“I have a very casual way about me,” says Dan O’Connor. “I think it has a lot to do with growing up in a family where real estate was the lifestyle.” While growing up in Manhattan Beach with a successful mother and stepfather, both in the business, real estate was all around him. Later, it was the place to which he would happily return.
“My mother, Lorie O’Connor, got into the real estate world in her early 20’s, and her career just took off from there,” he recounts. “Watching her go to work every day, weekends included, and having a passion for what she does, really inspired me.” After college, her son moved back to the Beach Cities with a business degree in hand, and a job offer from his mother.
Familiarity links hands with comfort, and O’Connor was blessed to start his career with plenty of both. This combination of confidence and experience was an additional boost that, in a short period of time, helped his business boom.
“I am drawn towards homes, design and construction” he says. “All aspects of residential real estate.” O’Connor loves the fact that as an asset class, property is tangible. Not surprisingly, his company is comprehensive, from residential sales and leasing, to property management and finding plum lots for builders whose homes he then sells when completed.
But what cinches it for O’Connor is the human element. The connection that happens when you find a home for a client that they’ll spend their days in, raise their family in, and experience the big and small moments of their lives. “I get to be a part of that,” he explains. “It really draws me in, and appeals to me on so many levels.”
Because of this, O’Connor purposefully keeps his business small. He is with Strand Hill Christie’s International Real Estate, chosen for its global support and embrace of the changes in the industry, particularly with technology. But when it comes to his office, it’s just O’Connor and a full-time assistant at a welcoming office on a corner of Manhattan Avenue.
“We have never gone in the direction of having a real estate team,” he explains. The reason is simple: “I want people to use me because they want to deal with me directly and because I add value. It’s important to me, and it seems to be important to my clients.”
The result is that nearly all of O’Connor’s business—85 percent—is either from existing clients or referrals. People who won’t do real estate with anyone else. “That’s our core group,” he says. His marketing is a combination of traditional and new: Each month he checks in with his clients, sending a postcard or an email, while also managing a social media presence (Instagram is a focus), along with a slew of O’Connor-hosted videos, including a five-part series that chronicled his home remodel project.
The power of likability is not lost on O’Connor, whose lifelong real estate expertise is supplanted by a magnetic calm and affability that brings clients back, and summons like-minded new ones. “I attract people who have similar values,” he says modestly. “Am I the biggest agent in town on a numbers or volume basis? Probably not,” he says. “But I might have the happiest client base out of anybody.”
DAN O’CONNOR PROPERTY GROUP
PHOTOGRAPHS: COURTESY OF DAN O’CONNOR PROPERTY GROUP
Ask Ed Kaminsky what’s exciting these days, and it’s expansion. “We’re fine-tuning what we’re doing for our clients,” says Kaminsky from his firm’s new office, a sunny spot along Pacific Coast Highway in Hermosa Beach. The change in location is just one of several moves for the entrepreneur, who entered South Bay real estate in the 1980s after moving from Ohio and leaving behind a career as a jeweler.
For success to be sustained, it must always evolve. At Kaminsky Real Estate Group, the agent’s longtime base camp, there’s been a beefing up of marketing staff. “It’s to better serve our seller clients,” Kaminsky says, “but it dovetails into taking care of our buyer clients. It will snowball into really great things for both sides.”
Things have changed mightily in the South Bay since the days when a three-line ad placed in the Daily Breeze could get an agent’s phone ringing. “To stay ahead of the curve you have to have the right people in place,” Kaminsky explains. “People who understand technology, and know how to get into the eyeballs of our client base.”
Kaminsky has been a real estate agent since 1987
SportStar Relocation, Conserve Development and Premiere Estates Auction Company are among Kaminsky’s business ventures
He is a top-producing agent at Strand Hill, Christie’s International Real Estate
Ears too. Kaminsky’s podcast, The EdZone, has expanded with him interviewing local real estate experts in key U.S. and Canadian markets. The goal is to tap into vital details of these communities, everything from schools and the social scene too, of course, real estate. It’s available to all but began as a value-add for Kaminsky’s clients at SportStar Relocation, a concierge moving company for professional athletes he founded.
A community that Kaminsky’s been intensely focused on of late is just a short drive from his new office. “People think of me as the beach agent,” he points out. “But we’re really making headway on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.” It’s an area currently abuzz among Beach Cities’ residents for its value and quality of life.
“A lot of our Beach clients are moving up there now,” he explains. “So we’re really serving the Hill in a wholly different manner, and are able to identify buyers who see it as a value as opposed to the beach, which looks so darn expensive.” For Kaminsky, at the fountainhead of all his ventures is information—what he knows and how it can help others.
“I’m a constant sponge of information,” he says. “You have to be. The only reason clients come to you anymore is because of your inside knowledge of certain things that you can’t find on the Internet. If you’re not staying ahead of the game with information, you’re going to die in this business.”
