEAR MR. MYERS: I received a telephone call from a woman who said that she is an auditor at the Internal Revenue Service and that she found an error on my 2014 tax return that would result in a $2,320 refund. I hung up on her when she started asking me questions that the IRS should already know (including my home address and Social Security number). Did I do the right thing, or did I “cheat” myself out of a lot of money?

ANSWER: You did the right thing. The so-called IRS impostor scam is “our No. 1 reported fraud right now,” says Amy Nofziger of AARP, the nonprofit champions of older folks that was formerly called the American Association of Retired Persons.

In one version of the con, some homeowners (like you) get a call or telephone message saying that you have a refund pending but that it cannot be processed until you verify some personal information. In a more aggressive version, the scamster calls to say that you owe back taxes and that you’ll be financially penalized or even arrested if you don’t wire money or provide a credit-card payment immediately.

Nofziger says such cons are growing more sophisticated. Sometimes, “IRS” shows up on a telephone’s caller ID, and the scamster may even provide a phony badge number.

Again, you made the right decisions to hang up on the caller. The real Internal Revenue Service, by law, can open communication with a taxpayer only via the U.S. Postal Service. If a caller says that you have a tax issue, telephone the IRS directly at 800-829-1040 to find out whether it’s legit.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.