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Luxury real estate and its Russian admirers

Marc Smith is editor of Families in Business.

Pity the poor family who comes up against a Russian oligarch when bidding for a luxury villa in the Med or a high-rise pad in the Gulf. While the mainstream property markets stagger from sub-prime binge to negative equity hangover, these brash new energy egotists from the East won't think twice about paying over the odds.

Take Villa Léopolda, situated halfway between Monaco and Nice on France's Cote d'Azur, which was reportedly snapped up by one such Russian billionaire for €500 million, making it the most expensive house ever purchased.

The villa was built at the beginning of the 1900s by Belgium's King Leopold II as a summer retreat. It later passed into the hands of the Agnelli family and became well-known for luxurious parties attended by the 1960s jet-set.

It was most recently owned by banking billionaire Edmond Safra who was murdered by his male nurse in 1999. His wife has been looking to sell the property since his death.

With stunning views of Villefranche Bay and spectacular gardens covering eight hectares of land that requires 50 fulltime gardeners, this mansion certainly turns heads. But with Russians owning 60% of all the luxury real estate in the area according to a local newspaper, it is unlikely that wealthy families will be tempted to try and compete.

Across the Atlantic, a more modern style of architecture is catching the eye in Miami, Florida. The city's South Beach has the largest stretch of surviving Art Deco architecture in the world. Now a new section dubbed "SoFi" - the enclave South of Fifth Street - is getting in on the act.

Situated on Ocean Drive at the southernmost tip of Miami Beach is Kallisto (pictured below), a high-end boutique condominium in the deco style, to be finished in 2010. Strategically cocooned from the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood yet only steps away from chic boutiques, award-winning restaurants and acclaimed nightlife, Kallisto caters to those seeking the ultimate private sanctuary on the beach.

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Instead of trying to buy a piece of history, you could always build it yourself. This is the example being set by one of India's warring Ambani brothers, Mukesh, who controls Reliance Industries.

He is in the process of building the world's first billion-dollar home in Mumbai, India. At 27 stories high, but equivalent in height to your average 60 storey office block, the family's very own skyscraper will be totally off the peg.

It features six floors of car parking, an entertainment floor replete with mini theatre, a health club and a helipad. It might cost you more money, but at least you'll be spared a bidding war a Russian who thinks being seen to be flashing the cash is just as important as buying the property itself.

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