Taylor Swift slept here: A peek inside the world of buying and selling celebrity real estate in NYC
- Most brokers try to keep celebrity deals out of the press and leave their names off listings
- A celeb seller may use a LLC and have a broker sign a non-disclosure agreement
- Buyers are screened and must be financially qualified to tour celebrity listings
Many high-profile celebrities own apartments in New York City—and when it comes time to sell, they have to find buyers for them, just like anyone else.
Marketing a star’s abode can be a little like the first rule of 1999’s “Fight Club”—brokers won’t talk about it—not to the press and not to buyers who are not financially qualified. But other celebrity sellers don’t hide from the press—a strategy that can draw more potential buyers when deals are slower, as they are now.
When you’re a serious buyer, you have to get past the proverbial velvet rope that keeps the gawkers away. If buying an apartment with a celebrity pedigree—like the Cornelia Street townhouse that Taylor Swift once rented—is something you’re eager to do, read on.
Keeping it out of the press
Laurence Carty, a broker at Corcoran who has had lots of boldface names as clients, works hard to keep celebrity real estate deals “off Page Six.” That can mean hiring a public relations team to manage the media, and getting doormen and neighbors to keep quiet about the listing.
“No one at my level is talking to the press,” he says.
A matter of safety
Whether celebrities are selling or buying, keeping their real estate maneuvers out of the media is not just a matter of privacy—it’s done for security reasons as well.
Leonard Steinberg, chief evangelist and corporate broker at Compass, represented a seller who sold his home to Mick Jagger and both brokers managed to keep the rock star’s house hunt and sale out of the media. He says that “everyone simply swore to silence and sometimes that works. Miraculously the purchase never made the press.”
People are so celebrity obsessed these days that “sometimes there have to be extraordinary considerations around keeping famous clients’ safe. That was much easier 10 years ago than it is now,” Steinberg says.
Keeping the gawkers away
When a broker has a listing from a celebrity client, they work hard to keep out the fans who just want to see where their idol slept. The goal is to only bring in qualified buyers.
How do brokers determine who is a real buyer? Steinberg points out that not only are “most people ‘Google-able,’ 90-95 percent of them have been pre-qualified by the agent who brings them to the property. You have to ask the right questions and beware of the person who calls and says: ‘Hi, I have $20,000,000, what have you got for me?’”
To ensure anonymity, a celebrity may create a limited liability company with an inscrutable name and will have anyone who might leak the sale—a broker, a building manager, a doorman or an elevator operator—sign a non-disclosure agreement.
However, a non-disclosure agreement is “like a leaky roof,” Steinberg says. It is not foolproof. Someone passing by a building the moment a celeb walks in can be the person who tips off the media. And the supposedly untraceable LLC has its problems, too, Steinberg explains. He recalls a celebrity who set up an LLC but used the same name as one she had used in a previous deal. “Since the earlier purchase had been traced back to her, that was it! No more secret.”
Often a client will ask a broker to require would-be buyers to submit proof of funds but even that precaution can be subverted. Steinberg’s firm recently received “a financial statement that looked completely legit but when my colleague took a closer look, he could see that a piece of it had been photoshopped.”
For him, behavior is important. “One way I can tell that a buyer is serious,” Steinberg says, “is when he or she starts talking about where their furniture will go—'will my sofa fit there, will my favorite piece of art look good on that wall?’”
Celebrity properties on the market now
One consideration for buyers is whether the celebrity pedigree—and any accompanying hype—influences the price.
Take for example the West Village townhouse Taylor Swift rented for a few months in 2016 that she immortalized in “Cornelia Street” on her mega-hit album, Lover (“I rent a place on Cornelia Street/I say casually in the car.”)
The three-story, single-family at 23 Cornelia St. is $17,500,000 to buy and $45,000 per month to rent. The 1800-era carriage house has been fully renovated, according to the listing, “with a modernist flair.” The 5,400-square-foot property has four bedrooms, (two with private terraces), five full baths, and two half baths. Three of the original fireplaces remain and there’s plenty of room on the roof for partying.
Carty, who is selling the property on behalf of the owner, an investor, says that to sell a luxury real estate property like this, you have to appeal to buyers who are sophisticated enough to know if the price has been inflated because of its celebrity connection.
He says it is priced right considering its unusual amenities: “How many houses are there in Manhattan with a drive-in garage and an indoor swimming pool?”
The Swift connection brings a lot of eyeballs to the listing but “we don't need 3,000,000 views, we need just one buyer,” he adds.
Buzz may reduce days on market
Instead of driving the price higher, Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of real estate appraisal firm Miller Samuel, says a media frenzy for a celebrity listing “has the potential to reduce marketing time more than to generate a premium price.”
In markets like New York, there are a substantial number of celebrities—so that connection alone will not determine pricing. Because here you also have other wealthy individuals at the top of their industries. “In the luxury space, celebrities are part of the market, just like Fortune 500 executives,” Miller says.
Ari Harkov, a broker at Brown Harris Stevens, makes a similar point about celebrity connections.
They “may generate additional PR and buzz but that doesn’t necessarily translate to an increase in price. I haven’t seen buyers willing to pay more money for a home that is owned by a celebrity or one that was featured in a film or on tv,” he says.
Opening the door to negotiation
Many celebrities who are selling their homes prefer to keep their sale on the down-low but actor Mike Myers, who is selling his Chelsea penthouse for $20,000,000, has received lots of press coverage for his listing. No “International Man of Mystery”-type secrecy for him. Located near the High Line, the apartment has two elevators, five bedrooms, four-and-a-half baths, a waterfall, and lots of outdoor space.
Casting a wider net for buyers could be part of the marketing strategy here. Manhattan sales plunged nearly 40 percent in the second quarter according to the Elliman Report, as higher mortgage rates scared off buyers and sellers (who are sitting on rates in the three percent range).
In this environment, Myer’s listing is not exactly a wallflower, at least not yet. It has been on the market for two and half months. But it does come with hefty monthlies—$11,535 for monthly taxes and $11,922 for common charges, which could limit its buyer pool but also open the door to some negotiation. (For example, this similarly priced listing for a luxury condo penthouse on 19th Street has much lower monthies.)
There’s another celebrity property on the market, one which has a literary pedigree. It’s the apartment where Joan Didion, one of the most admired American journalists, lived until her death in 2021. Her apartment at 30 East 71st St. has been lingering on the market for over five months. Originally priced at $7,500,000, it was reduced about a month ago to $6,500,000.
After the price drop, Curbed wrote a post headlined: “No one wants Joan Didion’s apartment.” Snarky title aside—it seems the property is lingering because it is dated and needs a gut rehab. Because of the expense and headaches of doing a renovation, today’s buyers prefer turn-key properties, no matter how famous the owner once was. Keep in mind, buying a place that needs work can also be an opportunity to negotiate a discount.
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