Celeb broker Jeeb O’Reilly on going from open sets to open houses

Compass agent had former life as professional shutterbug before going into real estate

Jan.January 19, 2016 10:00 AM

Veteran real estate agent Jeeb O’Reilly of Compass has been in the business of selling L.A. homes for more than 20 years and can count A-list celebrities such as Renée Zellweger as clients.

Her pricey listings include an $8.65 million three-bedroom pad at 779 Stradella Road in Bel Air.

But O’Reilly didn’t always have her eye on the real estate market. Indeed, the New York native was formerly a professional photographer and even used to own her own catering business before getting her real estate license in 1993.

Read on for a closer look at how she became one of L.A.’s top residential agents.

Where are you from?
I was born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens and moved to Manhattan when I was 15.

Did you always want to be in real estate?
No, I was a photographer studying art and architecture at the School of Visual Arts. I was taking head shots for an actor friend and he ended up getting the part in Los Angeles based on the photos. When he got there, he sent me a ticket to come over, too. I ended up getting a job as a photographer taking publicity shots for movies.

What did you think of LA?
I thought L.A. was horrendous and I could never live here. There was no culture. It was like visiting the New Jersey turnpike. But I just kept getting more and work and it seemed like an easier environment in which to thrive professionally—There, I was a big deal. I went from film to film to film taking shots in between shots.

Why did you stop doing photography?
When my son Tori was born in 1974, I had to change my lifestyle. I couldn’t be out on location all day. I was a great cook – my grandmother had a restaurant in Brooklyn when I was little — so I started a catering business out of my house, making things like stuffed brioches. Soon, I was doing all Universal’s backstage catering, serving people like Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan and Diana Ross.

How did real estate come about?
While I was doing catering, the head of the Universal Amphitheatre came to me and said he’d like me to come work with him full time as an assistant director, handling publicity, acting as a liaison between artists and managers and handling all the backstage coordination. In doing that, I was always handling real estate needs for people, especially when bands would come into town, so I ended up getting my license.

Did you take to it quickly?
Real estate wasn’t like it is now back then. Nothing was online – they didn’t even have an MLS – and I had a friend who had a bunch of houses. I got my license in 1993 and about 10 of my friends were ready and waiting to sell their houses so I hit the ground running. My first sales deal was for a big old Spanish house in Los Feliz. I sold it to the first person to walk into my open house.

How do you get most of your clients these days?
I’ve picked up more people at open houses than my friends have ever referred me to.

You’ve worked with a lot of high-profile celebrities, such as Renée Zellweger. What was that like?
Celebrities never know what they’re looking for. Renee didn’t know what she wanted. When I walked her into Jakob Dillon’s place, which she ended up buying, her business manager yelled at me because it was more money than she had planned to spend. She loved the house but didn’t want anything that was inside it. She completely gutted it. With celebrities, you have to answer to them and to their business manager – that’s the biggest difference.

How has the market changed since you started in the business?
Most of the money is now coming from the new, young billionaires in the tech world. We were selling to a lot of Asians too but they’re starting to have a lot of problems now.

What’s been your proudest career moment?
I was one of the first brokers to do sell something for over $20 million back in the 1990s. My client spent millions building something for himself over on the bird streets but he fell in love with this girl and she didn’t want to live in the house. She thought it was too big and too pretentious. He ended up leaving her and the house. That’s L.A. for you.

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