Power broker Aaron Kirman on cracking the business, foreign capital and the ‘schizophrenic’ LA market

Los Angeles /
Jul.July 07, 2016 10:30 AM

Name: Aaron Kirman
Date of birth: September 24, 1978
Lives in: West Hollywood
Hometown: Encino
Family: Single

Aaron Kirman is president of the international estates division of John Aaroe Group and one of the top-producing luxury real estate brokers in the country, posting $3 billion in lifetime sales. He’s sold Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House, Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Residence, Frank Gehry’s Schnabel House, Liongate by Paul Williams and the only Oscar Niemeyer in North America. He’s also represented celebrities including Rihanna, Nicky Minaj, and Orlando Bloom.

We spoke with Kirman about foreign buyers, breaking into the business and working with Saudi Kings.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?
Growing up I had some severe learning disabilities, I had dyslexia and other issues that always made it difficult in school. But somehow, I always had a passion for houses and, when I was little, I always played at being a real estate agent. I literally made my parents drive to open houses even though they had no intention of moving. We were like fake buyers, an agent’s worst nightmare. They couldn’t afford to move nor did they want to and I was dragging them around.

What did your parents do?
My dad was in trucking and my mom was in education. Then, she was a teacher.

How did you crack the business?
At 18, I went right into real estate. I put myself through college selling real estate actually, when other people were at school and at frat houses I was usually doing deals. I got very lucky very quickly. I didn’t come from wealth, or a background of power and money, but somehow along the way I just met some very powerful people that were very connected in art, finance, music and fashion. And so from 19, literally, I started representing some significant houses. Maybe not the most expensive houses in the world, but significant.

What was your secret to meeting those people?
At the time we had floor calls and you had a window of time where you’d answer random calls that came into an office. I met a guy that was just super connected in the architectural world and fashion. And one day he called me and said, ‘Hey, I want a Neutra house,’ and I said, ‘Okay, great!’ I had no idea what the hell Neutra was, I had to figure it out. He came down to L.A., and I took him to look at houses and it was a disaster. I couldn’t find the houses, got lost, had to call agents to pick me up and take me to their listings. It was awful, I was thinking he would never work with me again. But, maybe about two months later, an amazing Neutra house came on the market, and I called him and I said, ‘You know, I don’t want to waste your time, but I think I have your perfect house. Can you come back to L..A?’ He came down and sure enough, that was one of my first deals.

How much did he buy it for?
At the time it was a $1.7 million, which, 18 years ago, was not bad. It just kind of got me rolling into this really cool world of really significant architectural homes. And at very young age, people started to recognize that’s what I did.

Was that a world away from the type of house you grew up in?
I grew up in Encino but I was selling on the West Side of L.A. and Beverly Hills. We always lived in a very middle class type of home, but I was always on the periphery of wealth in the sense that very close to my home were these fabulously gorgeous houses. I would go for walks and I would stare at them and I literally knew every house that was beautiful in my neighborhood, for blocks and blocks and blocks.

Did you always work for the John Aaroe group?
I was executive director of the architectural division at Hilton & Hyland for 10 years, and that’s where I started to get into the big boy houses. It was funny because, at the time, Hilton & Hyland was a big boutique company but it wasn’t as powerful as it is now and it wasn’t as hip. I’ve always been a more boutique guy. I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to do well because I’ve always been able to really market myself at these firms. About four years ago, John Aaroe was building their west side brand and they were really looking for someone to build their estates division. It was kind of what the doctor ordered at the right time.

There’s lots of poaching going on in the business now. What are your thoughts on all of it?
It is absolutely madness, it’s the wild wild west in terms of brokerages.

You have a reputation for being major celebrity broker…
I don’t buy into the celebrity broker bullshit. People do call me a celebrity broker, but at the end of the day I’m a broker, and I do what everyone else does. If I have to be honest, I don’t watch a whole lot of movies and TV, so I can meet the biggest celebrity and be like ‘Who?’ I was never that guy who was star struck or all that interested. I have a job to do, and my job is to find or sell them a perfect house and do it in the right way, and be discrete about it. I kept doing that over and over again. Business managers would reach out to me, and say ‘Hey, you represented the king of Saudi and I’d like you to represent my client because you did such a good job.’ It just kept rolling.

Who are some of the biggest clients you’ve worked with?
I’ve worked with kings and queens. Some of the royalty from the middle east will have an entourage of 40, sometimes 60. I’ve had to manage 82 people at one time — no joke. We needed buses.I was with them for a week and a half, traveling, looking at property and everything else, and every dinner was taken care of, security was always present, there was never a wait or a line. When they left, all of the sudden I was alone and I remember having to flag a cab by myself. It was raining and cold and I was like, ‘Woah, this is a cultural change.’

What have been some of your favorite deals?
I helped saved the only Oscar Niemeyer in North America in Santa Monica. They were going to tear it down, because the land at the time was more expensive than the house, and the city of Santa Monica reached out to me and said, ‘Please, don’t let anyone tear this house down, find the right buyer.’ I stepped right in and found a buyer that was willing to pay a premium price for it at the time to restore it, and bring it back to its original grandeur.These houses are like Picassos and when you find the right person who is going to protect and restore them for future generations, that’s amazing.

How’s the market?
It’s a schizophrenic market. We see some super uber big sales happening but overall the first quarter was kinda slow. Now, it seems to be picking up but it’s still price sensitive. You have to be really realistic about pricing.

Where are buyers coming from these days?
This is the first year that I’m seeing most of my buyers coming from America. Last year and the year before, I had buyers coming from all over the world. We go to China every two months to meet a bunch of millionaires and billionaires. Even though the economy is slowing there, some of them are still heavily invested in buying here in Los Angeles. We have a lot of European clients who, with all of the turmoil in Europe, they want to be here.

Where do you live?
I live in West Hollywood in a high-rise building. Because I sell so many fancy big houses, I appreciate that they take care of me and park my car and I don’t have to think about anything. There’s something I love about that lifestyle.

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