K. David Meit wasn’t surprised when the call came from the super at the high-end New York condo building he managed. The maintenance manager’s message: “Naomi is on the roof conducting a photo shoot.” Of course she is, Meit thought.
Naomi was none other than Naomi Campbell, the supermodel known equally for her explosive temper and tempestuous behavior as her stunning good looks. On that particular day in the summer of 1995, with the help of her German assistant, Naomi had taken over the roof at the building for an impromptu photo shoot. The only problem: She hadn’t reserved the space beforehand. And in a building filled with all sorts of Type A personalities, including Wall Street barons, other celebrities, and socialites, that didn’t sit too well.
So it was up to Meit, now principal at Rockville, Md.-based Oculus Realty, to stop her. He knew the experience wouldn’t be fun. “It was not a big shoot, and they had half a dozen people there,” Meit says. “I just said, ‘You have to shut it down. You can’t be up here. If you want to use the space, you have to go through the management company and reserve it.’ The whole conversation did not go well.”
When it comes to the rich (or famous), effective property management requires more than a focus on amenities and customer service—it requires direct, candid, yet tactful communication. Meit’s story, albeit extreme, indicates that, whether apartment owners want to admit to it or not, celebrities often require special care and services and, most importantly, a heightened focus on privacy.
In New York, Meit was hired to work in a condo building that was already inhabited by a high-end clientele of wealthy owners. But for most apartment owners or managers, the story is somewhat different. Most celebrities—especially politicians and athletes—are only staying in an area for a finite amount of time. As a result, they often choose to rent versus buy. The question is, how do you attract these people?
The first step is often to court their handlers. “Pro sports teams usually have a realtor,” says Mark Fogelman, president and chief operating officer of Memphis-based Fogelman Management Group. “A lot of times these players aren’t looking for permanent housing. Realtors will come to us and ask for some crazy [finder or realtor] fee, which we usually will provide.”
It can pay to get to know the person who handles housing for a sports team. “We have a good contact at the [Washington] Wizards, and we like them to send people our way,” says Karen Kossow, vice president of sales and marketing at McLean, Va.-based Kettler Management. “The first time, maybe it is happenstance. After that, if you do a good job for them, [the team] will come back.”
To get the agents, teams, and realtors who represent a celebrity interested in your property, you have to have certain amenities. After all, the rich and famous won’t go just anywhere.
As with most real estate, location is a good start. “When I managed a property in Cincinnati, it was right beside the ballfield,” says Christy Freeland, chairman of Dallas-based Riverstone Residential. “The team manager, the general manager, and a lot of players lived there.”
If the celebrity is bringing a spouse along, location plays an even bigger role in the decision. “They want a good location so if they’re traveling a lot, [the apartment] is a place where the spouse feels comfortable and can get around easily and have things to do,” Kossow says. “Convenience becomes important when their significant others aren’t on the road with them.”
Indeed, with residents frequently on the road a lot, quality service also plays a huge role. “If they are doing a lot of traveling, there are expectations of how you help them with mail or plants or package delivery,” Freeland says. “If we have 24-hour maintenance, we’d try to ensure that we go the extra mile.”
In addition to a good network of contacts, solid location, and quality service, property managers need to deliver polished amenities and high-end finishes. “It’s a combination of customer service and product because they’ll typically rent penthouses,” Kossow says. “They want the highest level of finishes that are available.”
And in some cases, specific designs can win over celebs. With professional athletes, for example, their bodies often dictate living in certain types of apartments. For instance, in one of his Memphis properties, Fogelman found that high ceilings sealed the deal. “We had a building with a 7-foot basketball player,” Fogelman says. “We had redeveloped a mid-rise that had 12-foot ceilings on the top floor. That was something that fit very well due to the height needs.”
Meit admits that his experience with Campbell was the exception, not the rule. He’s managed buildings where other celebrities—such as Sarah Sarandon and Tim Robbins—lived and acted respectfully. In fact, they rarely demanded attention. They preferred to retain their space and privacy.
“Generally, you’re not going to talk about your residents anyway, but a high-profile resident wants to keep their privacy even more than anything else. They don’t want to be bothered.”
Kossow uses the same discretion, adding that it’s no different from the way she treats other residents. “We don’t release names and apartment numbers,” she says. “We don’t release the fact that they’re living in the building. [That policy] applies to most of our residents.”
If an apartment owner does violate that trust with the resident, the source of the business may go away. “Usually, you’re dealing with the agent,” Fogelman says. “There’s a high level of trust and confidentiality. The second that that’s violated, such as if the office tells someone where a person lives, you lose the ability to attract people like that in the future.”
In New York, the issue of privacy is even heightened with Page 6 and the paparazzi. That’s why Meit emphasized to his employees that they need to avoid gossiping about their residents’ comings and goings (and people they were with).
“It was a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” he says. “You don’t gossip. These people have a life. [The residents] have to trust you with the keys to their castles.”