Celebrity sales: Resi brokers dish about their A-list clients

Agents have to run the gauntlet of entourage and paparazzi to help these high-visibility buyers and sellers close a deal
By Gregory Cornfield | July 26, 2019 01:00PM

From left: Ellen DeGeneres, Rihanna, Tom Brady, Gisele Bündchen, Kanye West & Kim Kardashian (Credit: Getty Images)

From left: Ellen DeGeneres, Rihanna, Tom Brady, Gisele Bündchen, Kanye West & Kim Kardashian (Credit: Getty Images) 

When Rihanna, Ellen DeGeneres, Tom and Giselle and J.Lo and A-Rod need to offload a pad, there are only a trusted few to whom they award the privilege of selling it. And the brokers lucky enough to list those properties are well attuned to the special considerations necessary when catering to superstar athletes and Hollywood royalty.

Over the years, brokers have told The Real Deal about the many advantages and obstacles of finding homes for celebrity clients. Below we highlight what they’ve shared about the trials and travails of star-studded selling.

‘Stranger’ needs
L.A.-based Compass agent Lee Mintz, who has a roster that includes professional athletes and pop stars like Rihanna, befriends her clients, “with an arm’s distance, of course.”

“If they need me to pick them up when they’re landing at LAX, I’ll be there,” Mintz told TRD. “I’ll find them a car, housekeepers, dry cleaning. They call me for everything and I always pick up the phone. And then they start trusting me.”

But sometimes things can get out of hand.

“One of the stranger requests I got was from Ty Lawson, of the Sacramento Kings,” she said. “Some time ago, he was staying on Mulholland Drive with his brother, and I got a call in the middle of the night. He said, ‘Lee, there’s a seven-foot snake in front of my house, what do I do?’ and I said, ‘You need to hang up the phone right now and call the police,’ and then I hear this dup-dup-dup sound, and it turned out that they started shooting at the snake with a gun.”

Mintz added, “I get all kinds of stupid stuff. I get, ‘Lee, there’s something dripping under my sink!’ at 2 in the morning. ‘Lee, my girlfriend left, I need you to pack up the house.’ The scariest was the call I got from Rihanna about the stalker. This was at like 5 a.m. I jumped in the car, and drove to the house, where the alarm was going off and the S.W.A.T. team had come.”

Other celebrities have made their share of odd requests. Tom Brady and his wife, supermodel Gisele Bündchen, asked developer Related if they could move up to the 12th floor of 70 Vestry Street in New York, in order to match his number 12 Patriots jersey.

24-hour accessibility is a must for any broker dealing with a high-wattage client.

“Movie stars and entertainers, you really have to be at their beck and call, and you have to make appointments from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and they might not show up until 1 p.m.,” said New York-based broker Dolly Lenz, of Dolly Lenz Real Estate. “And so how do you deal with that and not get angry at them? It can be very challenging.”

Sometimes they’re also looking out for some truly unique features.

Tom Brady and his wife, supermodel Gisele Bündchen, asked developer Related if they could move up to the 12th floor of 80 Vesey Street in New York, in order to match his number 12 Patriots jersey.

Sidenote: brokers told The Real Deal that Brady’s number anxiety is not uncommon in the real estate world.

“I once had a buyer who felt strongly that living on a floor with the number 8 in it, because they thought it would bring them luck,” said Compass agent Michael Graves. “I’ve seen so many strange things, like people who don’t want to be part of a listing that’s hyphenated. Strange little things can throw people.”

Need for privacy
Privacy is paramount when it comes to a celebrity sale.

“We make every effort to keep real estate transactions private,” said Marc Shevin, an L.A.-based agent with Berkshire Hathaway who represents dozens of celebrity clients, including Kanye West and the Kardashians, Simpson, and Lopez.

“It absolutely bothers us and we find it an intrusion on their privacy when someone somehow obtains information on those transactions and publishes it,” he added.

One of the most important aspects of Shevin’s job is ensuring he finds his clients the homes that are out of reach from the paparazzi.

The privacy afforded in the gated community of Hidden Hills helped attract several past celebrity owners like Jessica Simpson who would regularly walk her children to a neighbor’s house to pet and feed the ponies, and Jennifer Lopez would wear sweatpants and a bandanna and push a stroller down the street, he said.

In 2005, when “Friends” was winding down, actor Matt LeBlanc complained to Shevin about how the paparazzi stalked him outside his gated house in Encino, often following him to the TV studio and back. When he learned that Hidden Hills had three guard gates, he bought a home there for $9 million.

Celebrity-owned properties are nearly always under a threat of intrusion, brokers said. Nick Segal, the president for Southern California for Compass, and other brokers told TRD that thieves can find homes on the multiple listing service and sites like Zillow, and then track a celebrity’s social media postings “and realize they are having a fabulous time in Italy.”

In response, famous sellers turn to pocket or off-market listings to limit access to information, Segal said.

And while most agents keep a tight lid on the deals their celeb clients are making, it’s inevitable that some fan-girling occurs at showings.

Lenz once took Barbra Streisand for a second look at a penthouse. When Streisand entered the house, a doorman fell to his knees and began singing “People Who Need People.”

“I can only tell you that she did not buy that apartment,” said Lenz. “It was not a good idea.”

Sometimes the brokers themselves can get drawn into the spotlight, despite efforts to keep it discreet. Broker Adam Modlin of New York-based Modlin Group was once caught up in the tabloids with his clients, way back in the day, when it was reported that he played matchmaker for Alex Rodriguez and Kate Hudson.

“I did not set them up,” he said. “And Kate Hudson is not one of my clients. Nobody ever called to ask me about it. It is simply not true.”

Famous friendships
Brokers can become close with celebrities through the business relationship.

Kurt Rappaport, co-founder and CEO of Westside Estate Agency, told TRD that celebrity home flipper Ellen DeGeneres gave him good real estate advice.

“Ellen DeGeneres used to tell me that you can put one $70 scarf from Banana Republic and another scarf from Loro Piana that’s many times more expensive next to it, and they look the same to most people,” he said. “But once you know the feel, stitching and how it falls around your neck, you can’t do the cheaper one. So for me, my philosophy is always to spend more because it’s worth more.”

Luxury real estate agent Valerie Fitzgerald said celebrities are mostly like anybody else, and are plenty relatable. In other words: stars, they’re just like us!

“With Ben Affleck, we were showing a lot of houses to him, and I always brought my daughter along, and one time, he saw her and said, ‘Come over here and give Uncle Ben a big hug!’ and I thought that was just so sweet.”