Two years ago, rapper and music producer Bryan “Birdman” Williams was ready to upgrade from his humble one-bedroom South Beach condo into something more palatial.
So Williams turned to Miami real estate broker Tomi Rose to help him find a home that would complement his affinity for 24-hour champagne parties, exotic sports cars and diamond encrusted gold jewelry. Rose quickly tracked down a 10-bedroom, 14-bathroom estate in Miami Beach’s Palm Island. Williams, the founder of Cash Money Records, paid $14.5 million for the spread. The opulent mansion, with 25-foot interior ceilings and a backyard view of Biscayne Bay, was the ideal crash pad for the rap mogul ranked as the fourth wealthiest hip-hop artist by Forbes.
“The house just caught his eye off the bat,” Rose said.
Williams chose Rose because of their history: In 2013, the broker assisted Williams in acquiring a two-bedroom condo at the Aventi in Aventura for $275,000 and a one-bedroom unit at the Ivy at Riverfront building in downtown Miami for $330,000.
Rose’s access to multi-millionaire celebrities like Williams prompted Opulence International Realty to hire her in January to lead the brokerage’s new sports and entertainment division, sparking a new trend among South Florida residential real estate firms to develop teams catering to famous clients.
In early June, One Sotheby’s International Realty made broker Ben Moss the managing director of its newly formed sports and entertainment division. His client list includes notables such as 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant. A few weeks later, Douglas Elliman Florida announced that former Major League Baseball player and Miami-based real estate agent Billy Bean would head a similarly named division.
Darren Heitner, a Miami sports and entertainment attorney, said an increasing number of celebrities are looking to buy seasonal and permanent homes in South Florida. “It’s a viable strategy for real estate firms to establish a division dedicated to celebrities,” Heitner said. “For the athlete or entertainer, they will have a level of comfort that the broker is an individual who has experience with the burdensome lives of celebrities.”
The key is finding a division leader with experience and connections.
While Douglas Elliman Florida just launched its sports and entertainment division, the firm’s sister brokerage in New York has had one since 2011. The group is headed by agents Prince Dockery, a New York broker who has worked with athletes for more than two decades, and Walt Frazier III, son of the New York Knicks legend.
The two brokers were working with similar clients and decided to combine their efforts, according to Frazier. “It was a natural fit,” he said. “We shared Ivy League backgrounds. I played basketball for Penn University and Prince played football at Harvard.”
Their seven-member team claims to have a thorough understanding of a celebrity’s needs and concerns when searching for a home.
“They have challenging practice schedules, travel, kids and family, length of contracts and offseason homes” to deal with, said Frazier, who played professional basketball in Europe. “Having personally experienced this, I can relate to what they are going through.”
At Elliman’s Florida branch, Bean will have to compete with Opulence’s Rose-led division and One Sotheby’s Moss. And there’s the potential for other local firms to launch similar divisions in the future.
Rose, who is married to former Miami Heat player Mark Strickland, has represented about 200 high-profile entertainers and athletes during her 12-year career. In addition to Williams, her client roster includes future NBA Hall-of-Famer Shaquille O’Neal, actor Owen Wilson and actress Vivica A. Fox.
Rose left One Sotheby’s to join Opulence. “It was a great opportunity I didn’t want to pass up,” she said.
Her group includes a marketing staff and a network of nationwide brokers. The division is expanding to Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Atlanta.
After losing Rose, One Sotheby’s brought in Moss, who has assisted more than 350 athletes and entertainers with their real estate transactions throughout the U.S. In the past decade, he closed more than $500 million in sales and leases, representing such notable figures as the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Durant, actor Russell Brand and St. Louis Rams offensive tackle and former Miami Dolphin Jake Long.
“Ben knows what the entertainers and the athletes’ needs and wants are,” said One Sotheby’s president Daniel de la Vega.
Moss represented Durant in March 2011, when the five-time All-Star purchased a penthouse at downtown Miami’s 900 Biscayne Bay for about $1.8 million. Today, Durant’s pad is worth more than $3 million, the broker said.
Now One Sotheby’s is counting on Moss to build up its celebrity client portfolio. The broker said the task calls for much more than scanning available listings.
“There is a lot more work involved than people realize,” he said. “You are dealing with clients who sometimes don’t show up to sign contracts, call you at all hours and when something goes wrong, it’s somebody else’s fault.”
The three firms that already established sports and entertainment divisions are getting a critical jump on other brokerages that eventually create their own units, according to Heitner.
“Ben, for instance, had tremendous success luring athletes prior to [joining One Sotheby’s,]” he said.
“I doubt other companies want to sit idly by and let him corner the market. They will want to grab their own piece of the pie.”