Rushing to meet new, high-profile clients at Coldwell Banker’s Weston office, realtor Rosemary McCready ran through a mental list of available properties. She knew the couple faced a tight timeline and wanted a place on at least 10 acres to ensure privacy. Transferring jobs from Minneapolis to Boston, the husband needed to be settled in a new home in roughly one month. With his net worth headed well north of $100 million, grand estates and architectural stunners were in play.
It was July 31, 2007. And when McCready arrived at her destination, NBA player Kevin Garnett stepped out of the front passenger side of a black luxury SUV. He let McCready take his place, then squeezed his nearly 7-foot frame into the back seat. For the next week, McCready focused on finding a home for Garnett and his wife, Brandi, and negotiating the sometimes tricky terrain of celebrity real estate.
“It was an intensive seven-day period when we were out together looking at houses,” said McCready. “Other agents and owners of homes were calling my cellphone saying: ‘Hi. I have the perfect house for Kevin Garnett.’ Men were coming home from their offices to be present when we were shown houses and asking him to sign things. It was wild. Teenage boys were lining up in the driveway. . . . His privacy was lost at that point in the process.”
The bottom line in celebrity real estate: Whether buying or selling properties, famous figures bring added attention. Where these folks choose to live, what they find architecturally attractive, and how they decorate say a lot about who they are. And there’s a curious public out there. Realtors strive for the right balance between creating valuable exposure with a bold-faced name attached to a listing and revealing too much, especially when selling a celebrity-owned property.
“All attention in real estate is not wanted attention,” said Hammond realtor Deborah Barry, who listed Alan M. Dershowitz’s West Cambridge home for $3.95 million in October 2012. “I think both Alan and his wife will tell you I did a good job of keeping the tire kickers away and people who wanted to see it because of whose house it was. Nonetheless, there was some of that.”
Dershowitz didn’t mind that would-be buyers knew it was his house. At the start of the process, he told Barry: “I don’t have anything to hide. People know I live here. Let’s not try to call it something that it’s not.”
When Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his wife, Gisele Bündchen, put their Beacon Street penthouse on the market in October 2011, they took a different approach. The listing debuted with big buzz but no interior images. That was at the famous sellers’ request. Understandable, since winning Super Bowls brings far more fame than winning legal arguments. As with many celebrity homes, prospective buyers were screened carefully before they could see inside the 5,311-square-foot spread with its three bedrooms and 3½ bathrooms.
Allison Mazer, the listing agent for the Back Bay property, admitted it was challenging to sell a home without interior photos. But whether dealing with Brady or other high-profile clients, she adapts to the sellers’ preferences and what works best for them.
“The first step is to understand the goal of the seller,” Mazer, of Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty, wrote in an e-mail. (She sold the Beacon Street property for $9.2 million in June 2012.) “If the family is living in the home, I feel that it is best to make no comment as to who the seller is, especially for security reasons and to avoid a press storm around the property during the time it is on the market. My objective is to convey the property to serious buyers who find value in the property itself and find the celebrity ownership to be of minor significance.”
Still, the real estate moves Brady and Bündchen make — selling the Beacon Street property, putting their California mansion on the market, building an estate in Brookline — are often as breathlessly reported as Brady’s moves on the football field.
Given the attention paid to blockbuster sports deals, practically everyone in Boston knew Garnett would be house hunting in the summer of 2007. In fact, after the highly publicized three-year, $60 million contract extension Garnett signed to seal the trade with the Celtics, McCready was offered properties not even on the market that came with wildly inflated price tags.
“Somebody would call me, and they might have a house that would legitimately sell for 3 or 4 million,” said McCready. “And they’d say, ‘Oh, I’ll sell it to Kevin for 7 million.’ ”
The notoriously private Garnett ultimately purchased a secluded contemporary home on Howes Pond in Concord for $4.625 million. The 11,000-square-foot residence on 12.7 wooded acres met the Garnetts’ requirements and more. The dramatic five-bedroom, seven-bathroom house by Machado and Silvetti Associates is sleek and elegant with creative features like a kitchen eating area that overlooks the pond and resembles a ship’s prow. Floor-to-ceiling windows flood the interior with light. All the better to see the memorabilia — Garnett portraits and magazine covers — that would eventually cover the walls.
After he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets last July, Garnett put the Buttricks Hill Drive home on the market for just under $4 million and released a statement about how much he treasured the modern mansion. The statement mentions how Garnett and his wife “dedicated a lot of time and effort to incorporate our own personal touches to this home.” They added a massive dressing room, upgraded electronics, and created a “man cave” on the lower level complete with five plasma televisions on one wall to watch multiple games simultaneously. The listing immediately benefited from its famous connection and, according to McCready, generated more than 28,000 online hits during its first week on the market.
But while Garnett gave the home a unique sports pedigree and drew gawkers, serious interest came more from architecture aficionados than Celtics fans. It quickly became clear that the home featured too much Garnett, a feeling opposing NBA coaches and players know well. So McCready ended up removing memorabilia.
“I love him, and I loved everything about the memorabilia and the photographs that were in the house,” said McCready, who recently received an offer on the property that was accepted. “But when you are trying to sell a house, sometimes you need to depersonalize it. After I introduced the house to the market, I ended up editing out some of the photos that were there because the feedback was that buyers felt that it was too much Kevin’s house. We took out some of the big, oversized images of Kevin and tucked them away. A lot of the memorabilia was put away.”
Barry faced the same issue with the Dershowitz dwelling that sat atop Reservoir Street in West Cambridge. The three-bedroom, 3½-bath property came with a lap pool and stunning views from an eagle’s nest observatory accessible from the master bedroom. But it was what filled the 5,451-square-foot modern home that proved most eye-catching.
Dershowitz and his wife, Carolyn Cohen, populated rooms with everything from valuable artwork by greats like Chagall to presidential autographs to Judaica to movie posters from “Reversal of Fortune” that dramatized Dershowitz’s work on the infamous von Bülow case. There was even an Egyptian sarcophagus. To his credit, Dershowitz took Barry’s advice at every turn, including the suggestion that the couple remove many of their distinctive possessions.
“A celebrity house can be so stylized that it’s hard for a potential buyer to envision the house as theirs,” said Barry. “At least it was that way with Alan. In this case, it was hard for anyone to think of it as anything but the Dershowitz house. Not necessarily because he was famous, and his fame is not what sold his house eventually (for $3.4 million last August), but because their personalities were stamped all over the place.
“They got rid of a lot of things. The house that it was when I first walked in and the house that it was when we put it on the market were very different.”
The ideal celebrity real estate scenario may be the one presented by Greta Garbo in Gloucester. The reclusive movie star once made a seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom Bauhaus-style oceanfront estate her “summer hideaway,” according to its Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty listing. The Garbo connection gives the property an air of mystery, a touch of bygone glamour. Her history with the house makes for a unique narrative during showings, but it doesn’t overwhelm.
“When you get up to this $3 million, $4 million, $5 million high-net-worth-buyer category, they often have several homes,” said broker Erin Incollingo, who is co-listing the property with Tom Kennedy. “And this home is a conversation piece. It’s something a buyer would purchase in order to say, ‘This used to be Greta Garbo’s summer home.’ That’s an advantage to having her associated with it.”
For Incollingo, the 6,804-square-foot main house evokes images of the recent “Great Gatsby” movie and old-time Hollywood with its seaside grotto and 16-foot gold-leaf ceilings. When showing the house and its 9-plus-acre setting, she does more than point out the property’s seven fireplaces and different finishes. She asks would-be buyers to imagine the estate decades ago in all its high-society grandeur. Maybe they see Garbo relaxing by the grotto. Maybe they picture 20 guests gathered comfortably in the dining room with ocean views.
With the main house priced at $2.895 million and a contiguous lot with a carriage house and clay tennis court at $1.4 million, Incollingo said, the listing is drawing strong interest. There have been 15 showings since it went on the market in early April. And she estimated that 50 percent of the interest came from the star connection.
“With mysterious people, everybody is curious about them, what they did or didn’t do,” said Incollingo. “You get to glimpse a part of their life that was never public.”