To that end, he’s been venturing into specialized areas of real estate consulting. His first sector: the medical community. Here, Kaminsky acts as a guru for doctors and such, taking them through buying first homes as interns, to then advising on how to channel earned income (highly taxable, he notes) into real estate investments. “The purpose,” Kaminsky says, “is to allow them to advance their success and create wealth outside of their practice.”
Finding opportunities to capitalize on, problems to solve are part of Kaminsky’s DNA. A voracious reader who works long days for the sheer love of it, he’s keen to the power of keeping a disciplined mind that clings to positivity. “If I get caught up in all that negativity, cloudiness or grayness,” he says, “it doesn’t improve my ability to do what I need to do for my clients.”
( from top) A 5-bedroom Sand Section home for sale (232 16th Street, Manhattan Beach, $6,795,014); Sold by Kaminsky: 1204 The Strand ($17.4), the highest priced sale in Manhattan Beach for 2018
I had a client who I sold a lot to years ago, recounts Charlie Raine. He built a beautiful house on the property. When the client was ready to sell that house, he called Charlie. The listing wasn’t automatically his, though—there were three other real estate teams in the mix, all gunning for it.
That’s when Charlie called Bill Ruth.
Both knew Palos Verdes like the back of their hands, down to its weather patterns and individual streets. “But we had to fight for it,” says Charlie of what was his first real estate win with Bill. “It was a big, big sale.” So big, the sale had the distinction of being the highest for over a decade in Palos Verdes. The two paired up again on listings from time to time over the next couple of years and, in 2009, made Ruth & Raine official.
“Bill and I went to high school together,” says Charlie. Both of the agents, natives of Palos Verdes, were born into the business: Charlie’s father was a commercial broker and his mother a residential agent; Bill’s father was a commercial developer and his mother, an agent at their namesake Ruth Realty.
Bill Ruth and Charlie Raine have each been in the business for nearly 30 years; Carissa Wright entered real estate four years ago after working in banking and nonprofit management.
Bill Ruth is a board member and recent past president of the Palos Verdes Association of Realtors; Charlie Raine has recently served as a board member of the Peninsula Education Foundation.
Ruth, Raine, and Wright collectively have approximately 65 years of real estate experience
The two have enjoyed a fruitful partnership as hometown agents, and a couple of years ago, another agent joined the mix. Real estate agent Carissa Wright and her husband were looking for a house in Palos Verdes and connected with Charlie and Bill. Impressed by her real estate savvy, they asked her to join Ruth & Raine.
“We have three of the top agents in our group, from three of the top brokerages,” Bill points out. He and Charlie are with Keller Williams and ReMax Estate Properties respectively, and Carissa is with Beach City Brokers. “And—you’re paying the same price. There’s nowhere else you can get the same exposure for a listing.”
Adding to this is the trio’s expanded geographic reach across Palos Verdes and the Beach Cities. “Carissa is in Redondo Beach and Charlie and I are up on the Hill,” explains Bill. Working together means greater exposure for their listings, and the ability to service clients throughout the close-cousin markets. (A specialty of Carissa’s, for instance, is relocating Beach Cities clients who wish to move to Palos Verdes.)
Another boon to the merger is chemistry. “There’s nothing written down,” says Bill about their partnership.
Everything’s on a handshake!
This speaks to their trust and easy camaraderie, evidenced by the good-natured joking and laughter throughout our interview. “My husband calls them my work husbands,” Carissa says with a chuckle. “We’re always texting each other, the three of us. Constantly.”
Whether choosing real estate after growing up in the business, like Bill and Charlie, or selecting it independently, like Carissa, success in the industry seems to require embracing it as a lifestyle, not just a job. At Ruth & Raine the firm, this approach is multiplied by three.
“One of us is always available to our clients,” Bill comments. “That’s the most unique part about us—you talk to a principal at all times. You’re never talking to someone who is not the rainmaker.”
Bill Ruth | 310.621.2885
Charlie Raine | 310.377.4932
Carissa Wright | 310.987.1829
Photos courtesy of Ruth & Raine
It’s just got to be right,” says Patrick Kealy, explaining a not-uncommon true tradesman’s instinct, to perfect each facet of a project, no matter the cost or sweat equity involved.
His all-or-nothing ethic could be traced to his upbringing in rural County Meath, Ireland. “Our family did all of our own building,” says Kealy with a charmed Irish lilt. “We never relied on others. We were all do-it-yourselves kind of people.”
Patrick Kealy originally hails from County Meath, Ireland
Kealy partnered with designer Craig Gebhart to complete his latest project, a trio of handcrafted homes on 8th Street in East Manhattan Beach
He has been building custom homes in Southern California for 23 years
Getting into the trades at a young age, Kealy later worked on construction projects in various parts of the world—France, Canada and Chicago among them—before making his way to Los Angeles, where he began building custom homes before starting his full-service construction company in 1998. It was a natural progression for Kealy, who would buy a lot, build a handcrafted home, sell it, and repeat.
