Mon, Nov 15, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Dropping names to sell houses

Some people, but not everyone, will pay a premium to live in a celebrity's old residence


The rocker Lenny Kravitz's 2,000m2 loft in SoHo, with its floating glass staircases, Roman tub in the master bathroom and hot tub on one of the terraces, is on the market for US$12.95 million, and "it's priced to sell," said Andrea Wohl Lucas, a vice president at the Corcoran Group who is representing the owner. Kravitz, however, is not mentioned in ads or used in marketing the property. "He doesn't want any part of that," Lucas said.

But most celebrities and their surrogates are not so demure. The playwright Neil Simon's six-bedroom, seven-bath Bel Air, California, home on almost 2 acres -- with a gym, media center, pool and orchard -- is for sale for US$12 million and was featured in The Los Angeles Times several weeks ago. In Palm Springs, a property that includes two swimming pools states its provenance (the Jack Warner estate) as boldly as its price: US$3.7 million. In Los Angeles for US$4.35 million, someone can buy "a fabulous beachfront hacienda," previously owned, as the advertisement points out, by Dudley Moore.

Places like New York, Los Angeles and Palm Springs have such a high concentration of bold-face names that it seems there's always a residence on the market that belongs, or belonged, to someone well known. Bagging such a prize confers bragging rights. Whether it commands a premium is an open question.

Of course, many celebrity homes have a lot going for them simply as properties -- they're generally large and well-appointed and in New York, on high floors, with good views, or in Los Angeles, with pools and tennis courts, beach frontage and cottages for the caretakers. And some brokers are convinced that attaching a celebrity name to a property adds to the curb appeal.

"I think it makes a big difference; it goes back to `George Washington slept here,'" said Diana Saatchi, vice president in the East Hampton, New York, office of the Corcoran Group. "There's a belief that some of the seller's stardust is going to settle on the buyer."

Places like the Hamptons on Long Island, she said, may place a greater value on the celebrity factor than some other locales. "There's a lot of positioning of oneself out here," she said. "I'm always hearing people say, `I bought a house next to such and such famous person' or `I'm in the same neighborhood as so and so.'"

Mary Lu Tuthill, manager of Previews International in Los Angeles, a division of Coldwell Banker that specializes in estate properties, said more modestly priced celebrity houses -- those in the US$1 million to US$2 million range -- could well command a premium, because "they're going to attract a younger, less-sophisticated buyer than buyers for US$5 million to US$10 million celebrity homes."

In New York, Paul Purcell, a partner at Braddock & Purcell, a residential real estate consulting firm, believes a celebrity-owned apartment can command as much as 20 percent to 30 percent more than a comparable apartment across the hall. "Marketing is many pronged," Purcell said. "Drawing attention to who lives in a particular apartment creates more buzz than simply running an ad. More people might look, which gives you the chance of bidding up the price."

Joseph Schiro, a broker for Keller Williams Realty in Hollywood Hills who represents the "fabulous beachfront hacienda" that Dudley Moore once called home, acknowledges that "at the end of the day the value is what it is, but you figure maybe there are one or two people out there who have an affinity for Moore and might pay a premium for something that has his thumbprint on it." When showing the house, Schiro takes pains to point out the tiles designed by the artist Keith Haring, "a friend of Moore's."

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