The Real Deal Los Angeles

Brent and Linda Chang of Compass on bringing Chinese buyers to the San Gabriel Valley

Mother and son duo talk Chinese negotiation style and family competition at the Agency

May 31, 2016 04:00PM
By Shira Levine

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Linda and Brent Chang of Compass and a property they sold at 1505 Circle Drive in San Marino

Linda and Brent Chang of Compass and a property they sold at 1505 Circle Drive in San Marino

Few buyers are more sought-after  — and, to many, elusive — than foreigners looking to park significant sums of money in the states.

Two of the newest hires at Compass’ quickly growing Pasadena office, Brent and Linda Chang, have made their mark bringing these buyers to Los Angeles. The son and mother duo — ages 45, and “old enough to be his mother,” respectively —  specialize in selling properties in L.A.’s San Gabriel Valley to Chinese buyers. They focus on the quiet, community-oriented San Marino where Linda lives today, as well as Pasadena, La Cañada and South Pasadena, where Brent lives.  

There’s another Chang in the biz, making deals in a much different L.A. market. Linda’s son Blair Chang co-founded the Agency (which is in late-stage talks to merge with Town Residential) with Mauricio Umansky and Billy Rose. While Blair’s dealing on the Westside may prove the oft-cited belief “the west is best,” Brent and Linda are proof the San Gabriel Valley is a growing market. We sat down with the new Compass hires to learn about the area and their tricks of the trade.

How different is the negotiating process with Chinese buyers vs. American buyers?

Brent: The Chinese buyer likes to negotiate and some people take offense to that. They say, ‘I’m not going to counter. They are asking too low.’ But they just don’t know how to negotiate. We make low offers and then come up — that’s just how Chinese people negotiate. There’s a learning process for the non-Asian (seller). Also, Chinese buyers often want to buy all the furniture in the home since they don’t know where to buy furniture.They’ll offer to buy it all.

How did you come to specialize in bringing Chinese buyers here?

Brent: Chinese buyers like to deal with other Chinese agents. They just feel more comfortable with a familiar face. Their guard goes down. They feel a level of comfort and trust dealing with us. They look at us like we are their relatives who’ve been here a while. They want us to tell them everything: where to eat, where to shop, where to buy their car, who we use for doctors, you name it.

Some are saying that interest from Chinese buyers is leveling out…

Linda: The market is not as strong lately as it was because it’s really difficult to get money out of China. If a house was $3 million, before, we’d have 20 offers. Now we have 5 or 6.

For those not familiar, what is the San Marino area like?

Brent: It’s very similar to Brentwood. It’s a small town with one high school and a very close-knit community. Everyone knows everyone, which is good and bad. It is very low key, without paparazzi. The large overseas buyer community from China has helped stabilize the market.

How expensive is your typical home in San Marino?

Brent: The mean price is $2.6 million and the average is around $859 a square foot.

How has the Chinese presence changed San Marino over the last 30 years?

Brent: When we moved here, we were one of two Chinese families. We’ve since seen the city change from one race to a mixed city. It wasn’t a completely smooth road. There was some us vs. them mentality. A lot of San Marinos felt threatened. Now, it’s turned into everyone getting on really well and accepting each other.

Does San Marino have much of a Hollywood presence?

Brent: For a while Bradley Whitford lived here before he got divorced. A lot of politicians are here. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation (Anthony Foxx) lives here. San Marino was a really conservative town with Republicans, generals, people from various cabinets. It has changed because people from the Westside are moving in.

Linda: Vince Vaughn and Kevin Costner were here a while, too.

How do prices in the San Gabriel Valley compare to other parts of L.A.?

Brent: You pay a premium because the schools are so good. It’s a big bargain compared to many neighborhoods in L.A. thought. A house that is $5 million in Pasadena could be $15 million on the Westside.

Who is buying in Pasadena?

Brent: We have a lot of Westside buyers who want a slow pace of life too. It’s also easy to get to if you need to get to work in Burbank or Downtown. Many of my friends who I grew up with are trying to get into the area again after leaving.They’re all coming back.

How did you end up in real estate, Brent?

Brent: I went to Berkeley for school and stayed to work in tech. Meanwhile, mom, who’d had her business down here since 1979, told me she was having trouble with technology and asked for help. She was thinking of retiring so she wanted me to get a taste for the business. I got into the sales side and discovered it was fun. That was 10 years ago.

There is some novelty in being a mother and son real estate duo…

Brent: We compliment each other really well. I am a numbers guy and I love the negotiation process. I like to read people. Mom likes to sell and talk. She loves a hard sell.

Linda: I like interaction.  

How do you divide up the work with clients?

Brent: Our clients will naturally gravitate toward one of us. It depends on the client’s personality.

Linda: We’re helpful to each other. And also to my other son, Blair, who (was one of the founders of) the Agency on the Westside. Both boys have the fabulous ability to do this kind of work.

From left: Brent and Linda Chang of Compass; Blair Chang of the Agency

From left: Brent and Linda Chang of Compass; Blair Chang of the Agency

How do your sons’ styles differ?

Blair is more like me with real estate sales and Brent is more cerebral. I was concerned Brent wouldn’t like the business but he did and the clients like him.

Is there competition when one son works with mom and the other does his own thing?

Linda: There’s no competition. If we have a listing we feel works for him, we will share it with Blair, and then if he has something that will appeal to a buyer of ours, he does the same.

Can you give an example of when this happened?

Brent: Max Weinberg, the (bandleader) on the Conan Show (and drummer for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band) was looking on the Westside initially (and after Blair sent him), we found him a house in San Marino instead.

Linda: It was the Wallace Neff place. He came over and after one showing he put in an offer. It was $5 million at the time, and he said a similar place would be $10 million on the Westside so for him it was a bargain.

So, did he buy it?

Brent:  It happened to be right before Conan got cancelled. Things didn’t work out in the end. We’ve sold that house twice since then, the last time to a Chinese buyer.