“I’m very hands-on,” says the builder, who can be found at the job site daily. His latest project—a trio of custom homes along 8th Street in East Manhattan Beach—is a capstone project of sorts. In every handcrafted corner is Kealy’s innate urge to deliver plum levels of craftsmanship.
Designer Craig Gebhart, who has worked with Kealy on various projects, joined forces with the builder to shape each of the homes, which sport different, yet complementary, styles. There’s a Cape Cod beach-style home, a charmed French farmhouse residence and, newly complete, a British West Indies Colonial-inspired home.
From the curb, one first sees the island plantation freshness of this home, with its series of low-pitched hipped roofs and custom, decorative rail work topped in African Mahogany. The handrails, notes Kealy, were hand-milled from a 17-foot solid slab of the rich, mellow grain wood.
Inside are dark ebony floors of French oak and soaring ceilings, plus a living room wall that slides open to a backyard oasis, complete with a saltwater pool and cabana. Transitions from interior and exterior are seamless—the mark of an exacting build hand.
One steps outside to meet a patio of hand-worn limestone with radiant heat (“It’s very nice to step out onto in your bare feet,” says Gebhart). All three fireplaces are surrounded with hand-made tiles from Castellón, Spain.
Some bathrooms sport gorgeous tiles imported from Devon, England, while others feature lush, elaborate designs that have been printed on Carrara marble. “We’ve gone above and beyond with the finishes,” says Kealy, before adding a modest caveat: “I don’t want to try to glorify ourselves—I’m not from that background at all.”
Going above and beyond is a common theme of his projects. “It’s easy to do it right. We have to do it right—we’re committed. It’s just the way we are.” he explains. “And it’s very satisfying.” Satisfaction is what he is feeling with his new project.
“There is great opportunity in East Manhattan,” he explains. “With traditionally larger lots than the other boroughs of Manhattan Beach, allowing for amenity-rich gardens with pools, spas and wonderful, year-around outdoor living.
There’s also very easy access to the 405 and the airport, yet it’s only two miles from the beach. Plus, there’s access to all of the highly-rated schools.”
“With three homes,” he adds, “we are able to bring this area into a new value. It will set a trend in East Manhattan Beach.”
The South Bay may be a distance from where Kealy hails—but no distance from his Irish roots, which compel him to keep setting his talents on new buildings.
“I enjoy it,” he says of his trade. “It doesn’t feel like work, as such.” And the reward, he adds, comes now, at the home stretch of a project: “It’s such a pleasure to walk in to these homes, and see them as we had envisioned them.”
(opposite, clockwise from left) The newly finished British West Indies Colonial-inspired home at 1755 8th Street in Manhattan Beach; exotic, high-grade finishes are found throughout; dark ebony floors neatly contrast with pristine white walls; hand-milled rail work; sliding glass links the home to a designer backyard oasis.
PATRICK KEALY | CRAIG GEBHART
936 MONTEREY BLVD.
HERMOSA BEACH, CA 90254
310.374.8678 | KEALYCONSTRUCTION.COM
PHOTOGRAPHS: COURTESY OF KEALY CONSTRUCTION
“It’s very difficult to replace the passion of 100,000 people screaming for your team’s victory,” says Tim Green, co-founder of Equity Design Associates in Manhattan Beach and former MVP Trojan football player. “What I’ve been able to do is find something that I’m equally passionate about—and that’s architecture.”
Partners Tim Green and Dustin Gregg were both born and raised in Redondo Beach
The designers officially partnered in early 2018 to create Equity Design Associates
Tim Green was a USC Trojan football player who was named MVP of the 1985 Rose Bowl
Earlier this year, Tim Green and Dustin Gregg teamed up to pool their skills across building and design, and with it, created an all-in-one South Bay firm with a knack for nailing residential projects across architectural styles. “We wanted to build something that was bigger than ourselves,” says Green of the partnership.
If you live in the South Bay or Palos Verdes you’ve no doubt passed by one of their works. A dramatic, three-story Hermosa Beach home on Loma Drive with a cut-out balcony overhang. An elegant shingle-front Mediterranean on 33rd Street in Manhattan Beach, or the mellow, wood- and stone-clad modern residence on Hillcrest Drive in Hermosa Beach—the first collaborative project for the partners.
Between them, they’ve churned out hundreds of projects, and now rest on a division of labor that, on one hand, casts Green as the business head and creative, and partner Gregg as construction whiz and designer. Services range from site analysis and design to project coordination and end-to-end construction management.
A long-time development pro, most recently as VP of Business Development at First Light Development in Manhattan Beach, Green’s turn to architecture started about 20 years ago as an entrepreneur (he owned a trucking company in his post-football years).
“My wife and I bought our first house in Pasadena,” he recounts. Charged with drafting the changes that would result in a tidy profit after the duo renovated and sold the place, Green realized: “We found out very quickly that you can gain a large amount of equity in the right markets.”
