Selling Sunset: Is that really how homes are sold in LA?
Audiences in the UK have been soaking up the glamour of the luxury LA property market in Netflix’s lockdown hit Selling Sunset. So how different is it from the property race here?
“Plain and simple doesn’t get the house full. I’m here to go over the top,” says high-end real estate agent Christine Quinn, as she plans a “burgers and Botox” open house at her latest multi-million dollar property in the Hollywood Hills.
There are concerns from her co-agent that this might give buyers the wrong impression. To this, Christine, of supermodel stature with an impressive platinum blonde ponytail, quips: “I’d love to live in a Botox house!”
This is Selling Sunset, which follows the lives of real estate agents – “realtors” – working for the Oppenheim Group in Los Angeles, California.
Away from Botox parties, there are “twilight” house viewings, immaculately furnished properties, celebrity clients, sweeping views of the sun-kissed LA hills, and fierce confrontations over deals and office gossip.
It is worlds away from British property TV, which might see Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer engage in some light banter over knocking down a partition wall.
But just how realistic is the show?
“[Selling Sunset] is definitely amplified, but not totally fictitious. It is quite a glamorous business over here,” says Jonathan Nash, a British real estate agent based in LA, who represents the same areas as the Oppenheim Group.
“It’s a wonderful life and totally incomparable to being an agent the UK,” he tells the BBC.
However, he does stress that reality shows “dramatize” the industry.
“Some of the interactions that we have day-to-day are akin to what you see on the shows, but the producers prod and push, drama sells.”
Jonathan, 41, works with Stephen Resnick at Hilton & Hyland – a Beverly Hills real estate firm, after making a “last minute” decision to move to LA from St John’s Wood, west London, in 2013. He had always wanted to live in the US, and had friends working in real estate in LA.
He has since sold properties for up to $56m (£43.7m), and represented buyers for sales including TV host Elle DeGeneres’ Beverley Hills home, and an opulent estate built for property developer Mohamed Hadid – dad of supermodels Gigi and Bella.
“There’s always a Hollywood story when you’re in prime LA, it’s always the former home of [someone],” he says, noting another sale last year that had been previously owned by both Gwen Stefani and J Lo.
“In England, it’s all about kings and queens, royalty, whereas here the historic figures are the who’s who of film, music [and] entertainment.”
However, Jonathan does recall the “pleasure” of working with homes in London that had “centuries of history and fabulous old world architecture which does not exist en masse in LA”.
While he has only dipped his toe in the world of US property TV, making appearances on Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing and NBC’s Open House, Jonathan says such shows often form part of the job in LA.
“A certain segment of the client base absolutely love that and want to be involved in it,” he explains. “Because at the end of the day – it’s Hollywood.
“It’s one of the many factors that makes LA real estate desirable and exciting.”
In the UK, Jonathan worked for central London estate agency Aston Chase, before setting up his own real estate development and property auction firms.
Comparing the real estate industry in the two countries, he says their fundamental differences are in the regulation – agents in the US are professionally qualified, in contrast to the UK – and the earning potential.
An agent in LA could earn commission of about $1m for selling a $40m home, says Jonathan. This comes from a typical commission of 5%, split in half equally between the agents representing the buyers and sellers of the property.
In the UK, estate agents charge between 1 and 3% of the agreed selling price for a home.
There are also some differences in the way homes are sold, with networking and home furnishings both playing a key role in LA.
Tuesday mornings in LA are reserved for open houses, where agents are invited by brokers to view new listings across the city, and then there’s “a lot of lunches and dinners” with clients.
“It’s a social business,” says Jonathan.
Homes might also need “staging” – furnishing. “We get to set-design the house if you will,” says Jonathan. “It really helps to sell real estate.
“Showing vacant houses with no furniture does happen [in London] and it doesn’t show a home in the best light.”
There are two predominant staging companies in LA, Meridith Baer and Vesta, that each have a “signature look”, he adds.
“A lot of the homes do end up with the same pieces in them, but it’s as much about creating the right sort of look as it is creating warmth in the house.”
Mary Beeton, head of sales at British firm Hamptons, says the UK could take note from some aspects of the LA industry, observing that she wouldn’t be surprised if more people started asking for their homes to be sold the LA way.
There are similarities in the way homes are sold at the top end of the market, says Mary, particularly in London boroughs like Kensington and Chelsea and Knightsbridge, where Hamptons launches properties with lavish events.
But she tells the BBC more homes in the UK could be sold this way.
“In the States they tend to showcase all of their properties and I think we can learn something from that,” she says. “Presenting it in the best possible way and launching it with an event, wouldn’t that be better than putting it on a website?”
Jonathan’s tips for selling your home the LA way
- Find the right agent with “a track record of selling similar properties”, and “trust their advice”
- Pricing is “everything” – people know when something’s too expensive
- “Staging is very important, candles are very important, flower arrangements are very important”
- Landscaping is also key. “Those that pay as much detail and put the same money into the landscape really benefit from it on the back end”
- And make sure you’re not at home for viewings. “Agents are employed to keep an arm’s length between buyer and seller”
However, Mary notes the way negotiations are presented in Selling Sunset is very “direct”. “The British, I think, would recoil from the brashness. We are probably a bit more traditional in our approach.
“I really hope there aren’t estate agents in London who work like that – competitively against each other,” she adds.
And she says there is a “huge pressure” on agents to network and socialise in the US, as real estate agents are self-employed in the US. “Here it’s about your brand, they come to you because they have heard of Hamptons,” she says.
For Jonathan, the US way of working and the lifestyle in LA is the selling point.
“I really feel that I’m in one of the best businesses to be in because we’re all self-employed. Our days are so varied. We’re running around town meeting great people,” he says.
There’s also a lot to do off-duty in the city, he adds. “We’re very lucky in LA because, in one direction, we have mountains and in the other direction we have the ocean.
“In one day, I’ve gone from skiing in the mountains to having Nobu [a Japanese restaurant] by the ocean.
“It’s a great life out here.”
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