Investing in Film Houses

Most TV shows & movies are filmed on sets. Think Jerry’s apartment in Seinfeld, the coffee shop in Friends, or Hogwarts from Harry Potter.

But sometimes, famous locations aren’t purpose-built — someone actually owns them and lives in them.

So how does the film industry actually source these houses? And how can you get your home to feature on the big screen — and get paid for it?

Let’s find out 👇

Iconic film and TV houses

Full House

Whatever your feelings about the actual show (or its absurd, slightly raunchier reboot), there’s no denying the San Francisco house is iconic.

The house at 1709 Broderick Street sitting among a sea of Victorians is one of the most recognizable opening images of any 80s show.

The house, built in the 1880s, was hand-picked by Full House’s director.

Of course, most of the show was filmed on a set, so ABC wouldn’t have had to pay much to film outside the residence.

The Full House house looks much the same as it did 30+ years ago. That red front door is gone, but the bones are the same.

However, in 2016, the home was put up for sale at $4 million.

The buyer? None other than Jeff Franklin, Full House‘s original director.

Franklin’s idea was to re-purpose the interior to match the set from the show for the Fuller House reboot. In the meantime, he rented the house out to fans for $14k a month — which is only about twice as high as the average rent for a 4-bedroom home in San Francisco.

In 2020, Franklin gave up on his redecorating dream and flipped the house for $5.4m.

Director Jeff Franklin never realized his dream of redesigning the interior to match the Full House set. But he still made $1.4m on the 4-year flip (which is pretty normal for San Francisco.)

Breaking Bad

Fiction’s most notorious meth dealer, Walter White, rose to power while living in a run-of-the-mill suburban house in Albuquerque, NM.

Unlike most big-budget shows, Breaking Bad didn’t use sets. All the home’s iconic features from the house (the swimming pool, the secret crawl space, etc( actually exist in real life.

Breaking Bad is obsessed with swimming pools, using them as a metaphor for Walt’s guilt. (Though to be fair, pretty much everything in the show is a metaphor for Walt’s guilt.)

The actual property at 3821 Piermont Drive is owned by the Padilla family, who have lived there since 1973.

The family agreed to rent their home to AMC film crews for shooting in 2008. For three months, they lived elsewhere to give production enough space to work. This would repeat for all five seasons.

Walter White’s boring suburban home in Albuquerque has become a massively popular tourist destination. Case in point: in this random Google Street View image, you can actually see a person on the left taking a photo of the house, which Google has blurred out.

For a while, this was a great deal for the Padilla family. But be careful what you wish for. Once the show became popular and fans discovered where Walter White’s house was located, they started to arrive in droves.

That’s when things started to go south.

One particularly memorable scene from Breaking Bad comes when Walter flings a pizza on top of the garage roof in a fit of rage.

Much to the exasperation of the Padilla family, idiotic fans began literally throwing pizzas on the roof; acting like jerks, and filming it all “for the likes.”

Even the show’s esteemed creator Vince Gilligan told fans to get lost. But nothing was done. The family couldn’t take it anymore and constructed a 6-foot high wrought-iron fence to try and keep people away.

And so the fence-building began… This is why we can’t have nice things.

The fence helped a bit. No pizza was ever thrown upon their rooftop again.

But it didn’t stop the swarms of fans, who usually mean well, but either don’t realize the family is fed up with all the unwanted attention, or don’t care.

This crazy encounter between a fan and the owner really gives you a sense of things:

On the other end of the spectrum, a different house featured in Season 5 of Breaking Bad has fully leaned into their investment.

Rather than stave off fans, the owners transformed the property into a Breaking Bad-themed Airbnb, charging $269 a night (again about double the average nightly rate in Albuquerque)

This house was only in one episode of Season 5, but the owners turned it into a Breaking Bad-themed Airbnb. Hazmat suits are included. Walt’s underwear is not.

Scarface

Al Pacino is just one of many celebrities to have set foot in the hallowed halls of 631 Para Grande Lane in Montecito, California (right next to my old stomping ground of Santa Barbara).

The 11,000 sq ft mansion has been host to Einstein, Kennedy, and Churchill. But it’s perhaps best known for portraying the home of notorious gangster Tony Montana.

Say hallo to my little 7-bedroom 10-acre friend.

The luxury estate known as El Fureidis (which of course is Spanish for “The Fureidis” 😂) was built by esteemed architect Bertram Goodhue.

It last sold for $12 million in 2015 to IQ Holdings CEO Pradeep Gupta. It’s currently listed for sale near its Zestimate price of $39.9m.

Scarface takes place in Miami, but the big mansion is really in California. Much of the property still resembles the film, including the courtyard where the wedding scene was shot.

It’s unclear how much Scarface producers paid to use the property. This was a recurring theme in our research — it’s extremely difficult to find price info since these are all private deals.

But don’t worry, we have some comps later on.

The Simpsons

The alternative here is to create your own replica of a TV set, which is exactly what a marketing team advised the then-fledgling Simpsons producers to do.

The idea was to create an exact replica of 742 Evergreen Terrace. Same exterior, same couch, same corn curtain blinds, everything. It was designed to be the ultimate fan collectible — a life-sized monument to the greatest show of the 90s (and possibly of all time) while boosting The Simpsons brand even further.

The incredible Simpsons replica home at 712 Red Bark Lane in Henderson, Nevada

The property was built back in 1998 and enjoyed a brief time in the sun. Fans still show up occasionally, but it has mostly fallen out of the public eye.

