Influencers

DIGS Real Estate Market Influencer: Meridith Baer

“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.

DIGS Real Estate Market Influencer: Meridith Baer

TALLY
Meridith Baer Home stages approximately 200 homes per month

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
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
310.204.5353
MERIDITHBAER.COM

DIGS Real Estate Market Influencer: Hugh Evans III

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.”

Real Estate Market Influencer: Hugh Evans III


By the Number

Evans has over $2.5 billion in career sales

Listed

He’s listed among the most recent of Hollywood’s Top 25 Real Estate Agents (Hollywood Reporter) and Showbiz Real Estate Elite (Variety)

On Record

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.

Real Estate Market Influencer: Hugh Evans III _listing

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.”

Real Estate Market Influencer: Sandro Dazzan

Sandro Dazzan Made in Malibu

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.”


RECORD

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

SALES TAB

Has closed more than $750 million in home sales

LISTED

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.”

“The Lake House” at 3350 Serra Road in Malibu

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.”

Sandro Dazzan  |  The Agency

22601 Pacific Coast Hwy #103,  Malibu, CA 90265

424.249.7040   |  theagencyre.com

Real Estate Market Influencer: Greg Geilman

Greg Geilman

Managing Director & Co-Founder, The DOMO Group

Geilman’s firm, founded with veteran local agent Rob Freedman, has been a South Bay real estate force since the pair partnered in 2015. Starting out as the Freedman Geilman Group, the two switched names to The DOMO Group as a nod to the Japanese word for “thanks.” Also embedded in that concept is, for Geilman, a focus on gratitude, humility and satisfaction.

“Many years ago I had a near-death experience and it changed everything,” says Greg Geilman. “As a result, I deal with people in a way that is different.”

This includes a real estate approach that veers from convention and results in consistent success. “High-powered sales organizations are very focused on making their numbers,” he explains. “We’re less focused on making our numbers and more focused on making happy customers.” The idea: Concentrate on people and the numbers will take care of themselves.


Community

The DOMO GIVES initiative was established in 2017 to help people in the South Bay with one-time, urgent needs

Praise

Nearly 200 five-star client reviews across Yelp and Zillow

Teamwork

His firm has been The Official South Bay Realtors for the Los Angeles Kings since 2014


“I take my clients happiness very personally and very seriously,” he says. Not just clients, but those at his firm too; a close-knit, locally focused office where there’s a Director of Client Happiness on staff. “We have plans to grow,” says Geilman, “but it’s a very concerted, cautious growth. We’re very protective of our culture.”

Those who lead with calls for service and positivity, and personally practice it, are often those individuals who’ve been on the frontlines of adversity. For Geilman it was an early chapter of life dimmed by substance abuse—one that resulted in his near-death brush—that ultimately forged a meaningful rebirth, for which he remains grateful.

Scenes from a DOMO listing at 713 35th Street in Manhattan Beach.

“There have been times in my life where I had nothing to live for,” recalls Geilman. “No focus, nothing driving me.” The Woodland Hills native would later move to Redondo Beach (“I met a girl,” he says of the woman who would become his wife), then into a real estate career, where he turned his highly attuned listening and understanding skills into gold for clients.

713 35th Street in Manhattan Beach

Geilman’s touch is twined with a knack for applying technology to real estate, and in early adopter fashion. Among DOMO’s strategies has been the acquisition of local sites, including SouthBayResidential.com, ManhattanBeachHomes.com and their latest, LosAngelesHomes.com.

“People are not really looking for a real estate agent, they’re looking for a solution to their life problem.”

“I’ve been known to have a domain-name buying addiction,” Geilman says with a chuckle, before discussing the hyper-local nature of real estate, and the value of having sites dedicated to individual Beach Cities neighborhoods.

The DOMO Group, with Rob Freedman (Center Left) and Greg Geilman (Center Right)

The two agents, Freedman and Geilman, make for an apt match due to differing sets of experience that interlock nicely—Freedman with decades under his belt and Geilman with a tech mindset and novel approach to building organizations.

“We complement each other really nicely,” says Geilman. “Rob is a super-negotiator and one of the most creative problem solvers I have ever met. I bring a steady and systematic, technology-based approach to our business.” When combined, the two yield value much greater than the sum of their parts.

Then there’s their shared philosophy. “My father told me a long time ago that you don’t have to screw anybody to get ahead,” says Freedman in the opening shot of the firm’s video. Geilman then offers another: “People aren’t really looking for a real estate agent, they’re looking for a solution to their life problem.” Therein lies the DOMO, which is to say, Geilman approach: Be nice, and at the end of the day it’s not completely about real estate.

