When Jenna Gering and her husband advertised their 2,700-square-foot Hollywood Hills home for rent in 2008, they were surprised when actress Lindsay Lohan showed up at their front door ready to pay the asking price of nearly $10,000 a month.
“We were desperate to rent the house, which was expensive, so we thought, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ ” says Ms. Gering, an actress who currently lives in the house with her family.
About nine months later, the Gering house made national news when it was burglarized. The culprits, dubbed the “Bling Ring,” turned out to be fame-obsessed youths from the San Fernando Valley who used the Internet to locate celebrity homes and steal more than $3 million worth of goods from them in 2008 and 2009. In addition to the residence, homes owned by Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson and others were hit.
The Bling Ring, immortalized in a film directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Emma Watson, left a lasting imprint on the world of Hollywood real estate. Here, security and privacy are primary concerns—agents with famous clients are often required to sign confidentiality agreements—yet the exact locations of celebrity homes are hardly a secret. Encouraging interlopers are celebrity-gossip websites, aggressive paparazzi and reality-television shows, not to mention satellite mapping.
“Celebrity privacy is simply no longer—that’s why everyone in L.A. now has hedges and gates and perimeter beams,” says Jeff Hyland, president of brokerage Hilton & Hyland, which caters to celebrities. The sheer number of people involved in high-profile real-estate transactions—often 30 to 100 people—also contributes to the difficulty of keeping celebrity addresses under wraps, says David Kramer, a broker for Hilton & Hyland who recently listed Jodie Foster’s home.
Between staging companies, inspectors, rival real-estate agents and even neighbors, there’s a lot of potential for loose lips, adds Mr. Kramer. “While there’s no way to shield a celebrity client completely,” Mr. Kramer says, he often deliberately misleads curious observers about the identities of buyers and sellers until a deal is closed. To maintain anonymity, celebrities are encouraged to purchase homes in the name of a trust and appoint a neutral trustee from a generic trust company, since a business manager or a friend can be traced back to the celebrity.
Because the erosion of privacy has created so many security issues for stars, brokers says that high-end gated communities, such as Mulholland Estates and Beverly Park, both located in the coveted 90210 ZIP Code, are increasingly popular with high-profile buyers. Both communities have full-time gatehouse security at their entrances.
And yet, even wrought-iron gates can’t stop the most determined. Paris Hilton’s 7,493-square-foot, Mediterranean-style mansion in Mulholland Estates was robbed repeatedly by the “Bling Ring” shortly after she bought it for $5.9 million in 2007. The teens climbed a hill to evade the gatehouse and found a key left under a mat by the front door to enter the home, according to journalist Nancy Jo Sales’s book on the Bling Ring. The stolen items included “somewhere over $2.5 [million] to $3 million worth of jewelry,” according to Ms. Hilton’s grand-jury testimony.
Ms. Hilton, who still lives in the five-bedroom home with a nightclub room and a stripper pole, says she has added security since the burglaries. “I have new cameras and laser beams. I also now have security guards right outside my house, 24 hours a day,” she says.
But Ms. Hilton says that even with those additional measures, she still feels vulnerable at home. “What happened with the Bling Ring would have never happened 10 years ago—kids would never have been able to find addresses of celebrities so quickly online. Nowadays, everyone knows where everyone is…you’re not safe anywhere.”
Although Ms. Hilton decided to remain in her home—and even allowed Ms. Coppola to film scenes for “The Bling Ring” there—some of the other celebrities targeted by the youths have moved away. In 2010, Brian Austin Green sold the four-bedroom Hollywood Hills house where he and Megan Fox lived to a businessman for $1.8 million, slightly more than the $1.65 million he paid for it in 2001 but well below the $2.395 million he listed it for in 2009. Rachel Bilson sold her white Spanish-style Los Feliz home last year for $2.106 million, a few hundred thousand dollars above the $1.88 million she paid for it in 2006, according to public records.
Ms. Lohan moved out of the Gering home immediately after the burglary. “Her security deposit was three months of rent, which was the remainder on her lease, so we basically shook hands and walked away,” says Ms. Gering. She adds that Ms. Lohan left the house in excellent condition; the only areas of damage were the camera-lens-size holes in the tall hedges that screen the front of the home, left by persistent paparazzi. A spokeswoman said Ms. Lohan wasn’t available to comment.
Earlier this year, Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr decided to rent out the ¾-acre compound in the Outpost Estates neighborhood of Hollywood Hills that the Bling Ring youths burglarized. The gated estate is currently on the market for $18,000 a month, says Venessa Blair, the couple’s broker. Jennifer Mulberg, the broker who sold Mr. Bloom the house in 2007 for $2.75 million, points out one of the downsides to having a well-publicized address: “Even gates and security can’t stop bus tours and paparazzi. When you stand outside that house, every 30 minutes you hear a bus come by with a guide shouting, ‘This is Orlando Bloom’s house,’ over and over again.”
Websites that track where celebrities are buying, selling and renting have proliferated in recent years, making it easier and faster to discover where a high-profile person lives. A search warrant related to the Bling Ring case revealed in November 2009 that one of its members used a website called celebrityaddressaerial.com, as well as TMZ.com and Google Maps, to learn where Hollywood celebrities live.
“I don’t feel responsible for what happened with the Bling Ring at all because there are so many sites like mine out there,” says David Ruppel, 41, a Toronto-based computer programmer who runs celebrityaddressaerial.com, which displays addresses and aerial views of celebrity homes. Mr. Ruppel says that his site, which he began in 2008, has a loyal base of subscribers, mostly Los Angeles-based paparazzi. But he says that other websites provide similar information. “The business of blogging about celebrity real estate has really exploded,” he adds.
That explosion is also fueling bus tours around Los Angeles of celebrity homes. Philip Ferentinos, the director of Starline Tours, one of the largest tour operators, which serves 1.5 million customers annually, says the company has seen a 40% to 50% increase in the number of people taking its movie stars’ home tour compared with five years ago. To cater to that increased demand, the company is now also running a Malibu celebrity house tour, which passes the residences of Leonardo DiCaprio and Adam Sandler, among others.
Publicizing where celebrities live has angered more than a few high-profile people, many of whom move after their address becomes public, brokers say. But they’ve had little success when it comes to suppressing the publication of addresses of their properties, since they’re in public records.
In 2003, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge dismissed an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit Barbra Streisand filed against an environmental activist who had posted an aerial photograph of her Malibu mansion on a website alongside thousands of photographs of the California coastline. That precedent has prevented other celebrities from taking action, says privacy lawyer Neville Johnson. It also led to the “Streisand effect,” says Mr. Johnson, a term now widely used to describe the phenomenon of how fighting to conceal information winds up making it go viral instead.
“Celebrities are very reluctant to do anything about these issues because they’re afraid of bad publicity,” says Mr. Johnson.