Beverly Hills in the California, US, and Cebu, Philippines.
Andrey Denisyuk/Getty Images/Marielle Descalsota/Insider
I recently got a tour of Beverly Hills, but not the California city — Beverly Hills in the Philippines.
Homes are rarely sold in Cebu’s Beverly Hills, but when they are, they can cost over $1.77 million.
Gaining access to the suburb is nearly impossible unless you know a resident.
Jon Hicks/Getty Images
Beverly Hills is known for being home to celebrities and millionaires. A-listers like Brad Pitt and pop stars like Taylor Swift have owned property in the city. The California suburb is known for its palm trees, luxury stores, and million-dollar homes.
In fact, Beverly Hills Gateway, a neighborhood within the city, is the most expensive place to live in California, where homes cost an average of $22.7 million, per a study released in April by the financial services company CashNetUSA. On average, homes in Beverly Hills are listed for a median price of $6.8 million, per data from real-estate platform Realtor.com.
I visited California’s Beverly Hills several years ago and was in awe of the glamorous mansions. So when I heard that there’s a high-end neighborhood with the same name in Cebu, an island province in the Philippines, my curiosity was piqued.
On the drive to Beverly Hills on a recent reporting trip, I saw what other homes in Cebu look like. They were a mix of towering condominiums, family bungalows, and tiny houses built on the side of the road from materials like tin and wood.
Gaining access to the neighborhood was a challenge. Knowing someone who lives there is the only way to enter the suburb. In the Philippines, suburbs are more commonly referred to as subdivisions.
I reached out to several realtors before finding one who could help me gain access, and who connected me with another realtor who could show me around. But first, we needed to get past the guard posts and a handful of security guards who scanned every car that drove in.
Sitting in the back seat of the first real-estate agent’s car, the guards had a lot of questions — who we knew, where we were going, and how long were going to be there.
The neighborhood is located 10 minutes away from Cebu’s city center and the homes are built into a steep hillside that offers panoramic views of the city. The location reminded me of the Korean film “Parasite,” which showcases a wealthy family’s house in a hilltop neighborhood of Seoul.
There were barely any people out on the streets in the middle of the day, but I did spot a handful of workers maintaining the tropical trees and plants that dotted the wide, paved roads.
Many of the large, gated mansions were at least partially obscured from sight by foliage. The homes struck a stark contrast to the makeshift homes and tiny roadside shacks in Pasil, a neighborhood just five miles south of Beverly Hills, where I had spent the previous day.
Balaga told me the cheapest home on the market right now in the neighborhood costs 52 million pesos, or around $915,000. It is one of two properties that were listed for sale at the time of my visit.
Balaga told me homes in Beverly Hills are rarely sold to outsiders, as many who live there are regarded as the “Old Money” of Cebu. And when they do go on sale, the price is often in the millions, Balaga said, adding that homes in the neighborhood are typically listed for at least 100 million pesos, or $1.75 million. For comparison, the median price of homes in Cebu City is listed at $141,270, per data by the Urban Land Institute.
“Some owners initially wanted to sell their homes, but changed their mind during the pandemic,” Balaga said about Beverly Hills, adding that residents usually only sell to people they know.
Balaga said many of the people who live in the neighborhood made their wealth in industries like retail, construction, and hospitality.
For example, the Gaisano, a Chinese-Filipino family that owns a chain of malls in the Visayas and Mindanao islands, once lived in the neighborhood, Balaga said. Another wealthy family, the Benedicto, who are magnates in the cement and real estate industries, also own homes in the neighborhood, she added. The Gaisano and Benedicto families did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“There are also ancestral homes here,” Balaga said, adding that the homes are usually inherited between generations.
One reason many residents prefer to keep their homes in Beverly Hills, instead of selling them, is the area’s geographical advantage. Not only is it near the city center but it’s also located on high ground, which means it doesn’t flood, unlike other parts of the Philippines, Balaga said. In October, heavy rain triggered some 60 landslides in Cebu, killing several people and displacing many others.
In California’s Beverly Hills, most of the mansions I drove past were sprawling, complete with elaborate gates and fences, massive driveways, and luxury cars. In Cebu, it was a different story.
Several houses did look like compounds, with tall fences barricading large swathes of land. But for the most part, they didn’t look like million-dollar homes, and I didn’t see any luxury cars, helipads, or extravagant statues. Some houses had simple exteriors and tiny driveways, looking much like the homes I’ve seen in less exclusive — and less expensive — subdivisions around the Philippines.
I wasn’t able to enter any of the homes and see what they looked like inside, but photos online show some of the houses’ interiors. Many of these homes have a swimming pool and garden, but they aren’t mind-blowingly luxurious like the ones in California.
Maria Luisa Park is one of these luxury suburbs, Balaga said. While Beverly Hills has a limited number of homes listed on the market, dozens of homes are for sale in Maria Luisa Park, according to a Facebook page advertising these homes.
One advantage that Beverly Hills has over Maria Luisa Park is the location — the latter is “far from the city center,” Balaga said.
Cebu is the wealthiest province in the Philippines, with total assets amounting to 203.9 billion pesos, or around $150 million. But income inequality in Cebu remains high, with over 28% of residents living below the poverty line — what’s defined as a monthly income of 2,602 pesos, or $45, for a family of five people.
Even so, those who can afford to are still clamoring to purchase homes here, Balaga said.
“One seller was one of the biggest construction company owners in Cebu. After much interest they increased the price,” Balaga continued.
“Two buyers wanted to purchase without even seeing the house,” she added.
What stuck with me the most after my tour of Beverly Hills was the views: one showcased the skyline of Cebu, while the other displayed dilapidated houses.
Near the top of the hill, inside the wealthy neighborhood, I found an empty lot. It was on the market and had a sign saying: “Please do not throw garbage on the empty lots.”
Right behind the lot was a cluster of small, rundown houses, some with exposed brick walls, others with tin roofs. It looked similar to parts of Manila, the capital of the Philippines, where skyscrapers and luxury condominiums are built alongside informal settlements, and it made one thing clear: Even the wealthiest people can’t live in full isolation from others, no matter how exclusive their neighborhoods might be.