Why America Is Fixated On Knowing What Real Estate You Own

Gossip sites and governments alike are keen to unveil the true identities of wealthy real estate owners.

By Jeff Vasishta January 20, 2017
Editorial credit: Richard Cavalleri / Shutterstock, Inc.

In this security-conscious age, discussing wealth is a sensitive subject. Real estate tends to be where many people park their cash. Whether it’s a drug dealer, celebrity, politician or international investor, most people don’t want other people knowing how many properties they own or where they’re located. However, unearthing the true owners of a property has become the business of both governments and celebrity gossip websites alike. Hiding an owner’s identity is becoming more and more difficult.

In celebrity circles, telephoto lenses, gossip in broker’s office, or a pool guy with a roving eye and a smartphone can often have a Hollywood actor’s interest in a property up on TMZ before they’ve even left the premises. More recently, confidentiality agreements or disguises have been used, the Wall Street Journal reports. With a major commission on the line, brokers are doing their utmost to keep their clients identities secret.

RelatedAbsolutely Fabulous: Five Ways To Accessorize Your Home Like A Celebrity

“Sometimes my client will wear a hat and sunglasses,” Josh Altman, celebrity LA broker with Douglas Elliman told the paper. “It’s become this cat-and-mouse game of doing everything that you can to try to hide [celebrity sales],” Mr. Altman said.

In 2015, The New York Times story revealed that real estate professionals often do not know much about buyers—or how they made their money back home. This is especially true with those mega-expensive condo units in buildings like Time Warner Center. Since then, the Treasury department announced rules that will require title companies to disclose the true buyers of all-cash purchases of  residences in Miami and Manhattan priced $3 million and higher.

RelatedWith Brazilian Real Estate In Tatters, Foreign Investors Advance

For years, buyers have used real estate to turn dirty money clean, using a complex warren of LLC’s, shell companies and other legal tools to obfuscate the true identity of owners of some of America’s most luxurious properties. With the Chinese government keen on curbing the cash leaving the country and the top end of the luxury real estate market slowing down, the real estate industry has been privately concerned that the intense investigation over an owner’s identity may have severe ramifications.

“Additional regulation is the last thing that we need to hurt potential business that really creates jobs for American workers,” Gary Barnett, president of Extell told Curbed. “This is another layer of difficulty that is going to potentially hurt further development.”

With a new real estate-savvy President taking office, it remains to be seen if the government’s current tighter policies regarding owner identification will remain in place—or be relaxed along with other real estate regulation such as the Dodd-Frank laws. Donald Trump prides himself as a deal maker and real estate is his currency. Rather than making America great again, it may once again become the country where the rest of the world feels comfortable parking its cash in bricks and mortar.

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

    Avocado toasts are the reason why millennials can’t afford a home, says one Australian real estate developer. #AvocadoToast #Millennials
    Five years on since Superstorm Sandy, Queens’ coastal peninsula is in the midst of a development boom. #Development #Rockaways
    It turns out, renters can’t get enough of good ol’ no-doorman-no-frills apartments. Too bad developers aren’t building any. #Doorman #LuxuryRentals
Developers Jump Aboard The Trend To Revamp Transit Hubs And Remake Cities
Never has the often used marketing term, “close to transportation” been more important when attracting home buyers. These days it’s not just homes that are…
Millennials Are Fueling The Current Sizzling Real Estate Market
Ever wondered why the hosts of home improvement shows seem to be getting progressively younger, along with the fresh-faced couples getting their new properties made…
The Best Cities For Recent Grads To Rent – Without Blowing Their Entire Paycheck
What’s next post graduation? For most, the logical answer is to find a job. After the excitement of finishing your studies and the big celebration,…
Luxury Knows No Limit In Malaysia As A Deluge Of New Developments Hit The Market
The amount of newly constructed high-end real estate in Malaysia is almost as abundant as the lush vegetation which covers the tropical landscape. Despite vacant…
Don’t Call It A Commune – Upscale Co-Living Is Attracting Major Development
What may have once been referred to as a commune is today termed a co-living space. The big news that it’s not hippies with hemp…
It’s Official—New York Is Now The Most Expensive City In The World To Build
As if you didn’t already know, it’s expensive to build in New York City. Not just expensive but now officially the most expensive place in…
An Ultimate Destination For The Most Comprehensive Real Estate Data, Agorafy Prepares To Launch Nationwide
In the coming days, Agorafy will be entering a new chapter. It is the beginning of a new growth cycle in real estate technology with…
A New Beach Front Condo Building Slated For the Rockaways Amid A Slew Of New Development
Proving that New Yorkers are the masters of reinvention, particularly when it comes to real estate, a new millennial-friendly condo tower is due to rise…

TOP 10