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The Real Deal Los Angeles

Linda May on Geoff Palmer’s buying strategy and what’s happening with Chinese investment

“When you own your own company, you become a therapist to your agents”
By Katherine Clarke | July 17, 2017 09:30AM

Linda May (credit: Linda May)

Linda May has represented Kelsey Grammer, fashion magnate Georges Marciano and the Rothschild banking family of France.

The San Francisco native spent 21 years at Coldwell Banker before jumping to Hilton & Hyland last year. Since then, she’s represented Nicolas Berggruen — the notoriously nomadic investment titan who was once known for his lack of a permanent address — in his $40 million purchase of the former home of socialite Edith Mayer Goetz in Holmby Hills.

Her current listings include the Bel Air estate of late film producer Harold Gaba, which hit the market for $39.9 million last month. She clocked in at No. 28 in The Real Deal’s April ranking of top residential brokers.

How long have you been in L.A.?

I moved here more than 35 years ago. There’s always been competition between L.A. and San Francisco. When I moved here, I loved the freedom and energy of L.A. I had wanted to change my life — I’d just gotten divorced and needed a year to do something different. I had my real estate license and it just seemed like Los Angeles was happening.

How’d you get started?

I went to work for a small broker — and within 5 years I had my own company with 20 sales people. San Francisco has more of a pecking order, and a history of how things are done. L.A. was the wild wild west — if you had a good idea, you didn’t have to go through the whole hierarchy to achieve it. Even now, you can be seen here.

What were you doing before?

I had dreamed of being an interior designer. But after working for two top designers in San Francisco, I realized I could never make a living at it. As much as I loved art and architecture, I didn’t see myself being successful. The obvious step was being in sales, for houses. That was a way to follow my passion in a much more lucrative way.

What did your parents do?

My dad was an investor in mutual funds and my mom was a homemaker. She had great flair. A lot of my interest in the arts came from her. Her hobby was doing oil painting. She did a lot of abstract stuff — lots of beautiful flowers, too. She died very young so her paintings still remind me of her.

How did you make inroads in the luxury sector?

I began doing luxury pretty much from the beginning. The clients and people I met were looking for beautiful homes north of sunset and in the flats of Beverly Hills. Right when I moved here, museums were just beginning to hit their stride. MOCA was becoming a reality.

How did you end up at Coldwell Banker?

Fred Sands acquired my business in the early 1990s and I took half my sales people there. Shortly thereafter, Fred Sands was acquired by Coldwell Banker and I was there for many years. The great thing about working for another firm is that you actually have time to sell. When you own your own company, you become a therapist to your agents who are having trouble and everyone’s walking into your office because they need you for something.

So, why jump to Hilton & Hyland last year?

As things progressed, Hilton & Hyland became the leader of luxury real estate. They were on every high end listings with the exclusive or the co-exclusive. There’s a synergy here that’s unduplicable — a great group of people and 15 really top agents that specialize in the high-end. That puts you in a position where, if you have a pocket listing or a buyer, you can immediately know who’s in the market and what’s available. The people with that information are under the same roof.

Why are there so many pocket listings these days?

You have a population here that wants privacy on their transactions because of the enormous appetite for celebrity news or news about high-end deals.

What’s your favorite deal you’ve done?

I sold the Burton Green estate, which was considered one of the most trophy estates in Beverly Hills. Burton Green was basically the founder of Beverly Hills and the person that laid out the city, so of course he picked the best for himself on Lexington Road behind the Beverly Hills hotel. It was a five-acre estate. I actually sold it twice. It was so exciting because of the pedigree and the magnificent grounds. I brought the buyer [Middle East businessman Mouaffak Al Midani] the first time and then sold it to Geoff Palmer in 2001.

What’s Palmer really like?

He came to the showing at 9 and said ‘I’ll be back at 3 p.m. with an offer.’

Do any other deals stick out?

I also sold the A. Quincy Jones estate,  known as Brody House, about five years ago. The late owner [Sidney Brody] was an old dowager or socialite and she had a famous Matisse in her indoor garden. The house had not been touched since she built it and it was chock full of Billy Haines furniture. The first time I walked in, I literally fell to my knees. It was the most stunning piece of modern architecture I’ve ever seen. That house was then eventually bought by Ellen Degeneres and now Sean Parker lives there.

You recently repped the so-called ‘homeless billionaire.’ Why do you think he finally wanted a home?

It’s such a funny name. He’s a new father with two children. I think that was a catalyst for wanting to have a beautiful home.

What’s changing in the L.A. market?

The difficulty in getting money out of China has pushed back tremendously Chinese interest not just on the west side, but in Pasadena and San Marino, where the Chinese community is huge. There are a lot of New Yorkers coming into the market though.

Where do you live?

I live at the Sierra Towers. It’s the chicest building in Los Angeles. I own two apartments there.