Why Stars Are Renting Out Their Homes for Dirt Cheap
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Why Stars Are Renting Out Their Homes for Dirt Cheap

A-listers are becoming short-term rental hosts. But you might have to sign an NDA or stay in a celeb’s sneaker closet.

By ASHLEY WONG
Tue, Nov 28, 2023 8:37amGrey Clock 3 min

Martha Stewart’s 150-plus-acre property in Bedford, N.Y., includes a farm with horse stables and a chicken coop, a fruit orchard, a peacock pen and seven stately houses.

One of the abodes opened for a night’s stay this month.

The domestic goddess is among the A-listers, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Mariah Carey, putting their estates or penthouses up for short-term stays on rental sites such as Airbnb and Booking.com for nominal fees or no cost at all.

“It is a very pleasant weekend in the country,” Stewart said in an interview.

Why would a celebrity invite strangers to traipse through their home? Rental companies can use the attention to reach new audiences and distract from public criticism over hassles such as rising fees. Luminaries can promote their own brands, and guests get to briefly live like a star, in a highly orchestrated way.

Stewart said she had never used Booking.com or Airbnb for her own travel, and was intrigued by what the experience would be like as the homeowner. She recently announced that one of her farmhouse’s residences—her “tenant house”—in Bedford, would be bookable for two guests for one night starting Nov. 18. The Thanksgiving-themed overnight (Thanksgiving is among her favourite holidays) included a guided tour of the farm, a wreath-making class and a brunch with Stewart herself.

In keeping with the holiday vibe, the getaway was priced at $11.23, as in Nov. 23, this year’s Thanksgiving date.

The two-bedroom cottage where her guests stayed is always prepared for visitors, she said. (Of course it is.) That meant she didn’t have to worry about removing personal items, and she was unfazed about opening her home to people she didn’t know.

But don’t expect to post all over Facebook about your stay at Martha’s. Booking.com said celebrities can ask their guests to sign nondisclosure agreements, something Stewart required for hers. What exactly it is like to spend a night in any of these VIP homes will likely remain rarefied knowledge.

Celebrities are compensated for the home stays; Leslie Cafferty, Booking.com’s chief communications officer, declined to disclose how much.

People have long had a voyeuristic fascination with the lifestyles of the rich and famous. In Los Angeles, companies compete to offer celebrity-home tours, where passengers crane to see mansions behind gates and humongous hedges while sitting in faraway buses. Dwellings with even a patina of historic relevance draw fans. “George Washington slept here!” says a title for one Virginia farmhouse on Airbnb. (Wrote one reviewer: “This is a beautiful old home with wonderfully scenic views. There are horses, donkeys, and the oddest assortment of charismatic dogs.”)

Some can even be enthralled to sleep in a dorm room—if it once housed American royalty-turned-U. S.-president. At Harvard University, visiting politicians and notable figures including actor Alec Baldwin have stayed overnight at John F. Kennedy’s senior-year dorm suite, though it hasn’t been available for personal use for several years.

Companies such as Airbnb have faced scrutiny over soaring cleaning fees and host demands. In September, New York City began cracking down on short-term rentals by requiring hosts to register with the city and meet multiple requirements, such as not renting out an entire property. During a recent travel-industry event, Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky acknowledged seeing thousands of complaints on social media about rising rental costs.

The inexpensive and publicity-drawing celebrity home stays are one of several ways short-term rental companies are marketing to new hosts and guests.

Earlier this year, Paltrow invited guests to spend the night at her Montecito, Calif., home free of charge through Airbnb. The sunny, white-marbled rental featured a bathroom filled with products from Goop, Paltrow’s lifestyle company, and activities such as transcendental meditation. Through Airbnb, Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis opened up their Santa Barbara beach house. The stars greeted their guests personally, and Kutcher documented part of their stay on his Instagram. Airbnb declined to comment.

Those who walk through the doors of a celebrity-anointed home might wonder: Should they expect to see family photos, or Paltrow’s personal trinkets hanging on the walls? And do they really get the run of the whole house?

That is up to the stars, Cafferty said. The entirety of Stewart’s guesthouse is available for the duration of the guests’ stay. Carey, the queen of Christmas, opened both her New York City penthouse and her rental home in Beverly Hills, Calif., to fans via Booking.com—yet Carey’s penthouse was only available for a cocktail hour; her guests stayed overnight at The Plaza Hotel.