The Silence Of The Lambs

The scene where Buffalo Bill stalks Clarice is terrifying — and it wasn’t shot on a set. Buffalo Bill’s torture house is a real property in Pennsylvania.

The production crew for Silence of the Lambs simply approached the house’s original owners (the Lloyd family) and paid an undisclosed amount for three days’ use.

After three days, it was returned to its owner, who sold it for $290,000.

Thankfully, the dungeon pit is not a feature of the real-life house.

Like the entrepreneurial Breaking Bad homeowners, its new investor, Chris Rowan has refurbished the property to try and be as faithful to the film as possible. Apparently he’s even working on a proxy basement dungeon (err, at least we hope it’s a proxy).

The property at 8 Circle Street in Perryopolis, PA is now an authentic themed Airbnb that rents for $695/night. Photo courtesy of buffalobillshouse.com

How much do people get paid for the use of their homes?

It’s difficult to nab exact figures for all these film houses — most deals are done privately and never disclosed.

We know the Breaking Bad homeowners said the payments didn’t “make them rich”, but that it was “nice.” Based on my estimates, that could be anything from a few thousand to $20,000 per season.

Hollywood location scout Dana Hanby says that day rates for medium to large productions are the equivalent of one month’s rent. So somewhere between $1,000 – $5,000 per day. Not bad!

But homeowners can secure even higher rates than this. Ben Affleck’s 2012 film Argo dished out $50,000 to use Grace Ambat’s 70s-style house for a week — about $7,000 per day.

Grace Ambat was particularly well-reimbursed because her house captured the 70s essence that location scouts were seeking.

Production crews often use repeat clients rather than cruise around neighborhoods looking for a suitable home:

Queens resident Mary Dalton gets a few visits a year from filmmakers looking to depict an idyllic, blue-collar lifestyle. Period houses (Victorian, Edwardian etc.) are very popular, and her home has been featured in Law and Order, Nurse Jackie and Entourage. She earns an average of $3,000 every time a production team comes knocking.

Here in Australia, a society obsessed with real estate, money can arrive thick and fast. Pure Locations and A Perfect Space are two Aussie location scouting companies. These companies pair film crews with property owners for photoshoots ($2,000/day) corporate events ($8,000/day), or even a full TV series ($40,000/month)

The best part? In some locations, if you rent your place out for less than two weeks a year, the money is tax-free.

Melbourne resident Louise Robinson has earned $5,000 to date renting her high-end home for TV commercials and stills.

Of course, not every film has a high budget. Smaller indie productions may not be able to afford much.

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is very popular now, but in its early days it had basically no location budget at all. The show-runners would film in real stores and homes, offering property owners fifty bucks to close their shop for fifteen minutes.

How can I get my home on television?

Okay, so renting out your home to production crews has some serious earning potential. Shacking up at a hotel for one night to get your monthly mortgage paid sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

So how do you put it into action?

Well, for big blockbuster movies, you don’t really get a say in the matter. These films have massive budgets and let their scouts find the perfect property. Having a unique house can give you an edge, but you have to be lucky.

Remember that unique doesn’t have to mean upscale. For example, seedy motels are a common film location requirement. But motel owners are cagey about letting productions use their properties. (After all, broadcasting to the world that your motel is a place drug deals go down isn’t usually great for business).

So if you’ve got a dilapidated hotel or motel, awesome! You can charge $1k – $3k/day

Not sure if any of you happen to own a church, but hey, if you’ve got one handy, the going rate for renting to filmmakers is approaching $2,000/day.

Like everything else, production payouts are growing, and companies are cropping up that let you list your property for interested filmmakers. The most popular is called Giggster.

Giggster sources all sorts of locations, from party venues to abandoned houses. Anyone can sign up their house for free.

Giggster charges a hefty 19% commission on every booking.

Alternatives to Giggster include:

  • Locations Hub mainly operates in North America, but has global high-end locations
  • Reel Locations works primarily with LA-area properties
  • Peerspace. Newer entrant. Sleek site. Global reach.

Closing thoughts

If you have the cash, consider investing in an old film location. The Silence of the Lambs house only cost $290,000 and probably another $150k to renovate. The owner charges $695/night. Terrific ROI.

In the meantime, renting your existing house to production crews can be a serious money-maker. But it can be a pain in the ass too.

The Breaking Bad homeowners already had to deal with idiots throwing pizza boxes on their roof. Now, they’ve built a reputation for being short with tourists, which has led to even more fans trying to get a reaction out of them (of course). It’s an ugly cycle.

But if you can put up with morons who cannot separate television from real life, then there’s not much downside to getting your home on TV. Make your home available through a platform, and hope to get lucky.

If you’re really smart, don’t just take the $3,000 check and be happy. Parlay your 15 minutes of fame into something much bigger. 📽

Further Reading

Disclosures

  • We have no ALTS 1 or personal investments in any companies mentioned in this issue
  • This issue contains one affiliate link (Giggster)

Share

Author

Picture of Stefan von Imhof

Stefan von Imhof

As the CEO of Alts, Stefan lives and breathes alternative asset analysis and valuations. His alternative investing newsletter has grown into Alts.co — the world's largest alt investing community, with over 200,000 investors. His favorite alternative investments are holiday rentals, cash-flowing websites, and especially his collection of 300 vinyl records. Originally from Boston and Santa Barbara, CA, he now lives with his wife in Australia.

Related Posts

Recently Published

Curious about investing in Music Royalties?

Get notified on new opportunities.


Join the club. Start here.

    Join thousands of subscribers.
    Absolutely spam-free.