If, on first meeting, your real estate agent looks familiar to you, there’s a good possibility that you’ve actually encountered him or her somewhere before. The real estate business is the number one haven for people fleeing their first career, and it attracts people from all walks of life for myriad reasons. For starters, the ageism that pervades so many industries in Los Angeles is less of an issue in real estate. People of all ages buy houses, and for whatever reason, people like to buy houses from agents in their own age group.
People in professions that take a heavy physical toll at a relatively young age – dancers, flight attendants, yoga teachers – often turn to real estate, as do survivors of that cruelest of mistresses, the entertainment industry. Agent Ed Fitz used to be a singer, as did Boni Bryant, who appeared in the original stage production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
“Lots of talent agents get into real estate and use the little black book they compiled while they were in show business,” says Barry Sloane, a former television producer/director who oversaw programs around the world for two decades. “At the age of forty I’d grown sick of the all-nighters and being on planes all the time, so I took some time off to think about what I was doing. I’d been buying and selling houses for years, and I thought I could get a license and save money on commissions, which I did. Then, everyone I knew said will you represent me? So, in 1988 I hung my license with a company.
“I naively thought real estate would be lower stress, but it’s actually more stressful than producing and directing,” Sloane adds. “As a producer, I called the shots and had a lot of control, and the hardest thing for me to learn was to subjugate my ego to other people, to shut up and let someone else be the boss, in their minds, because you’ve got to do that in real estate. Luckily, the broker whose agency I joined told me right up front that I’d need to work on that, and I did.”
Branden Williams began acting as a child, and by the nineties he’d built a thriving career in movies and television. “Acting is a tough business, though,” Williams recalls, “and by the time I was thirty I knew I didn’t want to be an actor. I was in my first year of sobriety and didn’t have a clue what I was going to do next, when the father of a friend of mine offered me a job as a mortgage broker. I’d always wanted to wear a suit and have a normal life so I said yes, even though I knew nothing about real estate. I committed to do it for a year, though, and I did tons of homework and looked at hundreds of homes; you have to know everything about what’s available in the market. Nothing happened for me for months, and I thought I’m screwed, I’m never going to be able to do this.
“Then, six months in, I put six deals into escrow at the same time and I thought holy shit, I might be good at this. By 2008 I’d met Rayni Romito, who’s now my partner and my wife, and we have the best time working together. Real estate is a great business because we’re selling the one thing everyone wants to own, and that is a home.”
Anyone raising children requires flexibility when it comes to hours at work, and real estate really delivers on that count. “After I got married, my husband and I were looking for a house and I thought the real estate agent was abysmal,” says agent Victoria Risko. “I was a systems analyst at Hughes Aircraft then, and had to be at work every morning by eight. I did coding, which was tedious and not fun, and the hours I had to put in wouldn’t work after I had kids, so I decided to get my real estate license. My husband was an investment banker, and when I started out all his friends were willing to use me — I don’t know why you would ever use a newbie, but they did — and I discovered that working in real estate agent is the perfect job for a housewife. The hours are flexible, especially now, when everything is done on the phone — I can even do contracts on the phone.”
Don’t start thinking there’s nothing to it, however, “The television shows about real estate do people a disservice,” says agent Marc Silver. “Those programs show you agents who lay around a pool all day having cocktails, then go sell a $20 million house and still have time to make the late plane to Mykonos. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s this fantasy of easy money, but this is a job that demands a tremendous amount of work around the clock.”
It may be a tremendous amount of work, but Silver still prefers it to what he used to do. “I was a writer/producer at CBS news, and working in the entertainment industry you come to a kind of reckoning where you look around and ask yourself, is it really worth it anymore? I’d reached that point, so one summer I studied for a real estate license and made some phone calls, and before I knew it I was at Sotheby’s in Beverly Hills as a real estate agent.
“This was mid 2008, so the market was dreadful and I was advised by an agent, absolutely do not do this, no one is doing any business and this is not the right time. I was lucky, though, because I had a circle of friends I’d gone to law school with who were starting to make some money and buying condos, so I sold several condos right off the bat. It wasn’t earth shattering, but lots of big agents weren’t doing any business at all, so I got off to a good start. And I still love it.”
The price point has gone way up since Silver began twelve years ago, and that’s attracted a whole new wave of agents. “The entry level now is a million dollars,” says Sloane. “A lot of people get into it now and just do a couple of sales a year, and they still make good money.”
Sounds good, doesn’t it? You, too, may have a future in real estate.