Celebrities on the real estate ropes

HollywoodWe go to the movies to forget our troubles, don't we? But increasingly, our celluloid heroes (how's that for a dated reference?) are providing us with daily reminders that they are, in fact, mere mortals falling victim to the same housing free-fall that keeps the rest of us up at night.

Every day seems to bring another case of a Hollywood star listing a house for less than what was paid, or worse, being foreclosed upon. Ouch. Being an idol, American or otherwise, is apparently not recession-proof.

Today we learned that Mike Ovitz, a former Hollywood power player perhaps best-known for terrorizing anyone who got in his way, has listed his 13,000-square-foot Brentwood estate at $8.5 million -- the same home he priced on the market at $14,950,000 in December 2008.

For those lacking the math skills or possessing the requisite number of fingers, that's a $6.5 million price chop from 14 months ago. Even when a mean guy falls upon the rocks, it behooves us to refrain from doing the Snoopy Happy Dance. Bad karma and all.

Sharon Stone also is poised to take a dive on a Beverly Hills home she bought for $10,995,109 in March 2006. She has it on the market now at $8,995,000 and most likely has her fingers crossed the way her legs once were in "Basic Instinct." The knife twist here is that Stone never even lived in the house. She re-listed it four months after buying it at $12.5 million, no doubt hoping to flip it for a fast profit. We all know how well that worked out.

The list continues. Scarlett Johansson's Hollywood Hills villa is on the market for about $2.5 million less than what she paid for it in May of 2007. Zillow says she forked over $7 million; it is now listed at $4.59 million. Since Forbes Magazine estimated her 2007 earnings at $5 million and listed her among the top paid young starlets, I am unprepared to shed tears for her realty loss.

But grim the celebrity picture is indeed. In the month of February alone, celebrity real estate hounds have written on the real estate losses -- endured or anticipated -- by Ashlee Simpson in Beverly Hills, Beck in Malibu and Lil Wayne in Miami. And we won't even touch Nic Cage's real estate and tax woes.

Of course some celebrities are on the receiving end of some pretty good deals these days too. Retired tennis stud Pete Sampras recently picked himself up a newly built Brentwood home for $5.6 million, which had been listed at $6,995,000. Sampras, no stranger to hard bargaining in this real estate market, had a Beverly Hills home on the market in 2008 for $25 million that eventually sold for $16,980,000 to "Will & Grace" creator Max Mutchnick. Sampras had bought the place in 2001 for $8.3 million. And ever the optimistic home-flipper, Sampras recently listed his newly built Lake Sherwood home at $25 million.

So what's the bottom line? The high-end realty market has taken hits along with the rest of it. And celebrity ownership hasn't meant diddly-squat in terms of sales. Just ask Ed McMahon.
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