In real estate for nearly 30 years, homegrown South Bay resident Kevin Moen has a keenly tuned sense of the local market. He sat down with South Bay DIGS in his Rolling Hills Estates office to talk about the state of South Bay real estate — and the role of today’s realtor.
AS TOLD TO CONSTANCE DUNN | PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAUL JONASON
How did you get your start in real estate?
I played football at Cal and had some opportunities to play pro football. When those ended I got into teaching, at a time when enrollment was going down, so I wasn’t being offered permanent positions. I started having a family and bought a house, so I went to work for a friend of mine who had a local developing company. It led to real estate, which was the perfect environment for me to be an independent contractor and create my own destiny. Over the years I’ve performed different roles in this industry, from owning a company and managing a real estate entity to doing what I’m doing now, which is assisting in managing the RE/MAX Estate Properties office in Rolling Hills Estates, along with representing my clients.
How does your approach differ from other area realtors?
What I perceive as my strength is an in-depth understanding of the local area and the values for this market. If a house is selling for a certain amount — is that a good value, a fair value, or a great deal?
How has the role of a real estate agent changed over time?
Nowadays, anyone can look at properties online. My job as a realtor is to give context to that information; to inform people of the lifestyle differences in each area, the schools and how areas compare to one another, value-wise. I can go shop in any marketplace online and find a great house. But is it next to a dump? Does it have a toxic waste plant nearby? There are a lot of elements — from a home’s view and lot size to its age and uniqueness — that impacts its value. And that’s what a skilled realtor brings to a valuation.
Being enmeshed in the local real-estate scene and knowing the players brings certain advantages then?
Yes. You’re going to encounter 10 hurdles in each transaction. Escrow companies, Title companies. Inspection companies. So the job of an agent is to get the client through those hurdles as efficiently and with as little stress as possible. Good agents have the ability to work through the processes of a transaction to get the buyer to the finish line as quickly as possible and get the home sold. When I do a deal with, say, Chris [referencing a recent issue of South Bay DIGS featuring Chris Adlam of Vista Sotheby’s International Realty], it’s going to be a smooth process. I’ve known him for 28 years. What has stayed the same during your years in South Bay real estate? The South Bay is a consistent and steady buy. The excellent schools have a lot to do with that, and are a driving force for families, which creates a constant demand for our area… and the beauty of our community, as well. When you drive around here, some of the views you get are world-class. There are some high-level elements — schools, beauty and security — that make this a very desirable area. And it’s just a fun place to live. You have the beaches, you have horses and you have open trails. There’s a ton of activities, all right here.
What are some of your favorite activities?
I grew up with a family that had a farm, so I love that lifestyle. I’ve got a good buddy who kept after me to get involved in the Empty Saddle Club [a Western-riding club in Rolling Hills Estates]. So I got involved with the club about three years ago. It has 14 acres of horse facilities and there are close to 40 cows for roping and doing various cowboy activities. It’s a great escape. You feel like you’re on your own ranch.
So what is the current demand like for horse properties in Rolling Hills Estates?
There are just not as many people coming to this area to buy horse properties for the purpose of having horses. There is much more of a demand for large lots. Someone may buy a horse property with the idea of converting the barn area to a sport court or a playground for kids. So buyers like the ambiance of space, but not necessarily for use as a horse facility.
What do you see coming around the bend in local real estate?
We’ve come through a few years of pretty high escalating values, and initially I projected this year as a stabilizing year with not a lot of growth in price. What’s turned out so far in this first quarter is a little spike in prices because there’s very little inventory. We’ll see how the balance of the year plays out, but right now, there’s very little inventory and there seems to be a very strong demand. We’re still being influenced by extremely low interest rates, they’re still hovering around 4-percent or under, and that should be a tremendous incentive for buyers who are utilizing loans to buy a house.
Any trends in local demographics?
We’ve always had a fairly large international buying community, whether from the Asian market or the Middle East, that has identified the stable home values and good schools in this area as an opportunity. It’s great. If our economy is kind of going slow and theirs is going strong, overseas interest in local real estate affords us a good buying environment.
What are some of your favorite spots in the South Bay?
The Bull Pen in Redondo Beach has always been a favorite little getaway. And I enjoy The Admiral Risty, which I call ‘my favorite little haunt.’ It’s about a mile from my house. My family and I know the people who work there and we know the menu. We’ve got our favorite dishes.
South Bay DIGS recently had the pleasure of sitting down with long-time South Bay real estate duo Steve and Ceci Watts, who specialize in Peninsula real estate.
First things first. Why did you decide to go into real estate?
Ceci and I started selling about the same time 29 years ago, but I started here in Palos Verdes and Ceci started her real estate career in Texas in 1986. I did a rehab project in Lunada Bay with my brother 1985 and liked the process. Sandra Sanders was our real estate agent so I asked her, “If I get my real estate license will you hire me.” The answer was yes and for 29 years it has been a fantastic relationship and an incredible career. Ceci had wanted to sell real estate since high school so after she graduated from college in Texas she started selling in Dallas.
When and how did you and Ceci team up?
We met on a blind date 22 years ago, were married 9 months later, and decided to do what we both love to do and do it together. Ceci has very strong marketing skills and her background of having a degree in interior design is a tremendous benefit to our working with our buyers. We have been introducing to our sellers the opportunity to update their home for sale which increases their value tremendously with Ceci’s input for design features. We are able increase our clients’ return on investment double and triple what they invest into their home.
