Life in Malibu as a Realtor: Part III

Editor’s note: This column is the third in a three-part series looking at Malibu’s most popular profession.

Real estate is the second-largest industry in Malibu, employing the most people, behind Pepperdine University.  Last year, about $1 billion in sales volume occurred among sales of homes alone in the 90265 ZIP code.  Add about $150 million more for condominiums, vacant land and mobile homes. 2013 had a similar result.

There may be much fewer than one sale per agent each year, but it is still a lot of legwork to handle the deluge of interested Malibu dreamers that never buy. If each of the visible 250 or so agents in town did just four showings per week average (a buyer and seller agent at each showing), that would amount to more than 25,000 showings taking place in 90265 per year. About 250 homes actually sell.  About 70 condos. 

This might be a good estimate: About one showing out of 60 results in a closed escrow, on average. About one-third of the buyers are already here in Malibu, moving to a different location or simply adding to their stock.

A Malibu Realtor’s work is often voluminous efforts for nothing. A whole year of showing property to many buyers may result in nothing. More listings expire than sell. Some listings will get more than 50 showings before they are taken off the market, never resulting in a sale or commission. A few that do sell require more than 100 showings. For every quick, “easy” sale with a handsome commission, there was a risk of a far more likely result for the listing – huge amounts of time, work and cost for nothing.

There are many great perks of the business, however, and this is one: You can trade on your own account. Real estate is tough enough to buy or sell at 100 percent of value, but crafting a deal that a commission discounts to 94-97 percent of value can mean significant dollars. That is, in fact, what prompts many into the business. Numerous are the times a new agent sells their own home (or seize upon one sure listing of a friend), or buy for themselves, and then fade away. 

Not every California-licensed real estate agent is a Realtor, but everyone in Malibu is – as long as they are affiliated with a Broker and thus also with the National Association of Realtors, thus subscribing to its strict Code of Ethics. Whether at the national, state or local level, the promotion of professionalism and integrity is paramount.

Realtors are all over town (beyond an estimated 250 “full-time” active agents, about 800 individuals belong to the Malibu Association of Realtors), involved in virtually every aspect of Malibu life and events. Politically, the membership runs the spectrum in debating local issues, but the promotion and defense of property rights is the first task mentioned in the mission statement for the local association.

Very prominent people, hugely successful in past lives, get into Malibu real estate sales. Apparently, the image of the Malibu Realtor has grown proud and popular. Among the most philanthropic individuals in Malibu are local Realtors, and many public issues and causes look to the local Realtor industry to help.

Malibu, nevertheless, is particularly difficult for an individual to get a business off the ground, because the units of success are so few and baby steps are not easily taken. If you make good money in the business, it is not so much your smart mind that did it (though you will need that), or your flowing creativity (you will need that, too), nor the people skills (pretty necessary, also). It is the emotional endurance and persistence and patience, matters of the heart, that can bring a terrific Malibu life and professional reward. Realtors sometimes get paid handsomely, but usually parallel with enduring emotional pain and setbacks more than anything else (and more than most people can tolerate in a job). Want to be a Realtor in Malibu? You might as well be an actor and plan for 250 auditions in a year, hoping for one decent gig among 249 rejections.

As the months and years go by, it gets easier. I have often described it this way: In the beginning, you take 100 steps straight uphill, and you find you have gone only one foot ahead after all that work. Then 99 more steps -- and you have moved ahead two more feet.  At some point, it seems 50 steps moves you 50 feet ahead. You have arrived. 

Then, much later, top agents take one step and launch 100 feet ahead. The $10 million listing happens just because a stranger calls and offers it. Such is entrepreneurial business.  Of course, to reach the later stages takes a colossal amount of time, sacrifice, setbacks and work – with never any guarantees.

The product, nevertheless, is pretty special. Selling the Malibu dream and lifestyle, which is coveted around the world, is inspiring at its core. This is a place where natural beauty and ideal weather converge, framing gorgeous homes and pleasant commercial areas, in a small town with an incredibly vast array of features and allures.  The residents are demographically diverse to an extraordinary latitude. Malibu is known for so much historical and cultural acclaim, few places in the world match its image.

Furthermore, positioned on the outskirts of one of the most popular and influential major cities in the world, Malibu offers unique beach living with a supply of housing inventory that is virtually capped, despite constantly increasing demand. 

To be working so intimately with that product is an honor most in the local real estate industry appreciate. To yet achieve the Malibu dream while selling it makes Malibu real estate sales among the most coveted, competitive, and definitely rewarding occupations one can find. If one can survive.