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.”
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.”
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.”
310.255.5411 | jamesrespondek.com
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.
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.
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.”
“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 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.”
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.
“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.
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.”
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
As a young boy growing up in Los Angeles, in a family of modest means, real estate entrepreneur Aaron Kirman used to ride his bike to an upscale neighborhood in the Valley just to glimpse all of the expensive homes for sale. He also begged his parents to take him to open houses. Despite suffering from severe learning disabilities—including dyslexia and a speech impediment that prevented him from saying the letter “R”—he entered the real estate ranks at age 18 while attending USC and never looked back.
Fast-forward to today, and the 39-year-old is one of the most successful real estate agents not only in L.A., where he is based, but across the globe as well, amassing an exclusive client roster rife with CEOs, celebrities and royalty, selling $3.5 billion in homes to date. He also appears regularly on CNBC’s Secret Lives of the Super Rich, and was named the 12th top real estate agent in the U.S. by The Wall Street Journal in 2016. Here, Kirman, president of Aaroe Estates, the luxury property division of the John Aaroe Group, divulges to DIGS how he got into real estate, his personal abodes, the secret of his success and more.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE REAL ESTATE BUSINESS?
I put myself through college selling real estate. When other kids were in school and partying, I was working and obsessed with real estate and doing deals. I fell into a cool niche selling architectural homes by R.M. Schindler and John Lautner, and people started to recognize my name. Then I was an executive and ran the architectural division at Hilton & Hyland for about nine years, and shifted into the estate division at John Aaroe Group about five years ago. Now, we have the largest market share of the most expensive homes in country.
WHAT IS YOUR REAL ESTATE FOCUS NOW?
It just continues to grow with some of the country’s most expensive estates. We recently sold the Danny Thomas estate for $65 million, which was the second-highest sale in Beverly Hills. I now have about $650 million in active inventory. We have five estates above $50 million; I like to specialize in uber-high-priced and very unique homes. I’m also working on building my team, which has been a fun challenge. We have about 30 on our team. I’ve been selling solo for many years, and now have the dynamics of a team. I like to call them my kids, even though some are 60 years old. I like to watch their careers grow; it’s been inspiring for me. They need me, and my portfolio and contacts, and I can teach them.
TELL ME ABOUT SOME OF THE HOMES YOU HAVE IN YOUR INVENTORY RIGHT NOW. Some of my actives include the Edie Goetz estate in Bel Air for $79 million (where the socialite lived and hosted extravagant parties), and an $85 million mansion in Beverly Hills that both Cher and Eddie Murphy lived in at one time. From there, I have a stunning $60 million compound on the ocean that was in a TV show and has been leased by some of top celebrities in the country, and a gorgeous, uber-modern $49 million house owned by fashion designer Charles Park of Sugarlips. I also have a bunch of beautiful moderns priced from $20 million. I still love listing some of my old stuff, like a beautiful [Richard] Neutra in Hollywood Hills. It has significant architecture, and I’m looking for the right buyer who’s going to restore it.
WHO ARE SOME OF THE MOST MEMORABLE PERSONALITIES YOU’VE WORKED WITH?
I’ve worked with sheiks from the Middle East, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia; celebrities from Orlando Bloom to Rihanna to Nicki Minaj; and fashion designers like Jeremy Scott. Everyone is so interesting, and they all have a unique story. What’s fun is the diversity, from royalty to celebrities to CEOs to just ordinary people. I also love helping my friends buy their houses and seeing the growth of some of my friends. I’ve represented some friends who were buying starter homes 20 years ago and now they’re in $15 million houses.
IS THERE ONE TYPE OF ARCHITECTURE THAT PARTICULARLY APPEALS TO YOU? I’m personally a big fan of Mid-Century homes. Houses done in the 1960s, and sometimes ’50s, were so advanced and ahead of their time, with walls of glass and indoor-outdoor spaces. Some of those architects were masters at figuring out the right house to put on the right site. Lately, I’ve been a fan of transitional architecture, where you have a traditional style and more modern interiors. I’ve seen a lot of that during my travels in Europe.
WHAT IS THE HOT AREA RIGHT NOW?
