By Anna David
Even though viewing hours are over, Jonah Wilson, a 35-year-old real-estate agent for Sotheby’s, confidently strides up to a gigantic modern mansion in Beverly Hills. The home is so enormous it has three different addresses, and it’s on the market for $5.6 million. It’s a Tuesday afternoon, but to the town’s Realtors, who cover houses from Venice to East Hollywood, it’s “Caravan Day,” when agents descend on all the new houses on the market and examine them for their clients. Wilson’s current list includes a talent manager who wants a traditional home in Westwood for under $2.5 million and an actor couple dreaming of something big in Los Feliz. This offering fits neither bill, not least because the seller happens to be named Andrew Dice Clay, and the house’s decor is goombah chic—shag carpeting, satiny bedspreads, mirrors galore. Not that such eyesores particularly matter, especially in the chummed shark tank that is the Hollywood housing market.
“This,” says Wilson, taking in the domed ceiling, “is valuable property.” He knows he could get a phone call in a week from someone fantasizing about a place like this. He also knows that a week will be far too late (and indeed, Dice Clay Manor is snatched up for nearly its asking price the next day). But that’s okay, because if that prospective buyer is smart enough to call Wilson in the first place, he already demonstrates a keen understanding of the L.A. real-estate scene.
In the ongoing nationwide realty explosion, Los Angeles is the luxury-home WMD. Last year the city topped the country with a median sales price of $1.63 million for high-end housing, and in general luxury-home prices have leaped 63 percent since 2000. All this has magically transformed the lowly broker, who used to have all the social juice of a Starbucks barista, into a bona fide star—the guy who everyone in the most image-conscious city in the universe wants to know. In a sure sign of their newfound prominence, brokers are the subject of a slew of TV shows currently in development.
“Real-estate agents are celebrities unto themselves right now,” says Andrew Plotkin, a co-producer of one such program, an ABC pilot tentatively called Westside. “You end up knowing all of their names.” Of course, he doesn’t exactly mean all their names; the sad truth is that the brokers who phone Jack Nicholson with the news that a Rudolph Schindler in newly hot Trousdale has come on the market are not the same shlubs who get stuck giving condo tours in Manhattan Beach.
“The successful real-estate agents now are suave, hip go-getters,” says Gail Hershowitz, an L.A. escrow officer for over 20 years. “There are so many agents out there that if you’re going to be successful, you really have to have that extra bit of charisma.”