AKA Cibola, City of Gold | by Bob Hurwitz
With listings on luxury properties in 13 different countries and various states across the U.S., I am often asked the following question: Which city receives the most inquiries from affluent buyers worldwide? The answer is simple—the famous 90210. Beverly Hills.
Much of the most expensive part of Beverly Hills is, in fact, flat (known as “the flats”) and the origins of the city are rather ignominious. While drilling for oil on a bean field, investors instead found water that could support residential development—but this would have most likely failed without a congruence of luck and genius. To put it more succinctly, Beverly Hills owes its success to the construction of the Beverly Hills hotel and the glamour of the movie industry – whose most famous stars (in front of and behind the camera) became its most visible residents.
Fast forward a few decades and multiply that pizzazz a hundredfold. Add in the apotheosis of conspicuous consumption of the Golden Triangle (anchored by Rodeo Drive, of course) and you have a destination of maximal attraction for home ownership and residency that appeals to all cultures, nationalities, races and religions. The only color that matters here is green, and if you want to own property in the most desirable locations in Beverly Hills, you had better bring a lot of it.
You want to know the power and appeal of Beverly Hills as it relates to realtors? I will tell you a true story: Any agent from any city in the U.S. can reel off a litany of reasons why someone should buy a home in their neighborhood. If they can’t, then they should be in a different occupation. In fact, even if they can, they should probably be in a different job. There are far too many of us in this industry. Anyway, I digress. Beverly Hills has power—the power to make an agent money. Just because it is. All the work has been done for you. The name sells itself.
In 1992 I had an office on Wilshire Boulevard (in Brentwood, not Beverly Hills). I lived on the beach and I didn’t want to have to drive through traffic to go to the office every day. And besides, I had listings in a lot of different areas in Los Angeles, so it really didn’t matter where I was located as long as it was central. Plus, my office had a great view and there was a Baja Buds across the street where my agents and I would go almost every day for the killer carnitas burritos.
One day I took a call from an agent on the East Coast whom I didn’t know and had never heard of. He confirmed that fact, basically saying: “I am nobody you ever heard of, just an agent with so and so realty in Connecticut and I have seen your ads for really expensive homes in magazines for a long time.” Silence. I figured uh, okay, so maybe he wants to ask me if I am getting buyers for my properties from the ads or am I just being milked and throwing away money, the usual questions other agents will often contact me about when they are considering breaking into their piggy bank to dip their toe into the world of 4 color mainstream advertising—instead of the local rag where you get your property listed 8 times for like 30 bucks, with a free subscription, and half price off a foot-long at their main advertiser Subway with double fake meat. (You know, the really effective advertising that a lot of agents like to sink their hard earned skrilla into, while praying for their dream buyer to show up who just won the lotto, is tired of looking at houses and being evicted from his apartment based on the fact he didn’t pay his rent for six months before he won the lotto, and conveniently also happens to be a recent brain donor…)
Turns out, that is not why he called me. He goes on to tell me he doesn’t deal with high-end properties, but he figured because of my advertising he would like to refer me a wealthy couple who would like to buy a house in Los Angeles. I said: “Great. Who are they?”
He said: “I don’t know.”
I said: “What?”
He replied: “I don’t know them. My friend is their translator. They told him to find a good agent in Los Angeles because they want to buy a house.”
I said: “Great, you found your man. What price range are they looking?”
He said: “No idea.”
I said: “None?”
He said: “No. How much are properties there?”
At this point I pulled the phone away from my ear and looked at it. I brought it back to my head: “It varies. They must have given him some idea of what they want to spend, yeah? Or what area in Los Angeles?” He replied: “I think maybe $3 or $4 million. They want a big house. They are flying out tomorrow and only staying one night. No idea where they want to buy. All I heard from my friend is they are completely demanding and fire almost everyone right away. Oh, and they are going to buy a house tomorrow.”
I was thinking: “Yeah, riiiiggght…” but I said, “Okay. No problem, have the translator call me and I will meet with them.”
Fast-forward to the next day. I arrive at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, meet their chauffeur, and he informs me they arrived in the morning. I asked him how the flight was and he says great. They have their own plane. I ask what type of plane—a lot of my clients have their own jets, so I have a bit of knowledge about that. He describes basically what is a converted commercial airliner, not an executive jet. I realize they have some serious money. He directs me upstairs where I meet them and the translator in a gigantic suite. They are a young, very formally dressed couple, and through their interpreter proceed to provide me details of the 14 other properties they own around the world, including one in Europe used by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev for a summit meeting. In about 4 seconds I realize the properties I had planned on showing them in the $4 million range would be better suited for housing their labradoodles and immediately went to Plan B, aka The Sky is the Limit.
As I know is also the case in other cities, in Los Angeles, the agents who represent the most expensive properties and clients as their main business all know and deal with each other all the time. There are always “pocket listings” that are not on the public market or the MLS, but are quietly available to qualified buyers. I called a few of my fellow luxury realtors and explained what I was looking for and immediately learned of 3 or 4 properties that would fit the bill. Although normally it would be 24-hour notice minimum to show these properties, I told the agents the buyers were in town for one day and were going to buy on this one day. I, thankfully, had the reputation and street cred to pull it off.
(Oh, except for one agent who I have done a half dozen major deals with who refused to arrange a showing on an enormous estate in Bel Air and said: “Oh, Bob, you know no one ever buys a property in this price range in one day…” We are friends so she will go nameless, but I still remind her of it.)
I end up showing them three major estates: two of which were really unbelievable in Bel Air, Holmby Hills and the smallest one in Beverly Hills at only around 14 thousand square feet. Neither the husband nor the wife spoke English throughout the entire day. The only statement, made by the husband, who even though it was about a hundred degrees, wore a suit and tie as tight as a garrote the entire day and didn’t appear to perspire, commented in passable English as we walked through a huge gym loaded with equipment in one of the houses: “Every house has a gymnasium! Don’t anybody work?”
I thought they really were favoring the one property in Bel Air, but when we arrived back at the hotel the wife rattled off a spate of Italian for about 5 minutes as I waited for the translation. Finally the translator turned to me and said: “Madame says for you to buy her the Beverly Hills house.”
I was a little surprised since the property in Bel Air in particular was a stunner, but I said: “Okay. Any particular reason they chose that one?” He turned to her and she went on for another few minutes in Italian. Finally he turned to me and shrugged: “Beverly Hills. Madame shops Rodeo and that is a shorter drive.”
And so became the highest priced sale in Los Angeles in 1992.
Beverly Hills is more than just a place to live. It is likely the most recognized city in the world—in a good and very valuable way. People of wealth will always want to live there and own property there.
Many years ago I was walking through the Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi, Thailand and a wizened old Buddhist Monk came up to tie a sai sin, a sacred thread bracelet, around my wrist. He smiled and asked me if Arnold Schwarzenegger lived in Beverly Hills with all the other movie stars. I said: “No. In Brentwood. It is another rich neighborhood in Los Angeles.” He’d never heard of it.