Facebook founder buys four homes surrounding his own and leases them back to families, in effort to stop developer's plans
He made his fortune by persuading over a billion people to share their lives online, but when it comes to protecting his own privacy Mark Zuckerberg appears to spare no expense: the Facebook founder has reportedly spent $30m (£18.8m) buying four houses that surround his own home in California.
Zuckerberg acted after hearing that a developer planned to buy an adjoining property and market it as an opportunity to become neighbours with him. "The developer was going to build a huge house and market the property as being next door to Mark Zuckerberg," a source told the San Jose Mercury News.
The buying spree began in December, several months after Facebook's flotation elevated Zuckerberg into the ranks of America's super-rich, and culminated this week with the sale of a property immediately next to the home he shares with his wife, Priscilla Chan.
The transactions suggest the multi-billionaire has spent many times the $7m cost of his own home, bought two years ago in a leafy neighbourhood of Palo Alto in the heart of California's Silicon Valley.
In an effort to keep the purchases under the radar, the party named on the deeds is not Zuckerberg himself, but companies affiliated to Iconiq Capital, a wealth management firm that represents the Facebook chief executive and a number of other tycoons.
Rather than being knocked down to extend the digital entrepreneur's own estate, the homes are apparently being leased back to the families that live there – with the interested parties required to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Despite a fortune estimated at $19bn, the 29-year old is known for living modestly, having rented for years before taking the plunge into northern California's overheated property market. But the size of Zuckerberg's reported land grab brings him into line with Silicon Valley's flashier inhabitants.
"It's 10 times more than a typical house," local estate agent Alex Comsa told the Silicon Valley Business Journal. "It's unheard of."
Zuckerberg's neighbours in Palo Alto include Yahoo's chief executive, Marissa Mayer, and Google co-founder Larry Page, who drew attention to his own real estate ambitions a few years ago after buying up adjoining properties, and who has been building a 6,000 square foot eco-friendly dwelling on the land, which is right next to his original home.
Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has invested her takings from Facebook's $100bn stockmarket debut in a purpose-built mansion minutes from the firm's headquarters, spending £11m on a modernist structure with a living roof, solar panels, a waterfall and a cinema in the basement.
Records show late last year $4.8m was paid for a 3,200 square foot home near Zuckerberg's. After that, prices began to escalate. In September a second adjoining home of a similar size sold for $10.5m. On 1 October a third went under the hammer for $14.5m, and this week a fourth property was sold.
According to a spokeswoman for the local authority, no building permits have been filed for any of the properties in question in recent years. Zuckerberg's intention appears to be to prevent them falling into the wrong hands or being used as a perch for the long lenses of the paparazzi, rather than initiating a major building project. A spokesperson for Facebook declined to comment.