Game was on, and he’s completed over 20 personal projects since, with the most recent ground-breaking on a Tommy Bahama-inspired home designed by he and Gregg on a 12,000-foot-square lot in North Redondo Beach.
An architecture degree was earned along the way, as well as a stint at a firm in downtown Los Angeles. “I joke to people that it was harder to get a degree in architecture than it was to win the Rose Bowl,” says Green.
Of his firm’s ability to churn out a diversity of projects, Green says: “It’s the combination of both Dustin and I being involved in the project from the beginning to the end. I’m better at space planning and he’s better at exterior aesthetics. Through our meetings with our clients and our internal meetings, we have developed a very easy approach to architecture.”
A well-rounded one, as well, with the two using their different paths of experience—Gregg started his in construction, framing for a local design-build firm before his formal studies and private practice—to create a comprehensive offering all bases in the building process.
“I think it’s a huge advantage to have been in the trenches—and personally dug the trenches, too,” Green says with a chuckle. “I don’t even feel like I’m working because I get to draw spaces and beautiful homes for people and fulfill their dreams.”
TIM GREEN | DUSTIN GREGG
EQUITY DESIGN ASSOCIATES
805 MANHATTAN AVENUE
MANHATTAN BEACH, CA 90266
310.621.6107 | EQUITYDESIGNASSOCIATES.COM
PHOTOGRAPHS: COURTESY OF EQUITY DESIGN ASSOCIATES
Raju Chhabria’s love of Palos Verdes began on a fateful day in 1984. Recently moved to the South Bay from Bangalore, India, he headed up the hill to meet a man about an enticing real estate job he had seen in the paper. The job was bogus, but the location was anything but. “I was disappointed that the job ad was not what it seemed,” says Chhabria. “But I looked around me, and said, ‘This place is beautiful.’ I drove around and ended up on an oceanfront street—Paseo del Mar.”
“IN 1986 OR ‘87, I HAD A CLIENT THAT WANTED TO BUY A HOUSE FOR $5 MILLION IN PALOS VERDES, BUT EVERYTHING WAS SO OLD AND BEAT UP. I WAS KIND OF BUMMED THAT I COULDN’T SELL HIM A HOUSE. THAT’S WHERE IT STARTED. I DECIDED, I’M GOING TO START BUILDING HOUSES, ONE BY ONE.”
Over $3 billion in career sales
He was a top agent at Shorewood Realtors every year from 1995 to 2014 before starting his own brokerage
Chhabria has lived in Palos Verdes for nearly 30 years
Like many things in his life, Chhabria made it happen by a combination of iron will and work. He had already tasted success as a young entrepreneur in India when he took over an uncle’s flagging wholesale fabric firm after college, and managed a quick turnaround by implementing innovative new offerings, such as delivering products directly to clients, rather than have them schlep to the busy wholesale market to pick them up.
For Chhabria, it was love at first sight. “‘Someday, I want to own a house on this street,’” he told himself. Five years later, he did.
So the confidence was there when he embarked upon his new career in the United States, first attending real estate school, which he credits with providing key early mentorship. “My real estate teacher was agent Paul Allen from Century 21,” says Chhabria. “He taught A to Z about real estate. He was one of the best educators and teachers.” Armed with his license, Chhabria started selling homes successfully and, in 1989, purchased his Paseo del Mar dream home for $1.2 million.
A booster as well as a long-time resident of the area, Chhabria has raised his family in Palos Verdes with wife Philomina (sons Neil and Anand Chhabria are part of the business), and today, nearing 35 years in local real estate,
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF RAJU CHHABRIA
From busboy to a nationally ranked real estate agent, the managing partner of The Agency exemplifies an unrelenting will to succeed.
Arana developed a $23 million Brentwood mansion, which he sold last year to LeBron James
Currently ranked no. 6 on REAL Trends “The Thousand 2018” with more than $420MM in sales volume for the year
Among The Hollywood Reporter’s 2018 list of L.A.’s Top 30 Real Estate Agents for the last seven consecutive years
Currently ranked no. 6 on REAL Trends “The Thousand 2018” with more than $420MM in sales volume for the year
Arana developed a $23 million Brentwood mansion, which he sold last year to LeBron James
One thing that nearly all successful people share is a respect for rituals. A discipline in following a seemingly small, daily order of things that enables them to function in full bloom, each day. Take Santiago Arana. He is principal and partner, along with Billy Rose and Mauricio Umansky, at Beverly Hills-based powerhouse firm The Agency. Still in his 30s, he’s already amassed over $2 billion in career sales.
All of this is even more striking when one realizes that it wasn’t too many years ago that he was working in a restaurant in Santa Barbara, first as a busboy, then, as his English improved, a server, after coming to the U.S. from Bolivia in 2003 at age 23 to learn English before embarking on an MBA program. (He already had a business and marketing university degree.)
