For years, a life-sized Superman statue stood sentry at the end of a dock jutting from the eastern bank of Lake Butler, a signature touch of Shaquille O’Neal, the NBA superstar who owns the sprawling estate behind it.
Last month, the statue was removed, leaving only two rusty footprints where it once stood.
“I’m de-Shaq-ifying the house,” Benjamin Hillman said.
Working for Sotheby’s International Realty, Hillman is the latest real estate agent to take over the $16.5 million listing for 9927 Giffin Court in Windermere, the former home of the basketball legend.
O’Neal put the 31,000-square-foot house on the market in 2018. After three years and three prior agents trying to sell “Shaq’s Mansion,” Hillman has decided on a new approach. “That strategy obviously hasn’t worked,” he said. “I need to sell it on its amenities.”
“The problem is, people who can buy a multimillion-dollar house have made as much money as Shaq and probably more,” Hillman added. “You might find a guy who wants to say he bought Shaq’s house and beat his chest, but that’s rare.”
Land cost $300K in ’86
Walled off from the street and behind a gate inside the gated Isleworth Golf and Country Club, the 12-bedroom, 11-bathroom manor sits on 3.9 acres, including 700 feet of waterfront. The house was originally constructed by Razia and Nur Ullah Khan, gift shop owners who immigrated from England, who bought the land for $300,000 in 1986.
“They had a lot of big parties and stuff there,” said their son, Nadeem Khan, whose parents died in 2009. “My mom put her whole heart into that house.”
Tiffany Pantozzi with brokerage platform Side is the real estate agent who handled the property just prior to Hillman taking over in February. In her view, one of the biggest selling points for this house is its enormity. “The home is magnificent,” she said. “It’s just so large.”
The size of the place does make an impression on visitors. From the front gate, one cannot see to the far end of the property.
O’Neal, just 21 at the time, purchased the house in 1993 for $3.95 million, the year after he came to the Magic as the NBA’s first overall draft pick. Over the next three decades, the Rookie of the Year nicknamed Superman added his own sense of pizzazz.
A recent guided tour for an Orlando Sentinel reporter and photographer found that many parts of the house don’t announce its former occupant at all.
The pool, for example, could be anybody’s 90-foot-long, 15-foot-deep lagoon-style pool with a built-in hot tub and a full outdoor kitchen on the patio.
Anyone might need a walk-in safe or three tiled garages capable of holding up to 17 cars.
And who wouldn’t want an eel tank where a $7,000 moray and a $12,000 spotted moray swim?
Transforming the house
Other major features O’Neal added can’t be easily removed, Hillman conceded. Superman logos pop up like Easter eggs throughout the house. They’re on the house lights in the 10-seat movie theater. There’s one in the mirrored showroom garage. Some are even woven into the carpeting.
Shaq Center is written on the floor of the 6,000-square-foot indoor basketball court, which features retractable bleachers with seating for more than 100 people.
Hillman said whoever buys the house will have the option of remodeling. “This could become a tennis court or a dance studio,” he said. “Home gym. Really, anything they want to do with it.”
But where famous bits of Shaq flair could go, Hillman has done away with them, such as the custom 15-by-30-foot round bed in the second-story master bedroom, as seen on an early-2000s episode of “MTV Cribs.”
Now the room features a regular king-sized bed and a couch in front of the fireplace and big-screen television. The curtains have been taken off the windows to let in light and show off the view of Lake Butler.
“We really wanted to brighten things up,” said Michelle Bondi of Daytona Beach-based Nest Luxury Living, who staged the house for Hillman.
Over the course of three days, Bondi and her team repainted several of the rooms from taupe to white and brought in nearly $200,000 worth of staging furniture. They used a variety of styles and themes.
“We wanted [potential buyers] to get a sense of what’s possible,” she said.
Hillman said that between the staging, renewing overgrown landscaping and pressure washing the exterior, he spent more than $40,000 preparing the house to be shown.
Priced to sell
Pantozzi, the third Realtor to handle the property, also tried to focus on the possibilities beyond Shaq, producing renderings of what different remodels might look like.
“My goal was a global approach,” she said. “I had to make sure I was getting in front of the most buyers as possible.”
Pantozzi also reduced the price to its current $16.5 million from $19 million, the fourth time it had been slashed since entering the market at $28 million three years ago. “A house is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it,” she said.
Hillman agrees the price is the key. “I didn’t want the listing when they were asking $28 [million],” he said. “I was waiting until it fell.”
Earlier this year, Pantozzi became the first agent to get the house under contract, though the deal ultimately fell through for undisclosed reasons in February. After that, she and Shaq parted ways and Hillman stepped in.
But Pantozzi didn’t shy away from the home’s famous roots. Instead, she treated the Shaq-ness of the house as part of the large, lavish lifestyle a buyer might connect with.
For a video ad, Pantozzi hired synchronized swimmers for the pool, and a professional wakeboarder and a seaplane to show off the lakefront. She also kept O’Neal’s framed jerseys on the walls and makes a point of showing off the memorabilia room.
“Just imagine being able to say that you bought Shaq’s house,” she narrates. “That alone is quite the trophy.”
Hillman produced a video, too, in which he only mentions O’Neal’s name once. Gone are the memorabilia and jerseys. Gone, too, are the seaplane and swimmers, replaced instead with actors just enjoying the pool, the lakeview cherrywood office, and the upstairs cigar bar and poker lounge.
Still, Hillman is far from having removed every trace of the house’s recognizable owner. On one two-story wall in the family room is a mural featuring Shaq driving a semi-truck (a reference to his alter-ego as DJ Diesel).
Hillman took out the protruding front-end of the truck that used to feature an aquarium where the engine should be, but the All-Star player’s confident smirk is still a dominant presence in the room.
Giving the mural a quick glance, Hillman said, “I’ve left that up, for now.”