Photographer: Zoltan Prepszent/Douglas Elliman Real Estate

Meet the Jerry Maguire of Real Estate

How one high-end broker is cornering the market on athlete mega-mansions.

Most homebuyers are searching for a place to lay down roots. Actors and athletes are different. What if you can plan on only a couple of years’ worth of root-growing before your contract’s up or your show is canceled?

“They’re in an extremely transient business,” says Darren Weiner, managing director of Douglas Elliman’s Sports & Entertainment Division. “There are a lot of nuances and specifics to being in sports and entertainment.”

Elliman, like a number of others, has developed a group that caters to this very select clientele. Cushman & Wakefield has a Sports and Entertainment Group. In Miami, a division at ONE Sotheby’s International Realty caters specifically to such clients, as does Antigen Realty, which Weiner himself founded in 2006 and which serves at the model for all the rest. 

The dining and living area of Deron Williams's Manhattan condo. The three-time NBA All-Star and point guard for the Dallas Mavericks has listed it for $35 million.
The dining and living area of Deron Williams's Manhattan condo. The three-time NBA All-Star and point guard for the Dallas Mavericks has listed it for $35 million.
Photographer: Evan Joseph/Douglas Elliman Real Estate

Life Lessons 

Weiner spent 20 years as a sports and entertainment agent before moving into real estate; he found he was spending the bulk of his time helping clients navigate that world anyway. 

“A lot had of them have their own wealth managers and accountants,” says Weiner, “but there wasn’t one company you could call and say, ‘I’m looking for a property in whichever city or I just got traded and need to relocate, or I’m going to be on a Hollywood shoot for four months in New Orleans—who do I turn to?’”

Darren Weiner, managing director of Douglas Elliman’s Sports & Entertainment Division.
Darren Weiner, managing director of Douglas Elliman’s Sports & Entertainment Division.
Photographer: Tom DiPace

Think of him as a kind of life coach with a real estate license.

For example, a lot of his younger clients rent until their wealth grows and they find stability in their career. (Think 18-year-olds coming into money quickly, the Justin Biebers of the world.) More established clients think not just of purchasing a residence but investing in property—ones they may need to sell quickly if their careers take a sudden turn.

Location, Location, Location

Like every buyer or renter, location matters most. It’s the location priorities that change for pro sports players and entertainers.

They might be angling for an address in a better school district, but proximity to the airport, for all those away games or remote shoots, may be what matters most.

“Some want to be closest to teammates and others don’t,” Weiner says. “They may want to be near the practice facility or stadium, or the stage or set.”

The sport itself affects decisions, too.

New York Ranger Sean Avery has listed his Southampton Village, N.Y., home for $2,399,000. 52 Prospect St. is also available as a $160,000 summer rental.
New York Ranger Sean Avery has listed his Southampton Village, N.Y., home for $2,399,000. 52 Prospect St. is also available as a $160,000 summer rental.
Photographer: Michael Heller/Douglas Elliman Real Estate
Clean and cozy spaces inside 52 Prospect St.
Clean and cozy spaces inside 52 Prospect St.
Photographer: Michael Heller/Douglas Elliman Real Estate

“A lot of baseball players make their off-season homes in Arizona and Florida, simply because that’s where spring training is,” says Erik Gunther, senior editor at Realtor.com, who covers celebrity and unique homes. “Football players tend to buy close to where they went to college or where they grew up, or tend to congregate in Florida, too.” Gunther has yet to find any pattern in basketball players’ homes.

Weiner adds that athletes may also choose a primary residence because of low income taxes, as in Texas and Nevada (while maintaining a second or even third residence for spring training and in-season months). It’s no surprise that those in entertainment tend to roost in Southern California or New York, but they also snatch up real estate in Nashville or South Florida.

Johnny Lopez's Key Biscayne, Fla., mansion, with private dock, is on the market for $21 million. Lopez is a film producer and co-owner of the Detroit Pistons.
Johnny Lopez's Key Biscayne, Fla., mansion, with private dock, is on the market for $21 million. Lopez is a film producer and co-owner of the Detroit Pistons.
Photographer: Zoltan Prepszent/Douglas Elliman Real Estate

MVP Amenities

As for the homes themselves, a few things seem to draw these types of clients.

  1. Security: “Some of them had bad experiences,” says Weiner. “Coaches and general managers would come home to find a ‘for sale’ sign or dead animal in the backyard.” Fanatical fans may make for a good season, but they can be bad neighbors, so gated communities are a draw.
  2. Opulence: “If they’ve just signed a new contract, they want something that speaks to their newfound wealth,” says Gunther. “Players tend to want something newer, something built within the last 10 years.”
  3. Home theaters: “They use screening rooms to watch dailies or break down games,” says Weiner.
  4. Shoe closets: Gunther has noticed this trend in the homes of athletes to house sneaker collections.

Beyond such generic features as a home theater, Weiner cautions players to renovate and decorate, or to buy with a future sale in mind.

“Sometimes the homes have been customized too much,” he says. “They’ve personalized them with murals of themselves or inlays with their initials in the floors or the pool. In the garage, I’ve seen private rooms set up like nightclubs, with DJ booths and dance poles.”

“With all unique homes, if it’s too much of one person’s vision it’s hard to find a buyer,” says Gunther. “If someone’s spending many millions of dollars, they want it to be their own vision, not somebody else’s.”

The open dining, living, patio, and pool area of Lopez's Florida home.
The open dining, living, patio, and pool area of Lopez's Florida home.
Photographer: Zoltan Prepszent/Douglas Elliman Real Estate

Off the Record

On the brokerage side, cultivating a list of private listings is key.

“There’s a fair share of purchases and sales that are off-market transactions,” Weiner says. These are high-profile people who might not want their names in the papers or pictures of their homes splashed across the Internet.

Weiner estimates that 20 percent of his transactions are whisper listings, and he employs former executives in the NHL and NFL, a former MLB pitcher, and a fashion model, among others, to maintain an inside track.

He also thinks long term—very long term. These clients may buy and sell over and over again. Weiner’s business is far more about the people than it is about the properties.

A bedroom at Deron William's Manhattan condo comes with a putting station.
A bedroom at Deron William's Manhattan condo comes with a putting station.
Photographer: Evan Joseph/Douglas Elliman Real Estate

“Three years later, they may need you again,” says Weiner. “We don’t just try to make a big buck.”

The typical brokerage model includes a buyer connecting with local agent. “This industry is very hyper-local and fragmented,” says Weiner, so the network includes agents across the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. The local agent may change, but the agency won’t.

And most of these clients come with teams of their own, teams that need to be included in the unfolding history. “One thing we really work on and have a lot of experience in is working with their advisers, wealth managers, and attorneys,” says Weiner.

Exit Strategy

In the end, pro athletes and those in the entertainment industry need to plan for what you can never really plan for: the unexpected. You could be traded, your show could be canceled, you could get injured, or your life could erupt in some kind of scandal that suddenly dampens your career.

“It’s not just a transaction. It’s a long-term plan,” says Weiner. “If there’s one thing we really try to instill in their heads, [real estate] is an exit strategy.”

Another Avery property in Southampton, N.Y., is listed for $3.495 million.
Another Avery property in Southampton, N.Y., is listed for $3.495 million.
Source: Douglas Elliman Real Estate
Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE