This is part of a special series, The Future of Fame Is the Fan, which dissects how celebrity became so slippery. It’s also in the latest VICE magazine. Subscribe here.
Hello, my famous and exorbitantly wealthy friend! I understand you’re interested in purchasing a home. You’ve come to the right place. Here at Realty Solutions for Stars Like You Incorporated, helping you find the mansion, multiacre estate, villa, château, chalet, or otherwise fancily-named residence of your dreams isn’t just what we do—it’s our passion. We know that your time is precious, and that you can’t be bothered to browse through Zillow or attend various open houses like a normal human being. That said, buying property will, unfortunately, take a modicum of time and effort on your part. But worry not! To make the process as painless and undemanding as everything else in your life, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to acquiring real estate for high-profile, high-net-worth individuals like yourself.
We assembled it with two guiding principles in mind: (a) outsourcing almost all the actual work that goes into buying a house to someone less important than you; and (b) keeping your purchase confidential. Discretion is, of course, a key concern here. You don’t want a pesky paparazzo, a long-lost relative looking for a handout, or (God forbid) one of your many stalkers showing up on your doorstep. To avoid that kind of unpleasantness, it’s critical that your involvement in any real estate transaction is kept quiet—and, ideally, out of the public record entirely. As you read our guide, you’ll find that protecting your anonymity is a critical component of every step.
Before we dive in, let’s address the elephant in the room. Why should you trust us—a company you’ve never heard of and that, judging by a cursory Google search, doesn’t appear to actually exist—to give you real estate advice? Great question. It’s important to note that our guide was put together with help from two real, well-reputed experts in the field. The first, Edward Mermelstein, is a real estate attorney and the founder of One & Only Holdings, a boutique advisory firm that caters to high-net-worth clients. The second, Aaron Kirman, is a real estate agent in Los Angeles who has sold homes to countless celebrities and serves as the president of the International Luxury Estates division of Compass, a real estate brokerage.
Step 1: Decide Where You Want to Buy
Assuming you’re not a 17-year-old YouTuber, you already own a primary residence, and you’re in the market for a second home—or a third, or a fourth, or a 24th. While you could, of course, buy a house anywhere in the world, it’s advisable for individuals of your wealth and stature to purchase property in big-name destinations like Los Angeles, New York, Miami, or London. There are two main reasons that’s a good idea, according to Mermelstein and Kirman. The first is that you probably travel to one of those places regularly on business—say, for a movie shoot—and you’re sick of having to stay in a hotel each time you do. A home of your own affords you a level of privacy, comfort, and security even a penthouse suite can’t rival. The second reason is financial: You’re buying this home because you want to live in it (sometimes, for like a week or something); but you also need to treat it as an investment. Any purchase you make in a major city like LA or New York is virtually guaranteed to appreciate in value over time. And when you want to cash in, according to Mermelstein, “you can sell fairly quickly.”
With that in mind, the world isn’t necessarily your oyster, but pretty much every city with a Nobu is, and those are the only places worth living in anyway. If you already own a home in LA, consider buying a brownstone in New York; if you’ve already got both of those cities covered, think about getting a flat in London. Any major metropolitan area works, really! Just avoid spending $10 million on a palatial estate in, like, Des Moines.
Step 2: Contact Your Business Manager
Almost every celebrity has a business manager who handles their finances, advises them on their investments, and deals with the boring logistical work that goes into buying really expensive stuff. Since you’re rich and famous, you probably have one too. After you’ve decided where you want to buy a house, give your business manager a call and let them know. They’ll take a look at your portfolio and come up with a budget. You can ignore that budget, if you wish—“money” is basically a theoretical concept to you anyway, so who cares how much you spend—but it’s best to heed their advice. They’re trying to make sure you don’t pull a Nic Cage and blow so much money on real estate (and dinosaur skulls, and burial tombs, and a bunch of other weird shit) that you wind up in debt to the IRS.