Greg Geilman

The Domo Group |  RE/MAX Estate Properties
1040 Manhattan Beach BlvdManhattan Beach, CA 90266
310.504.3630 | domorealestate.com

Photos: courtesy of THE DOMO GROUP

Anthony Marguleas

Real Estate Market Influencer: Anthony Marguleas

Anthony Marguleas Founder of Amalfi Estates — Giving, Winning and Teaching

“I have a weird belief on money. I believe once your basic needs are met, it should be given away to help others.” This from Anthony Marguleas, who has translated this belief into action at Amalfi Estates, the independent agency in Pacific Palisades he founded in 1995. Every time a home is sold—which is often—10 percent of the commission is given to charity. “I enjoy helping people,” Marguleas says simply.

The Philanthropic Firm

Since 2014, Amalfi Estates have given nearly $750,000 to charity

Client Satisfaction

150 five-star client reviews across Yelp and Zillow

Team Work

In 2017, Marguleas’ team was ranked at 143rd in the nation by REAL Trends/The Wall Street Journal for top teams by transaction volume, with $140 million in sales


Amalfi Estates, Anthony Marguleas

On each sale, the client selects from one of five charities, each with a different focus, from homelessness and children to animals, health and the local community. “We don’t market ourselves as a real estate company,” he points out. “We’re a philanthropic company that happens to be experts in selling real estate.”

This contrarian bent shows up in almost everything Anthony Marguleas touches and happens to yield terrific results. For instance, he’s never worked at a residential brokerage firm (“I didn’t learn any bad habits,” he says with a laugh), yet his independent firm regularly racks up Best in Nation accolades and sales records.

“I’m not a salesperson,” says Marguleas, who’s nonetheless achieved over $1 billion dollars in sales during his career: “I’m analytical.” It’s a distinction that’s important, given the extent to which data gathering and analysis drive—and differentiate—his business.

“We do things quite differently.” This means having more structures and systems in place than other firms. Example: While the average agent might conduct one or two home inspections during a home purchase, an Amalfi agent will conduct seven or eight.

If common real estate wisdom says the slowest time of year to sell is winter, or the best time to sell is spring, “We question that,” says Anthony Marguleas. “We have some of our best months in December and January, as there are fewer competitive properties to compete with on the market.”

Likewise, he’ll recommend to his sellers not to sell when the market is soft or at the start of a recovery, and to be careful when buying when prices are close to the peak. Why? “Because it’s the truth,” he says.

I have a weird belief on money. I believe once your basic needs are met, it should be given away to help others.

Above, An award-winning architectural home on Old Topanga Canyon Road, designed by Sarah Graham and sold by Amalfi Estates; Below, Two scenes from an Amalfi Estates residential listing, on Charmel Lane in Pacific Palisades.

Giving back and investing in others comes in many forms for Marguleas, including passing his knowledge of real estate—and how to turn its existing conventions sideways—to others. To that end, he’s penned hundreds of articles, taught real estate at UCLA for the past 14 years and co-authored a book, California Real Estate Client Strategies.

“The real estate industry for 100 years has all been trained in very archaic methods,” says Anthony Marguleas. Door knocking. Cold calling.

Our industry is one of the last industries that’s being changed. There’s a lot of newer models that are coming out that are going to shake up our industry.

Getting the real estate community on board with giving back to the community is a change he’s happy to spearhead. While the average agent or firm gives maybe $50 to $100 per transaction, Anthony Marguleas notes, “Our agents give on average about $7,000.”

The difference translates into a real-world impact. His team funds five wishes a year (at about $10,000 per wish) for Make-A-Wish Foundation. They’ve annually paid to shelter 150 dogs up for adoption at spcaLA and each year, funded a week’s lodging for 130 cancer patients through the American Cancer Society. “We’ve been able to touch a lot of lives in a very short period, which we’re very excited about.”

 

Anthony Marguleas | Amalfi Estates

984 Monument Street, Suite 105
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
310.293.9280 | amalfiestates.com

Real Estate Market Influencer: Scott Moore | DIGS

Scott Moore

Buying, building and selling on the Westside — and feeling you’re in the right place

“In my belief, I think my path is pre-determined—and you know when you’re off your path.” Words of wisdom from a man who has reached fresh heights in a career that’s been years in the making, and powered by journeys in law, construction and real estate, along with exploring the globe—56 countries and counting—and playing professional soccer in Europe for Team USA at the tender age of 17.

It’s Scott Moore, founder and CEO of BBS Real Estate and a broker at Douglas Elliman, and these days he gets to be the visionary—pondering new development deals and enacting strategy from a wide-angle perspective—without being too entangled in the everyday minutiae of his firm, which finds promising investment properties, builds them out in high style and sells them to the highest bidder.

