By Toby Welch
Celebrity home sellers fall into two categories: those who expect discretion and sellers who are happy to have their name publicly attached to the home that’s for sale.
Mark Lester, the founder and group leader of the Unique Properties Group at Colliers International in Vancouver, says, “I have a conversation with the client about how they want us to handle inquiries about the identity of the seller and the reason for selling. Some ultra high-net-worth individuals (UHNWs) don’t mind having their names used and recognize that their name can actually assist in the sale process. In such cases, the sale of a property owned by a well-known seller can facilitate media attention that will help to sell the property.”
But Lester adds, “Others do not want their identity to sidetrack the sale process and will have their reasons for keeping it quiet (privacy and security being two primary reasons). I advise them of the advantages and disadvantages of either approach and let them make the decision.”
Unless you are able to keep the sale hush-hush, the notoriety of your sellers will bring added attention whether you want it or not. Unfortunately not all of it will be wanted attention as the public’s curiosity for all things celebrity is at an all-time high.
Robin McInnis, an award-winning sales rep with Sutton Group – West Coast Realty in Vancouver, says the most challenging thing about selling a celebrity home is “keeping the identity of the homeowner private and the looky-loos away from the property. Usually, it’s the neighbours who tip off potential buyers. The properties are typically more expensive, which naturally thins the potential buyer pool.”
While some agents believe celebrity notoriety can increase the price by up to 30 per cent more than a comparable non-celeb property, others claim celebrity status adds nothing to the monetary value. The trick is finding that one buyer who is willing to pay a premium for the celebrity home. As we all know, asking price and market value don’t matter nearly as much as what someone is willing to pay for a property.
After Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died, her apartment – which was in need of a total renovation – sold for US $9.5 million. A similar, recently renovated apartment in the same building that was only slightly smaller sold at the same time for US $3.7 million. “It depends on who the seller is and how famous they are,” says McInnis. “Obviously Neverland and Graceland are going to sell for more money simply because of who owned them previously. For the most part, I’d say no, but if you get a real fan of a particular person, it could be worth more if they know who the owner is. I don’t personally know of any properties that sold for more money because the owner was famous.”
Not everyone gets to see a celebrity listing. Ideally, prospective buyers are screened and pre-approved before they are shown the property and confidentially agreements may be signed.
“I pre-qualify all buyers of properties being sold by UHNWs or any property that requires privacy and financial qualification,” says Lester. “Properties being sold by UHNW individuals tend to be in the upper spectrum of the value range. We don’t want to waste our time or our client’s time by introducing a purchaser that is not qualified and we do not want an unqualified buyer to get on a property that they should not otherwise have access to. Again, privacy and security are critical, but there are a lot of people out there who want to pretend that they have the ability to financially perform when, in fact, they cannot. Part of our job is to be a screening agent for our sellers and their properties.”
How do you market a celebrity property? One real estate broker who demanded anonymity for fear of upsetting clients says he doesn’t put celebrity listings online. He calls every agency in the area and shares the information about his listing. Only when speaking to top agents does he disclose the identity of the property’s owner, ensuring he targets agents who will be more apt to know the right buyer.
When asked if she markets the price of a celebrity home different than a non-celeb home, McInnis says, “Not if they’re of equal value but if the celebrity’s home is worth more, then yes, because it’ll appeal to a different crowd. It’s not uncommon to buy ads in major international magazines and foreign newspapers. This fall, I’ll be selling a $12 million home and intend to spend seven to eight times more on marketing than I would on a typical home. This one will feature an invitation-only catered cocktail party with valet and luxury cars filling the driveway. It will be listed exclusively so will not be on MLS.”
Distinctive possessions and personal memorabilia belonging to the sellers can often detract from the property. A basketball star’s trophies, strings of jerseys and life-sized portraits can make it challenging for a buyer to see himself living there. An actor’s unique decorating choices may make it impossible for a buyer to see beyond the exorbitant price tag of not only the property but also the cost to undo the funky decorating. Such situations make it easy for a potential buyer to move onto other properties. Convincing your famous seller to depersonalize their home may pay off with a faster, higher-priced sale.
While selling a house that belongs to Madonna or Drake might seem like a no-brainer, celebrity homes fall into such a specialized category that they can challenge even the most seasoned sales agent.