Jeff Hyland on LA’s “bogus” celebrity culture, Greta Garbo and the softening residential market

Firm has represented the likes of Hugh Hefner, Paul Allen and Patrick Dempsey

Feb.February 04, 2016 10:00 AM

Jeff Hyland is the president of Hilton & Hyland, a boutique real estate brokerage known for selling some of L.A.’s most prestigious and high-priced homes.

He was a partner at the brokerage Alvarez, Hyland & Young in the 1980s and 1990s before founding Hilton & Hyland in 1993 with businessman Rick Hilton, father of socialites Paris and Nicky Hilton.

He is also the author of several books on the architectural history of Los Angeles, including “The Legendary Estates of Beverly Hills.” We sat down with the influential dealmaker to chat about celebrity culture, foreign buyers and where the market stands. 

Did you grow up in L.A.?
I was born and raised in Little Holmby, which is between UCLA and Beverly Hills. It was heaven. There was one stop light between my house and Beverly Hills. You ran wild. The doors were always unlocked and you could ride your bikes on the road. You didn’t know the meaning of the word security. All the Hollywood celebrities would wave and you would wave back.

Were your parents in real estate?
My father was a screenwriter. He wrote 19 movies. So I was always in that Hollywood sphere. It was a different world then. The people we look up to now as celebrities are staged reality TV people. That’s so bogus and so false. It’s sad that those are the new celebrities of L.A.

How did you get into the business?
I wanted to be an architect but I couldn’t do math. When I graduated from college, my father put no pressure on me. For five years, I just surfed. I woke up at 29 and realized it was time to go to work. I was lucky that I got everything out of my system. Had I gone into real estate right after college, I would probably have had some kind of thirties revolt.

How did you meet your business partner, Rick Hilton?
I met him through his older brother who was a friend of mine from college. He’s probably the only broker in the business who is a real rainmaker. His clients are his friends and his clients are all Forbes 400 people you know, real movers and shakers in every industry. Between the two of us, we can literally pick up the phone and reach anybody we need to. We’re a true yin and yang.

Of all the homes you’ve sold, which is your favorite?
The Fred Thompson estate, which was the first estate that Wallace Neff built. I sold it to Paul Allen about 10 years ago for $20 million. It’s 120 acres off of Benedict Canyon. They called it the Enchanted Hill. It was named that by Greta Garbo, who was leasing another Wallace Neff house next door now belonging to Rupert Murdoch. When she came to visit the owners, she would say, ‘This is so enchanting, you should call it the Enchanted Hill.’ If it were to come on the market today, it would be priceless.

Do you have a favorite architect?
Anything by Wallace Neff or Paul Williams is fantastic.

Where do you live?
I live in the Trousdale Estates section of Beverly Hills. I’ve been there 20 years.

How do you think the market is doing right now?
L.A. is still probably the most underpriced market for what you can buy. We’re probably the least affected by any single market. A lot of people from South America prop up the market in Miami, a lot of Russian and Middle Eastern money goes to New York, San Francisco has a lot of Asian money. We have a bit of everything so we’re somewhat insulated from those market gyrations.

What are you seeing in terms of foreign buyers?
Eight out of 10 buyers are Americas. You hear over and over that there are all these Chinese buyers but when you actually look at the statistics, those people are looking rather than actually purchasing.

Do you think there is a softening in the market, though?
Yes, we’re due for that price correction. We do have some instances where the buyers have not stepped up to the plate to meet seller’s expectations. We’re working with sellers now to get more attune to where the market really is.

The U.S. Treasury recently said it was going to put more scrutiny on New York and Florida buyers who purchase under LLCs. Are you relieved L.A. isn’t under the microscope?
Not really. We don’t have that kind of money here. We’re not seeing the kind of person that just buys a Picasso to store it in a warehouse in Switzerland as a way to hide money.

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