Anyone who has tasted hard-won success knows that such a position doesn’t come without having spent hours in often unglamorous trenches.

On the development side, Moore’s roles have included everything from general contractor and project manager to site supervisor and accounting controller. He even has his general contractors license, handy since BBS has an in-house construction arm. In real estate, it’s buying and selling.

“I’ve been able to see all aspects of the industry from different perspectives,” says the native Angeleno, who grew up in Brentwood and attended Pacific Palisades High School before heading to UC Santa Barbara and McGeorge School of Law.

Afterwards, he worked at an entertainment law firm in Beverly Hills, then transitioned to COO of the family’s business and wealth management firm, Financial Specialists, where he simultaneously ran the real estate division.

Developing properties from a 360-perspective gives Moore and his team an edge on producing cutting-edge homes primarily in Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica and Brentwood—an epicenter of low supply and endless demand that Moore calls “recession resistant dirt” for its ability to fare economic storms that flatten other markets.

After years of development, I started BBS because I can offer everything under one roof to buy, build, and sell in recession-resistant neighborhoods of Los Angeles.”

Among their current projects is 1325 Chautauqua in the Palisades, what Moore describes as “probably the most unique yet complicated build,” but also the most special due in part to its views, which stretch from Downtown L.A. to the mountains and shores of Malibu.

There’s a family friendly California home at 247 20th Street in Santa Monica—North of Montana in Gillette’s Regent Square, coveted for its large lots and wide, tree-lined streets—plus a sleek white Modernist abode they’re putting finishing touches on at 1634 Casal, in the exclusive Upper Riviera section of Pacific Palisades.

  • For over 15 years Moore has bought, created and sold new construction residences across his native Westside
  • From 2003 to 2009, he ran the real estate division of Financial Specialists, a full-service business and wealth management firm that he, his father and brother founded
  • Moore is founder and CEO of BBS Real Estate—short for “Buy, Build, Sell”—as well as a broker at Douglas Elliman and co-founder of Moore+Jaret Group 

“It’s going to be a good ride,” says Moore, who recently joined forces with agent Ally Jaret to form Moore+Jaret Group, a specialty Westside real estate and development firm under the Douglas Elliman umbrella. It’s a lot of business to handle, and Moore welcomes it: “I act best under pressure,” he says, crediting his legal training with his “resolutionist” mindset and the ability to balance total immersion in projects and clients alongside a rational distance, “to make sure you’re providing the best advice.”

That and a strong team, including BBS managing partner Tony Ramsey—who oversees the construction arm of the business while Moore takes care of the buying and selling aspect—are making his effortful ride along new heights an enjoyable one. “I feel the most comfortable being in the space that I’m in now,” says Moore.

“After years of development, I started BBS because I can offer everything under one roof to buy, build, and sell in recession-resistant neighborhoods of Los Angeles. I’m where I’m supposed to be—and now I look forward to the next 20 years of business.”

Scott Moore BBS Real Estate

Moore+Jaret Group | Douglas Elliman

11990 San Vicente Blvd #100, Los Angeles, CA 90049
310.678.7855  |  bbsre.com  |  moorejaretgroup.com

Photograph Courtesy of Scott Moore

Real Estate Market Influencer: Gerard Bisignano | DIGS

Gerard Bisignano: The Beach Cities & Palos Verdes agent and marketing pro shares insights on the art of real estate

The creative streak that feeds Gerard Bisignano’s real estate acumen can be traced to a pivotal moment in his early teen years. “My dad was a war correspondent in Vietnam,” says the Palos Verdes native.

“On his last trip, which was his fourth, he walked into my bedroom and hands me the 35-millimeter camera that he was using in the jungle. ‘Here,’ he says. ‘This is yours.’”

Bisignano was 15 years old, and the gift sparked an attraction to photography that has persisted since then, and resulted in previous careers as a pro photographer and the owner of an agency that managed them.

When you work with a very successful client—you cannot sell them. All you can do is supply information, the information they want, and guide them through the decision-making process.”

These days the longtime agent is a partner at Vista Sotheby’s, where he’s also head of marketing. “I’m a lousy artist,” he laughs, “but I have a creative side to me, so photography helps express that. Even my marketing and passion for architecture comes from that creative base.” Being fluent in the art of visual language is a handy skill, particularly in real estate.

“We are such a visually driven society that we are keen on making sure that the images that I use, or the company uses, are impactful,” says Bisignano. “Every single photo that’s submitted for a Sotheby’s listing gets reviewed at the corporate level before being approved.”

