Star Map Wars
A new iPhone app from a Bravo real estate agent seeks to put celebrity home guides and bus tours out of business.
Hollywod stars, take note: There's now an easier way for gawkers and stalkers to figure out where you live. Josh Flagg, the real estate agent made famous by Bravo's Million Dollar Listing, has launched an iPhone app that includes a directory of hundreds of Los Angeles-area properties associated with celebrities. The app, Star Maps, differentiates itself from its paper brethren by using the phone's GPS function to direct users to properties they'd like to see.
It's the latest innovation in a lucrative cottage industry that aims to give tourists a peek at homes of the rich and famous. Flagg, whose Listing returns for its fifth season June 6, is taking aim at the makers of old-fashioned star maps and companies that offer celebrity home bus tours. The stargazing sector is a segment of L.A.'s tourism business that generates millions of dollars in revenue annually amid intense competition among at least a dozen operators, including such established players as Starline Tours and newer fly-by-night tour and map purveyors. "It is cutthroat out there," notes Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. "They yell at each other; they yell at tourists."
Flagg, 26, says his app, which costs 99 cents and includes Wikipedia-sourced biographical details of celebrities' lives, sprung from his experience as a real estate-obsessed teenager taking a guided tour of L.A. residences.
"I was so disappointed with how they portrayed the info that I got up on the microphone and conducted the tour," says Flagg, an agent with Rodeo Realty, whose app launched in May. "The main problem is that everything they tell you on those tours is bullshit." He's equally dismissive of traditional maps sold in L.A.-area gift shops and at stands on Hollywood Boulevard, which he claims include "completely bogus" information. "My goal is to put them out of business; I despise them," he says.
But Marko Joelson, owner of California Cassette Driving Tours, which publishes Movie Star Homes and Notorious Crime Scenes, stands by the accuracy of his $6 map, which also includes biographical details and information about the properties it lists. He updates the map twice a year, and it includes addresses for many pop-culture personalities -- such as Paris Hilton, Kourtney Kardashian and Vanessa Hudgens -- that do not appear on Flagg's app and another $6 guide, Map to the Movie Stars' Homes. (Flagg says a forthcoming update to Star Maps will add many new listings; the app will be available on Android phones in mid-June.) Joelson says he isn't very concerned about Flagg's product, though he is looking into launching an iPhone app that would supplement his paper map.
A THR comparison of Flagg's app and the two $6 maps revealed that only a handful of about two dozen randomly selected notables were listed on all three products: Elvis Presley, Warren Beatty, Aaron Spelling and Frank Sinatra. And each map gave a different address for Sinatra and Beatty. Flagg and Joelson say their Sinatra and Beatty addresses are correct, though they concede the stars lived at multiple properties.
Starline director Philip Ferentinos, whose company's most popular tour costs $44 for adults and visits about 40 homes, says he doubts the accuracy of many traditional maps and is not aware of Flagg's app. Regardless, he believes his customers want to be shown around and given the "up to the minute" information the tours provide. "You can sit at home and read a script for any Broadway play," he says. "Does that replace going to the Broadway play?"