Rent to the Movies: Is Your House a Star?

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The housing market may still be in the tank, but business is booming for location scouts who've found a way to put homes to work as settings for TV shows, films, and commercials.

Here are some real numbers: On Long Island, N.Y., the right house can earn anywhere from $1,500 to $7,000 a day. No word on whether "Law & Order"-style blood-and-guts scenes warrant a price bump.

For 20 years, Long Island scout Debbie Regan has maintained a database of more than 5,000 area homes-for-hire. She's booked houses, including her own, on shows that include "The Good Wife" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," and in commercials for brands like JC Penney and Reebok. Next week, celebrity chef Sara Moulton will film an ad for Mission Foods' tortillas in one of Regan's listings.

"It's a good way to offset expenses," says Regan. "We're always putting money into our homes. It's about time your home starts giving back!"

But can anyone's home earn Hollywood bucks?


As HousingWatch reported in April, possibly yes. And Regan says business has never been better. She used to solicit homeowners, seeking the perfect backdrop for, say, a Brooks Brothers catalog shoot. Now, she says, eager owners come to her. "Quite honestly, I can't keep up," she said. "I have e-mails from literally all over the world."

A recent shoot for the film "The Oranges," starring Catherine Keener and Hugh Laurie, transformed Regan's own 1907 home in Old Westbury into a bed-and-breakfast. The seven-bedroom colonial recently went on the market and, she said, "100 percent, its screen experience will be part of my broker's marketing plan."

Meanwhile, the video sales brochure for new properties in Stone Hill at Muttontown, a tony Long Island development, name-checks Angelina Jolie and Robert De Niro, who filmed part of "The Good Shepherd" in one of its houses.

That your house should qualify for a SAG card might make for a nice conversation starter, but whether or not screen cred improves home values -- or facilitates fatter selling prices -- is tough to prove, said Regan.

Though celebrity might have enticed buyers in the past, such high-value, often highly personalized homes become harder sells in a down market. Actor Scott Caan recently put his Laurel Canyon home on the market for less than 10 percent more than he paid for it in 2006. And many others, including Uma Thurman, who recently listed her New York City townhouse for $14.2 million, don't even advertise famous ownership, which can encourage more gawkers than genuine buyers.

Still, a little celebrity can't hurt a house, can it? One of Regan's former clients, Elizabeth Sehring, has booked her five-bedroom Sea Cliff Victorian in commercials for Hallmark, Folgers, and Healthy Choice. It has also put in time on the TLC show "American Chopper." As Sehring told The New York Times, "my house has a better resume than I do."

What's more, it paid for its own newly remodeled master bath.
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