The two of you earned your way into the top 1% of agents nationwide. What is your formula for success?
Speak the truth, show up, be creative. I have yet to find a magic formula. The added ingredient to what I previously stated is work hard and know your market
You’ve been in the business for nearly 30 years. What is the most significant change you’ve seen in Palos Verdes real estate during that time?
Technology. Our real estate market is an open book to consumers. We even have our own app now where buyers can be in front of a home on the market and pull up all the MLS data with pictures.
What does life on the Peninsula offer that other parts of Los Angeles do not?
Where do I start? I have lived on the Peninsula for 52 years and 21 of them married. There is no place better to live, whether it is to raise a family or retire, because there is so much to offer an individual. Because there are no party bars or nightlife on the Peninsula, it is quiet. The Peninsula focuses on family life. It provides an atmosphere of living in the country with access to downtown Los Angeles only 30 minutes away. There is a sense of a rural atmosphere but with the benefits of a large metropolitan city right around the corner. The schools, the theatre, one of the world’s largest ports, great sports, high school’s top ratings are just some of what keeps us excited about living on the Peninsula, and now the world-class Terranea Resort and Spa in our backyard.
Let’s switch subjects for a moment. You and Ceci don’t just live and work in Palos Verdes — you’re also active members of the community. Will you tell us more about that?
We truly appreciate this community we live in and the people who live here. We feel more connected when we give back. One event we did, which was driven by our daughter Mariah, was to organize a 100,000 meal packaging event. We raised $25,000 along with FCA from all the local high schools. Is was great because it brought 400 people together, families and children of all ages, with the goal “to help others.” One of our annual events for 13 years was bringing Santa Claus to Palos Verdes. We started this process on a flatbed truck going door to door delivering gifts to children. This became so overwhelming we then set up Santa’s Workshop in Malaga Cove, which was such a blessing for so many people throughout the years. We are currently having a great time with an event at halftime at the Peninsula High School basketball games called SUPERSHOT. These are just fun ways for us to give back to our community.
What are you doing when you’re not selling homes or giving back to the community?
Ceci and I love spending time with our two girls, Mariah and Natalie. We love snow skiing, water skiing, riding bikes, hiking, and jogging as a family. We enjoy opening our home for various events and we are very active in our Church. Ceci and the girls are involved in Las Madrecitas and Ek Kardia, trying to teach serving others before ourselves.
Do you have any predictions for where the housing market is headed in 2015?
We expect the real estate market here in South Bay to be what we refer to as “fair market for all.” For buyers, interest rates are low and prices are starting to level off. For sellers, inventory is low so buyers will be competing for good properties. There will still be strong buyer demand for those buyers who are still in the market. We expect some slight appreciation for 2015.
What about the Super Bowl — any predictions there?
I am a quarterback fan and both these guys are impressive. Not sure you can bet against either Russell Wilson or Tom Brady. I would like to be negotiating Russell Wilson’s contract when his initial 4-year deal is up. Not bad for the Seahawks who signed him in 2012 on a 4-year contract for only 2.99 million…that is a great return on your investment.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
We are thankful for all the clients who have worked with us over the years and given us the opportunity to help them find the right home to create memories and raise their families.
Merit Real Estate is celebrating their 25th year of being in business and have big changes planned in the near future, according to Rodman Amiri, who works with his father Amir Amiri, Merit’s founder. These changes include building property as well as selling it. Today, Amir Amiri lists more properties in the South Bay than any other agent and has the largest inventory of brand new construction projects in the area. He has over 20 agents and most of them have been with him since he began Merit Real Estate in 1989. His son Rodman is excited about being brought into the family business.
“In addition to over two dozen residential units under construction spread out through Hermosa, Redondo, and Manhattan Beach,” says Rodman, “we are also working on our two single largest developments to date; a 13-unit townhouse-style apartment building in the city of Lomita, and a mixed-use project in Hawthorne.”
Rodman became interested in real estate not through watching his father’s business grow, but as a student at USC when he majored in Public Policy, Planning, and Development. “It was this that sparked my interest and enticed me to ask more questions and learn more from my father about his business,” he explains.
Though he found his interest in real estate independently, Rodman is grateful to be able to work with family. “I am lucky to have a great mentor constantly around to help me learn the business and get past new challenges. With every transaction comes a new, unpredictable challenge, and the best way to deal with that is with the guidance of someone with experience. The challenging part is reminding myself that he is a colleague with much more experience than me, and to be learned from. At times, I find myself thinking like a son, that his methods may be outdated, but I find that his experience usually proves me wrong in my doubts.”
Rodman’s specialty is Redondo Beach neighborhoods. He grew up in Redondo Beach and Merit Real Estate has always been based there, seen as a sort of neighborhood expert. “Each area in the South Bay has its own unique identity, but what we all have in common is the lifestyle. We are the best kept secret of LA…we have the LA scenery and weather, without the LA lifestyle. We move at our own pace, and embrace more of the laidback, beach lifestyle, contrary to what most would think of the LA area.”
Right now in Redondo Beach, the real estate business is constantly in flux: “Interest rates are all over the place. They have been going up and down unpredictably over the past couple months and that has led to a recent slowing of the market. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. In 2013, multiple offers on properties became the norm. Impulse buyers came out of the woodwork, as the cost of financing was at record lows. Now, the serious buyers who are still in the game regardless of rate fluctuations will be able to make a move on a property they want, and not have to deal with 10+ competing bidders, as was so common.”