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Listings for A-listers

Celebrity homes seem to pass from one star to another. How do they get the scoop?

June 23, 2005|Alexandria Abramian-Mott | Special to The Times

When Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt's French Normandy house went on the market in May, most people, including elite Hollywood real estate agents, learned about it only after it was bought by Ellen DeGeneres. They could forget about parading clients through the 12,000-square-foot Wallace Neff-designed house and its wine cellar, screening room and tennis court. The transaction between A-listers was completed before outsiders could looky-loo their way into the Beverly Hills hideaway.

Sure, we no-names don't expect to snag that 8 p.m. Friday reservation at Koi. But when it comes to homes, surely the market favors the highest bidders over those with the longest screen credits, right?

Not necessarily. The list of homes that have been handed from celebrity to celebrity is long enough to confirm suspicions that mere mortals need not apply. Some homes clearly stay within an inner circle.

Steven Spielberg's Pacific Palisades home might as well be called Hotel Hollywood: Cary Grant and Barbara Hutton, David O. Selznick, Douglas Fairbanks and Bobby Vinton all have lived in it. The late Marvin Davis had bought his Beverly Hills home from Kenny Rogers, who bought it from Dino De Laurentiis. Jack Nicholson bought Marlon Brando's Mulholland manse. Nicolas Cage bought the house of Dean Martin, who had bought it from Tom Jones. Two years ago, Britney sold her Westside home to Brittany (that's Spears to Murphy).

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 28, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
House sale -- A June 23 Home Section article about celebrities who sell homes to other celebrities said Ellen DeGeneres had bought a home owned by Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. She did not.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 29, 2005 Home Edition Home Part F Page 5 Features Desk 0 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
House sale -- A June 23 article on celebrities who sell homes to other celebrities said Ellen DeGeneres had bought a home owned by Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. She did not.

Career discrimination? More a matter of like attracting like, according to real estate agent Joe Babajian.

"Celebrities all want the same thing in a house," says Babajian, whose clients have included Barbra Streisand, Warren Beatty, Harrison Ford and Nicholson. "They all want an isolated location with a long driveway where everything is very private and secure."

Babajian recently had the Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne listing, a 12,000-square-foot Beverly Hills mansion with a grotto pool, seven bedrooms and maid's quarters.

The appeal of such homes, however, goes well beyond square footage and secluded locations. Frank Langen, an agent with Mossler Deasy & Doe, says some homes stay within the SAG family without ever coming onto the market.

"These houses are usually traded between celebrities during parties," says Langen, who adds that stars' managers often work as ad hoc Realtors, connecting buyers and sellers who learn about one another's homes during dinner parties, not Sunday open houses.

"There's an inner circle in Hollywood of people who get the scoop before Realtors. They know if someone's thinking about selling, and if they've already seen the house and like it, they can get it before anyone else. If I had a listing like Marlon Brando's house, yeah, I'd want to talk to Jack about it, but he'd already know about it before I do. And if one of these homes does come on the market, it's usually because no other celebrities wanted it."

Even then, don't go looking for your typical open house with flags in the frontyard and a sign-in book on the kitchen counter. Inquiries are generally by appointment only. Realtors sign nondisclosure agreements, and access for potential buyers is limited to the fiscally fit.

"I signed confidentiality agreements when I sold Elizabeth Taylor's home as well as Billy Bob [Thornton] and Angelina Jolie's homes," says Elaine Young, who has been selling high-profile properties in Los Angeles for 48 years. "Many of my most famous clients won't even let prospective buyers in without a financial statement."

William A. Gordon has been relegated to drive-by viewing for almost two decades. He's the author of "The Ultimate Hollywood Tour Book," which lists the addresses of hundreds of movie-star homes.

"I know people who try to get into these homes when they're for sale, but it's almost impossible," says Gordon. "They all want to avoid Roxbury now, where the tour buses go."

Given the paparazzi and the number of people who buy star maps, Aniston and Pitt's desire to sell their house quietly seemed reasonable, even if that meant not landing top dollar.

The practice of keeping the buyers at bay runs contrary to the notion that increased interest translates to a higher selling price. Conventional wisdom, Babajian says, does not apply to celebrity homes.

"This isn't about getting as many people into a home as possible," he says. "Famous people will do almost anything that will preclude showing their house."

According to Babajian, the number of Realtors and buyers who deal at the $10-million-and-up level is relatively small.

"There's only a core group of brokers and buyers who do this kind of business, and the air gets pretty thin up there at this level," he says. "Most of us already know each other, so there was little need to screen potential buyers of the Osbourne estate."

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