These, ladies and gentlemen, are not houses you can live in. These are definitely toy houses that "costs more than thousands of real-life homes in places like Detroit." And people are buying them up left and right.
Chernicky owns Lilliput Play Homes, a builder of luxury playhouses that run anywhere from $5,000 -- his cheapest model -- to as much as $80,000 (what he's charging a wealthy Russian for a scaled-down Palace of Versailles). Perhaps illustrative of the recession's relatively mild impact on the uber-wealthy, business is thriving. In fact, Lilliput Play Homes is currently on pace to have its best year yet, Chernicky says. While some might consider an air-conditioned Mediterranean-style mansion a bit indulgent for the kiddies, buyers of the backyard manors offer a passionate defense: The homes are a worthy investment in their child's imagination, they say, a counterweight to the mind-numbing electronic devices that normally hog kids' attention these days. In addition to a full line of stock models, like the "Storybook Bungalow" and "Grand Victorian," Chernicky's 15-person operation also does custom jobs like the 30-by-16-foot replica of Versailles, which has secret rooms and tunnels. Just like full-scale manufactured housing operations, the crew builds the structures in Chernicky's Peters Township, Pa., workshop, then disassembles them and ships them to their buyers. While he does receive orders from what he calls "Mercedes and fur coat" buyers, many of whom live overseas (Chernicky estimates that 30 percent to 50 percent of business comes from abroad), plenty of his clients are ordinary folks: "Grandmas with station wagons," he says.
"This is an emotional buy," he says. "These things are looked at as something that is part of childhood." As far as the expense, he adds, they're "no different than a hot tub and much less [expensive] than a swimming pool." Caroline, a mother in Pennsylvania who asked that only her first name be used for this story out of security concerns, is one parent who decided that a play house that costs more than thousands of real-life homes in places like Detroit was worth the investment. "I believe in traditional family values," she says. "I believe that in today's society kids are so hung up on technology and video games." A lawyer who has one 7-year-old and two 14-year-olds, Caroline opted for the Grand Victorian, the company's flagship playhouse that has "all the bells and whistles," she says. The home, which cost $25,000, offers a wraparound front porch constructed of simulated wood, stained-glass windows and a skylight, among other features. Caroline hired a decorator who added drapes, a dining table, a crystal chandelier, electricity, and a rose garden. The family later added a flat-screen TV too.Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiid! For real? In a recession? When kids are starving the world over? SMDH. Would you cop any of these for your kid if you could afford it?