The Altman brothers on foreign buyers and working with Kim Kardashian

The Altman brothers
The Altman brothers

“Million Dollar Listing” stars Josh and Matt Altman are Douglas Elliman’s top producing L.A. agents and are among the most successful brokers in Tinseltown. They specialize in selling high-end properties in L.A.’s so-called Platinum Triangle of Beverly Hills, Bel Air and Holmby Hills and often work with entertainers and athletes.

They even represented Miley Cyrus when she bought her five-acre vineyard estate and Kim Kardashian and Kanye West when they sold their Bel Air mansion.

The Real Deal sat down with the brokers to talk reality TV, the L.A. market and what it’s really like working with Kimye.

How did you get into the real estate business?
Josh: We grew up in Boston Massachusetts. Matt came out to L.A. about 16 years ago and I came out about 13 years ago. When we originally came out here, Matt was a talent agent at both CAA and Gersh and I worked in the mailroom at a music talent agency. We started flipping houses on the side as a hobby and we ended up making more money than we were making in our jobs. At that point, we decided to get into the real estate business full time. We were at Hilton & Hyland for about seven years and then about a year and a half ago we moved to Douglas Elliman.

Did you have a pool of clients from the talent business to draw from for your real estate business?
Matt: When you’re a talent agent, all the other talent agents work against you. When you leave the business completely, all of a sudden you have agents to the biggest actors, directors, writers and producers feeling comfortable that you can service their clientele. They all want to use you.

Josh: Matt has such a history of dealing with a lot of these A-level talent people. That’s not an easy thing to do. His connections are really how we got started and grew our business so quickly.

What’s the trick to dealing with A-list clients?
Matt: Treat everybody like they’re a superstar, whether they’re an A-list celebrity or not.

What impact has the show had on your business?
Matt: We were already selling about $100 million a year before we got the TV show. Our main concern was that people would start to look at us just like reality TV stars, rather than businessmen. Eventually though, we decided that as real estate agents, the most important thing is getting your name out there. What better way to do that than be on a TV shows that airs in like 70 countries?

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Josh: Now, I don’t even see the cameras. I almost feel more awkward when there are no cameras. It’s really put us in a global position that helps us get our clients’ properties in front of more people. The reach that we have is really second to none. Now, we sell about $1 million a day in real estate.

Are you guys close with the folks from “Million Dollar Listing New York”?
Josh: Yes, we’ve actually formed a pretty successful business sending referrals back and forth to each other. As a client, if you like them, you’re probably going to like us. Fredrik and Luis work at Douglas Elliman, so that helps. We probably send $30 million to $80 million in referrals to one another every year.

Why did you make the move to Elliman?
Josh: It was really the global platform. A lot of people say they’re global, or they’re affiliated with this or that, but at the end of the day not everyone has offices in the four main hubs of U.S. real estate, Miami, Aspen, New York and L.A. That’s where all of our clients have houses. The Knight Frank partnership also allowed us to be truly global.

There’s been a lot of shake-up in the brokerage world, with New York firms like Compass and Elliman coming in. What do you make of all that?
Josh: We put our heads down and we work. We’ve got a lot going on and we don’t pay a lot of attention to that. To be honest, people think it’s easy to break in here and it’s not. Some firms will fade into the Hollywood Hills sunset.

What’s happening with the market in L.A.?

Josh: We still are seeing a lot of overseas money coming through. Right now, we’re dealing with a lot of people from the U.K., because there are some new taxes out there for developers. I’m seeing a lot of Canadian buyers. The Chinese are still here, it’s just taking them a little bit longer to get their money together. But, the majority of our major sales in the past six months have been to Americans in tech and oil.

You’ve worked with a lot of celebrities. Who’s been the most fun?
Josh: We’ve worked with Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, Mila Kunis. Damon John from “Shark Tank” is a client and we’ve become really good friends with him. We’ve even started some businesses together. I can’t talk about them, though. He even wrote the foreword on my book, which was pretty cool.

What’s it like working with Kim?
Josh: We’ve been selling Kim Kardashian houses since she started out. The first thing we sold for her was a condo. It’s cool to see how she’s come up in the ranks, from a condo to what she lives in now. You grow with your clients.

What are some of the coolest listings you have right now?

Matt: We have an incredible $53 million listing right now. It’s a 51,000 square foot house in Rolling Hills. The house took 17 years to build, it has an indoor and outdoor tennis court and an indoor hamam. The amount of time and craftsmanship that went into that house is something special.

Who’s the owner?
Matt: I can’t say.

Josh, you’re getting married to your fiancée and colleague Heather Bilyeu this week. Tell us about the wedding.
Josh: It’s going to be at the St. Regis is Aspen and the Caribou Club for the after party. It will be on the show, so everyone’s invited.