According to Mermelstein, it’s “very rare” that a celebrity can afford to spend more than $25 million on a house. Unless you’re Oprah, consider $25 million your cap. If you shell out more than that, you’re taking a dangerous step toward becoming the subject of a Daily Mail article with a headline like “Famous McFancy Goes BROKE After Buying an ISLAND in the MALDIVES for $80 MILLION.” Once you’ve settled on a budget, your business manager will reach out to a real estate broker on your behalf, and inform them that you’re on the hunt for a house—or rather, that someone is. According to Mermelstein, all they’ll say to a broker is something vague and mysterious, like “I have a client who’s interested in buying a property.” Before they go any further, they’ll force that broker—and everyone on their staff—to sign nondisclosure agreements, Mermelstein and Kirman said. Until those NDAs are signed, your business manager won’t even tell the broker who you are.
Step 3: Check Out Some Properties—Discreetly
Once they’ve sworn themselves to secrecy, your broker will compile a list of properties they think you might like and send them your way. If you’d like to see any particular one in person, your broker will set up a time for you to do so—but first, they’ll make the real estate agent who holds the listing sign an NDA, along with everyone on their team. Even still, your broker might not disclose your identity to the selling agent, Kirman said.
“We try to get houses cleared out,” Kirman said. “We don’t even like seller representation there.”
Maybe the family living in the house you want to see is selfish, and they won’t leave so you can view it alone. Perhaps, infuriatingly, they don’t understand that your wants and needs matter way more than theirs do. If that’s the case, your broker will break out—you guessed it—even more NDAs. Anyone who could possibly spot you during your visit is placed under one, Kirman said, including the homeowners and their children, housekeepers, gardeners, maintenance workers, and others involved in managing and selling the property. Your broker will stop short of forcing the family dog to sign an NDA, but just barely.
“We want to make sure that every person that comes in signs an NDA,” Kirman said. “It’s not just a seller to a buyer. You have seller to buyer, two real estate agents, an escrow company, a title company, inspectors, and everything in the middle. Everybody there has people on staff.”
Step 4: Choose the Home You Want to Buy—Carefully
Given that your house will cost as much as an original copy of the Magna Carta, two dozen live killer whales, or Lil Uzi Vert’s forehead diamond, you want to make sure that you’re happy with your purchase. But deciding which home to buy isn’t as simple as choosing the one you like the most, Kirman said.
Once the paparazzi figure out where you live—and they will, those sneaky little bastards—they’ll flock to your home on a daily basis, getting as close to your front door as they physically and/or legally can. You need to consider that before you pull the trigger on your purchase.
“If you’re famous and you don’t have a big driveway, you’re not going to be happy in that house,” Kirman explained. “If you’re a big celebrity and you’re in a cul-de-sac, where it’s just tight, you’re not going to be happy in that house.”
If you’re in the market for an apartment instead of a house—say, in a city like New York—it might be wise to consider buying in a building where lots of other celebrities live, Mermelstein said. Not only will you avoid obnoxious ogles and weird hellos from nonfamous neighbors; you’ll sleep easy knowing that everyone you come in contact with, from the security guards at the door to the janitors in the hallways, is legally barred from talking about you with some schmuck reporter.
“In many cases, we’ve seen purchases in buildings that have very strict rules with a management company that is aware that the building is high-profile,” Mermelstein said. “The staff in the building wind up signing NDAs, and acknowledge in their employment agreements that they are not allowed to speak to anyone about any of the owners in the building: who they are, what they do. Basically, [there are] gags on them.”
Step 5: Buy the Damn Thing (Using a Complicated Legal Maneuver Orchestrated by Various Third Parties in Order to Guarantee There Is No Record of Your Having Done So)
Once you’ve found a home that checks all the necessary boxes—e.g., room for your kids and your kids’ nannies; a ten-foot fence rigged with enough electricity to take down an elephant; a hidden door that leads to your tantric sex dungeon—it’s time to close the deal. Regrettably, you can’t just wire money to the seller, or have your butler stuff $25 million in cash into the back of an Escalade and drive it over to them. You have to be discreet!