That’s a lot of images, given the approximately 900 Sotheby’s offices worldwide. It’s a level of scrutiny that makes sense when one considers the brand’s cachet as well as its global reach, particularly in online marketing—a reach that Bisignano ranks as “unsurpassed.”

Another creative specialty that Bisignano has parlayed into real estate success is architecture. It’s a passion that started with a client who owned the Kaufmann Desert House, a 1946 Richard Neutra getaway in Palm Springs that’s considered one of the most shining examples of International Style architecture.

“I realized there was a whole artistic side to architecture that I hadn’t really begun to appreciate,” says Bisignano. From there he began representing architectural homes in the South Bay. Quite a few of them, including designs by Ray Kappe, Thom Mayne, Richard Neutra and Pierre Koenig.

A Bisignano contrast of styles in current listings: a Richard Landry estate in Palos Verdes

The day we speak, Bisignano is listing another standout property: a $15.45 million oceanfront estate in Rancho Palos Verdes created by Richard Landry, known for designing sprawling star-studded properties, the likes of which snagged Robb Report’s Ultimate Home designation four years in a row.

Even in the hefty priced world of Beach Cities’ real estate, this listing is significant, but not a blue-moon occurrence for Bisignano. (A short time after we speak, he finalizes negotiations on a property in Rolling Hills that, when escrow closes, will represent the highest sale on record in Palos Verdes at just under $16 million.)

A contemporary Strand home by architect Dean Nota

“He interviewed me by a recommendation and that was enough for him,” says Bisignano of the owner of the Landry listing.

“The fact that he’s trusting me with this enormous asset is very humbling.” It’s a trust that might be inspired by Bisignano’s style, which avoids traditional selling, per se, and often results in an exclusive client relationships that last for decades.

“When you work with a very successful client—you cannot sell them,” Bisignano says. “All you can do is supply information, the information they want, and guide them through the decision-making process.”

Photos: Courtesy of Gerard Bisignano

Gerard Bisignano, Partner

Vista Sotheby’s International Realty
16 Malaga Cove Plaza
Palos Verdes Estates, CA 90274
310.990.4727 | coastalluxuryliving.com

Real Estate Market Influencer: Marco Rufo | DIGS

Marco Rufo: A Local Realtor With A Global Touch Sells Luxury Homes And Shapes Policy

In the late-1980s, Marco Rufo was a Boston transplant attending UCLA and working part-time as a limo driver. One of his steadiest clients was the head of a Japanese conglomerate. After about a year of driving the man, Rufo made his pitch: “‘Listen, I’m not just a limousine driver,’” he told him. “‘If I can help you in your business with real estate’—because he was buying huge properties—‘I would love to be involved.’”

Leader Of The Pack

Rufo is president elect of the Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association of Realtors, and will serve as president in 2019.

Sales By Year

He has minimum annual sales of $100 million.

Nationally Ranked

A local Realtor with a global touch sells luxury homes and shapes policy

About

Marco Rufo is a Broker Associate with GRI and e-PRO designations, which are advanced certifications from the National Association of Realtors


Sold on the idea, the man brought the ambitious undergraduate into his firm. Within the next three years Rufo purchased and sold over a half-billion dollars in commercial real estate domestically and abroad. Office buildings. Hospitality properties. Golf courses. Not bad for a young upstart who hadn’t even received his degree. “We had a run of about 10 years,” says Rufo. “I learned a lot about business and I was involved in a high level of business interaction all over the world.”

Rufo went on to establish his own commercial firm in L.A. before turning his eye to residential real estate. After years of working in the commercial world, an indifferent place of corporate attorneys and boardrooms, selling homes to people captured his heart.

“I started experiencing residential and understanding how happy and wonderful selling real estate can be,” says Rufo, who after years of managing, buying and selling real estate firms on the Westside can be found at his office in Pacific Palisades where he sells luxury residences.

Much of the Rufo experience revolves around making sure clients have a deep understanding of every part of the transaction. “A lot of the time even savvy purchasers don’t understand the process,” he says. “What you get from my signature experience is that I will detail the process to you like it’s never been detailed before.”

The goal, he explains, is for a client to have an eagle-eyed sense of what they are transacting—which Rufo sees as much more than just land with a pretty house on it. “I think everything in the world revolves around real estate,” he points out. “We do what we do because of shelter, and providing for our families.”

A Marco Rufo listing in the hills of Brentwood, at 1225 Chickory Lane (http://1225chickory.com)

Rufo, who was born in Rome and spent years in a global milieu during his commercial real estate years, is at home in Los Angeles with a diverse client base—many of them international buyers, often from Asia—who rely on him for a personal touch mixed with hard-nosed business acumen.

