Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hamptons Court; Gone Are the Bankers, in Their Place Are Lady Gaga and Gwyneth. House Prices Are Booming and Everyone's on Madge Watch. Helen Kirwan-Taylor Sends a Postcard from the New Hamptons

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hamptons Court; Gone Are the Bankers, in Their Place Are Lady Gaga and Gwyneth. House Prices Are Booming and Everyone's on Madge Watch. Helen Kirwan-Taylor Sends a Postcard from the New Hamptons

Article excerpt

Byline: Helen Kirwan-Taylor

You know you've arrived in the Hamptons (which, by the way, is a name only foreigners use; strictly speaking, you specify which Hampton you're talking about, and there are four main ones and five smaller ones) because the emails start trickling in. Even your most distant friend wants to come to see you. Usually, it's to grab a shower before heading out to the roster of parties that start on a Thursday night (you measure time in private jets here: they land at precisely cocktail hour). You don't need a map to know where the parties are. This is America and everything is super-size. We snuck around the bouncers into our neighbour's yard in East Hampton. We thought it had to be at least a fundraiser, given how many men with walkie-talkies were circling the premises. It turned out to be a birthday party for the two-year-old child of a hedge fund manager, complete with a giant marquee, a selection of exotic animals borrowed from a visiting circus, a live band and 50,000 balloons. The security guard admitted he wasn't sure why he was there other than 'to impress their friends'. This is good news. After several years in the wilderness of recession, life has flooded back into the mansions that line the sandy beaches. Prices went up by 173 per cent during the first three months of this year alone. According to a report by Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate, the number of homes sold in the Hamptons during the first quarter of the year equalled the average for the past five years. The top end of the market had the most dramatic increase. The spokesman called it 'unchartered territory'.

'Unchartered' is code for another trend: paying in cash - and lots of it. So many banks had to foreclose on mortgages in the past few years that debt is now a dirty word. The houses were mostly owned by third-generation families who could no longer afford the neighbourhood, and nor did they want to. To give you an idea: lobster salad comes with an optional loan agreement, and every house is serviced by at least a dozen people who arrive in trucks every morning (the racket of lawnmowers is the sound of the Hamptons). Unlike Europe, rentals come devoid of staff, adding an extra 20 to 30 per cent to the cost. Even Montauk, the once laid-back, less expensive resort with, God forbid, low-cost motels favoured by surfers, is now almost as expensive as the rest, thanks to the arrival of the Surf Lodge, a celebrity magnet restaurant and $450-a-night motel frequented by Paris Hilton, Jennifer Aniston and Jerry Seinfeld.

This year, amid great excitement, the profile of the Hamptons mansion buyer has dramatically shifted from the Wall Street tycoon to the media star. New to town is Madonna who is renting a six-bedroom faux-Englishstucco house called Coxwould because it looks so quaintly British, for $450,000 on Lily Pond Lane, down the street from Martha Stewart. She has been hiding inside, though my friend Sandra, who lives bang opposite and is on full-time Madge watch, says she sees the nannies coming and going. Madonna is renting while she redoes a 30-acre horse ranch in Bridgehampton that she bought from Calvin's ex Kelly Klein for $10 million. The plot doesn't possess a house so the big question is who she intends to use to create her dream home. There are almost as many interior designers and architects here, their signs neatly posted in front of every house they work on, as there are bankers and tourists.

Also about to join us is Lady Gaga who, according to local estate agents, is flirting with a $26 million, eight-bedroom Englishstyle country estate in Sagaponack five minutes away from us in the opposite direction from Madonna. It's an eight-acre compound with a 1,483sq ft carriage house and a 1,379sq ft recreational pavilion.

Paul McCartney and Nancy Shevell were just here. The locals were particularly chuffed with Sir Paul's noblesse oblige. He should know the score since his late wife Linda's family also own a house here. …

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