Why Joshua Tree’s $18M house remains “invisible” to buyers

The Joshua Tree property, which looks like a horizontal reflective skyscraper resting in the desert, was listed for $18 million last year — making it the most expensive house ever built in Joshua Tree, a bit over two hours east of Los Angeles.

Over 400 days later, according to its Zillow listing, and after many short-term rentals and plenty of interest from potential buyers — ranging from celebrities to billionaires to art collectors — there are still no takers.

While the 5,500-square-foot home, known as the Invisible House, has attracted a lot of known figures such as Alicia Keys and Demi Lovato, along with influencers and brands Hermés and BMW, finding a buyer has proven a challenge for Aaron Kirman and Matt Adamo of AKG Christie’s International, who represent the property owner.

The uniqueness of the home, the high price range for its remote location and a challenging 2023 market were all contributing factors, according to Adamo.

“It makes it much more difficult,” he said. “2023 one of the hardest markets that we faced, and the buyer pool for this is small, 3 percent of the buyers who are looking.”

Selling a property of this type doesn’t come easy even in a robust market like Joshua Tree, where the average home price is $450,000.

“Joshua Tree is a hot market despite the high interest rates, has really gained traction and scaled even over the last five years, especially during the pandemic,” said Tyler Neale, an agent at Sotheby’s International Realty who’s not associated with the listing. “It’s a popular place for Angelenos, and yet this property is an outlier from the norm in that market in every way.”

The character of the property has everything to do with the owner, the film producer and artist Chris Hanley, who along with his wife Roberta were drawn to Joshua Tree and purchased the land there.

The Hanleys were behind movies such as “American Psycho,” “Virgin Suicides” and “Spring Breakers.”

The concept for the Invisible House originated over a decade ago, when Chris Hanley came up with the design and approached Polish American architect Tomas Osinski to bring it to life. Its name describes how the house reflects the surrounding sky, rock and sand in a way that the structure seems to disappear into the landscape.

They began construction in 2013. The design is inspired by New York, where Hanley grew up “feeling comfortable with the monoliths.”

The home is located on a 90-acre property on the border with Joshua Tree National Park, making it the largest parcel of land that shares a border with the park. It was completed in March 2019.

It’s clear Hanley was involved in every inch of the home’s creation.

“It has 36-inch steel beams, maybe the biggest of any residential house in California,” he said proudly.

The house also has sustainability features, including a fully solarcool glass exterior with reflective light filtering and a solar thermal smart system for controlling the pool and hot water.

Once the couple built it, the plan was to live in it.

“We never thought in a million years that it was going to end up being some influencer house,” Hanley said.

As they had more guests come over, the house generated more and more interest from people they didn’t know.

“By the time Alicia Keys came in 2020, she wanted it for five weeks,” Hanley recalled. “So the house is kind of like one of these science fiction forms — it was no longer just Chris and Roberta Hanley’s residential dwelling, it had taken on a form in social media and media at large.”

Eventually it became one of the most desirable Airbnbs in the world, with CEO Brian Chesky calling it a “piece of modern art” and “one of the most spectacular homes in the world on all of Airbnb.”

After that, things really took off and the Hanleys started making rental income from brands including Hermés, BMW and others.

“The amount of income that comes, it’s better than most office buildings,” Adamo said. “You’re getting a potential 6 percent CAP rate.”

Joshua Tree was in fact one of the top two short-term rental markets in California and one of the top 25 in the U.S., according to AirDNA data cited by The New York Times.

Hanley said the house generates around $900,000 each year since 2021 in net income.

That may still not be enough for most buyers to justify the listing price.

“There is no Airbnb price or nightly rate that will make a property of $18 million cash flow that’s practical,” Neale said in reference to the rental revenue. “It’s a hard proposition even as a short-term rental at that price.”

“I don’t think it’s inflated, because it is a piece of art, but it is a hard proposition,” he noted.

The decision to sell came when the Hanleys realized that the house was getting big and they were ready to move on to other projects.

“When I make a movie, it needs to get out, it needs to be experienced,” Hanley said. “And this was starting to get so experienced by so many people.“

While they have a property management company, they are not looking to become landlords long-term.

“We’re not in the hospitality business,” he said. “We’re creating new forms.”

They’re already on to the next project, which is the Starburst House located nearby in Joshua Tree.

Hanley has big ambitions for his properties and is not shy about it.

“It’s become this kind of social destination, very much like a pyramid in Egypt or something like that, where you just want to go to see this form,” he explained. “It somehow relates to the world at large, there’s some thought that there’s an interaction between extraterrestrial or other life forms or other forms of consciousness that are constantly taking place.”

Needless to say, not everyone can afford to stay at the Invisible House, but everyone can at least follow the Instagram account. It’s available for rent from $2,689 to $7,500 per night, according to property manager Fieldtrip Hospitality.

Demi Lovato was one guest who said she saw aliens there, as per The Wall Street Journal, and the buyer is likely to be someone who has an appreciation for metaphysical experiences, real or imaginary.

The agents trying to sell the property have their work cut out for them: They’ve had a hard time imagining the ideal buyer.

Speaking about potential buyers, Adamo was nostalgic for a minute about the crypto craze of 2021, when newly minted millionaires were quick to invest in real estate and would appreciate the artistic vision behind the property.

“We’ve had billionaires, investors from other countries and everything in between,” he said. “We’ve had brands and CEOs look at this for company retreats, art collectors.”

They had one proposal to build “something in the metaverse” and an idea of partial ownership, which didn’t work out.

Given the level of public and social media interest the house has generated, the buyer is unlikely to be a recluse or a hermit. There is a public performance aspect to the space.

Still, the image of the perfect buyer remains elusive.

“We haven’t figured out who the perfect buyer is for the property, because if we had it would be sold by now,” Adamo said.


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