Elon Musk Says He Lives in a $50,000 Home. He Isn't Talking About the Austin Mansion

The world's wealthiest guy has been living at a billionaire friend's mansion and hunting for his own Texas castle after announcing last year that he was selling his physical belongings.

When Time magazine last week named Elon Musk “Person of the Year,” it painted a spartan picture of his living arrangements. “The richest man in the world does not own a house,” the piece began.

The magazine was repeating what has become a core element of Mr. Musk’s public persona. Since last year, when the billionaire Tesla Inc. and SpaceX CEO announced he was “selling almost all physical possessions” in an effort to simplify his life, Mr. Musk has repeatedly portrayed himself as a man of modest tastes.

“My primary home is literally a ~50k house in Boca Chica/Starbase that I rent from SpaceX,” he tweeted this June, referring to a Texas town near the Mexican border near SpaceX’s rocket-launch facility. “It’s kinda awesome though.”

What Mr. Musk hasn't said, and what few people know, is that he has also been living in Austin for about a year, in a waterfront estate owned by a wealthy friend nicknamed "Kenny," according to people familiar with the situation—a home so lavish that it was the most expensive listed in the Texas capital when it was sold just a few years ago.

Mr. Musk has also hired a number of real-estate agents to show him Austin-area mansions for sale, according to several sources, and has personally toured some of them.

Ken Howery, a millionaire in his own right who has known Mr. Musk for decades, owns the Austin property where Mr. Musk resides. Mr. Musk's stay is so well-kept that several of Mr. Howery's pals claim they were unaware of it.

The home in Austin where people say Mr. Musk has been living.

Photo: Pictometry

Mr. Howery co-founded PayPal Holdings Inc. —where Mr. Musk was an executive early in his career—and later, with famed investor Peter Thiel, co-founded Founders Fund, the venture-capital fund that has backed several of Mr. Musk’s companies.

The three men are considered part of what has been popularly termed the “PayPal Mafia,” a group of former company executives who went on to further success in business.

In 2017, Mr. Musk tweeted that he had swung by a party attended by actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Orlando Bloom to say hi to Mr. Howery.

Mr. Howery served as U.S. ambassador to Sweden during the latter half of the Trump administration. Since his term ended, Mr. Howery has been traveling the world, including chasing tornadoes and other extreme weather events as a hobby, people who know him say.

That left his home available for Mr. Musk, who said last year that he had moved to Texas. Earlier this year, he relocated Tesla’s headquarters to the outskirts of Austin.

Ken Howery, pictured in 2020, was U.S. ambassador to Sweden.

Photo: Barzan Dello/ZUMA PRESS

According to property records, the home is on a peninsula that juts into the Colorado River at the foot of Mount Bonnell in an affluent Austin area, with over 8,000 square feet of internal space. As part of the "Watersedge" development, it features a beachfront pool, jacuzzi, and private boat slip, as well as numerous sets of gates and a guardhouse.

The home sold for more than $12 million in 2018, and real-estate professionals think it would sell for much more now, according to the city's rising real-estate market. It was unclear whether Mr. Musk compensated Mr. Howery for his usage of the house. Mr. Musk is estimated to be worth $240 billion. Requests for comment were not returned by either guy.

After publication of this story, Mr. Howery, in a text message, said: “Elon does not live at my home, he lives in South Texas. He stayed at the house as my guest occasionally when traveling to Austin.”

Mr. Musk, also after publication of this story, told the website Insider: “I don’t live there and am not looking to buy a house anywhere.”

Mr. Musk’s extended stay in the Austin mansion, as well as his continued pursuit of a showcase property nearby, complicate the narrative he has cultivated. Several years ago, he was temporarily sleeping with a white, caseless pillow on the floor under his desk at Tesla’s San Francisco-area factory.

He pledged on Twitter last year to “own no house,” and has followed through by selling a vast portfolio of homes.

“I do live in a $50k house,” he wrote on Twitter in July. Public records show that he is registered to vote in Cameron County, Texas, near Boca Chica beach, at a home built in 1971 that occupies one-fifth of an acre. The house is owned by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the records show.

The home where Elon Musk stays when he is in Cameron County, Texas, near Boca Chica beach.

Photo: Phil Kline for the Wall Street Journal

According to sources familiar with the situation, Mr. Musk and his associates have hired a group of Austin-based real-estate agents to look for a trophy home in the region. According to the persons, his personal financial advisers have given a list of criteria to brokers, including a desire for a huge plot of land that is presently unavailable in the market.

Mr. Musk has personally viewed numerous residences, according to two sources. A custom-built mansion owned by famed jewelry designer Kendra Scott is said to be one of the residences he expressed interest in, according to some who know him.

Mr. Musk was a no-show at many meetings to view the property, according to one of the sources. Ms. Scott, who declined to comment through a spokesperson, was open to a deal.

According to those informed on the search, Mr. Musk's main worry is privacy.

According to the sources, the house hunt is so closely guarded that some high-end Austin home sellers believe it will stay a surprise even after he buys a home. When Austin's most expensive listed property sold for about $39 million to a California limited-liability firm with ties to Mr. Musk earlier this year, rumors circulated that Mr. Musk was the mystery buyer.

Jonny Jones, a businessman who previously owned the property and has been obliged to dispel the idea, insists he wasn't.

Michele Turnquist, a real-estate agent who represented Mr. Jones in the transaction, said she still gets compliments that aren't appropriate.

“I’ve had five people tell me, ‘You know, Elon bought your listing,’ ” Ms. Turnquist says. “I tell them that if Elon bought my listing, I wouldn’t know.”

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