School would have to wait for the son of a chemical engineer and politician father, and a kindergarten teacher mother, both of whom ingrained Arana with a work ethic of steel and a can-do attitude where nothing was off-limits. Both traits account for his explosive success in real estate after landing in Los Angeles, another new agent among many. “It’s about making a decision. It’s about knowing what you want,” says Arana, recounting his steps to success, all forged in self-determinism. Have goals and the certainty that you can achieve them, he shares. That and an unfailing work ethic.
“I believe we are all owners of our own destiny, and we can create our life,” he adds. “But we need to take charge as human beings of our own life, because no one else is going to do it for us.”
Arana balances hard work and a winning mindset with self care. Enter those indispensable rituals. “I work really hard, but at the same time I make time for myself,” he says. “If you are not working within, people will perceive that you’re not in alignment with yourself.” This means looking after one’s physical, emotional and spiritual health—something Arana emphasizes. “When I present myself to clients, they feel that energy and I think they are attracted to that.”
In real estate, where relationships are everything, showing up with a good vibe is essential. For Arana, this means days start early at his Pacific Palisades home. “I wake up at five o’clock in the morning and I meditate for half an hour.” This is followed by the gym (he has black belts in kickboxing and tae kwon do), and breakfast with his family. These things are non-negotiable and here’s why: “If I don’t do this every day,” he states, “I cannot be one-hundred percent Santiago.”
A hundred percent is important when the stakes are this high. Arana has achieved a rocket-ship like success; he needs fuel to keep moving forward. This includes actively growing his development business, finishing his first book and mentoring others. (Prior to speaking to DIGS, Arana had just wrapped up a motivational seminar for agents at his firm.)
Continuing to grow The Agency is another goal. Particularly appealing to Arana is stoking its increasingly international footprint. (The Agency recently opened an office in British Columbia, joining locations in Mexico and Turks and Caicos.) And, of course, continuing to sell luxury homes, principally in Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Santa Monica, and Malibu, where Arana has the bulk of his listings. In what must have been a satisfying twist to his earlier, less prosperous days in Santa Barbara, however, Arana has listed two record-setting estates in the area: one in Santa Barbara, currently on the market, and another, (sold earlier this year) in nearby Montecito, for $40 million and $35 million, respectively.
Those early days, however, when Arana was busing or waiting tables and dreaming big, are never lost on him: “Every day I think about them,” he says. “Every day I am grateful that I had to do that, and every day I’m grateful that I don’t have to do it anymore.
“I wake up every day and look at where I am,” he adds. “I see my house and my wife—who is my rock and biggest supporter—and my kids, and I feel like it’s a dream. I created it, and I’m living it.”
MANAGING PARTNER, THE AGENCY
PHOTOS: COURTESY OF SANTIAGO ARANA
It’s one thing to reach the top of your field, quite another to stay there for years. For Gayle Probst, whose name is a familiar one in the world of Palos Verdes Peninsula real estate, the formula has to do with the love of her job and a Midwestern work ethic that never quits.
“I LIKE PUTTING THE PIECES OF THE PUZZLE TOGETHER. IT’S LIKE A HIGH. GETTING PEOPLE’S GOALS ACCOMPLISHED IS EXCITING.”
Originally from Iowa, Probst has lived in Palos Verdes and the South Bay since the late 1970s
Included among REAL Trends “The Thousand” in 2016 for transaction volume
Among the Top 100 RE/MAX Agents in Southern California, and the Top 50 for the Westside/South Bay region
“I still do this as a seven-day a week job—I always have,” says Probst, whose pre-introduction to real estate came in the late-1970s, when she and her husband began buying properties and fixing them up. “We were just playing around with that because we were here in California and I wanted something to do,” says Probst, a native of Iowa who has called the South Bay and Palos Verdes home since moving West with her husband in the seventies.
Fast forward to over a decade later, when Probst, then a mother and housewife, had a yen to get back into the workforce. “I have a degree in education—teaching—and I didn’t want to be a teacher,” she recalls. “So what was I going to do? I’m going back to work. What is it that I think Gayle Probst could be good at?”
With a love for homes, a knack for sales and a husband in commercial real estate, in 1992 Probst acquired her real estate license. She joined Coldwell Banker and rolled up her sleeves. (In late 2012, she moved to her current home, RE/MAX Estate Properties.) Decades later Probst remains at the top in what is arguably one of the most competitive real estate pockets in the nation.
“Most people know I’m extremely honest and reliable and direct, and I think those are qualities that are needed today,” she says plainly when asked about the keys to her success. She also credits an ironclad commitment to working hard inculcated by her banker father.
But the word “fun” comes up frequently during the conversation, too, from discussing the sale of an epic oceanfront estate along Paseo del Mar to Probst’s conversations with prospective clients—almost always referrals from current or past clients—who call her to discuss their real estate issues.
