Skip to main content

Reality show real estate rakes in profit

By Breeanna Hare, CNN
  • Reality shows, however salacious, bring potential renters out in droves
  • But few pieces of reality show real estate stay the same after the show ends
  • The ones that do retain the show's theme and concept charge a hefty rental cost
  • Real estate expert says there's a market for reality property, but it's not lucrative long

(CNN) -- Want to rent the "Jersey Shore" house in Seaside Heights, New Jersey? It'll cost you.

What used to be just one of the many homes along Seaside Heights' stretch of boardwalk is now a prime rental property that can cost as much as $4,000 a night, said the property's broker, Mike Loundy of Seaside Realty.

On the low end, the property rents for $1,800 a night for a three-night minimum, but as availability decreases, the per-night cost will go in the opposite direction, although Loundy is quick to note that the owners are flexible with pricing.

Since production on the reality show wrapped, the house has been rented for a variety of uses, from a Sweet Sixteen bash -- $4,400 total for the night, which included access to the whole house plus a DJ and catering -- to a production set for a few television personalities who thought it would be fun to stay there with cameras of their own.

The house is open for anything that's legal, and business, Loundy said, has been brisk, even for other houses.

"No one that I know of could see how popular the show [has become]," he said. "Our rentals in the area overall are up because they're in proximity to that house. People are star-struck by the idea of staying here."

It's all because MTV chose the place to house Snooki, The Situation and their friends.

In today's age of celebrity worship, a successful reality show is a bit like a fairy godmother. It can turn an ordinary person into a "star" overnight, and it can also take an otherwise standard piece of property and transform it into real estate gold, even in this economy.

Perhaps part of the incentive to empty one's wallet on the "Jersey Shore" house is because it's an opportunity that doesn't come along very often. Out of all the residential reality shows past and present, there aren't many with houses open for the public to live in.

"In Los Angeles, California, there's a huge business of leasing properties for reality shows or television shows, but they're already privately owned homes that are leased out for that period of time," said Mark David, who tracks the buying and selling of celebrity real estate on his blog, Real Estalker.

Typically, the owners will move out for the duration of shooting, the production company makes sure everything is as clean and sanitized as they found it after shooting wraps and the owners collect their payment. As a result, "most of the homes you see [on television] aren't available to begin with," David said.

Occasionally, David added, one of the houses is listed for sale or rent, but they're typically out of reach for those with nonmogul bank accounts. For example, he said, Rihanna recently bought the house used for a season of Paris Hilton's "My New BFF" show for $6.9 million.

The better option for reality show fans who are dying to sleep in the same room as a former participant is to stay in a property tailor-made for more short-term stays, like apartments and hotel suites.

Although most "Real World" properties are either taken over by businesses -- like restaurant chains ("Real World: Austin"), gyms ("Real World: Chicago") and nonprofits ("Real World: Boston") -- others are vacant or simply don't exist anymore, like the "Real World: Hawaii" home. But there are two hotel suites that are still stacking profits from "Real World" fame.

For the Sol Melia ME resort in Cancun, Mexico, where "Real World: Cancun" was filmed, weekend rates range from $5,000 to $7,000 a night on average, said the resort's general manager, Raul Petraglia, but the price isn't deterring customers.

"The show was phenomenal," said Tony Cortizas of Sol Melia's marketing department. "The hotel got unbelievable exposure, as a hotel and a destination." Everything in the suite looks nearly identical to the way it looked on the show, because "the identity of the suite is part and parcel of the show itself," he said.

On "The Real World: Cancun," what went down in the suite was not exactly the perfect PR -- particularly for a company like Sol Melia, which doesn't do any advertising. The company -- which has resort hotels in Cancun and Cabo San Lucas -- has hosted not just "The Real World," but also "The Hills," VH1's "Rock of Love" and "Rock of Love 2," and even Tila Tequila's show.

Associating the Sol Melia brand with those shows is "something that we go back and forth on all the time," said Victoria Martinez, who is part of Sol Melia's public relations team. "But what brings it home for me is that the eyeballs watching the show are different than the cast that's playing out on the TV."

While many hate to admit it, Martinez said, a lot of high-rollers watch these shows.

"And those are the people who are booking. They don't care who was there and who was doing what, they saw it, it resonated and they're booking the trip," she said.

The same goes for The Palms Resort and Casino "Real World" fantasy suite in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is still booking regularly since the show aired in 2002.

"It's going for upwards of $5,000 a night," said Chris Walters, public relations manager for The Palms. "I do suite tours, and it's shocking that people always want to see the 'Real World' suite. I tell them how old it is, and they don't care. It books all the time for private parties and individual guests and still generates a lot of revenue for the hotel."

One of the reality show properties where you will not find homages to the show's participants is at the Atlas, a Midtown Manhattan skyscraper that has been home to "Project Runway's" designers for five of the show's seven seasons.

"Yes, it's a real apartment community," said Katherine Sabroff, vice president of marketing for the Gotham Organization, which owns the building. "The filming has come to be expected and residents know that they're going to have a Heidi Klum sighting. If anything, they embrace it."

Nonetheless, because those are actual apartment homes the Atlas hopes to rent, "Project Runway" is given carte blanche while they're filming, but they have to return all apartment homes to their original condition.

The show has made the Atlas stand out in "the glut of residential buildings in New York," Sabroff said, and at the beginning of every season, they always see an uptick in people from all over the country inquiring about property there, likely because they, too, wouldn't mind having a Klum sighting on their way out the door.

Considering the real estate market these days, the lucrative life span of most reality show property may only last so long.

"Property is property, and in this market, who's going to overpay for anything, especially something as mercurial as a reality show?" Real Estalker's David said. "That's great banter, to say you slept in that house or suite, but it doesn't have any value over time. There's a window of time where you can make money on it, and it closes."

Still, at the moment it doesn't hurt, he said.

"It does create a certain kind of market [because] there's such a desire for celebrity in our culture that when someone leases the 'Jersey Shore' house, it's putting themselves next to a celebrity. It's about saying, 'I slept where Snooki slept,' " he said.