Think that only the homeowners with 900 square foot condos in Oakland have distressed property issues? The new documentary The Queen of Versailles by Laura Greenfield highlights the other end of the housing bust as it captures the tumble of timeshare billionaire David Siegel and his wife Jackie who quickly go from the penthouse to the poorhouse during the mortgage meltdown.
The film opens with David Siegel constructing the biggest house in America, a 90,000 square foot palace inspired by the Palace at Versailles. His other projects including a massive timeshare tower in Las Vegas come via the cheap money that fueled the financial crises. Siegel, like others in the real estate world, investing, developing world became addicted to cheap money and rising real estate values but made no contingencies for a drop in the market.
The 90,000 foot dream house, now in foreclosure, as well as the film itself, serve as an allegory of overreaching Americans to build or buy a bigger house than they could afford. David’s situation only represents the uber high end of what happened when gardeners making $30,000 a year qualified for $700,000 homes.
The Queen of Versailles – TARP money for the Rich?
The film deftly displays how Siegel became a victim of the system that made him wealthy. He and his company essentially sold sub-prime loans to first time buyers of his timeshares. Unlike many of the banks that did the same thing, he has not received a bailout. Even his trophyesque wife, who also highlights the film, asks innocently why their family doesn’t qualify for TARP bailout money. Greenfield catches many other offhand remarks as well as startling images of an “American Dream” going down a tres chic toilet.
Although more of a character driven fall from grace documentary, The Queen of Versailles serves a spotlight that the distressed housing market affects everyone. The amount of “suffering” just depends on the lifestyle level.