“I like putting the pieces of the puzzle together,” she explains, describing the process of matching a buyer with their ideal home or helping a seller move on from a property, from plotting out the marketing plan to celebrating a final sale. “It’s like a high,” she says of her work. “Getting people’s goals accomplished is exciting.”
From Probst’s earliest real estate days to now, her business has been focused on the charmed haven of Palos Verdes Peninsula, a place she has enjoyed since taking childhood treks from Iowa to visit her aunt and uncle. “There’s much to love,” she says, pointing out the variety and beauty of the natural landscape to the strong schools and low crime.
“We’re in such an interesting mix of young and old here,” she adds, discussing the trend of longtime residents who are choosing to stay in the area, versus retiring to some far-off locale, thus increasing the number of local senior living communities. “People like the comfortable atmosphere. It’s always been one of those warm, inviting places.”
To newer real estate agents looking to bolster their success, her advice is as straightforward as the woman herself: Know your stuff. Have a deep and intricate knowledge of your business and market. Be ready for success and for clients. Every day. “People will come to you because you are prepared and they’re going to see that. Be prepared,” she says, adding with a chuckle: “That’s the old Girl Scout motto.”
RE/MAX ESTATE PROPERTIES
450 SILVER SPUR ROAD
ROLLING HILLS ESTATES, CA 90274
310.428.4861 | PACIFICUNIONLA.COM
FIRST IN CLASS
One of the original 11 founding agents of Partners Trust, now Pacific Union, and soon-to-be Compass
Co-Chair of the Pacific Union Community Giving Fund
Author of the monthly Hutton Report, which features off-market listings and neighborhood market updates
“IT’S ONE OF THE TOP THREE BIGGEST DECISIONS PEOPLE MAKE: GETTING MARRIED, HAVING KIDS, AND BUYING A HOUSE,” SAYS HUTTON. “IT HAS TO BE TAKEN VERY SERIOUSLY, AND IT CAN ONLY BE EXECUTED PERFECTLY WITH PEOPLE WHO KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING.”
It’s a familiar tale—a Midwest gal heads to California seeking greener pastures and bumps into her destiny. “I was in my twenties and working in marketing and PR, and probably making $60,000,” explains leading Westside real estate agent Darlene L. Hutton. “A decent salary, but not a lot.” While flipping her first home, her interest in real estate was piqued after discovering what the agent earned on the deal. “She made around $40,000. Almost my salary, and she didn’t do a good job!”
Armed with a marketing degree and a contact list of sports and entertainment figures, Hutton earned her real estate license and found quick success: “In my first deal I earned what I made in my first year salary,” she says of this early achievement, which was laden with elbow grease. “You definitely have to pay your dues. You’re at the bottom of the pool. I used to door-knock all the time. That’s how I used to build my business. I would network, go to women’s events.”
In 2009, she moved from Sotheby’s after being selected to be among the first round of agents at the newly formed Partners Trust, now Pacific Union—and soon to be part of Compass. The upcoming union will result in a 6,400-agent team nationally, and become the largest independent brokerage in the state. “It’s a very interesting time,” says Hutton of the merger. “The market is definitely starting to shift.”
Listening to Hutton’s voice, rapid-fire and friendly, one gets the impression of a person who moves quickly to get what she wants. “I’ve been a go-getter since a very young age,” remarks Hutton. “My father was in sales, and I’ve always wanted to be in business for myself.” Her attaché of real estate knowledge includes flipping homes and working in marketing, in addition to buying and selling homes. “It helps on another level” she says of these experiences, which connect her to her work in a personal and deeply satisfying way. “It’s not just my job, giving you firsthand experience,” say Hutton. “It’s me as a person, because I’ve done it.”
A current specialty of Hutton’s is off-market listings, which she points out as ideal for buyers who are not finding their dream property in the open market, or who are losing out in multiple offer situations. “The off-market stuff gives you a special edge, and I have a lot of experience in that, so it attracts certain buyers to me,” she notes. Another is the range of price points that Hutton deals in—anywhere from $300,000 upwards to $30 million—with the goal of servicing clients beyond the super well-heeled and, more strategically, knowing that today’s first-time condo buyer will be buying more substantive properties with her help in the following years.
The meet-and-greet marketing of her early real estate days has not gone by the wayside for Hutton, who still cites networking as her most valuable strategy. She places a special emphasis on past clients. “It’s a built-in referral,” she says, considering how closely a client will link their home to their real estate agent. Love your home? You probably love your agent. And vice versa. “It’s one of the top three biggest decisions people make: getting married, having kids, and buying a house,” says Hutton. “It has to be taken very seriously, and it can only be executed perfectly with people who know what they’re doing.”
PHOTOGRAPHS: COURTESY OF DARLENE HUTTON
“I don’t know if I told you I grew up on a prison reservation. I mean, what’s uglier and more depressing than a prison?” asks Meridith Baer with a chuckle. The designer and founder of home staging giant Meridith Baer Home is talking beauty and making it happen where it’s scarce. It’s a skill she’s perfected since childhood.
