Psst. George Clooney Is Selling His Villa!

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George Clooney's house in Lake Como, ItalyGeorge Clooney quickly quashed rumors that his villa in the waterside Italian village of Laglio is up for sale, but posh Lake Como could still benefit from a boost in property sales or summer rentals.

News agencies around the world from ABC News to The Telegraph reported this week that Clooney's Villa Oleander was selling for $30 million. Adding further drama, reports had it that soccer celeb David Beckham and a Russian vodka magnate were in a bidding war for the lakeside home that once belonged to the Heinz family. The Russian billionaire, Rustam Tariko, had already offered full price, according to some media outlets, while others reported that Tariko was willing to pay more than list price -- to the tune of $45 million.

And that's where the tale gets unreal. Who would overpay like that in this economy, regardless of how fat their bank account is or the amount of diamonds in a suitcase? Sounds more like a clever PR stunt, involving prominent personalities on three continents, ensuring the news would spread globally. And who's to benefit from the story? Lake Como, of course. That is, provided you believe Clooney. This time last year he lied about Beckham's interest in his home.

The Beckhams did borrow Clooney's home last year when the soccer star was negotiating a contract with his now-team AC Milan, Luxist reported at the time. When the rental news was widely reported in late February 2009, Clooney's people quickly issued a statement denying that one too. A spokesperson at the time declared: "One hundred percent not true. He is not renting the house to anyone, and that would include, David." Ultimately, Beckham did stay at the villa, maybe he just didn't pay rent.

George ClooneyIn a statement this week about whether or not his villa is for sale, Clooney said, "the story was made up, then picked up and now denied. End of another riveting day of false news." Tariko has also denied the rumors, reported the Moscow Times. No word yet from Beckham.

There's no inkling yet of how the rumor started, so we can't be sure who is and isn't telling the truth. But it sure would be a great publicity stunt for Lake Como if the latest news were orchestrated by its tourism bureau or public relations arm.

After Clooney bought the home in 2002 for a reported $8 million, real estate in the prestigious vacation area spiked with the so-called "Clooney effect."

Property values spiked after Clooney purchased the home, but even the toney lake resport is not immune to the recession: prices for Lake Como hit a 5-year low last year, reported Italy Magazine. On the Como side of the Lake, prices went down by about 10 percent to about $7,500 - $9,700 per square meter for a lakeside flat in posh Cernobbio, and $6,000 - $9,000 for a waterside home in neighboring Laglio, where Clooney's home sits. Premium homes on Lake Como have held their value far better than those further down the property ladder, Carla Passino wrote.

Lake Como had also been fading in the limelight as neighboring Lake Iseo, almost unheard of beyond the country's borders, began receiving more local attention. Iseo vacation homes are just as enticing, many with exquisite lake views. There is one crucial difference: they are much more affordable, reported the Finance Article Directory.

"We're advising our clients who are looking at the Lakes to certainly take a look at Iseo. It's an area that is relatively unknown, untainted by overwhelming numbers of visitors and within good vicinity of a clutch of airports as well as the Swiss border. We believe real estate values here can only go up in the next few years," Stef Russo, head of Italian property search specialists The Property Organiser was quoted as saying.

Home prices have kept their value better than homes in other Lake towns, falling just 2 percent, wrote Adriana Giglioli for the Finance Article Directory.

Lake Iseo is the country's seventh largest and Lake Como is the third largest. It was further reported that unless the economy deteriorates dramatically, the Italian property market is likely to stabilize at 2009 levels, with top-end homes performing well while those at the lower end experience a greater drop in prices and sale volumes.

But if the "Clooney Effect" holds water, Lake Como might just see its prices rise above sea level.

Sheree R. Curry is an award-winning business journalist who resides in a Minneapolis suburb.


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