The beaux-arts townhouse on East 62nd Street had been on the market for at least two years, its asking price varying from $31 million to $35 million. Save for the occasional hedge-fund guy, “it wasn’t getting any traffic,” says listing broker Lee Summers of Sotheby’s International Realty. But then in the spring of 2007, Madonna stopped by for a look; this popped up in gossip columns over the next couple of days. (One Website called the house the star’s “favorite.”) Within a month, two parties were bidding on it, and soon after that, the house that wouldn’t sell went into contract—for the full asking price. “It made the property come alive,” admits Summers.
As silly as it seems, the benediction of a boldface name does spike interest. When Lenny Kravitz was reported to be seriously considering Fifth Avenue’s $50 million Duke Semans mansion, Corcoran’s Sharon Baum, who was marketing it, says calls increased. Ditto for the condos at 136 Baxter, after word spread last year that Björk and Moby were eyeing the same penthouse, says representative Arthur Gallego. But although the attention “can certainly raise buzz, I’m not sure it drives traffic to the sales office,” he says. “The trade outreach, the signage, the direct mailing, the [promotional] events were far more helpful.” It took seven more months for the Duke Semans property to sell after the Kravitz connection was established, and it went for $10 million less than the asking price.
It may be that only fame of Material Girl proportions works. Brad Pitt would entice buyers to pick up the phone, suggests Summers, but “if you get a star of Law & Order, say Sam Waterston, it’s not going to happen.” (After one particular C-lister was spotted, a Curbed.com poster named Linda wrote, “Now I want to move to the Atelier, so I can be close to Nick Lachey.”) Or maybe it just doesn’t matter, especially when the property’s pricey. Says Wendy Maitland of Brown Harris Stevens, whose multimillion-dollar Gramercy Park listing reportedly lured Anne Hathaway and her beau, developer Raffaello Follieri, for a look: “I don’t think people who can spend $20 million are that starstruck that they would tour a property just because a movie star was interested.”