She may be mingling with the stars now, but Valerie Fitzgerald is a self-made woman.
A former model, she found herself jobless with a baby daughter in Los Angeles more than 20 years ago. Today, as a power agent with Coldwell Banker Previews International, she boasts a $2.5 billion portfolio of luxury properties sold in L.A. Her real estate Rolodex includes the likes of Ben Affleck and she calls Sylvester Stallone a close friend. Fitzgerald has been a regular on the TV shows “Selling L.A.” and “Entertainment Tonight.”
The superstar agent gave The Real Deal the dish on Mark Wahlberg’s $30 million home and strange trends in luxury real estate.
Hometown: Upstate New York
Lives in: Brentwood
Family: Single, one daughter
You used to be a model. How did you build your real estate career after leaving that business?
I was in New York, had gotten pregnant, came out to L.A. to work for Revlon, and after four months, I was without a job. And then a good friend of mine said, “You should go into real estate.” I didn’t have any business experience. But the woman who lived next to me had a kid, so she would look after my baby while I worked to get my license.
How did you get into the luxury market?
I went to a [luxury] developer’s office — with my baby — and he told me “I won’t give you my listing, but I’ll let you sit through my open house.” That’s how it began. I met people that way and eventually built my credibility. One thing built on top of another. I became the real estate correspondent on “Entertainment Tonight,” and I did that for 18 months.
You’ve worked with some real A-listers. Can you tell us any notable stories?
[Celebrities] are like anybody else, seriously. But with Ben Affleck, we were showing a lot of houses to him, and I always brought my daughter along, and one time, he saw her and said, “Come over here and give Uncle Ben a big hug!” and I thought that was just so sweet. I’ve worked with Christina Aguilera and Sylvester Stallone, who’s a good friend of mine. They’re like anyone else. They become warm to you. But you have to keep a level of privacy with them.
What kind of trends are you seeing in luxury real estate on the Westside?
The market has really changed. Ten years ago, you couldn’t even give away a contemporary home, but now they’re very popular. [These homes] have open spaces, infinity pools, and in a lot of them we’re seeing glass garages, which figure that buyers have nice cars. Also candy walls – walls made entirely of candy, and other decadent type things like that. Lately, I’ve also seen little chef’s kitchens, because people don’t want to hear the clinking of catering in the open kitchen.
You’re selling a $30 million residence that used to belong to Mark Wahlberg. How is that going?
His trademark is there. I’d never been in a boxing ring before (where Wahlberg trained for “The Fighter) and it’s more cushiony than you can imagine. The gym itself is like 3,000 square feet and opens with this garage rolling door that opens to the basketball court. Oh, and there’s a punting green. It’s a real guys’ playpen.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
What sets me apart is my deep understanding of many markets. I never started out in one market, I’ve always gone wide. So I think i can tell you what area, what street, what location, where you can spend $1 million, $2 million, $3 million. I can tell you the price per square foot in 13 to 14 markets.
How has being on TV changed your real estate career?
It does a lot for branding. It helps people to get to know you, and that’s why video is so important today. People want to know see talking and moving and figure out how to relate to a person. [Clients] want to see you before they hire you.
A lot of people think the residential market in L.A. is slowing down. What is your outlook?
It is slowing down! But it’s only slowing down in the very high end — over $25 million — sector of the market. For their houses over $30 million, someone is going to have to change their price. The supply is higher than the demand. But it hasn’t domino-ed down yet. It’ll take another 18 months until it filters down.
What’s your least favorite thing about real estate in L.A.?
Pocket listings! It’s poor brokership, it’s poor unethical behavior, but sellers are happy…
You wrote a book about being a single mom and starting a business. What are the challenges of that?
Looking back, it’s hard to believe I did that. But I did. My daughter is in her late 20s. She used to sleep under my desk, and I would tell people my babysitter got sick, but I didn’t actually have one. But (being a mom) teaches you the perseverance of building a business. Having her gave me a lot of purpose, a lot of purpose to create a quality life. And I was very engaged with clients to make that happen.
Has the business changed for women since you started?
When I first started out, women were more part-time. These ladies were kind of tough, the ones I initially met. Now, I think being a woman is even better than being a man in the residential business because we understand how families live, what kind of bathrooms children need or where to have a closet.
What are your favorite spots in L.A.?
I just went to Cecconi’s [in West Hollywood] with a girlfriend of mine. Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills. Nobu in Malibu. The Honor Bar, Wally’s Wine, the Nice Guy. There are so many places to sit outside and watch people walking by. People think Los Angeles is isolated because people drive all the time, but we actually have a lot of walkability.
What’s your morning routine?
I’m up by 7 or 7:15 a.m. I have two dogs, so I’m up early walking them. I get the New York Post and the L.A. Times delivered to my house. I get coffee and read those. My trainer comes by at 8:30 a.m. I answer emails, and then drive. I don’t turn my phone on until 9 or 9:30 a.m.
How do you find work/life balance?
At 6:30 p.m. I’m usually out the door. In order to be successful, you have to have an end time. If you know this all day long, you won’t say ‘I’ll do that later,’ or ‘I’ll do that tomorrow.’ I work like a crazy person, but I don’t think that it’s a good thing to be available 24/7. I don’t think anyone needs to talk about business at 11 at night. Boundaries are good for yourself and for other people.
What’s your pet peeve?
When people don’t communicate. There’s no excuse for that in today’s world. Also when people do all their business on their phones, like texting deals. I don’t think it’s a good idea to text a deal. I think it should be a formal. No one should be running a business off their telephone.
Any parting thoughts?
I was in New York City recently, meeting with some media people, and we talked about what’s trending in 2016, thinking of ways to stay on the market longer. The high-end of the market has slowed down in all the major cities, and if you watch all these (trend stories), you’d see that millennials aren’t buying. But they’ll start buying in a year and a half. This is a market in transition. It’s not a crash, it’s a transition. I think it’s slow, but it’s a healthy market.