Seller of ‘Nashville’ House Hopes for Boost From Show

December 3rd, 2012

Christopher Berkey for The New York Times

NO, IT’S NOT TARA A Nashville mansion plays a role on the ABC television show “Nashville.”

SYLVIA ROBERTS is a tiny blond woman with a wide smile and tastefully huge diamond stud earrings, who wears Louboutin high heels to stroll around her 20,500-square-foot brick Georgian home. On the market for $ 19.5 million, it is the most expensive residence for sale in the exclusive Belle Meade area of Nashville. Proud of the palace that she and her now-ex-husband built, Ms. Roberts enjoys flinging open its extraordinarily large doors for fund-raisers and tented parties.

So when TV producers approached her last January about shooting a pilot for the ABC series “Nashville” at her estate, she agreed in a heartbeat.

“I thought it would be fun!” recalled Ms. Roberts, 53, a philanthropic socialite with a honeyed small-town Tennessee accent.

But the idea made her Realtor, Steve G. Fridrich, shudder. Would producers give the house an extreme makeover? Would buyers’ interest dim if critics panned the show or if they detested the fictional owner, Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton), a queen of country music? Would they be squeamish about the fact that America had already peered into the bedrooms and bathrooms during a soapy nighttime drama?

“I reminded Sylvia that our goal is to sell the house,” Mr. Fridrich said, “not to make it a star-struck house.”

But in October, Mr. Fridrich had a real estate epiphany.

While at a conference in Denver, he saw a billboard heralding the premiere of “Nashville.”

“I realized that we could never buy the advertising that the house is getting for free,” Mr. Fridrich said. “I see no negatives at this point.” His listing for Ms. Roberts’s house now mentions that “Nashville,” which has received rave reviews, has been shot there. But bringing television into the marketing of a home does turn out to be a game changer. This is a real estate experience unto itself, with idiosyncratic benefits and risks.

TV certainly gives the property vast exposure, with a virtual weekly walk-through for millions of viewers. In online listings, a mention of a property’s connection to a popular show can increase traffic exponentially.

The celebrity allure is potent. Buyers like to know the “story” or pedigree of a house, because dinner-party boasting rights can enhance its appeal. While nothing quite beats “Washington slept here,” a casual aside like “Tony Soprano slept here” can be a close second, especially because you can shut down the doubters with a DVD. (Tony’s is a real house in New Jersey. Not for sale.)

According to Jonathan J. Miller, a New York property appraiser, a house that viewers see on a favorite TV program year after year itself becomes a celebrity, like Southfork from “Dallas.”

“There is probably more strength in that kind of celebrity branding than if some movie star once lived there,” Mr. Miller said. “The house is more front and center, and that carries more weight than the celebrity themselves.”

The house’s fame may not bolster the price, but brokers say that the association with a TV program can speed the sale. (Zillow, a real estate site, posts a list of famous TV homes, with the roller-coaster histories of their sales.)

So the good news is: TV exposure brings lots of attention.

And the bad news? TV exposure brings lots of attention.

When brokers promote their property’s TV connections, gawking fans may see that as permission to ring a formerly anonymous doorbell, masquerading as interested buyers.

Furthermore, a prospective buyer’s image of the house, shaped by camera angles and set design, may be at odds, positively or negatively, with the real house. And a broker’s need to show it may clash with the TV crew’s lock step, cable-and-camera-strewn schedule.

Of course, if the house has been on a reality TV series with cringe-worthy characters and décor, brokers may avoid references to it. A property in Old Westbury, N.Y., for example, seen throughout “Growing Up Gotti” (A&E, 2004-2005), has been on and off the market for years, dropping in price. Alessandra Stanley, the New York Times TV critic, described the estate as “deliciously vulgar.” The current listing makes no mention of the show.

It was Ms. Roberts’s original online listing that drew the producers of “Nashville” to her. And that experience, in turn, allowed her to add “Nashville” to her listing.

Jeff Knipp, the “Nashville” production designer, often gets a sense of place by looking at real estate ads. He liked the Roberts mansion, which had already been on the market for a year, because it looked like the kind of house that Rayna Jaymes would own.

The residence combines outsize grandeur with earthy and golden tones, an extension of the copper-haired character played by Ms. Britton, who projects life-seasoned warmth. By contrast, her nemesis, Juliette Barnes, a ruthless young singer played by Hayden Panettiere, lives in a Nashville house with a chilly palette and sliding glass doors that open onto a magnificent vista, underscoring her boundless ambition. (That house is also on the market, for $ 2.75 million.)

Mr. Knipp also liked the quintessentially Southern and Nashville touches: painted portraits of Ms. Roberts’s two children, now grown, and a “keeping room.” That’s a den off the kitchen, well appointed but more intimate than the look-at-me rooms, which include a cathedral-ceilinged family room, a cigar room, a formal living room, a copper-screened porch with a fireplace, a billiards room, a teenagers’ arcade room and a children’s playroom with built-in castle turrets and a home theater.

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