F. Ron Smith of Partners Trust on the changing agency model
F. Ron Smith, a founding partner of Partners Trust, has been selling homes in Los Angeles for nearly 30 years. With David Berg, he represents both property developers and individual buyers and sellers as part of the “Smith & Berg” team. Smith also co-founded Leverage Global Partners in 2012, a global referral business with 6,000 agents in 16 countries.
We sat down with the broker to talk about the new kids on the agency block, the prevalence of the term “adjacent” in L.A. real estate, and the construction of his new home.
How did you get into real estate?
My family is in real estate in Texas. I was born and raised there, and moved to L.A. after I graduated college. I started out as many people do, as a mail guy at William Morris Agency. That’s where I met my wife, Tracy, who was an agent there. That was 29 years ago. After I spent four years at William Morris, I yearned to get into the family business, which was selling real estate.
Where did you start out?
I started at Merrill Lynch, then Prudential, then Coldwell, then Sotheby’s. These large companies are so fractured. The irony is that you don’t end up with the connections. That’s what motivated Partner’s Trust.
My thought with Nick (Segal), Richard (Stearns) and Hugh (Evans) is that I would rather work with a handful of people and make decisions in real time for myself and my clients. That just can’t happen in a large company. When were started in 2009, [LA] had two or three boutique companies. Boutique companies are more prevalent now.
What has shifted in the way people are thinking about brokerages?
I know millennials want to take credit for this shift in company thinking, but it’s all about teamwork and liking the people around you. All of that creates the reason why I and others like to get up in the morning and go to work and enjoy it.
What is different about what Partner’s Trust is doing from other brokerages that have recently hit the L.A. scene?
Well, from day one no one person has been bigger than the company. We have great parity in our company. We look for everyone to be successful. [Another firm] has these great systems of automated outreach to clients, but if you take a step back, it’s about the communication, the one-on-one. That’s how our transactions work. These are emotional events that happen in your life because of all the moving parts. You can’t automate that. We don’t automate, we connect.
What do you find the greatest challenges working in real estate now?
There are a lot of good speakers which means a lot of good actors are out there when given the right script. They can give a great spiel. But this business is more about when no one is around. When the cameras aren’t on. We keep it real and we demonstrate it. We are available on a daily basis via text to help out, to assist with the tough questions.
Tell me about your home.
We’re on a little street [Canyon View Drive, in Brentwood] of twenty homes and right now there are four homes being built there. There has been construction on the Westside for the last 30 years. You will always see remodeling and construction here.
Why is that?
Because people value the properties here and it is the most major asset you can have. Also, because of the scarcity here versus, say, El Paso, where I was born and raised. The cost of living is higher here, but the quality of life really inspires people to live here.
Is your home under construction?
We started 12 months ago and now they have started the drywall on the inside and the siding on the outside. My goal is to have it done by December. Nothing gives you better perspective on what your client is going through is to have this happen yourself. I’ve had relationships with the general and subcontractors for years. I represent builders. There are 2 a.m. moments for me too.
So you’re saying you have to manage your expectations too?
Exactly, I do have to manage my own expectations. This is a ground up. It’s about a 9,000-square-foot lot and three levels. The house itself is 6,800-square-feet. I’m very sensitive to light, as most people are, and since sunlight gives you energy, we dedicated a lot of time and money upfront to creating light wells. To me that is the coolest part of the house. We created the ability to have access to natural light coming into the house. We have glass floors at the entryway, kitchen, and family room that allows natural light to go down into the lower level. You don’t get vertigo when you walk over the glass, it’s slightly diffused. It’s pretty cool and I enjoy that process a lot.
What architecture do you fancy?
I really like transitional architecture, like farmhouse meets modern with clean lines, glass, concrete and interesting stone work. We have [the listing for] 1234 Morningside Way in Venice, the Wave House, designed by Mario Romano, which is cool and unique. I love the video we did for that one.
How does video play into your strategy?
I personally love photography and I enjoy marketing and advertising. I love when I have interesting homes like Morningside to capture. We used time lapse photography. Telling a story about a home is really exciting and people love to know the backstory. I really believe the combination of video, photo and social media are a great way to get info out. Print too. They say print is dead, but for real estate, the Saturday paper is a treasure.
Within your territory, what are neighborhoods you find people should be paying attention to more?
Sunset Park and Ocean Park in Santa Monica are really phenomenal. They are vibrant and being adjacent to Venice and the beach is amazing. Culver City is pretty cool too. There’s also a small area in Brentwood called the Glen. It’s adjacent to Sepulveda and there are about 400 homes there.
Why is the term “adjacent” so prevalent in L.A. real estate?
It is. In practical terms, adjacent gives you immediate perspective on location. If I say a place is adjacent to Beverly Hills, it must virtually be Beverly Hills to the buyer and seller. The same with Malibu. Because traffic has turned into an absolute nightmare, it’s become important when people buy and rent a home that they can big picture see how they will live, how they will get around and what they are close to. I am passionate about coffee and I can identify great coffee locations near every one of our offices and that resonates with my clients.
What’s your favorite coffee shop?
Cafe Luxxe in Brentwood is my favorite. You have to order the mandorla. It’s a wicked good almond cappuccino.