$80 million mansions, oceanfront views, and secret tunnels to the beach: Inside one of America’s most expensive zip codes

Manalapan is a small slip of a town in South Florida with just over 400 year-round residents, around 70 lots, and not much else. Most people, even some who live in nearby Miami, have never heard of it.

But among those in the know—including Billy Joel and Tony Robbins—interest in moving to Manalapan has skyrocketed since the COVID-19 pandemic, local realtors and residents say. Unlike those moving to other parts of Florida, though, new Manalapan residents are much more likely to be billionaires, thanks to the town’s expansive oceanfront estates, relative privacy, and outsized listing prices.

Estates are currently listed for up to $80 million with a median price of $16.8 million, but the typical home value was around $4.3 million in April, according to Zillow, making Manalapan one of the most expensive places to live in the country.

“Much of that has to do with the migration of people moving to Florida for tax reasons—many have brought their businesses here,” says Nick Malinosky, a realtor with the Exclusive Group at Douglas Elliman.

For the price, buyers get what resident and former Manalapan mayor Stewart Satter calls “a magical little oasis.” The estates are situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, with generous lot sizes and a quiet that draws away residents from nearby Palm Beach. The town, notes Malinosky, is “in the middle of a ton of action”—near not only Palm Beach but also Delray and Boca Raton. And it boasts its own police and fire departments.

“The police department knows every resident,” says Robert Burrage, a local builder who’s worked in the area for 17 years. “If your gate gets left open after dark, the police call to make sure everything is okay. It’s a very wealthy but quaint place.”

Daniel Petroni Courtesy of The Exclusive Group

Though it’s easy to travel to nearby cities for restaurants, shopping, and nightlife, Manalapan itself is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the Miami area. And that privacy has made it attractive to residents looking for a slower pace and less traffic, including billionaire Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison, who recently dropped a staggering $173 million to purchase a Manalapan estate—the largest residential sale in the state’s history. The property features 33 bedrooms, 34 bathrooms, a guest house, two cottages, a bird sanctuary, tennis courts, a PGA-standard golf course, and multiple tunnels under the road to connect the two parts of the property.

Tunnels are a big feature of life in Manalapan: Many residents have built them under State Road A1A, which bisects much of the town. The tunnels—painted with murals, or acting as art galleries, in some cases—connect the homes to the ocean, making it easier to get from one part of the estate to the other. (They are not without controversy, as building them requires shutting down the public road for days at a time.) “People flip when you say you have a tunnel,” says Satter.

Another draw of Manalapan is, of course, its natural beauty. Many properties boast private docks to launch boats, and residents enjoy secluded beaches, where sea turtles nest and manatees swim. Homes are either situated on the oceanfront, with access to the Intracoastal Waterway, or vice versa. Those with homes not directly on the ocean are allowed to build 1,500-square foot beach homes to make up for it.

“You get the best of both worlds—it’s super unique,” adds Malinosky.

1120 S Ocean Blvd (5)

Daniel Petroni Courtesy of The Exclusive Group

Satter’s experience in the area exemplifies how much the area has changed over the past few years. In 2004, the investor bought four properties in Manalapan for around $20 million total. He sold a single lot for $40 million in early 2022. Earlier this year, he purchased a 1989 mansion for $28 million, which he plans to tear down and rebuild into something more modern (perhaps with a pickleball court).

Rebuilding is common in Manalapan, and another draw for wealthy residents who don’t like to hear the word “no.” Burrage says the town is much more open to different architectural styles than other nearby enclaves of the ultra-wealthy.

“Manalapan is open to the homes that people want to create,” Burrage says. “I’ve seen very little pushback.”

And of course, Florida’s lack of state income tax is the cherry on top, says Satter, who resigned as mayor after the passage of a new financial disclosure law in the state.

“People are saying, I’ve had enough of the weather, the high tax, my kids are grown up,” he says of deciding to move south. “It’s an absolutely beautiful little community. It’s special.”

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