Abad sold his janitorial corporation 16 years ago and entered real estate.
Donations from his Tower 60 merchandise go to the El Segundo Education Foundation.
COMMISSIONS FOR SCHOOLS
In 2007, Abad founded Commissions for Education, where real estate agents contribute 1 percent of their commissions to local schools
Alex Abad has spent the last 16 years in real estate—a pivot from an earlier chapter spent building up, and ultimately selling, his majority stake in a successful Los Angeles janitorial company that he and his wife founded. During his time in real estate, the bulk of which has been focused in El Segundo, the place he’s called home for over 30 years, Abad’s been a bright light in welcoming new companies to the charmed coastal town (over 200 have come to El Segundo in last few years alone).
“There are many developing sites that are going to bring hundreds, if not thousands, of employees,” says Abad. “They all will need housing, not just in El Segundo, but in the South Bay.” Gifted with a close proximity to LAX and a charmed quality of life, which includes a strong public education system, El Segundo is a magnet for families, points out Abad. “It’s completely different than any place in the South Bay.”
A relatively low supply of single-family homes crossed with strong demand equals a strong position in local real estate. It’s a good place to be, and keeps Abad and his growing team, which includes daughter, Amie Abad-Schneider, busy at his brick office on Grand Avenue. “I’m in a constant state of creating,” says Abad. “I don’t set goals, I create motion.”
His investment in the community is increasingly moving beyond selling houses. Abad is the former head of the El Segundo Education Foundation and founder of Commissions for Education (where fellow agents donate 1 percent of their commission to the school district in which the sale took place) and has been pleasantly surprised by the grassroots momentum of his Tower 60 initiative.
It started with a photo he took of the local lifeguard tower. It was a great shot, and Abad’s wife encouraged him to put a graphic of the image on coffee cups and give them to clients as gifts. He did so, and also listed the cups on Facebook, where he was inundated with requests. “I found myself shipping cups to Hawaii and throughout the states for free, because people wanted them,” he explains. In turn, Abad suggested that recipients donate to the El Segundo Education Foundation.
That was 2016. To date, thousands of Tower 60 coffee cups have been distributed. So have nearly 20,000 baseball hats, and if you live in the South Bay, then chances are you’ve spotted a Tower 60 sticker on a car too. All proceeds—tens of thousands of dollars so far—go to the El Segundo Education Foundation, or other like-minded organizations selected by Abad. “It’s become a real symbol of a brand that gives back 100 percent,” he says.
Ultimately Tower 60 and everything it represents—El Segundo, helping others—has been rolled into the Abad brand as a whole, and there are many parallels. “It comes from the way that you work,” he says of establishing one’s professional identity. “How knowledgeable, respectful, ethical you are.” That, and investing in others
ALEX ABAD | 310.877.6488
PHOTOGRAPHS: COURTESY OF ALEX ABAD REAL ESTATE GROUP
CINDY AMBUEHL GROUP
The Westside real estate maven talks the power of a personal touch—plus new technology.
Ambuehl has been in real estate for 12 years and is founder of the Cindy Ambuehl Group.
Named one of “Hollywood’s
Top 30 Real Estate Agents” by The Hollywood Reporter.
She’s played a real estate agent on five TV shows, including The Bold and the Beautiful, starring her husband Don Diamont.
When DIGS last spoke with Cindy Ambuehl she was smoothly multitasking, being interviewed while doing her hair and ironing out last-minute details for her event. The occasion? A party at one of her listings, a sleek Brentwood home on North Tigertail with a price tag just shy of $11 million.
There would be a jazz band and sushi, and attendance would be more than double of what was expected. Ambuehl’s Instagram feed would broadcast live videos of the event to her significant following. “People didn’t leave until nearly 2 in the morning,” she says. “It was phenomenal.”
The success of the evening was evidenced shortly after. “We ended up having someone come through the house on the night of the party,” she recounts. “The next day he wrote an offer, and we closed two weeks later.” It’s not unlike Ambuehl to employ a creative mix of methods to get all eyes on her listings—in this case, layering a live event atop social media to generate extra buzz.
Then again, she’s not your typical agent. After 20-plus years as a successful actress, culminating in a three-year run on the TV series JAG, Ambuehl set her sights on real estate, and ended up a partner at The Agency.
On April 1 of this year, Ambuehl moved brokerages, switching to Compass. “It was a really big decision for me,” says the mother of seven, whose love for The Agency remains strong.
Wanting to develop the newish Cindy Ambuehl Group—which includes son Zander Diamont, a former football MVP and social media pro turned agent, and Nikki Magliarditi, who spent two years as Ambuehl’s assistant prior to becoming a full-time agent—its namesake eyed Compass as the best fit for her current goals.
“I wanted to be where I would have the best opportunity to grow my team,” she explains. “It’s been an amazing experience so far.”
For Ambuehl, forming a group has everything to do with reaching more clients while sustaining her distinct business style. “We have a personal connection with our clients,” she says of her team.
“There’s a sense of trust and familiarity.” It’s a strong agent-client relationship that comes from her do-or-die service approach. “We work around the clock to accommodate clients,” Ambuehl points out. “We’re one-hundred percent there for them—it’s always about them.” This, she points out, is the most important part of her business, the part that will never change.
