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Celebrity home sales: Localizing real estate secrets of the rich and famous

celebrity house

By Flickr user Ines Hegedus-Garcia

When San Antonio basketball legend David Robinson decided to move last summer, he didn’t list his house with the Multiple Listing Service as most sellers do. Instead, the Admiral opted for a more private sale. But he couldn’t keep it a secret.

“The Admiral has left 1 Admirals Way,” the San Antonio Express-News reported in July.

Reporter Jennifer Hiller revealed the 7-foot 1-inch basketball star – a Navy veteran and one of the best centers in NBA history – was selling his house in an exclusive community on the outskirts of the Alamo city.  His family had moved so his children to be closer to school, Hiller quoted a listing agent as saying.

But how did she find out Robinson’s six-bedroom house with a pool, spa, tennis court, elevator, gym and basketball player friendly high ceilings was up for sale, particularly since it’s located behind multiple layers of security in a neighborhood that doesn’t allow for sale yard signs?

“Sometimes real-estate agents will call me if they have a house on the market that belongs to one of the Spurs or someone prominent,” she said.

Hiller said she hears usually hears about high profile real estate sales like Robinson’s from real estate agents, builders and property developers. Sometimes reporters will find luck searching public records for the right name, “but it’s much easier if you have sources tell you this stuff,” Hiller said.

And even though the price tag for Robinson’s house was kept a secret, Hiller was able to help readers make a guess by digging up county appraisal records that showed the property had been valued at $3.92 million.

She used the same appraisal database to explain that Robinson hadn’t left the city for which he played his entire NBA career. Instead he and his family moved to another luxury neighborhood in the city, this time to a home valued at a mere $2.75 million, she reported.

Covering high profile real estate deals is one way for business reporters to reach readers craving celebrity news. And celebrity news is a topic readers around the world flock toward, comScore data shows.

No wonder publications like the Los Angeles Times devote significant resources to covering the real estate moves of the rich and famous.

“The bigger the celebrity, the more popular the story tends to be,” said Sara Polsky, a New York-based real estate writer for Curbed. “Stories about local celebrities like Yankees and Mets players tend to do well, too.”

Polsky said she keeps up with celebrity real estate sales by regularly checking public records.  The data includes information on buyers and sellers, which can make celebrities more easily identifiable, but there is a catch.

Manhattan real estate buyers are allowed to mask their purchases by making their purchases through an LLC. “Sometimes it’s not obvious who has made a purchase, and that’s where sources in the real estate industry come in handy,” Polsky said.

While cities like LA, New York and Chicago may be the ideal markets for celebrity real estate news, Hiller’s article shows even reporters outside those meccas can find celebrity stories with wide audience appeal in their own backyards.

 

About the Author

Meena Thiruvengadam is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She worked as a staff reporter for several U.S. newspapers. During the Great Recession, she covered the Treasury, Federal Reserve and economic news for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal in Washington, D.C. She is pursuing a master’s in media strategy and leadership at Northwestern University. She's online at www.meenamedia.com and on twitter at @Meena_Thiru.

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