Meridith Baer Home stages approximately 200 homes per month
Houzz has named her firm Best of Design for the last five years (2014 to 2018)
ROOM TO DESIGN
Her DTLA warehouse—what Baer describes as “Disneyland for lovers of all things and interiors”—spans over 300,000 square feet of furnishings, rugs, plants, artwork and other décor
The daughter of a prison warden, Baer learned at an early age to create a world of her own making. To play and handcraft games, fun and wonder out of thin air. “You do the best with what you have, where you have it,” says the designer.
“And you take some risks,” she adds. “You get up and do something different.” She’s taken this advice to heart, and this year celebrates 20 years of rather stunning success with Meridith Baer Home, a company she spun from her imagination and two hands. In the late 1990s, Baer, then an actress and scriptwriter, was in between rental homes.
A woman of modest means and fabulous taste, she had lots of furniture, art, and decor, not to mention a massive plant collection—but nowhere to put it. A developer friend, whose unfurnished, high-end home on the Westside had been sitting on the market, let Baer perform her decorating magic in the home. She did and the property sold quickly, and well above the asking price.
At the time, home staging was not done, a situation Baer would change. A real estate agent who heard about the successful sale asked Baer to “furnish” another home. Then another. She rode the momentum to create Meridith Baer Home, the nation’s staging company, with a list of who’s who celebrity clients and an army of designers working around the nation. Doing the best with what you have, indeed.
“I got kicked out of my house,” explains Baer. “But then I put the furniture in a house someone was selling, and it sold for half a million over asking, and now I have a $100 million company.”
YOU DO THE BEST WITH WHAT YOU HAVE, WHERE YOU HAVE IT—AND YOU TAKE SOME RISKS. YOU GET UP AND DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
Headquartered in Los Angeles, which is also home to the company’s design warehouse spanning over 300,000 square feet, Meridith Baer Home has offices in San Francisco, New York, Miami, and the Hamptons. When we speak in mid-July of this year, her company had already staged 1,600 homes—a record. Baer’s firm also does interior design and leases luxury furnishings.
For those in a hurry, there’s Instant Home, where designers can furnish a property in as little as two weeks, based on a single consultation. “I’m super proud of the company, and the group of people I work with that built it,” says Baer. “It has a life of its own now, with all these great designers and business development people and crew. It’s a machine.”
Staging by Meridith Baer Home in New York (top) and California (bottom).
The idea of taking something undesirable or unwanted and giving it a new, positive life is summed up in a cheeky mantra Baer is fond of. “Chaff to gold,” we’ll call it here. “It’s basically taking something that no one wants, or something that doesn’t matter, and turning it into gold,” says Baer, who constantly applies it to design—turning cast-off gates into charmed decor or fashioning a gathering of branches into sophisticated centerpieces.
Even bad situations can be steered to the positive. This has been Baer’s belief since childhood, and for the last 20 years, she’s applied it rather spectacularly to her company, which continues its spiral upward. “I want to work seven days a week,” she says exuberantly. “I’m doing what I love.”
MERIDITH BAER HOME
In 2009, Hugh Evans III teamed up with four partners to form Partners Trust.
The group—Evans, Richard Stearns, Nick Segal, F. Ron Smith and David Findley—was looking to create an alternative to the existing agency model, where agents worked independently under a company banner.
“We wanted to create a new culture that was more of a team,” says Evans. “We realized that the group together could probably do more business than a bunch of agents competing with each other.”
Evans has over $2.5 billion in career sales
He’s listed among the most recent of Hollywood’s Top 25 Real Estate Agents (Hollywood Reporter) and Showbiz Real Estate Elite (Variety)
Evans set the price-per-square-foot record in Pacific Palisades with the $14 million sale of a six-bedroom California Modernist home at 748 Amalfi Drive
THE QUICKEST WAY TO GET SOMEBODY’S TRUST IS TO TELL THEM WHY THEY SHOULDN’T BUY SOMETHING. IF I DON’T BELIEVE IN IT AND I THINK THERE’S A PROBLEM WITH IT, I’M GOING TO TELL THEM.
They invited others aboard who shared this idea and, nearly 10 years and about 250 agents later, Partners Trust merged with Pacific Union International, which is currently the nation’s fifth largest brokerage by sales volume.
But it was many years earlier that Evans’ journey in real estate began, hammer in hand. After attending college in Colorado, the Santa Monica native worked as a general laborer in construction.
“I was doing grunt work,” he says. “I was the guy who runs around doing stuff that nobody else wants to do. It was fun. I really enjoyed that time.”
It wasn’t just after-work beers with the crew that was responsible for this fondness, but the interest in building it inspired, which would become central to Evans’ well-rounded real estate repertoire.
Agent, mortgage broker and developer. Agency founder.
