Life In Malibu As a Realtor – Part 2

This is the second article in a three-part series looking at Malibu’s most popular profession.

When a Malibu property owner wants to sell their house, condo, mobile home or vacant lot, they begin in a dark world, one with many unknowns. 

The one big unknown is this: what is the value of the property? From that moment until the day a sale records at the Los Angeles County recorder’s office and money transfers via an escrow, the value of the property is uncertain. It is the determination of that value that the real estate industry facilitates.  

A myriad of factors and phases go into that process of determining value, all witnessed and abetted by real estate agents. “Market value” of real estate is always changing.

A buyer and a seller of real estate do not dictate what the value is, but seek help to influence the ultimate price for a property. Realtors provide that help, and earn commissions for their assistance, based on the level of expertise, knowledge, work, salesmanship, marketing and negotiating a beneficial price for their client.

And, in Malibu there is also this: Thursdays are caravan day. For about four hours, you are invited as a Realtor to visit many, many homes and condos – including celebrity-owned properties on occasion – at your leisure, and some of them offer free food and drink provided by the listing agent. 

It is fun, but it has a dual purpose: For the listing agents, it helps to expose their properties; for visiting agents, it helps them to be educated about inventory and values of various properties. 

Nevertheless, what other jobs include eating and hanging out with peers for a half hour at a beautiful home, every week?

I reported last time that about 800 individuals belong to the Malibu Association of Realtors, but truly, only about 250 local agents are dedicated, full-time agents. Those are the  ones you regularly see on caravan or doing showings. About 10 local companies house those agents, paying them from 50-90 percent cuts on commissions earned in transactions. Those 250 agents are competing for slim pieces of a big pie. As an agent, you never know what deal may come next, on what property, or what agent you may be working with on the other side. 

To put the 250 agents in perspective, there are about 180 homes for sale in Malibu/90265 at this time. Suffice it to say, about 130 of the homes are listing among 30 agents or so. About 10-15 percent of listings are taken by agents out of Malibu, working with obscure distant brokerages (that sometimes know little about Malibu). It is not exactly like going to a dentist to get an eye exam, but you get the idea.  

Just to get a listing can be a monumental task, particularly for a newer agent competing against many “name”, experienced agents. 

This is a town where everyone knows everyone. With every listing that hits the Multiple Listing Service, possibly 30 or more agents feel the ping of defeat they were not selected. But that’s the free market system at work. Some Malibu residents personally know over 100 agents. The number of active agents is far, far more than necessary to handle the actual work needed, but there is virtually no structural restriction of competition in the industry (Want to be a hair stylist, by comparison? Prepare to do 1500 hours of free work as an “intern” – all while it takes only 60 hours to get a license to fly an airplane!).

Once in, prepare for a series of heartbreaking disappointments that you cannot even imagine. You will be lied to by a prospective seller. A sure deal will fall apart.  Another agent will soon be working with your client. Then comes week two.

Then again, what occupation is there that allows you to “vacation” as much as you want? These days, that means you are simply working away from home. With cell phones, email and Internet, few tasks that a Realtor conducts needs to be in person, anymore.  From the beaches of Bali to the banks of the Seine, a showing can be arranged, the offer forwarded to the seller, counter offers written and Docusigned, and escrow opened. 

All the while, your picture can be in the local newspapers even more than the city officials and celebrities.

There are two atypical entrees into the home of the Malibu real estate professional, one a long way around and through the back door, the other a relatively quick entrance through the front door.

Some surviving current agents began as an assistant, an increasingly popular strategy to enter the business. Long time assistants accumulate years of knowledge, all with less stress and more stable salary, only to branch out on their own. However simple it may be seem, even the competition to become an assistant is intense. I can relate my own personal story: 

Four years ago, desiring an assistant at modest pay for part time work, I placed an ad on Craigslist. Within 24 hours, I had 120 responses and resumes! I estimate that half were four-year college educated. Seven interviewed, any one of would’ve been fabulous employees, and most desperate to get a career start. I could only hire one (who remains with me).  And, it was not just the poor economy of 2011 speaking. That was the third time over many years I experienced such a deluge. The supply of men and women willing to start as a real estate assistant, just to get a foot in the door, has mushroomed.

A second notable source of new agents: offspring.  The current Malibu field is loaded with several dozen agents who were once local kids that finished high school and went away. Then, they came back, to join their parent in the business. It is a huge advantage. Get one of the folks to pave the way, especially with 20 years experience. It’s like the old days when the local shoemaker or blacksmith handed down their business to the next generation, with a name and reputation tough to compete against. 

Invariably, these agents learned the business through osmosis while growing up and had a large contact list to start out. The contact list is vital. Offspring agents in Malibu have a very high percentage of effectiveness, and making a career work for themselves. 

Just another indication of how valuable a career is here, and how popular the real estate profession has become in Malibu.