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Ben Stein riffs on real estate: dreams, nightmares

If only you could win Ben Stein's houses.
/ Source: The Associated Press

If only you could win Ben Stein's houses.

Stein, the author, economist and commentator, hasn't been living too badly in the eight years since the end of his old Comedy Central game show, "Win Ben Stein's Money."

When not making TV appearances, writing investing books and giving speeches, the 66-year-old is like anyone who enjoys just hanging around the house. Only in his case it's 11 houses. He and his wife, attorney Alexandra Denman, own homes in Beverly Hills, Malibu and Rancho Mirage, Calif.; three on a lake in Sandpoint, Idaho, and five elsewhere.

But he certainly doesn't take them for granted, as he indicated in a recent interview with The Associated Press.


Stein loves real estate and sees it as "a psychological gift."

"I consider my homes to be like works of art, and I love them, I cherish them," he says. "And unless some terrible thing happens, I don't plan to sell any of them."


Asked to name a favorite room from among his houses, he cites his bedroom in Malibu. "It's way up on a hillside overlooking the ocean and it's just like you're floating in a cloud up there. It's just magnificent."

But when you have 11 homes, it's hard to single out just one. Stein's second-favorite is his nearly 1,100-square-foot office in his Beverly Hills home. He loves to live on a couch near his desk with his beloved dog, a German short-haired pointer.

No. 3 on his list is his bedroom in Rancho Mirage, near Palm Springs. It has a fireplace and a view that overlooks a golf course, lake and mountains. A swimming pool lies "six or seven steps" outside the door. Pretty spectacular for only the bronze medal of Stein rooms.


Real estate hasn't been without its misadventures for him.

His first home was a small house in the ritzy Wesley Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., his hometown. In his 20s at the time, he "couldn't even remotely afford" it but got talked into buying it by his girlfriend. When he lost his job as a speechwriter and lawyer for President Richard Nixon, he was left in "a state of total terror" about how to pay the steep mortgage bills. He managed to get by, ultimately selling the home for a profit. Still, he recalls, "That was by far the worst real estate nightmare that I ever had."


Stein also had a "house from hell" in Aspen once, as he describes it.

Contractors failed to finish building it on time, leaving it with no heat and only half a roof when he and his wife arrived to live in it, then disappeared with their money. While back in Los Angeles, a neighbor seized part of his property by moving a dividing fence onto his land, he says. Then the rental agency rented it out to someone else during the ski season without telling him, and kept the money.


He never for a moment imagined that real estate would be as illiquid as it has become, calling it "a real serious and aggravating issue." But he has no doubt that it will revive. "I think now that everybody's down on real estate, it's the time to buy it."

No word on whether that means there's a possibility of a 12th home in Stein's future.