Peek behind the gates of the most exclusive communities in the nation

Forbes

A private polo field? A place where pet ostriches and llamas roam? To most, they sound like the trappings of a king. But to members of the most exclusive gated communities, deluxe perks like these are becoming standard. “Buyers are not only buying a home, they’re buying a lifestyle,” said Dana Olmes, an agent with Ewing and Associates Sotheby’s International Realty in California.

These days, the well-heeled and the well-known are flocking to gated communities. Justin Bieber has reportedly bought into one, pictured here, and so has Jennifer Lopez. And while most of the posh hamlets listed here come with extravagant prices, some were singled out for their highly sought-after locations, amenities or limited number of estates. But all the properties here are exclusive in some way, and offer what Jeffery Biebuyck, an estate agent with Ewing and Associates, calls the three P’s: privacy, protection and prestige.

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Most communities today are located in the Sunbelt region in the South and West, where there is more land for development, according to Setha M. Low, author of “Behind the Gates: Life, Security and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America” and a professor at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. But gated communities have also grown in urban areas and among income groups other than the super-wealthy. And their overall growth shows no sign of slowing down. According to the American Housing Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people living in gated communities rose to almost 11 million households in 2009, up from slightly more than 7 million in 2001, though the numbers may actually be significantly higher, Low said.

First up: Hidden Hills, where JLo lives and where residents pick up their children on horseback

Hidden Hills, California

Hidden Hills is an incorporated city and also a rural gated residential community of just under 700 homes. It boasts exclusive equestrian trails and a laid-back lifestyle, complete with white three-rail fences, and no sidewalks or street lights. “There’s a sense of normality,” said Dana Olmes, an estate agent with Ewing and Associates. “Once you get in there, you have no idea you are in L.A. There is no other community like it."

Hidden Hills is base camp for Jennifer Lopez. Amenities at her disposal there include three riding arenas, a competition-size swimming pool and a 99-seat performing arts community center.

The community began to be developed in the mid-1950s, and, according to the city’s official website, reflects a kind of time warp: Hidden Hills “preserved a country way of life that has nearly vanished from the surrounding communities of Southern California,” and is an example of “small-town Southern California living at its finest.”

"I have clients who pick up their children on horseback,” Olmes said. “Buyers are not only buying a home, they’re buying a lifestyle.”

Average homes sell for about $3.5 million but go up to and sometimes above $13 million, Olmes said.

Next: The Oaks of Calabasas, realm of Justin Bieber, Kourtney Kardashian and Michael Jackson's family

The Oaks, Calabasas, California

The Oaks in Calabasas -- one of the newer gated communities in the Los Angeles area, dating from the early 2000s -- offers custom homes closer together than Hidden Hills, said estate agent Jeffery Biebuyck. “It’s more of a planned development,” featuring a community center, tennis courts, and an Olympic size pool. The Estates of the Oaks, an ultra-exclusive enclave of about 55 homes within the gated Oaks community, is where Justin Bieber reportedly bought a five-bedroom, $6.5 million home that includes a movie theater with stadium seating. Kourtney Kardashian and members of Michael Jackson’s family also call the Oaks home. Homes in the Oaks are typically 5,500 square feet and sell in the mid- to high $2 million range with some in the low $3 million range. Those in the Estate section are typically 7,000 to 20,0000 square feet, and the median price is about $7 million to $8 million, but prices go up to about $12 million, Biebuyck said.

Next: Pomander Walk in Manhattan, a hidden oasis

Pomander Walk, Manhattan, New York

Pomander Walk, hidden on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, is a tiny, private pedestrian-only street lined with picturesque two-story Tudor-style town houses nestled behind intimate gardens, lush with rose bushes and climbing ivy. Built in 1921 by architectural firm King & Campbell as a replica of a street in the Chiswick district in London, the walk runs from 94th to 95th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue.

“You pass through the gates and there is just this lovely sense of tranquility,” said Natalie Weiss, vice president of Nest Seekers International, who grew up on the walk. “It was pretty great,” she said, adding that “the sense of community, unique charm and history” remain the attraction for current and prospective residents. About half of the units in the complex, now a co-op, are on the walk. It received landmark status in 1982. Originally there were 63 units, but six two-family town houses have been converted into single homes that sell in the $1.6 to $1.8 million range, Weiss said, and typical 700-square-foot two-bedroom apartments currently sell for about $750,000.

Next: Tuxedo Park, a century-old retreat for the upper class

Tuxedo Park, Tuxedo Park, New York

One of the oldest gated communities in the country, founded in the 1880s, Tuxedo Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “Wall Street Titans, Robber Barons and scions of blue-blooded colonial families made this place synonymous with upper-class living in the first three decades of the 20th century,” according to “Tuxedo Park: The Historic Houses.” The tuxedo jacket was first introduced to America in Tuxedo Park, and Emily Post drew inspiration from manners she observed while living there, the book noted.

Today, the 2,600-acre gated enclave, situated some 45 minutes from midtown Manhattan, boasts century-old trees, three pristine lakes, an 18-hole golf course, and a number of Gilded Age mansions designed by well-known architects of the day. “Most homes in gated communities look much the same,” said Cindy Booth, owner of Towne & Country Properties Sotheby’s International Realty. “But in Tuxedo Park, no two properties are even remotely similar.”

Fun old-fashioned activities like boating, indoor and outdoor tennis, and fishing remain popular, said Booth. The lake is stocked with bass and trout, “and you can still ice skate on the ponds in the winter.”

Next: The Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club, with a full-service marina

Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club, Boca Raton, Florida

This exclusive 450-acre country club community has 700 estates. “Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club is internationally acclaimed as one of the most exclusive yachting communities in the country,” said Joseph Liguori, a broker and owner of Premier Estate Properties. Notable features include a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course and full-service marina; separate golf and yacht facilities, each with fine dining; and a state-of-the-art fitness center, swimming pool, and tennis and croquet courts.

Owners of waterfront estates can dock their yachts directly behind their property. Some of the larger estates are more than 20,000 square feet, and buyers have combined two, three and even five lots. Prices range from $800,000 to $20 million or more.

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