Producer DJ Khaled opened only one room of his Miami house for Airbnb—his sneaker closet. To be fair, his sneaker closet doesn’t look like your sneaker closet. His is the size of a small dorm room, large enough for a bed for two, a shoeshine station and floor-to-ceiling sneakers (which guests weren’t allowed to touch). This was bookable last year for $11.

One of the guests who spent the night with DJ Khaled’s shoes wrote that the stay came with a free sneaker-shopping trip and chauffeurs, deeming it “an experience from start to finish.” No word on how the sneaker closet smelled, though the reviewer called it “immaculate.”

Sarah Jessica Parker invited two guests to her Hamptons home via Booking.com. It came with access to a crystal-blue private beach, a free pair of heels from Parker’s shoe line and reservations at some of her favorite local restaurants (though no appearance from Parker herself). Her rental went up for $19.98—priced for the year “Sex and the City” premiered.



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Hong Kong Takes Drastic Action to Avert Property Slump

The city’s real-estate market has been hurt by high interest rates and mainland China’s economic slowdown

By ELAINE YU
Fri, Mar 1, 2024 3 min

Hong Kong has taken a bold step to ease a real-estate slump, scrapping a series of property taxes in an effort to turn around a market that is often seen as a proxy for the city’s beleaguered economy.

The government has removed longstanding property taxes that were imposed on nonpermanent residents, those buying a second home, or people reselling a property within two years after buying, Financial Secretary Paul Chan said in his annual budget speech on Wednesday.

The move is an attempt to revive a property market that is still one of the most expensive in the world, but that has been badly shaken by social unrest, the fallout of the government’s strict approach to containing Covid-19 and the slowdown of China’s economy . Hong Kong’s high interest rates, which track U.S. rates due to its currency peg,  have increased the pressure .

The decision to ease the tax burden could encourage more buying from people in mainland China, who have been a driving force in Hong Kong’s property market for years. Chinese tycoons, squeezed by problems at home, have  in some cases become forced sellers  of Hong Kong real estate—dealing major damage to the luxury segment.

Hong Kong’s super luxury homes  have lost more than a quarter of their value  since the middle of 2022.

The additional taxes were introduced in a series of announcements starting in 2010, when the government was focused on cooling down soaring home prices that had made Hong Kong one of the world’s least affordable property markets. They are all in the form of stamp duty, a tax imposed on property sales.

“The relevant measures are no longer necessary amidst the current economic and market conditions,” Chan said.

The tax cuts will lead to more buying and support prices in the coming months, said Eddie Kwok, senior director of valuation and advisory services at CBRE Hong Kong, a property consultant. But in the longer term, the market will remain sensitive to the level of interest rates and developers may still need to lower their prices to attract demand thanks to a stockpile of new homes, he said.

Hong Kong’s authorities had already relaxed rules last year to help revive the market, allowing home buyers to pay less upfront when buying certain properties, and cutting by half the taxes for those buying a second property and for home purchases by foreigners. By the end of 2023, the price index for private homes reached a seven-year low, according to Hong Kong’s Rating and Valuation Department.

The city’s monetary authority relaxed mortgage rules further on Wednesday, allowing potential buyers to borrow more for homes valued at around $4 million.

The shares of Hong Kong’s property developers jumped after the announcement, defying a selloff in the wider market. New World Development , Sun Hung Kai Properties and Henderson Land Development were higher in afternoon trading, clawing back some of their losses from a slide in their stock prices this year.

The city’s budget deficit will widen to about $13 billion in the coming fiscal year, which starts on April 1. That is larger than expected, Chan said. Revenues from land sales and leases, an important source of government income, will fall to about $2.5 billion, about $8.4 billion lower than the original estimate and far lower than the previous year, according to Chan.

The sweeping property measures are part of broader plans by Hong Kong’s government to prop up the city amid competition from Singapore and elsewhere. Stringent pandemic controls and anxieties about Beijing’s political crackdown led to  an exodus of local residents and foreigners  from the Asian financial centre.

But tens of thousands of Chinese nationals have arrived in the past year, the result of Hong Kong  rolling out new visa rules aimed at luring talent in 2022.

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