Celebs reborn in real estate
Rob VanWinkle, also known as Vanilla Ice, is among the celebrities who are making a second career in the housing market.
Rob VanWinkle, a Florida based real estate developer, says he likes to inject his own "flavor" into the homes he builds and renovates. For a house in Lake Worth, Fla., he has installed an infinity pool with glow-in-the-dark tiles meant to look like a starry sky, as well as a roughly 250-foot-long lakefront beach with sand from Key West. There is also a swim-up bar lighted with fiber optics and a Jacuzzi that seats 25.
"The same passion that I would use to make my music, I apply to what I'm doing now," says Mr. VanWinkle, 46, who is better known as the 1990s rap star Vanilla Ice.
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While he still performs, Mr. VanWinkle these days is just as likely to be found swinging a hammer or mucking out swimming pools. He says he bought the Lake Worth house for about $630,000; the newly renovated house, with six bedrooms and 4.5 baths, will be listed for somewhere between $1.5 million and $2 million.
Mr. VanWinkle is one of a number of celebrities for whom real estate has become a second act. Real estate and celebrity frequently go hand-in-hand, and house-flipping has long been a common occurrence in Hollywood circles, with the likes of Ellen DeGeneres and Diane Keaton known for their profitable resales.
"People who are creative — they like to take something and make it what other people didn't see," says Kurt Rappaport, co-founder of Southern California-based Westside Estate Agency, who has represented Ms. DeGeneres and other celebrities.
And for actors, musicians and sports figures whose first careers are largely in the rearview mirror, real estate can become a full-time job. What often starts as a home improvement project can turn into a career, especially since fame and connections — and access to startup capital — give celebrities advantages in real estate, even many years after the height of their stardom.
Eugene Schneur, who co-founded real estate development company Omni New York with former Red Sox star Mo Vaughn in 2004, says his partner's fame was crucial to getting the company off the ground. Neither one had any experience in real estate development when Mr. Vaughn approached Mr. Schneur with the idea of building affordable housing.
"I knew I wasn't going to be able to play ball forever," says Mr. Vaughn.
Luckily, the first baseman's fame helped them gain entree into the real estate world. "Early on, I was like, 'OK, we can pretty much get a meeting where we want as long as Mo shows up,'" Mr. Schneur says. Omni now owns some 7,800 units of affordable housing at 34 sites, most of them in New York City, and has over 400 employees.
Jonathan Roth, president of Canyon Capital Realty Advisors, reported a similar experience working with retired basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson on real estate development in urban markets. "Everyone will take Earvin's call," says Mr. Roth. One of their projects is the under-construction One Santa Fe, a $160 million mixed use project in Los Angeles, with 438 apartments and 78,620 square feet of office and retail space.
Many celebrities get their first taste of the real estate business by working on their own homes. That was the case for David Charvet, a developer of high-end homes in Malibu, Calif. Now 41, Mr. Charvet played lifeguard Matt Brody on "Baywatch" and appeared on the 1990s drama "Melrose Place." The native Frenchman is also a singer-songwriter who has released several albums outside the U.S.
Mr. Charvet became interested in real estate while building a roughly 7,000-square-foot house for his family in Malibu. After the home was completed in about 2007, he joined forces with his contractor, Nathan Jones of Jones Builders Group. They have worked on about 22 spec and custom homes in the past two years.
Mr. Charvet says his company is working on six homes. One of them, a 14,000-square-foot home with eight bedrooms and 10 bathrooms, has a theater, a dance studio, tennis court, basketball court, a recording studio, a pool and four fountains. The house started out as a spec home, but Mr. Charvet says his wife, TV personality Brooke Burke-Charvet, "fell kind of in love with it," so the family is planning to move in. Nonetheless Mr. Charvet said the home is available for $18 million to $20 million.
Baseball player Alex Rodriguez is also getting serious about real estate. The Yankees slugger who is serving a yearlong ban for violating the league's drug policy is a co-founder of construction company Newport Property Construction, and used the company to build the Miami Beach home he sold in May 2013 for $30 million. The company also completed the renovation of Mr. Rodriguez's 1,725-square-foot, three-bedroom unit at the Mei condominium in Miami Beach, which he sold for $2.575 million roughly a year after buying it for $2.1 million.
Having a famous name attached to the property can make marketing it much easier, says Mauricio Umansky, co-founder of the Agency, especially for celebrities who have developed a reputation for their real estate savvy. But celebrity status alone doesn't make up for lack of taste or an unimpressive property, says Mr. Umansky, himself a minor celebrity because of his appearances on "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills."
And a celebrity owner can be a double-edged sword, he adds, drawing gawkers who aren't serious buyers. That was a problem when he was marketing the former Holmby Hills home of pop star Michael Jackson: "People just wanted to see where Michael Jackson died," he says.
Despite their fame and sometimes because of it, celebrities often have to work harder to be taken seriously.
Mr. VanWinkle says he's worked on more than 50 homes, and real estate has even helped him regain some of the limelight. He stars on two real estate-based reality shows — "the Vanilla Ice Project" and "Vanilla Ice Goes Amish" — on the DIY Network. While Mr. VanWinkle embraces his "Vanilla Ice" persona on the show, slipping into rhymes every so often ("we can turn these places from zero to hero"), he says he keeps the rap moniker out of the marketing of his houses, because wants to let the work speak for itself.
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