Earthly extravagances like a custom car collection, $2 million worth of Damien Hirst artwork, or a summer rental in the Hamptons have long been offered as perks to buyers of ultra-luxury properties. But who wants something as plebeian as a yacht in an age when regular humans can strap themselves to millions of pounds of combustibles to briefly experience space?
This week, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson became the first person to visit outer space and return to Earth in a rocket he helped fund, making space tourism seem more and more like something that average people will be able to experience in this lifetime — and, as such, something that could become a potential closing gift for luxury agents or as a perk for high-end buyers.
“Adventure perks are something that I’m very keen on,” Nile Lundgren, a SERHANT agent working with ultra-high-end properties in New York and investor in travel technology company HELI, told Inman. “I’ve booked trips for clients to Caicos, I’ve taken clients kite-surfing in Portugal and I’m actually going to Egypt to a remote part of the Red Sea this September. The next adventure that people will want to do when it’s accessible is space.”
In fact, a trip to space has already been offered as a buyer perk: Broker Daniel Neiditch marketed an $85 million Manhattan condo in 2019 that included two seats on a future spaceflight.
With a $250,000 price tag — the starting cost for a Virgin Galactic flight, to be offered by 2022 — there is certainly potential for a quick trip to space to become a closing gift for an agent who helped sell a house worth over $20 million or a way for a luxury real estate brokerage could entertain a client while marketing homes in the same price range.
Branson’s hour-long journey for 15 minutes at the edge of space marked a monumental milestone in space travel for non-astronauts, but the race to advance space tourism is already heating up. Fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos is scheduled to jet off and cross the Earth’s atmosphere in a rocket created by his own space company, Blue Origin, on July 20, and SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company, plans to fly four business executives into space this year as well. (Not to be outdone, Bezos plans to go 10 miles higher than Branson.)
There are no words to describe the feeling. This is space travel. This is a dream turned reality https://t.co/Wyzj0nOBgX @VirginGalactic #Unity22 pic.twitter.com/moDvnFfXri
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) July 12, 2021
Both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are promising to start offering commercial trips to space as early as next year, and according to UBS estimates, space tourism could generate $4 billion in revenue by 2030. While a six-figure cost per flight is still exorbitantly high for anyone but the billionaire class, the cost is expected to decrease and become more and more accessible in the coming decades, just like airplane travel did after the 1950s — if there is demand.
Ron Epstein, an aerospace industry analyst at Bank of America, told the Wall Street Journal that they’re looking at “a Venn Diagram” of thrill seekers (like people who have climbed Mt. Everest) and the super rich to try to understand whether or not space tourism is a sustainable business model.
But even if the first commercial flights launch exactly as promised by Branson, everything from rigorous testing requirements to the exorbitant price tag will mean that it will remain exceptionally rare for even the very wealthy for at least the next decade. Branson’s goal for the flight was to assess the customer experience, and he said at a press conference after that he wrote down “30 or 40 little things that will make the next experience for the next person who goes to space with us that much better.”
Lundgren, who has had a dream of going to space since he was a child, said that the cost of going to space would need to be brought down to at least $100,000 and only be realistic as a perk for transactions in the range of $50 million and plus — in 2020, there were around 15 such sales in the U.S.
“Once space travel becomes more accessible and the pricing ‘comes down to earth,’ what I’d like to do is go to space,” Lundgren said. “You can call me the ‘Space Realtor’ because I definitely want to bring my clients and see this happen, whether as a perk for the buyer and seller or a perk for the agent.”
Lundgren’s colleague Jason Baker, also an agent with SERHANT said that a trip to space would be the ultimate way to distinguish oneself — even in the sphere of luxury real estate, where agents are always trying to outdo one another and wow ultra-wealthy clients that are not easily impressed, a trip to space would be beyond anything anyone on Earth can presently offer.
“I have a closing tomorrow I’m thinking about closing gifts,” Baker said. “Wouldn’t it be incredible if in some far time if I were able to give a little sealed envelope with a bow and say ‘You’re going to space.’?”