When the Celebrity IS the Product Placement ...

When it comes to renting, some celebs -- Nicholas Cage, Jeremy Piven, Billy Crystal, et al -- have become the proverbial well-placed can of Diet Coke.

We're all on to the fact that the Thermador and Bosch appliances belonging to the ladies of Wisteria Lane aren't there by accident; Thermador and Bosch pay good money for you to see their stars alongside the stars of "Desperate Housewives." It's also no secret that celebrities are often gifted designer handbags just so they can be photographed with them. Ditto for pushing their babies in brand-name strollers.

Are you listening, Brangelina?

So it should come as no surprise that product placement has now been extended to real estate, where some developers are giving free or discounted rents, or in the case of condo sales, knocked thousands off the listing price just to be able to send the message that if "Entourage" star Jeremy Piven slept here, you should too.
It was widely speculated that Nick Cage's lease with an option to buy a downtown Los Angeles loft in August 2008 was done with assistance -- although given the actor's recent real estate woes, perhaps not enough of it. What's in it for the developer? The right to pound their chests shouting, "Nick Cage lives here! Nick Cage lives here!" If the rumors are true, developers The Biscuit Company got the benefit of full-priced buyers thinking they'd have Cage as a neighbor. Oh yeah, there was the little matter of the five or so other, much larger, Hollywood homes Cage also owned. But in a city built on illusion and dream-chasing, few questioned whether he would actually pack up and move in.

Is celebrity placement a new practice? Hardly. Back in 2005, the Wall Street Journal reported that Billy Crystal was offered a $200,000 discount on a two-bedroom Long Island condo with beach views because the building's marketing agent thought Crystal's name would help move units. Crystal apparently didn't bite, at least not a publicly recorded bite, although most celebrities don't hold title in their own names just to thwart we nosy folks.

Other celebrities have embraced the practice of taking housing assistance with the fervor of a first-time home buyer flocking to the federal stimulus package's tax credit. "Entourage"'s Piven has helped create buzz around several New York condo buildings, where he stayed for free before eating too much tuna sushi. (Piven, by the way, calls Malibu home and was recently seen looking quite healthy at the Malibu Triathlon. Sources say he did just one leg of the three events, but the man looks pretty good in a sweat.)

Piven stayed for a week in a triplex penthouse at the Prime condo building on Manhattan's West 14th St., listed for sale at $5.9 million. Daren Hornig of SAXA, the building's developer, told the New York Post that Piven was at the Prime for a week while he contemplated purchasing the triplex penthouse. Hornig told me that the two of them are friends. He "just let him stay there. Period." Whatever.

Former Miami Dolphins' quarterback Dan Marino reportedly loaned his throwing arm to pitch the 42-story Las Olas River House condominium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Developer James Helman gave Marino an unspecified discount on a 3,382-square-foot, three-bedroom unit in exchange for Marino's appearance on billboards promoting Las Olas. Dan's the man and all that.

And then there's viva-ka-ching Las Vegas, where nearly every day, some celebrity announces how pleased they are to become a resident of the city that never tells.

Pop stars Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey announced their intention to buy a luxury-condo unit at the Maloof family's Palms Resort and Casino in a news release sent out by the developer. The release quoted the couple saying how much they loved the city. No one talked about whether they received a break on the price, but take that one-along with the mortgage-to the bank.
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