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Celebrity sellers have little effect on home prices

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Their internationally recognized names sell music and movie tickets. They promote perfumes and presidents. But when it comes to selling their own houses, celebrities often find that their cachet doesn't pull in the cash.

Actors Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell haven't found a buyer for their Malibu beach house, which comes with a raft of celeb-friendly amenities including a covered outdoor living room, a spa-like bath retreat and a meditation room. So the couple have nipped $3.5 million from last year's price, listing the Balinese-influenced oceanfront spread at $11.2 million.

Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne managed to sell their Malibu place for $7.925 million — nearly 21% off the original asking price. But the Architectural Digest-worthy Hidden Hills mansion owned by the first couple of hard rock has had no taker since it was listed last year at almost $13 million.

Actress Meg Ryan has put her Bel-Air manse back on the market at $11.4 million — a 42% price chop from its 2008 listing.

Although the masses respond to rock-star branding, housing is too expensive for celebrity ownership to make a measurable dollar difference, said Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, author of "Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity" and an associate professor at the USC School of Policy, Planning and Development.

"This is different than buying a sports drink because Tiger Woods endorsed it," Currid-Halkett said. Home value is too complicated, she said, with lots of variables: the season, the location, the quality of the home.

"In the art world, there is this notion of provenance — that who owns something can detract or add to the value," Currid-Halkett said. "But it does not seem to translate to celebrity homes."

Having a big-name seller certainly draws attention to a home listing and can speed up the process.

The Los Feliz home of singer Katy Perry and actor Russell Brand went into escrow last summer nine days after it appeared on the Multiple Listing Service.

"I immediately had people knocking on the door," said Ernie Carswell, a founding partner at Teles Properties.

The Perry and Brand names increased the number of views online, and the word among agents spread more quickly, shortening the sales time, Carswell said.

The intense interest failed to pump up the price, though. The gated 1920s home sold for $3.3 million — about 3% shy of the asking price.

The value of a house has more to do with the individual stamp the person puts on the property, real estate experts say, than a famous autograph on the sales contract.

"Typically what adds the value is what they do to the home," said Ellen Galeski, owner of Appraisals by Ashby, a Los Angeles company with about a dozen appraisers and a history of working with celebrity clientele.

The homes of stars are often redone by designers who have fabrics made for the draperies, use time-consuming methods such as Venetian painting or travel abroad to select the marble, she said. "One brought in painters from Italy to do murals, and they spent a month on it."

When actress Jennifer Aniston put her 10,000-square-foot house in Beverly Hills on the market at $42 million last year, she turned the heads of even seasoned real estate professionals.

"Every agent in town wanted to go see it," Carswell said.

Although Aniston didn't get that initial asking price, the $35 million paid by Pacific Investment Management Co. co-founder and billionaire Bill Gross caused a collective intake of breath in the local real estate community.

Aniston is not only a highly visible actress but she is also known to have impeccable taste in home furnishings and design, said Drew Mandile, a real estate agent with Sotheby's.

"She did a beautiful job on that house. Done to the nines with every convenience that one could think of for a bachelor or a bachelorette — quality walls, floors, ceilings."

A combination of great taste, the budget to express it and the Aniston name all contributed to the resulting sales price of $3,500 a square foot — dwarfing the $699-per-square-foot median paid last year in the famed 90210 ZIP Code, according to real estate research firm DataQuick. By comparison, the median sales price of existing homes countywide in 2011 was $230 a square foot.

Celebrity may translate more clearly into home value for those who attain icon status.

Elizabeth Taylor's longtime home in a prime Bel-Air neighborhood sold quickly last year for $8 million. Some real estate experts attribute the $1,115-per-square-foot price — well above comparable sales in the $850-a-square-foot range — to her legendary standing.

Others point to the 1.27-acre lot, the hilltop location and the hand-laid brick motor court.

The dated-looking ranch-style house was not tricked out with all the amenities today's buyers have come to expect.

But the listing appeared only a few months after Taylor's death, interest in her was still high and after her three decades of ownership the house was thought of as "the Elizabeth Taylor estate."

Not every icon has such a strong tie to one place. Actress Judy Garland, for example, moved frequently. A name doesn't carry the same weight, agents say, when attached to 10 or 12 properties.

Marilyn Monroe lived many places during her 36 years too. But the film star was known to own only one house, a Brentwood hacienda built in 1929. When the 2,600-square-foot home came on the market two years ago, it drew international attention.

The trophy property could easily be considered the ultimate collector's item. The four-bedroom house with swimming pool was snatched up within two weeks, selling for $3.85 million, or 7% above its asking price.

That Monroe died in the house did not stand in the way of its sale a half-century later, although events such as a death or a crime at a property routinely depress values.

"A death in a house is never good news" financially, said Randall Bell, a Laguna Beach appraiser and consultant who has earned the nickname "the master of disaster" for his work on troubled properties.

The Holmby Hills house where Michael Jackson lived at the time of his death in 2009 had been for sale for as much as $38.5 million before he moved in.

Jackson was leasing the 17,171-square-foot mansion for $100,000 a month when he died after receiving the anesthetic propofol for insomnia. His doctor, Conrad Murray, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in November and sentenced to four years in prison.

"It has all the elements of crime-scene stigma," said Bell, whose work has taken him to the homes of O.J. Simpson and JonBenet Ramsey.

Stigmatized houses take longer to sell, usually close at a market discount of 10% to 50% and, in the short term, are always easier to lease than to sell, Bell said. A death at a home must be disclosed for three years.

The French chateau Jackson leased is for sale now at $23.9 million. Listing agent Mauricio Umansky of the Agency is of the "any publicity is good publicity" school of thought when it comes to the singer's connection.

"We can't really buy that kind of exposure," he said.

Umansky's candor is rare in a segment of the market that routinely uses blind trusts, off-market deals and other tactics to cloak high-end sales in anonymity.

"At the end of the day, you're just better off getting in front of it and using it to your advantage," Umansky said. "He's still the king of pop."

Several years ago Umansky sold the West Hollywood home of his niece, Paris Hilton, to buyers who happened to be fans of hers. Hilton had a much-publicized jail stay that year after she violated the terms of her probation on an alcohol-related reckless driving charge.

"The notoriety at the time and the amount of exposure it received helped sell the house," he said.

The 1920s Spanish-style home was purchased fully furnished and turned into a vacation rental.

Although Umansky doesn't think they bought because they were fans, the buyers haven't tried to downplay the celebrity factor either.

Umansky now has Hilton's former home listed for lease at $16,000 a month. The property description starts with the words "previously celebrity owned." And just in case that doesn't provide enough star power, the owners still have her portraits hanging on the walls.

lauren.beale@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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