Annie Leibovitz Keeps Her Homes

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At a time when a growing army of Americans face the cold, harsh reality of foreclosure, celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz managed to work a deal allowing her to hold on to not one, but four different chunks of real estate: three brownstones in Manhattan's Greenwich Village and a rather large property in Rhinebeck, New York. This must be the grand-momma of all modification deals!

Not long ago, it looked as if the big-spending, in-hock-up-to-her-ears photographer would lose not only her properties, but the rights to her photographs as well. Then, back in September, she renegotiated a $24 million loan with Art Capital, although still risked losing control of her assets, which were put up as collateral.

Now, Colony Capital, an L.A.-based private-equity that specializes in distressed real estate, has agreed to take over all of the debt and, as part of the deal, will help Leibovitz market her famous pictures, according to the Financial Times and others.

Well, OK, it wasn't actually a mortgage modification, but it's a whopper of a deal for Annie.

And, she gets to keep her four homes. Taken together, the properties could fetch some $40 million in a sale, according to estimates. Colony is no slouch when it comes to sniffing out a potentially lucrative deal: it helped Michael Jackson out of a pinch in 2008, and ended up with rights to the late performer's Neverland ranch.

While most Americans probably can't identify with someone of Leibovitz's fame and apparently spent fortune, they can understand what it is like to be screwed by real estate. For most ordinary people, houses that are now worth far less than their mortgages are the cause of much financial distress.

For Leibovitz, the problem began, to a large degree, after she purchased real estate properties and spent lots and lots and lots of money on renovations. BusinessWeek points out that, "from 1999 to 2008, Leibovitz borrowed and refinanced more than a dozen loans, using her real estate assets as collateral..."

Well, we all know what happened to the value of most real estate holdings these past few years! No wonder Leibovitz was underwater. Hell, she was so far underwater, she might as well have bought the wreck of the Titanic and set up her photo studio in one of its cabins.

The FT quotes Leibovitz as saying of her new deal with Colony Capital, "We will be working on new projects and I will have the support and freedom necessary for nurturing my work and preserving my archive."

Well, good for her! And, what about you? Will YOU be able to swing a deal that will allow you to hold on to your home, er homes, while being able to nurture your own work and life? Oh, come now.

Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time to Think: The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." He has written about real estate related issues for several years.
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