“It gives me a lot of confidence knowing how to talk to clients from the beginning to the end of the transaction,” he explains.
“I can discuss the finance side. I can talk about the construction of the property. I can talk about it from an investment standpoint—I understand the value and emotion they are going through investing a tremendous amount of their own money, because I’ve been there myself.”
It’s this acumen, crossed with Evans’ approachable, consultative nature that has earned the trust of a stable of particularly well-heeled clientele.
“The quickest way to get somebody’s trust is to tell them why they shouldn’t buy something,” he advises. “If I don’t believe in it and I think there’s a problem with it, I’m going to tell them.”
Partners’ merge with Pacific Union was a victory for Evans and his team—“What we set out to do, we did,” he says—and the group is, as entrepreneurs are, busy creating new things. Co-founder Richard Stearns, for instance, recently profiled in this column (August 3, 2018 issue), has started Stearns + Partners, a next-gen real estate team at Pacific Union.
We wanted to create a new culture that was more of a team
In addition to selling homes, Evans is also returning to a former and not forgotten love.
“I’m back into building again,” he says, with a happy kick in his placid, warm voice. It’s a pursuit he and his business partner Chris Liebes engaged in for many years, creating standout architectural homes on epic sites in Brentwood and Pacific Palisades.
“We’re taking that model and starting again.” For Evans, the payoff is the process of building something exquisite and unique, then, similar to his work as a real estate agent, connecting it with its rightful owner. “It’s so satisfying to see someone who gets it,” the agent says of the match-making moment.
“They know it. It takes them five seconds.” It’s also not uncommon for him to bump into someone whose home he built 20 years ago, and find out that they’ve never moved, so right was the place.
He teases a specific project that he promises “is going to be amazing,” before pulling back: “But we’ll just leave that there.”
There are about 30 listings on Sandro Dazzan’s docket. All are in Malibu and range from an $85 million mansion on Malibu Crest Drive—known as the “New Castle”—to a $5.8 million Modernist stunner by architect Ed Niles.
Dazzan has an equal number of leases too, for the person who wants to lounge at the Malibu Colony for $100,000 per month, or stretch poolside at a villa overlooking La Costa Beach for about $30,000 per month. Ask him how he does it, and the answer is as easygoing as the man himself. “It just kind of falls into place,” he says with a laugh before turning serious. “It’s about having a good team, and being responsive and always being available.”
“When you sell a $50 million dollar piece of dirt, once you look back at it, you realize, ‘yeah, it was a pretty huge accomplishment.”
Sandro set a Malibu sales record in in 2011 for the highest residential sale, and again in 2017 for the highest land sale in Malibu history
Has closed more than $750 million in home sales
Included among Forbes’ “30 Under 30” Real Estate list in 2011
The last two are natural to the Malibu native, who was raised in real estate (his mother is super agent Irene Dazzan-Palmer) and chose the profession after leaving UCLA, economics degree in hand, and understanding that the world of finance might not be his cup of tea. “I realized if I went down the banking path, being in a cubicle 10 or 12 hours a day wasn’t really a good fit for me, ” says Dazzan, an outdoorsman who counts surfing and hiking among his favorite pastimes.
Real estate turned out to be a sage career move. Dazzan’s track record includes last year’s record-breaking sale of 24 ocean-bluff Malibu acres to developer Scott Gillen—a sale that felt like business as usual while it was happening. “When you sell a $50 million dollar piece of dirt,” he says, “Once you look back at it, you realize, ‘Yeah, it was a pretty huge accomplishment.’”
Despite having plenty of options, Dazzan chooses to live and work in Malibu, a place he refers to as “a passion of mine.” It’s also a place that has changed mightily in the past five years or so. Among the changes are increased amenities catering to and beckoning newcomers from all over the world, like the forthcoming Whole Foods and recently opened Soho House. “I travel all over the world,” says Dazzan. “You mention Malibu and it’s a global brand. Everybody knows it. That’s pretty exciting coming from the little sleepy beach town that I grew up in.”
It’s a town where Dazzan grew up playing Little League at Malibu Bluffs Park overlooking the ocean, and where he’s now raising his own family. It’s also an area he knows like the back of his hand. “Malibu is a very technical market,” he points out. “About 27 miles of coastline, and every half mile is completely different than the next.” There’s coastline, canyons and bluffs, and a slew of different neighborhoods. “You need somebody who understands every single nook and cranny,” says Dazzan, who knows how wind and sand will move on a specific property, or the position of the sunlight throughout the year.
“I’m very grateful for what I have, and where I live,” says Dazzan, whose appreciation for the place has been reinforced by his global travels, particularly to locations much less Malibu-like. Working with younger agents at The Agency—a collaborative firm that Dazzan describes as “a refreshing environment”—who are hungry and have a similar yen for Malibu is one of the ways he looks to shape its future. “I want to help them grow so they can continue this legacy of our special little beach town.”
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