What it’s like to broker deals for celeb clients: An oral history

Top agents discuss the additional challenges – and perks – of working with the famous

TRD New York /
Jun.June 19, 2015 05:00 PM

Connecting with the perfect broker, scheduling showings, finding a pad that meets all your criteria within your price point: Real estate in this town is not for the weak or the impatient.

Now, try adding a flock of fans and a herd of paparazzi to the mix.

Celebs are unable to have a cup of coffee in peace, let alone traipse around Manhattan looking for a new pad. And while they may be used to attention wherever they go, the brokers that deal with them are often not.

Jennifer Lopez a.k.a. J. Lo was last year’s biggest celeb buyer in Manhattan, paying $22 million for a 6,500-square-foot duplex penthouse at the Whitman in October.

On the more moderate side, Paris Hilton paid $5 million earlier this year for a Noho penthouse big enough for her 13 dogs, in a deal brokered by Douglas Elliman’s Raphael De Niro. And “Mad Men” actress Christina Hendricks picked up a $1.2 Million Condo On West 56th Street earlier this year.

The Real Deal spoke with some of the city’s celeb-friendly brokers about the challenges of representing the famous.

On the special skills needed

Raphael De Niro, Douglas Elliman: You have to be ready and able to deal with a lot of handlers, such as assistants, friends and business managers. That is the main difference between dealing with celebrities and non-celebrities. There have been a couple of situations where you have a friend who is thrown into the mix for advice and they have a tendency to send you places that aren’t really aligned with what the client needs and it confuses things. You have to be super-patient and able to do double and triple the work.

Fredrik Eklund, Douglas Elliman: My role as a broker is the same. I need to try to direct them as much as I can. The search, the appointments, putting in an offer: that’s all the same. But the process can be a bit different.

Jason Haber, Warburg Realty: Scheduling can be chaotic. Schedules change at the last minute. The general perception is that a lot of celebrities are late. I haven’t found that to be true. They’re often more on time than other people.

Jared Seligman, Douglas Elliman: Our biggest issue is that our clients don’t have a lot of time. We have a small window to look for something. What will take months for others, we have to pull together in a day or a couple of hours. There’s zero room for error.

De Niro: There’s more work involved. They can be away for long periods of time, or shoot on location for a few months. Whereas someone in finance, often they’re here in New York, which makes the process a lot simpler.

Seligman: We have to be ready on a whim’s notice to change what we’ve been working on. I have a team of ten people who help me. It takes an army to make sure these clients are taken care of 24/7. We don’t turn off.

On privacy and the paparazzi

Jared Seligman, Douglas Elliman: A person’s high-profile nature sometimes dictates what they end up looking for. The level of security and privacy can be very important. A driveway into the building is a deal breaker for some people. Often, they want multiple exits and underground parking.

Eklund: When you’re searching, privacy is very important. Outdoor space in New York is mostly not private. How do you work with that?

Richard Orenstein, Halstead Property: I never sell and tell.

Seligman: Discretion is key. Our office is like a vault. We make sure to keep as much information confidential as humanly possible.

De Niro: Being followed by paparazzi, that’s a nightmare. Because of the last name that I have, I get a little bit of that whether I want it or not. There was a time when I took someone out, where we were being chased by paparazzi. We couldn’t just show up to a showing; we were late for every appointment, because we could not get out of the car. That was with a well-known female celebrity.

Eklund: We did a showing with Kim Kardashian, I’ve never seen anything like it. Literally, thousands of people everywhere.

Seligman: About two years ago, we were chased and my driver was basically rear-ended. So we had a minor collision with paparazzi between appointments. We continued. Luckily the car was OK. If it wasn’t I would’ve had a new car there in five minutes. Paparazzi collisison or not, this job is not for the weak-hearted.

On price point

Seligman: We have people in entertainment looking for units that are less than $5 million to more than $20 million sometimes.

De Niro: Celebrities aren’t the buyers of the biggest apartments in New York. A lot don’t know how long they’re going to be in town. They’re not committed to huge purchases.

On being starstruck

Haber: You’re not there to be a fanboy. This isn’t an opportunity for fandom. You have a job to do whether or not your client is a celebrity or not. When I don’t have a relationship with the listing broker, I’ll make an appointment for my famous client under the name Herb Charles.

Eklund: The first time I showed a celebrity I was really nervous. I locked myself up. I wasn’t the Fredrik I am today. I have shown a lot of celebrities. I’ve shown Leonardo DiCaprio, J.Lo, Daniel Craig, John Legend, Britney Spears, Cameron Diaz. A lot.

 Haber: I’ve never shown an apartment to Springsteen, if that happened I don’t know what I would do. Short of that, I wouldn’t be starstruck by anyone. There’s everyone and then there’s Springsteen.

Eklund: I would love to show listings to the Swedish prince. That’d be great.

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