Los Angeles is the hottest real estate market on the planet; it’s crazy how hot our market is. There is so much wealth all over and so many people from across the globe—from Europe, Asia and the East Coast—are pouring money here. L.A. is hotter than New York and other markets that used to be bigger. We have some of the most expensive sales in the world right now in Bel-Air, Beverly Hills and the Hollywood Hills. The price increases we’ve seen to date are astronomical. We have had four sales of about $100 million, and that’s crazy. We never would have been close to demanding those dollar amounts 10 years ago. It’s amazing, and it’s only going to go up. L.A. is cheap, according to the world market. You get so much bang for your buck here for whatever your budget is: more land and space, and that’s what’s driving our market to be so good.
WHAT ARE THE MOST VALUABLE AMENITIES PEOPLE ARE SEEKING?
One is privacy, which is the most important desire for people with wealth, and the second is grounds or view. We have sold homes with almost every amenity possible—from theater-sized media rooms to wine cellars that could hold 80,000 bottles—but, primarily, people want land, privacy and a view.
DESCRIBE YOUR DREAM PROPERTY?
I sell really big, gorgeous, opulent homes…and I like simple, beautiful homes. I live in a high-rise, and I just bought a house in Beverly Hills with walls of glass. It’s a modern house with a pool, great indoor-outdoor flow and an open floor plan, and it’s great for entertaining and living a happy life. I personally don’t have a desire to live in a huge house, although I do love to sell them.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF YOUR HOME?
I love my master bedroom; it’s my retreat—my space where I have my privacy and my time alone. There’s nothing like being able to go home and rest in your room at night. In my high-rise, I love my view. I’m on a high floor and can see the entire city—from Downtown to Century City—and that’s also pretty great.
WHAT DOES LUXURY MEAN TO YOU?
Being able to live the life I choose to live. That doesn’t necessarily come in the form of material objects. I’m blessed to have pretty much any material object I desire, but it really means to live a great life and to spend time with friends and family, to eat well, and to travel and see the world. I live a very wonderful life that is well-rounded, and I’m proud of that. It’s not easy to do that at the level of real estate I do. I take time for family, friends and myself.
TO WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE YOUR SUCCESS?
In general, successful people are very strategic; you have to be. You have to be ahead of the curve, and able to make the curve. You have to be creative. Successful people don’t want to follow the pack, but they have to be ahead of the pack. Strategic alliances, partnerships and team work also are important. Marketing and advertising are super important as well. Even print; people say print is dead, but I disagree. People still love to read, and that’s what sells. Tech is uber-important in the national and international world; we’re spending more energy and money on that. Social media is super important, and continuing to develop contacts and the networks we have. Taking time to tell stories about the properties and clients, even ourselves, is important. I always like progressing and finding bigger and better ways to do something.
WHAT’S YOUR BEST PIECE OF REAL ESTATE ADVICE?
The world has changed, and it’s a really competitive business. But, if someone wants to get in it, they need to be passionate and prepared to work super hard and find what is going to make them different so they will stand out from the crowd. The main piece of advice is you should specialize in something and be unique, and if you do that, you will have a great chance at success. For me, I like to tell the story of someone with a modest upbringing who had challenges growing up, and for the grace of God and luck, has sold $3.5 billion of homes to some of the most famous people in the world. I like people to know that they can do whatever they want to do with hard work. It’s not always based on who you know and having a privileged background. I look back and I’m super grateful, and sometimes I pinch myself and say, ‘Wow, I did it.” But I always knew I would and I feel like we’ve just begun. I’m not sure where we’re going, but we’re just beginning.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY DOING WHEN YOU AREN’T WORKING?
I love to travel and explore the world, and I mediate every day. I love dinners with friends; I just spent a Sunday by the pool with lots of friends. I love to be by the water, whether it’s a pool or the beach. I also love to bike ride. I just like to live.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR YOU?
We’re doing a lot of TV these days. I’m a spokesperson for CNBC’s Secret Lives of the Super Rich. I love getting interviewed on TV about where the market is and where we’re going. I also love building a team that’s already one of the most knowledgeable and successful in the country, and getting bigger and better every day. I’d like to expand our market share. We have the best inventory in L.A. and abroad, but I would like to develop more international and national alliances.
Photography Courtesy of Matthew Momberger and Michael McNamara