Redfin has been teaming up with the luxury real estate experts over at the Los Angeles Times to give you a closer look at the opulent lifestyles of the rich and famous. Lauren Beale and Neal Leitereg report for the widely read Hot Property section at the Times, a section dedicated to the “best of” when it comes to the most coveted real estate eye candy, whether owned by a star or designed by a starchitect. We are closing the series with this last Q&A with Lauren and her thoughts on the transformation of the celebrity real estate landscape and media coverage over the years. Take a look!
It seems like the lifestyles of the rich and famous have always been of interest to the general public. Ruth Ryon first created the L.A. Times’ “Hot Property” column in 1984, with a focus on celebrities buying and selling homes. How do you think interest in celebrity real estate news has changed over the years?
Initially Hot Property was novel, plus it made sense for a newspaper with so much entertainment coverage. There were gossip columns and tabloids out there but this was something different — a weekly collection of items from a reporter working a beat, making contacts and cultivating sources. The column was the right idea in the right place — Hollywood, the entertainment capital of the world, where celebrities generally want to keep their name in the news. Los Angeles had a thirst for this type of information. Plus, the timing was right. The TV series “Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous” also started that year and aired for nearly a decade. There was interest in this type of information.
Looking at it now, three decades later, I think the imitators were somewhat slow to catch on. Among the notables, the Wall Street Journal started their Private Properties feature. The Chicago Tribune had their Big Time Listings report. Information about celebrity real estate spread as papers across the country picked up Hot Property through the Times news service. Then about a decade ago the whole genre just took off online.
Unfortunately, from my standpoint as a journalist, I’m not sure Internet readers are as concerned with accuracy as news readers in general. But more concerning, a lot of readers don’t discern between outlets that produce news and those that just regurgitate or aggregate it. The reporting standards at some websites purporting to cover this beat are lacking. I think Variety was smart to add Mark David’s Real Estalker to their mix. Sure he has fun writing in his Your Mama persona, but he rarely gets the story wrong and gets his share of scoops.
The digital age has impacted all areas of the media landscape, especially in the last 10 years. Can you talk about the evolution of resources available to you since you first started in the industry?
The information revolution has made this job so much easier. With the right password, Multiple Listing Service and public records information can be at a reporter’s fingertips. There’s no need to trek down to the assessor’s office and sift through files.
Has Twitter changed the way you do your job?
Not yet, although I do sometimes receive tips sent through direct message. I’m actually surprised more real estate agents are not active on Twitter. But Twitter does matter. I followed it recently for the latest updates on the “ghost plane” that crashed near Jamaica. Twitter is fast.
Has your smartphone become an essential tool for work?
Yes. Text messages will often get a response faster than a phone call or an email. I use them sparingly among valued sources.
How have you used other social media platforms to get the scoop on celebrity real estate stories?
I really don’t. There is a lot of misinformation on the Web. I stay aware of breaking stories this way but I’m still a reporter. I’m developing sources and checking property records to get the scoop. I will consult Facebook and LinkedIn sometimes for background information.
We’d love to know about the first big story you broke in celebrity real estate. How did that happen and what was that like?
One of the early stories that I “owned” was when LAPD Police Chief William Bratton put his house up for sale. I couldn’t sleep and got up at 4 a.m. to check property records. There was the listing of his house — owned with his wife Rikki Klieman. I emailed the real estate agent at 0-dark-30 for photos and asked why they were selling. It was the first inkling that he would be leaving Los Angeles. I had the item ready before my editor had his first cup of coffee.
NOTE: William Bratton is the current New York City Police Commissioner.
What’s the craziest thing you have ever done to break a story?
If by crazy you mean seemingly fruitless and boring, then it was schlepping out to the L.A. County Courthouse when Nicolas Cage’s Bel-Air Tudor was foreclosed upon. No other press turned out and no one bid on his house yet I ended up with one of the most read stories of the year.
What’s your favorite part about covering celebrity real estate?
Getting the scoop is still an adrenaline rush whether it’s through a records discovery or a covert phone call.
Have you ever made friends with any celebrities because of your work?
No. I’m a step removed from the celebrities themselves, dealing almost entirely with real estate agents.
We understand that the “Hot Property” section is now publishing a #ThrowbackThursday section. We’d love to hear about your favorite home from the past.
I think you already have. The Nic Cage house, built in 1940, had hidden rooms and staircases, plus a tower (see below). Singer Tom Jones and crooner Dean Martin were among previous owners. Plus, Cage decorated it in quite an individual style during his tenure. I quoted real estate agent Bret Parsons as describing the interiors as “frat house bordello” and the phrase became a searched term on Google.
But homes themselves are getting to be more and more fun. I recently toured an $85 million home in Beverly Hills that had a $200,000 candy room (see below).
Lauren Beale is the Hot Property columnist for the Los Angeles Times, covering the celebrity real estate beat for the Business section. A veteran of The Times, she was the real estate editor from 2000 to 2008.