If you want to know how the celebrity real estate market is faring in this Great Recession, who better to ask than a mini-celebrity herself?
Sharona Alperin was only 17 when The Knack's song "My Sharona" shot straight to the top of the Billboard charts -- and became a pop music classic. Knack leader Doug Fieger, who had a crush on the teenager, co-wrote the song about Sharona before she was old enough to vote or drink.
"Is it really the 30th year anniversary of 'My Sharona' coming out?" Alperin said when reached in Los Angeles, where she works as a real estate agent for Sotheby's. "Oh my God! You're absolutely right. I'm not sure that I realized that. I talk to Doug quite often and we never discussed it." (The two remain good friends to this day; Alperin and her husband Jason have a 10-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.)
Today, Alperin sells homes to all sorts of Hollywood A-listers we can't name here. (Trust us, rock stars and movie idols populate her lengthy list of clients.) Here, she talks about how the Recession has changed the real estate game, even for the entertainment elite -- and what it's like to be celebrated in song.
WalletPop: So what is it like, exactly, to be immortalized in a timeless pop music hit?
Alperin: "You know how when people say, 'What's it like to be the king's son?' It was just my life. I didn't know differently. But it was incredibly, incredibly exciting -- a very special experience. You could not escape putting on the radio and hearing that song. Or going to the market and hearing that song. At one point it almost turned into Muzak. But I was never, never sick of the song."
WP: Did having a "hit song," if you will, open any doors for you to get into celebrity real estate?
Alperin: "First of all, I'm an L.A. woman born and bred. L.A. is my town, it's my city -- and a lot of people in L.A. are not from here. Second, I chose real estate as a very young person; I was about 25. And it's not like you're going to be able to work at Merrill Lynch because you've had a song written about you. But my niche in the real estate market -- 80% of my career -- are people in the entertainment industry. So does my name open up a door for me? It may help. I can't tell you how many famous people have sung my song to me; I don't like to drop names!" (Although the first verse of the song plays quite loudly when you click on her real estate website)
WP: Some people would say that Hollywood stars have a recession-proof income and can buy whatever they want. Others would say that the recession has left no corner of the real estate market unscathed. Which is true?
Alperin: "Both points are completely true and valid. Yes these are people who are making so much money that they can still afford real estate. But yes, this is still the real world, and a lot of people have had to take a step back and look at their expenses. They had a lot of money in stock portfolios, and when the stocks crashed, so did their downpayments. And all of a sudden, a lot of really wealthy people didn't have [the money]."
WP: What's the biggest change you've noticed in your business?
Alperin: "I've always had this client who absolutely had to have something, and they were going to get it. But now, with the [stars'] business managers, they've gotten a lot more conservative. They're tightening the screws, and they'll come in and kill a deal."
WP: How much has the recession affected your celebrity real estate business compared to last year?
Alperin: "It's off at least 25%, and we're still riding it out. I think it will get better and I am selling houses -- there are some $20 million purchases happening right now. But that's not new money; those are people who have been looking for three or four years and are taking advantage of the $40 million house now selling for $20 million. So a lot of my clients feel happy; some of the same houses that we thought would be so much more, the market is in their favor."
WP: So there is a recession even in the glitzy world of Hollywood property?
Alperin: "The Recession has played a very real role in Hollywood real estate. Even someone on a hit TV show had a lot more confidence before than now: If you're on a top 10 TV show, you have to wait around to see if it will be renewed. The TV and movie industries have changed; people are more insecure and thus more conservative now than they've ever been. I'm still selling and they're still buying, but it's so different now. The qualifications for getting loans are getting harder and harder and harder."
WP: Parting shot: How does my Sharona plan to celebrate the 30th anniversary of "My Sharona" going to No. 1?
Alperin: "Wow! I don't know. [Laughs.] I would love to think I've had a fascinating, fun-loving life. It's not only what happened to me as a young girl, but my life in real estate. I'll probably give a Doug [Fieger] a call."
For more stories of Women Behind the Songs, see Spinner.
'My Sharona' shares her knack for celebrity real estate in a recession