What a client can expect going forward is to reap the benefits of Ambuehl’s new investment in digital marketing, which will enable creative campaigns and a global reach. “We’ll be able to promote our clients’ listings like never before,” she declares.
Citing strong organizational and time management skills as contributors to her success, Ambuehl also points to a knack for remaining even-keeled no matter the scenario, and more importantly, having a mindset that never takes success for granted. The former is a trait she developed during her show business days in order to shine during big-ticket auditions.
(“I would have to take a nice deep breath, and walk in the door, cool, calm and collected,” she recalls.) Today, it’s invaluable during real estate negotiations and listing appointments. The latter quality, gratitude, is an inheritance from her police officer father and homemaker mother; part of a working-class perspective she’s retained and is taking care to pass along to her sons. “I’m the same person now as I was in high school in Anaheim, California,” she states.
Ambuehl, whose current listings range from $2.5 to $25 million, and whose brand category is clearly luxury, is quick to note that it’s a relative state, and can be experienced at any price point.
“Luxury to us was maybe going to the Olive Garden, or getting a nice set of cotton sheets,” she says of her upbringing. “We didn’t have a lot, but we didn’t care. We were happy.”
(CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT) CINDY AMBUEHL (CENTER) AND HER TEAM: AGENTS ZANDER DIAMONT (RIGHT) AND NIKKI MAGLIARDITI (LEFT). A SOPHISTICATED INTERIOR AT 1709 BRODERICK STREET IN SAN FRANCISCO LISTED FOR $5,999,999; A PEACEFUL POOLSIDE AT 12325 24TH HELENA DR. IN BRENTWOOD LISTED FOR $10,700,000.
CINDY AMBUEHL GROUP
310.321.9148 | CINDYAMBUEHLGROUP.COM
THE STEPHEN HAW GROUP
Stephen Haw received the Triple Platinum Medal from Keller Williams in 2017 and Quadruple Platinum Medal in 2018.
He has been in real estate for over 30 years, and has bought or sold over $1 billion of real estate on behalf of his clients.
Haw is a member of Institute for Luxury Home Marketing and its Million Dollar Guild.
A glance at Stephen Haw’s real estate team reveals a group of agents serving the range of clients who are buying and selling in Palos Verdes and the Beach Cities today. “They speak Chinese, speak Korean and speak Japanese, as well as English,” says Haw of his team, which even includes a green home specialist. “I assembled this team almost 10 years ago to service different client segments—and people seem to really like the concept.”
It was Haw who saw the promise of Palos Verdes when he shifted his business there in 1986, after starting out in Torrance real estate in the early 1980s. He took note of the price differential between properties in the two communities and made the change. “I felt that if I was spending the time at work,” he says with a chuckle, “I might as well do it in Palos Verdes.” Today, the bulk of his firm’s business remains in Palos Verdes, and about a third is in the Beach Cities and Torrance. Kidding aside, Haw says, “Whether it is a small townhouse or a multi-million mansion, I treat each sale with the same care and attention. There is nothing too small or too big for me to handle.”
Haw’s foray into real estate followed a master’s degree in marketing from Oregon State University, and it proved a great career choice right off the bat. “I was really fortunate,” says Haw. “I did well in my first year, my second year and third year.” Success begets success, he muses. “Even during downtimes in the real estate cycle, I was always doing really well.”
Credit Haw’s mix of hard-nose tenaciousness contrasted with a pleasingly low-key demeanor for helping keep business steady. Conscientiousness, particularly when it comes to privacy, is another: “I respect my clients’ privacy, and always keep their personal matters confidential,” he states.
Especially advantageous to Haw’s business is that during the last 20 years, many Taiwanese and Chinese nationals have been selling and buying real estate in Palos Verdes. For Haw, who’s fluent in Chinese and Taiwanese dialects, this means he can service these markets with ease.
This, along with a team that can reach into diverse communities, plus the firm’s well-versed practice of marketing their listings overseas, adds up to a distinct advantage for both buyer and listing clients. “I can give the seller a lot of exposure,” he explains. In addition to the tried-and-true strategies, such as print ads and online marketing, Haw’s firm sets up secure Chinese websites to market properties.
Assembling a global team to optimize real estate opportunities in his home turf is just another way to service clients for Haw, whose fondness for his craft runs deep. “It’s the only business I’ve ever been in,” he explains. “Once I got involved, 30-some years ago, I never left. I really love it.” For him, the reward of real estate is in making good things happen for his clients.
“You can see the clients’ enjoyment when they’re moving into their new house,” says Haw. Commission is an afterthought, he points out, and a natural output of providing great service. It’s a nugget of real estate wisdom he regularly shares with his team: “If you take care of your clients, the money will come. You don’t have to worry about that part. Don’t think about the money—think about the service.”
THE STEPHEN HAW GROUP
PHOTOGRAPHS: COURTESY OF THE STEPHEN HAW GROUP
PHOTOS BY EMILY THE STEPHEN HAW GROUP
“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
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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