Joe Babajian on working with the likes of Beyonce and LA’s luxury circuit

Los Angeles /
Feb.February 12, 2016 02:31 PM

Luxury real estate is Joe Babajian’s forte, and the Rolodex of clientele the L.A. native has housed and de-homed over the years is hard to match — by which we mean, it includes Beyonce. The Rodeo Realty broker has also bought and sold homes for Harrison Ford, Nicolas Cage, Janet Jackson, Maria Shriver, and the one and only Barbra Streisand.

We spoke with the seasoned agent about Pacific Rim buyers, showing houses to Michael Jackson and L.A.’s rise.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up near Playa del Rey by the beach and went to UC Santa Barbara. Playa del Rey is a whole different world from Bel Air and Beverly Hills where I live now. Growing up in Playa might as well be like growing up in New York and coming to L.A., just totally different worlds.

What areas of L.A. do you prefer?

I really like Beverly Hills and Bel Air, and the west end of the Hollywood Hills — the epicenter of the city.

We’re powering through a serious upcycle that’s giving a lot of love to the Eastside… 

It’s like that whole energy has shifted east. The studios have done the same. Hollywood Boulevard has changed dramatically over last 5 to 10 years, and DTLA, that whole east end. These young hipsters, rich kids who are young and with trust funds, they want to be on the east side in Silver Lake, Los Feliz and Echo Park. That’s not to say Brentwood, Beverly Hills, Palisades aren’t still desirable, but they’re not the only players out there.

You’ve been in the business for 30 years: How has the L.A. market changed? 

There have been four international cities that have garnered the big numbers — New York, Hong Kong, London, Tokyo — places where things sell for $8,000 a foot. They have always been the top-tier of price structures for cities in the world. L.A. has always been an expensive city, but not at that level. What’s happened in the last five years has two schools of thought. One is this is the normal cycle and it will end in a year or two and adjust again. The other thinking is that L.A. is coming into it’s own and will be commanding within the top-tier price structure.

Why now and never before?

We used to be in the middle of nowhere. The east coast had the advantage with being near Europe. Now with the Pacific Rim we have an advantage. Things have changed. The wealthiest in the developing world want to own a place in the U.S. and L.A. has become increasingly attractive. We have a lot of wealthy Indonesian and Chinese buyers. Even with all of America’s problems, a lot of foreign buyers want a residence here because they want their kids to have a place to live when they go to college here. Our government isn’t going to be overthrown so a residential investment is solid.

So international buyers are choosing L.A. over New York? 

The storms have really turned people off from the East Coast.

How much of the Silicon Beach migration are you getting?

The tech presence extends well beyond Silicon Beach. Larry Ellison bought a place is Malibu. His daughter is in the Hollywood Hills. The Minecraft guy (Markus Persson) bought in Trousdale for $70 million. Five years ago that would have been $15 million. Sean Parker bought in Holmby Hills. Eric Schmidt bought on South Mapleton Drive. L.A. has become a huge epicenter of tech moguls.

So the L.A. vs. San Francisco rivalry is of yesteryear? 

There has always been a rivalry between L.A. and the Bay Area. It’s in their DNA to hate L.A. before they even know and see it. But I think the association (between tech) and the entertainment industry naturally has its effect.

What are some under-appreciated areas buyers should consider?

Beachwood (Canyon). The west end of Los Feliz…has great old 100-year-old Hollywood architecture, where lots of high profiles celebs lived. Another area coming into its own is Baldwin Hills. The prices are really low for getting a nice neighborhood with great views. It’s the new hip area to buy and redo. Also, there’s stuff by USC where a lot of homes are significant architecturally — Craftsmen, Spanish, Mediterranean, Victorian from the teens and 1920s.

Who are your favorite architects living or dead in LA?

(Richard) Neutra is one of my favorite architects. There are some really good Paul Williams homes I like too.

I heard you rescue Dobermans. Where do you like to take them hiking?

We’re a group that goes in packs through the canyons. I like Runyon a lot. There are some great trails in Brentwood and the Palisades. I like Temescal, Griffith, and Franklin Canyon too. Our Central Park is the Santa Monica Mountains.

I must ask: what was it like showing homes to Michael Jackson?

He was a real character. He really was like a kid. I showed him a few homes and he’d literally disappear and pop out of nowhere and you’d hear, “You whoooo!”

How different is selling to a celebrity than to a regular wealthy person?

The reality is you never become best friends with them. Your relationship is with the business manager or the assistant or the lawyer. It’s rare you become part of their inner circle.

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