Celebs Play Musical Chairs With Hollywood Homes

In the heated Hollywood real estate market, things are status quo -- Jack recently bought Marlon's old pad, newly-single Nick snatched up Heidi and Seal's Bel Air digs, while ex-wife Jessica moved into Ellen's Beverly Hills mansion, the one she bought from an Australian widely known by the prefix "Crocodile."

Last names? They don't need them, which is at least part of the reason they're buying from each other.

Celebrities selling homes among themselves is nothing new, particularly in Los Angeles. In a town where fame and finances shift with the whims of television viewers and box-office receipts, the luxury real estate market fluctuates with the fortunes of the town's entertainment industry.

"Somebody gets a show, somebody loses a show … L.A. is a company town in every sense of the word -- the entertainment industry is really tied to the economics and that's obviously tied to the real estate market," said Dorothy Carter of Sotheby's International Realty in the Los Feliz section of Hollywood.

Carter works with high-end clients in the east Hollywood Hills market that has seen the likes of Madonna, Nicolas Cage and Brad Pitt purchase homes in the past decade. She has completed sales to and from numerous celebrities and said they remain a market-making force for local real estate.

Part of the incestuous appeal of celebrity-to-celebrity transactions lies in the dearth of homes deemed acceptable for both the image and utilitarian needs of the high-profile buyers, Carter said. Gated homes that keep the paparazzi out and still include elaborate toys like movie screening rooms and tennis courts are sometimes hard to come by. Many stars believe they're most likely to find these provisions met in homes owned by people with similar needs.

"The privacy is the big thing, and you're automatically limited in the number of homes that offer the types of things they want and also give them privacy," Carter said.

The Image Factor

The status boost of buying from another celebrity also likely plays a role. Up-and-coming actors and entertainment moguls looking to emulate their Hollywood predecessors may find no better avenue than buying their homes.

Jack Nicholson's purchase of Marlon Brando's $5 million Hollywood home may represent the crowning of a new head of Hollywood royalty. It's a hierarchy-changing move that many younger celebrities and their business managers take into account as they try to mold their images.

"There's an aura factor. If you can own the house of someone who is a bigger star, you're going for the aura and status of that bigger star," said Robert Thompson, a professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University.

Celeb Real Estate Fuels Other Industries

The explosion of celebrity-based media has accelerated the real estate market's image considerations. Thirty years ago, media devoted to celebrity living was limited to small circulation fan magazines and, later, Robin Leach's now quaint "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" television show.

Now the American obsession with celebrity culture has given rise to a booming industry of magazines, shows and even television networks devoted to stars' lifestyles. Today's celebrities are likely to feel more pressure to live up to the movie star lives that fans expect of them, leading many to think of their homes as just another accessory, Thompson said.

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