In addition to his duties as agent, Rufo is involved in real estate on the legislative side. There are posts at the local association of Realtors—he’s president elect of the Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association of Realtors, and currently serves as its director—as well as at the California Association of Realtors (where he’s state-level director), and at the National Association of Realtors. “I am heavily involved in creating and molding the policies that are coming up,” says Rufo, who regularly heads to Sacramento and Washington DC as part of these groups. He acknowledges that this passion involves time away from family and business, but it’s a sacrifice he’s compelled to make on behalf of a greater purpose. “I do it because I care,” he states. “I’m trying to shape our industry for the highest level of professionalism and to protect homeowners.”

Written By: Constance Dunn
Photographs: Courtesy Of Marco Rufo

Marco Rufo

Berkshire Hathaway Homeservices
881 Alma Real Drive, Suite 100
Pacific Palisades, Ca 90272
310.488.6914 | Info@MarcoRrufo.Com

Cindy Ambuehl headshot

Real Estate Market Influencer: Cindy Ambuehl

Cindy Ambuehl headshot

Cindy Ambuehl

COMPASS

DIGS dives into the stories behind some of the world’s best real estate professionals. Market Influencer weaves a narrative journey about agents, entrepreneurs and influencers—and what drives them to succeed. This week we tell Cindy Ambuehl’s story, a social media maven at COMPASS.

 

Cindy Ambuehl, the LA real estate star points out the power of social media and the forever power of caring for your clients.

Cindy Ambuehl was already accustomed to high-profile success when she hit her stride as a real estate agent. “I had a 22-year run,” she says her former career in front of the camera. “I was very blessed as a sitcom actress, then I ended on JAG for three years. It was fabulous. But while they were all taking their studio bonuses and buying matching motorcycles and jet skies and Aston Martins, I was out buying real estate.” Ambuehl credits her pragmatic streak to a modest upbringing in Orange County with a police officer father and housewife mother. “I was raised that the simple things in life are the important things. I didn’t need all that to make me happy.”

Nowadays, Ambuehl is now at Compass, formerly partner at The Agency and sells top-tier real estate mainly on the Westside, where she creates much of her business due to a robust social network. “My clients seem to hug Sunset Boulevard,” she says with a chuckle, referring to the ultra-luxe corridor running from Malibu to Beverly Hills.

When clients are following my stories and my posts—I do funny videos with my kids and my husband—people feel like they know me. It creates a feeling of familiarity and trust. 

Much of her approach to real estate involves a smart melding of new and time-tested practices. “In 2018, it’s done differently and we love that,” she says, referring to the practical benefits of technology. In the process, she points out, sometimes the focus gets blurred on a real estate agent’s most important function—to help shepherd one’s client through an important, often deeply personal purchase. Don’t let that happen is her advice, particularly to newer agents. “Don’t ever attach yourself to the outcome, because then you’re not honoring the process that gets you there,” she notes. “If you honor the process, the outcome will happen.” The process in this case: “Caring for our clients, period.”

Ambuehl’s media acumen can be seen in one of her current listings, a glossy Brentwood showcase. Listed at just under $11 million, and a few minutes north of Sunset on North Tigertail Road, the home has piqued the interest of pop-rock royalty Justin Bieber, who Ambuehl hosted a showing for in early May. The Los Angeles Times pointed out its “It” factor when they listed it as Home of The Week. Much of this is documented on her Instagram feed, along with her live clips from the fun shindig thrown to premiere the home.

800 Tigertail_Cindy Ambuehl

Cultivating client relationships is where Ambuehl shines. Her nearly 40,000 social media followers get to know her via frequent postings spanning real estate business, travels and a full and animated home life that includes her husband, actor Don Diamonte, and their seven boys. “Social media gives buyers the chance to put a personality to the name,” she says. “When clients are following my stories and my posts—I do funny videos with my kids and my husband—people feel like they know me. It creates a feeling of familiarity and trust.” Social media was a tool she was initially egged on to use by her sons, and her faith in its business value was cemented when a single post led to a referral from Dallas and a subsequent sale. “He saw one of my posts and within 21 days I had sold the guy a $10 million house.”

 

Cindy Ambuehl

COMPASS
310.321.9148 | cindyambuehlgroup.com

 

Written by Constance Dunn

 

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Real Estate Market Influencer: Alex Abad | DIGS

Alex Abad

Top Producing Agent | Palm Realty Boutique 

DIGS dives into the stories behind some of the world’s best real estate professionals. Market Influencer weaves a narrative journey about agents, entrepreneurs and influencers—and what drives them to succeed. This week we tell Alex Abad’s story, a top producer in El Segundo.


