How much would you pay to seem like just a regular guy?

How’s about $18 million? That’s what John J. Noffo Kahn, of Palm Beach, Florida, paid for a farm in Barnard, Vermont, to be used as a vacation home, and in the process shattering the previous record price for the sale of a residential property in the state (a mere $8 million).

Reports the Valley News (full article not online*):

The buyer […] said in an email that privacy and security were two reasons he purchased the property through [a limited liability company].

“One of the attractions, for me, to the area was that I thought (naively!) that I would be coming to a place where MONEY is not of the foremost importance to the members of the community. I was looking forward to a low-profile existence in which my wealth would not be what defined me to my neighbors,” wrote […] Noffo Kahn, who said he was not interested in having a story written about his new vacation home.

“Thanks for bursting my bubble on Vermont!” he added.

I hate to break it to you, John, but the traditional route to a low-profile existence is to spend less than $18 million for your vacation home.

There are a few things worth noting. First, in support of the friendly rivalry we Vermonters have going with our Granite State neighbors, Noffo Kahn’s complaint about his bubble being burst regarding his conception of Vermont, the Valley News is located in Lebanon, New Hampshire, so there’s some chance that his bubble might still be intact. Noffo Kahn’s new neighbors in Barnard probably will treat him with neighborly respect, though they have good reason to distrust multi-millionaire vacationers. That’s because the sellers of the farm, whose main domicile is in Texas, sued 14 fellow Barnard residents who were opposing the fact that they (the Texan owners) had closed off a trail through the property that had long been open to the community. Now, that wasn’t Noffo Kahn, and maybe he’s the kind of swell guy who doesn’t let his wealth define him, and instead defines himself as a good neighbor who respects something more in his fellow men and women than their own lack of wealth.

As for Noffo Kahn’s preference that the Valley News not write a story on the property sale:

After a reporter e-mailed back, making clear that the record-setting sale was a news-worthy event and asking for a chance to discuss the matter, Noffo Kahn, who had already expressed his “already dismal appraisal of today’s media,” wrote back.

“So typical!” he wrote. “You haven’t even the sensitivity to realize that writing a story about an $18 million property–when so many are suffering this Christmas–is a salt on their wounds!”

Let’s debate the question of news-worthiness for a moment. Con: Noffo Kahn is a person who buys things, just like everyone buys things, so why should he be made into a celebrity of sorts against his will when none of the rest of us have newspaper articles written about our purchases? I mean, would I want the whole world to know that I recently purchased not one but three copies of the amazingly cool book The Human-Powered Home, so that I can give the extras away as gifts to as-yet-unidentified friends? Oh the embarrassment! When will that darned media stop noticing that extreme economic inequality is damaging to the individual well-being of the vast majority of people, community and social cohesion, democratic governance, and the future habitability of the biosphere? (Ditto.) (Or more like, when will the media actually start noticing it and taking it seriously on a more than one-off basis?)

Pro: The habit of really, really rich people to pay extraordinary sums for the things they buy has a real effect on the lives of others, and just like it is news worthy to report on a leaking manure lagoon that threatens the health of downstream neighbors, it is news worthy to report on events that impact the economic lives of of “downstream” neighbors as well. Given the timing of the sale, this particular transaction probably won’t have the same effect on property values of neighbors as it would have if it had taken place a couple of years ago, but the principle remains the same. When you throw money around, it matters; there are unintended consequences, and while the Valley News story doesn’t attempt to perform a systems analysis on what all those consequences might be, at least they have alerted readers to the fact that something with reasonable potential to have broader consequences has happened.

And as for that “salt on their wounds” that Noffo Kahn is so worried about, perhaps at this Christmas time a better use of Noffo Kahn’s time would be turn that sensitivity question around and first remove the plank from his own eye.

[* Come on, Valley News, get with the program!]

5 comments

  • i wonder how much the enclosing of the pathway added to the $18m pricetag? reward for effort…

  • A quick scan of the news on the Noffo Kahn’s shows that they have been pretty generous in the communities where they reside. The subject property here, and the town of Barnard are beautiful, and I would not expect that to change. There is a reason that Twin Farms in Barnard attracts people with considerable amounts of money, who want to go to a place where they can relax, not be bothered, and blend into the Vermont countryside. I have no doubt that the Noffo Kahn’s will blend into the community and will be welcomed at the Barnard General Store for a cup of coffee on a cool Spring morning by the local loggers and the local investment banker. Your comments, and your article do nothing to point to the good side of this. Maybe you should focus your efforts, money and time on coal power plants, copper mines and other industries that are buying up large tracts of land and actually doing damage. I see no damage here.

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  • Regardless how much a person pays for land or a place to live they are intitled to thier privacy.
    The writer of this story obviously has a tankerous style of penmanship that is better suited for a tabloid.

  • I think M Reali misses the point of the article…this is heinous conspicuous consumption, particularly given the current economic times! The gap between rich and poor has never been wider…the top 1% make more than the remaining 99%! Think about the inequality of that. I hope the good people of barnard rise up, russian style, and revolt!