Douglas Elliman’s Colin Keenan on breaking into La La Land

Managing broker talks MDLLA, Compass and the difference between NY and LA agents

Dec.December 21, 2016 07:04 PM
Colin Keenan (via Douglas Elliman)

The lawn signs of mega-brokerages such as Coldwell Banker, Sotheby’s and Keller Williams are ubiquitous in Los Angeles. And to any real-estate-savvy Angeleno, well-known boutique firms — Hilton & Hyland, Nourmand & Associates and the Agency, to name only a few — also roll off the tongue.

But Douglas Elliman? New York transplants recognize the firm as the largest in the Big Apple and the fourth in the nation. But the brokerage, which arrived in L.A. in 2014 and opened its flagship Beverly Hills location in March 2016, is still establishing itself among locals.

Senior vice president and managing broker Colin Keenan’s ambition, however, is to make the two surnames household names in Tinseltown. We sat down with the Connecticut-born and Berklee School of Music-educated real estate manager to chat about how he got started in L.A. real estate, and what challenges lie ahead.

Are Angelenos becoming familiar with Douglas Elliman?

We’re not as well known out here as we are in the other major markets we operate in. We aren’t a new company, but we essentially are in Southern California. Our early agents had to take a leap of faith, but that faith was grounded in our national strength as a company and the relationships that Dottie [Herman, Elliman’s president and CEO] and Howard [Lorber, Elliman’s chairman] have established.

When were you first introduced to them?

My original exposure to Elliman was when I was at Prudential, where I was a competitor. I remember I saw the magazine, Elliman, drop for the first time in the Los Angeles Times and saw what kind of competition they were presenting. It’s not cheap to pull that off. No one else was doing that, with that amount of resources.

Why was an in-house magazine such a game changer?

It gave wonderful exposure to properties. When it first came out, it was essentially a beautiful coffee table book for clients. It was two issues a year, and now it’s four times a year with a shift more toward art, architecture and lifestyle — what buyers are thinking about in addition to the property.

Elliman seems to promote the individual identities of the brokers, i.e. “Million Dollar Listing”...

We’ve always been much more open than many of our national competitors. We really allow the agents and their personalities to shine through their work. We are much more open as a company to exposure on reality TV shows. We like how they are based around the lives of real estate agents in New York and here in L.A. Josh and Matt Altman have done a huge job of granting us exposure out here in a new market.

Do you have any idea how the L.A. and New York Elliman offices differ?

I think people mistakenly assume that L.A. brokers will be flashier while the New York agents are going to be more ‘in your face’ and standoffish — but our clientele are varied and sophisticated and they come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Successful agents can handle themselves in any situation and be tough or soft depending on what is best for their clients.

And the Altman Brothers — what are they like work with?

They are both really funny guys. We have a lot more fun than I think people might imagine. But I have to add that I like working next to them more than I enjoy parking next to them. No matter what I am driving, it’s hard not to have serious car envy when you have to park between Josh’s Rolls Royce and Matt’s Bentley.

Where do you live in L.A.?

I’ve lived in Brentwood since I moved to L.A. in 1994.

Where did you start as a broker?

I started out working for John Aaroe in his Brentwood office. I was the gofer — from coffee to copies. But, I was very lucky. I had the chance to work for a woman who is the smartest person in the business.

Who is she?

Nancy Beckerman [who managed the Brentwood office]. What made her effective is that she was fair. She didn’t play favorites and I picked up that trait. I have my favorites but I don’t play favorites. Agents need to feel they are in an environment where they are treated fairly. That was the most valuable thing I learned, but not the only thing.

What else did you learn from Nancy Beckerman?

The best you can do is to be present. Be here every day. In the morning, don’t disappear for three hours. At lunchtime, be available to your agents even when you’re not in the office: email, text, phone. Being available when someone needs you is by far the most important aspect of a relationship. We are there to advise our agents. That is probably why a guy from our new development team described us as having the happiest office in the company.

How does Elliman compare to Compass, which launched as this industry disruptor?

I’m not sure what was being disrupted, at the end of the day. This business is about relationships, the relationships that the agents have as a whole. I don’t know if real estate is a business that is really capable of being disrupted in the way they thought it might.

They took the reins on leading with the digital suite of tools for brokers…

If someone has a great idea, today, it is going to be stolen. We have definitely been influenced by people around us and companies around us, and we say, ‘Hey! That’s a great idea! Should we be doing that? Can we do this?We need to look at everything because we want to always stay at the front of the pack.

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