Capote slept here. Does an owner’s fame impact the sale price of a home?

August 12, 2010

by Iyna Bort Caruso

This spring, a Greek Revival townhouse went on the market in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., for $18 million. It has 11 bedrooms, 11 fireplaces, a wine cellar and a famous former tenant — Truman Capote. The author wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s while renting a basement apartment there, and the cachet associated with the one-time inhabitant adds sheen to an already illustrious listing.

How prominently does a home with a celebrated provenance figure into market buzz? And, more importantly, how does it impact the property’s value and saleability? 


Potentially quite a bit, according to Jan Milligan of Sotheby’s International Realty in Greenwich, Conn. Celebrated figures can increase a property’s value. In one instance, Milligan notes a home in her area sold at a 30% premium because of the owner’s fame. “It was a very prestigious name that made a real statement,” she says. Higher visibility, however, doesn’t always translate into higher values. “Ultimately, a property’s worth is still determined by factors such as location, quality and design.”    

Greenwich is less than an hour from New York City and the territory, which ranges from horse country to waterfront estates, attracts professional athletes, film actors, recording artists, entertainers and network news correspondents. “They like it here because people respect their privacy. They feel comfortable walking around town,” Milligan says.

Understandably, many homeowners of note prefer to keep their identities under the radar when putting their houses on the market, working stealthily through attorneys or other third-party representatives. Yet despite their best efforts, news often finds its way into social columns and real estate blogs.

That was the case involving the one-time home of actress Lee Remick. She died in 1991 and her husband, the British film producer Kip Gowans, eventually put the house up for sale. Jack Largay of Sotheby’s International Realty in Osterville, Mass., represented the property, which closed in June for $4.5 million. Largay says no advertising of the Georgian Colonial home was linked to the actress, but when an article appeared in a local newspaper tying Remick to the home, it made the phone ring.

In the end it was not the Remick connection that sold the home. The individual who purchased it had an emotional attachment to the house that had everything to do with family and little to do with celebrity: the home had once belonged to his grandfather.

On the other hand, some celebrities choose to use their fame to generate more demand. “The more well-known you are, the greater the exposure,” says Milligan, noting that one iconic American designer put his Connecticut home up for sale and “allowed us to use his name for the reason that it opened a lot of doors.” While it was on the market, the estate was featured in magazine spreads around the world. “All of this is free advertising. If a celebrity will allow it, it is a positive,” Milligan says. Browsers are screened to weed out the merely curious and prevent voyeur showings.

Bragging rights certainly play a role in coveting a celebrity home, but few people are willing to spend seven or eight figures just for the sake of a good story to tell over cocktails. For homeowner Gregg Rapp, his real estate purchase was more about being awestruck by the architecture than star-struck by its former owner. Rapp resides in the established celebrity magnet of Palm Springs, Calif., where the likes of Steve McQueen, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Elvis Presley and Liberace once lived and reigned. Four years ago, Rapp bought the 8,000-square-foot estate built by William Holden. The late Oscar-winning actor had the home designed in a way to show off his vast primitive art collection. It even included a gallery where Holden sold works acquired during his travels through Africa.

Rapp recently put the house on the market at a price of $5.5 million. When he bought the four-bedroom home, located in a gated mountainside enclave, he was intent on recapturing the “spirit of the era,” he says. Rapp worked with Holden’s architect, Hugh Kaptur, and the actor’s former girlfriend, Stephanie Powers, “to help me figure out what was original to preserve the house as it once looked.” He undid changes the most recent owners of the house had made and “restored” it to vintage 1977 — the year Holden completed it.

It’s the African-inspired touches, like the beautiful hand-carved doors and the acacia trees Holden grew from seeds he brought back from his global travels, that first drew Rapp to the property, but he admits the Holden association “adds to it. It’s pretty cool, especially the more I learn about him.” He even has some of Holden’s personal effects and collected artifacts.

Buying the home of an actor, author, president or poet is about buying that connection. It’s the reason Rapp returned his home back to Holden’s vision. And it’s a reason why many buyers are anxious to acquire the furnishings of the famous owner as well. Otherwise, says Milligan, “when they move out, all you have are walls and wallpaper.”


  1. Being in Atlanta where there are considerably less celebrities than a place like New York or California, I think home buyers place a bit more value on the wow factor of a celebrity having lived in their home.

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