The South Bay’s homegrown entrepreneur talks about the rise of El Segundo and the real meaning of real estate success

Alex Abad was well into adulthood when he selected real estate as his ambitious next act. “It was something I always wanted to do,” says the entrepreneurial Abad, who joined South Bay Brokers in 2005 after selling off majority control of his multi-million dollar janitorial company, which he had built from scratch with his wife and a $5,000 credit card. “We had established ourselves as a very elite company that provided an extremely high level of service,” says Abad, who still owns a stake in the firm. “That carried with me over to real estate.”

DIGS Market Influencer: Alex Abad, Palm Realty BoutiqueSoon after joining South Bay Brokers (since merged with Vista Sotheby’s International Realty), Abad was charged with opening a Hermosa Beach office with colleague Nick Schneider. He then opened another office for them in El Segundo.  With the move to El Segundo came a homecoming of sorts and a planting of his flag in what would become the center of his business.

El Segundo, after all, was where his father had worked not long after bringing his family from Argentina in the late 1960s. As a child growing up in the South Bay, Alex spent many happy days doing what South Bay boys do—surfing and hanging out on the beach.

  • Best in Class:  Abad is consistently ranked no. 1 at Palm Realty Boutique, which includes over 100 agents
  • The Real Deal:  In 2017, he closed over 100 residential and commercial real estate transactions
  • Community Minded:  Abad is a current member of EDAC, El Segundo’s’ Economic Development Advisory Council, and former chairman of the El Segundo Education Foundation

Even after switching real estate firms in 2013—the year that Abad joined Palm Realty Boutique—he stayed focused on El Segundo. From his brick-front office located in the center of the still-charmed town, Abad’s been active not just in real estate but in shaping the town’s future too. In addition to being its high-profile booster, he is a member of EDAC, the town’s Economic Development Advisory Council, along with being former chairman of the El Segundo Education Foundation.

In recent years, the town has blossomed to heights few could predict, and Abad is more than pleased. “In the last couple of years,” he reports, “we’ve had over 170 companies come to El Segundo.” Many of them are in tech or production and seeking sharp-looking creative spaces blessed with El Segundo’s close proximity to the airport, along with other plum bonuses that come with the location.

“The main reasons why a lot of individuals and companies are intrigued with El Segundo,” says Abad, “is the quality of education, the quality of life and the business-friendly atmosphere that El Segundo provides along this amazing coastal corridor.”

News on the residential side might have you kicking yourself for not scooping up that $500,000 charmed shack you were eyeing 10 years ago. Inventory is low and prices are soaring. “There’s an average of eight to 11 single-family homes at any given time,” says Abad. “This makes it extremely competitive for buyers, who find themselves often dealing with multiple offers on any given home.”

Scarce inventory is not unusual in the South Bay, but demand has stepped up with the number of new companies coming to town—which means, prices are rising at the pace of a turbo-charged elevator. “In 2016 the median price home in El Segundo was about $950,000,” says Abad. “In 2018 it’s roughly $1.4 million. This growth has made El Segundo the city with the fastest increasing land value in California for 2017.”

 

It’s a wave Abad has been riding with ease. After all, he was that kid with a penchant for making others happy, and in business, the entrepreneurial self-starter with no qualms about rolling up his sleeves to get a job done. It’s a lifetime of experience that makes for a clear-eyed assessment of what his current vocation is really about: “I start every day by being extremely grateful for everything I have,” says Abad.

Then a challenge: “How can I do a better job today?” It’s a mentality that Abad adapted from his earliest work history—to perpetually bring forth an increased level of service, with the goal of being the go-to guy. In the South Bay’s sea of agents, how does one even stand out, much less be selected as the right one for the job? Being highly knowledgeable, likable and reliable are good places to start, he says, “If I’m chosen it means I’m trusted—and to be trusted is the greatest reward you can have in this business.”

 

Alex Abad

Palm Realty Boutique
201 W Grand Ave, El Segundo, CA 90245
310.877.6488 | alexabadrealestate.com

Written by Constance Dunn  |  Photography Courtesy of Alex Abad

 

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DIGS Market Influencer: James Respondek headshot

Real Estate Market Influencer: James Respondek | DIGS

James Respondek

Real Estate Agent | Sotheby’s International Realty

DIGS Market Influencer: James Respondek headshot

DIGS dives into the stories behind some of the world’s best real estate professionals. Market Influencer weaves a narrative journey about agents, entrepreneurs and influencers—and what drives them to succeed. This week we tell James Respondek’s story, an A-lister agent at Sotheby’s International Realty.

