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Tahoe Living Is No Gamble

The legendary former home of the founder of Harrah's (HET) has come on the market in beautiful Lake Tahoe for just under $30 million.

Originally called "Villah Harrah," the home was built for William Fisk Harrah in 1964. Harrah, one of the most influential figures in Nevada's gambling history, spent his summers at the house, often mingling with the entertainers who performed at his casino. He died in 1978, and the property later changed hands. The current owner, who remains anonymous, completed a major renovation of the house in 2004 and has put the property on the market, now calling it "Villa Costa," according to Windermere Distinctive Homes International, which has the listing.

The 20,000 square-foot house, which is located on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side, features eight bedrooms, 11 full bathrooms, two half baths, staff quarters, a theater and a five-car garage. The circular driveway in front has a heater to melt the snow.

The two-level house has a formal living room with vaulted ceilings, wood beams and doors of glass that offer spectacular lake views. The master bedroom wing includes his and hers baths, an exercise room and a private elevator. On the lake are two beaches and a multi-boat pier.

Whoever buys the home is not likely to live in it year-round. About 75% of the people who live in the Lake Tahoe Basin do not live there full-time, says Cheryl Murakami, president-elect of the South Tahoe Association of Realtors. The Basin area includes any property that drains into Lake Tahoe and represents a bulk of the region.

Tahoe has long been popular as a vacation destination because of its natural beauty, outdoor recreation and casinos. But real estate prices really went soaring during the dot-com boom. A significant amount of money still flows into the region from the San Francisco Bay Area, which is less than three hours away by car -- as long as the snow isn't heavy and traffic isn't bad.

"The higher-end market is still robust," Murakami says. "Anything on the lake is hot." To find something directly on the lake requires at least $1 million, she says. And often, for that price, you might be looking at a condo, not an actual house.

Lap of Luxury
Source: Christie's Great Estates

Part of the reason for the high prices is that there is very little new development in Tahoe because of the strict environmental regulations set forth by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which oversees all the land in Lake Tahoe Basin.

Outside the Basin, developing is easier, particularly on the Nevada side of the lake. Numerous condos sit at the end of the slopes on the Nevada side of Heavenly Mountain.

Behringer Harvard Strategic Opportunity Fund, an Addison, Texas-based real estate investment firm, recently announced plans to build a new 49-unit luxury condo project near this area. The residences, set to open in 2007, will boast views of Lake Tahoe and will be surrounded by Heavenly. John Dooley, who heads up the real estate group at Behringer, says the units are likely to go on sale as pre-construction units in summer 2006. The average unit will likely be 2,700 square feet and prices will range from $1 million to $1.8 million, he says.

Room With a View
Source: Christie's Great Estates

Dooley remains confident in Tahoe's real estate market because of the region's unique charm for visitors. It's "the combination of the amenities: the mountain, skiing opportunities, and (something for those who) like the gambling side of the equation," Dooley says.

Plus in the summer, Lake Tahoe -- a radiant sea of blue -- offers tremendous opportunities for sailing, swimming and other water sports. Owning a home here is the epitome of The Good Life.

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