When you buy your house, the details of the transaction will enter into the public record. It’s critical that you keep your name out of the deal, so that TMZ and the agents of chaos who work for them won’t be able to find out where your house is and how much you paid for it.
t’s up to you to decide how to go about maintaining your anonymity. You’ve got two good options: buying through an LLC or a trust, or having someone else purchase your house for you, in name only. Many celebrities take the first route, Mermelstein and Kirman said. When you buy through an LLC or a trust, the name of that entity appears in the public record as the buyer—not your name. In deciding what to call that entity, you might be tempted to give it a title with some personal significance; perhaps you want to name it after your pet, or your mom, or your lifestyle brand. Don’t do that! Journalists—ruthless, contemptible beasts that they are—have a gift for sifting through property records and uncovering the identities behind curiously named LLCs. For example: In 2011, Jennifer Aniston took great pains to buy several units in a West Village apartment building anonymously, through a trust. But her purchase made headlines when reporters realized the entity behind the acquisition—Norman’s Nest Trust—was named after her corgi-terrier mix, Norman.
This is perhaps the sole instance in which you do not want to be like Jennifer Aniston. If you’re going to buy through a trust or an LLC, name it something boring, like 123 Wilshire Boulevard, or Greenwich Village Apartment Holdings Limited. Partially because the press has become so skilled at unmasking the celebrities behind LLCs and trusts, many have taken to purchasing homes through proxies, Kirman said. The practice—known as using a “buyer name”—is relatively straightforward. You get some not-famous person to fill out your contract of sale, and they purchase your home, with your money.
As long as your friend isn’t some kind of secret grifter, everything should go down smoothly. It’s best to use someone whom the press can’t connect back to you. Your dad, for instance, would not be a good choice, but your longtime babysitter might.
“Everybody has their own person,” Kirman said. “We have contracts written by random people that we don’t even know who are the signers for the celebrity.” Once you’ve chosen your preferred method of clandestine multimillion-dollar-house buying, your lawyer and business manager will take care of the details. Within a few weeks, you’ll be parking one of your seven Ferraris in the garage at your very own, very nice, very new house!
Step 6: Enjoy It Until You Get Bored, Then Buy Another One
You’ll love your new home at first, of course—but what if things change? What if your kids grow up and you want to downsize? What if you cofound an incomprehensibly successful liquor company and you want to upsize? What if, though you thought buying a $25 million house would make you happier, your life still feels small and meaningless, a vain existence whose daily tortures have proven impossible to escape?
The answer is obvious: Buy another house, baby!
Before you do, you may want to sell your old one. If you’ve been there for a few years, and you followed our advice to buy in a major city, it’s probably worth more than you paid for it. In some cases, Mermelstein said, celebrities like yourself may have even bumped up a property’s value “simply because they’ve lived there.” Call up your business manager, let them know you want to get out of that hellhole you’ve called home for far too long now, and cash out. Then go back to Step 1 of our guide and start the process all over again. The fun never ends!
But maybe selling doesn’t work for you. Maybe you want to hold on to your home for sentimental reasons, or maybe you purchased a property so expensive, there’s no one else around who can afford to buy it right now. In that case, you’ll want to consider renting it out.
That doesn’t mean you’ll have to waste precious moments of your life hounding your tenants for rent, unclogging toilets, and otherwise performing the drudgery required of a landlord. Instead, your business manager will hire a property manager for you, and either collect rent themselves or assign someone else to receive your checks, then funnel that cash to you. Everything involved in renting out your property will be handled with the same discretion that went into buying it. If all goes to plan, your tenants will have no idea you own the home they live in.
“I personally manage two or three homes that are owned by pretty major celebs,” Kirman said. “The tenants don’t know.”
We’re sympathetic to the fact that—even with a gargantuan amount of cash at your disposal and multiple paid employees to do most of the work for you—buying real estate can be stressful. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, just remember: You’re basically a god. You earn more money in a year than most people will see over the course of their entire lifetimes. Now go out there and spend a small fraction of it on a house, champ—you deserve it!