James Respondek, the A-lister muses on a nearly four-decade real estate career—starting when a fixer-upper could still be had in the Palisades for $200,000

James Respondek was 18 years old when he made his first real estate transaction for the princely sum of $5,000. “I rode up on the back of a friend’s motorcycle, up to this little subdivision,” he recounts. “We looked around, and I found a lot. The real estate agent said, ‘Why don’t you buy it?’ and I said, ‘How can I?’ and he said, ‘Well, just give me a $20 deposit and go back and figure it out.’” Respondek did, and a few years later sold it for a $3000 profit. It felt good.

“Real estate had always been appealing,” says Respondek, who made his career choice official in 1979 when he got his license, settled into the Westside and started selling homes. It was a time when the MLS was available only in print, computers were hardly mainstream and national cell phone service was still a glint in a developer’s eyes. “When I first started,” says Respondek, “the first computer was a matrix line computer in the back of the office that peeled off listings.”

  • On the Job
    Respondek has been a real estate agent since earning his license in 1979
  • Of Note
    Closed over $1 billion in real estate transactions during his nearly 40-year career
  • Thinking Green
    Respondek’s Point Dume home was one of the first in Los Angeles to be certified LEED Platinum, the highest rating awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council

Nowadays, if one is looking at the high-luxe real estate in coastal communities from Malibu to Marina del Rey, and inland to Bel Air, it very well might be listed by Respondek. It’s the seasoned agent’s home turf, with the core of his business located in Pacific Palisades, where he’s had offices since the 1980s. “The Palisades is just a great bedroom community,” he says. “It’s a great family area.”

He’s particularly positive on Palisades Village, developer Rick Caruso’s 125,000-square-foot development that will bring over 50 shops and eateries to Sunset Boulevard and Swarthmore Avenue this summer, along with a reconfigured Bay Theater. “It’s going to give the Village a fabulous facelift,” says Respondek. “As charming as it was, it was kind of tired from an architectural and amenities standpoint. This is going to be a huge plus.”

Ask Respondek if he, decades ago, could imagine the run-up of prices in his market and his answer is swift: “No. Never.” But price prophecies are a tricky thing, he says. The moment you’re sure the sky’s the limit, you might get hit with an unexpected downturn. And vice versa. “As soon as you say, ‘It can’t go up anymore’—it goes up some more.” His advice? “Stay open and let the market flow.”

It’s counsel coming from a learned place, considering Respondek has been witness to a sea change in local real estate since starting out nearly 40 years ago. “The [Malibu] Colony was still relatively cheap,” he recalls. “You could get a little fixer-upper in the Palisades for under $200,000.”

A lifestyle change that Respondek muses might be coming to the market in the next couple of years relates to the size of homes, challenging the concept that “bigger is better.” “People might put less emphasis on the size of a property,” he points out, instead placing greater weight on ease-of-living variables such as efficiency, comfort and being within convenient proximity to everyday destinations. “The mega square-footage thing is nice,” he says, “but it’s just more stuff to take care of.”

DIGS Market Influencer: James Respondek, Sotheby's

This quintessential Pacific Palisades home, sold by Respondek in 2017, overlooks the ocean from its mountain perch, and comes with LEED-certified environmental credentials

In a business not known for lacking in competition and hungry newcomers, Respondek has kept his place on top by staying engaged in his market. “You have to stay active,” he says. Spot emerging trends. Have good product knowledge. “Always be looking at property and keep your ear to the ground with what’s going on—who’s selling what and who’s buying what.” Anything else? “Some of [success] is probably going to be an innate intuition, talent, and gift of the gab.” For Respondek, who has transacted over $1 billion during his career so far, there’s also the visceral excitement that comes with striking a deal. “When you get a deal and it falls together—that’s exciting,” he says. It’s a rush that’s not abated for him since the day he hopped on the back of a motorcycle and bought his first property with a $20 bill. “It’s probably more exciting to me than getting the check.”

 

James Respondek

Sotheby’s International Realty
15308 Sunset Blvd, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272

310.255.5411 | jamesrespondek.com

 

Written by Constance Dunn

 

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DIGS Market Influencer: Ed Kaminsky

Real Estate Market Influencer: Ed Kaminsky

Ed Kaminsky

Top 100 Real Estate Agent | The Kaminsky Real Estate Group

DIGS dives into the stories behind some of the world’s best real estate professionals. Market Influencer weaves a narrative journey about agents, entrepreneurs and influencers—and what drives them to succeed. This week we tell Ed Kaminsky’s story, a top 100 producer in the South Bay.


Perpetually learning. Always innovating. Top 100 real estate pro, Ed Kaminsky offers tips for staying on top and insight on trends that are moving the local market.

It was the mid-1980s when Ed Kaminsky, a transplant from Ohio who was working in the jewelry business, decided to try his hand in real estate. It was a good time to get involved, doubly so if you were a hardworking, up-from-the-bootstraps type accustomed to the long hours of retail and intent on grand success, despite not having a college degree or any personal contacts in the business.[/cs_dropcap]

“I came in as naked as I could be,” recounts Kaminsky some 30 years later. A mainstay of luxury real estate in the South Bay who sells over 100 properties a year (top producing agent at Strand Hill, Christie’s International 2017, and Trendgraphix’s top agent in the Beach Cities are among his awards), Kaminsky employs a team of 10 and is engaged in businesses beyond selling properties.

DIGS Market Influencer: Ed Kaminsky headshot

 

 

The South Bay is extremely ripe for significant appreciation over the next 10 years. I say that because of the amount of job growth that is happening in Playa Vista and areas like that with the tech industry. It’s heavily influencing this market.”

Creating Multiple Revenue Streams

“I don’t run around and call myself an entrepreneur,” says Kaminsky. But it fits. “I work for myself,” he adds. “I create revenue streams with different companies, and that’s what an entrepreneur is.”

Staying on top for decades requires more than just smarts and dedication. A knack for knowing what’s coming around the corner and how to properly optimize it continues to be essential to Kaminsky’s success. The state of the local market, for instance, has him bullish, and jobs are the prime reason.

The future of South Bay’s Market

“The South Bay is extremely ripe for significant appreciation over the next 10 years,” says Kaminsky. “I say that because of the amount of job growth that is happening in Playa Vista and areas like that with the tech industry. It’s heavily influencing this market.”

Twine that with an increase in the quality of education in the South Bay, particularly in Beach Cities, where star-school status is spreading beyond Manhattan Beach to increased rankings in neighboring communities like Redondo Beach. “You’re seeing a strong buyer demand for the other Beach Cities that were not always as sought after as Manhattan Beach has been in the last 10 or 15 years.”

Do Global Buyers Flock to the South Bay?

Education has been a draw for moneyed global buyers, mostly from China, who in recent years have been coming in large numbers to the local area, particularly Palos Verdes. Kaminsky notes this trend has hit a snag of late due to difficulties some of these buyers face moving their funds out of their native country. “It’s slowed the pace down quite a bit.”

Real estate trends that go beyond the South Bay? Connection. Shorter commutes. Walkability.

“People are less interested in commuting very far to work, and having a sense of community—shops, restaurants, coffee places, within a short distance—it’s becoming incredibly important in every community in the U.S. right now,” says Kaminsky. Another tendency in the local luxury market that has Kaminsky “a bit nervous” is the expectation of buyers when it comes to style and design.

Home Selling Challenges

“Buyers are walking into homes expecting a certain look today,” says Kaminsky. It’s an expectation built on television’s flurry of home flipping and real estate programs that show even modest homes as sleek, contemporary hubs packed with the latest bells and whistles. “Not every house is going to fit that shape and color that television, or friends, are trying to portray,” says Kaminsky, noting that it’s made it a challenge to sell homes that don’t fit this bill aesthetically. 

DIGS Market Influencer: Ed Kaminsky, Kaminsky Real Estate Group group shot

 

Competition Fires the Idea

Surely Kaminsky will find a way to capitalize. “I’m constantly looking for problems and creating solutions for the problems. Competitive desire fires the idea. Delivering on the service is what creates the results.” Case in point: His company SportStar Relocation, which handles moving duty for pro athletes, was initially based on Kaminsky’s desire to have a bigger slice of the burgeoning sports market. How to accomplish it? Provide something that no one else is; in this case, an all-around concierge service.

“Become insanely educated about everything in your marketplace.” “Deliver more than what is expected from your clients.” These orient Kaminsky’s work ethic, which he’s driven at a dogged pace for decades, broken for hours devoted to family (Kaminsky is a grandfather of two and a father of two daughters with his wife Cindy) and small pleasures.

 

“My favorite experience is to drive up to the top of the crest of Manhattan Beach Boulevard,” says Kaminsky, who’s been a Manhattan Beach resident for nearly 20 years. “You see the downtown district. You see the pier. You see the Pacific Ocean. You see it on a clear day with blue skies and I don’t think there’s anything more beautiful or welcoming than that view.”

 

Ed Kaminsky

Kaminsky Real Estate Group
440 Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach, CA, 90254
310.798.1277 | itzsold.com

Written by Constance Dunn  |  Photography by Kieron McKay

 

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