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The Real Deal Los Angeles

New kids on the block: A look at LA’s next tier of luxury brokers

From former actors to bankers, the new crop of resi agents is already selling homes for A-listers like Johnny Depp
By Natalie Hoberman | May 15, 2018 05:55PM

Top row from left: Kevin Dees, Ignacio Rodriguez, John Kostrey, Mark Kitching, Darlene Hutton and Bryce Pennel.
Bottom row from left: Jason Hastings, Henriett Novak, Ryan Jancula, Donovan Healey, Mick Partridge and Justin Alexander.

At the highest end of the luxury residential market in Los Angeles an elite group of brokers, numbering about a dozen, routinely pull off sales of homes each valued in the tens of millions of dollars. Some score the occasional $100 million listing, with the true A-listers each booking upwards of $500 million a year in sales annually.

To add to their prowess, these hotshots tend to have all the advantages at the ready, including a team of 10 or more people behind them, who are often arranging showings, postings on social media, or planning elaborate open houses with sushi and weed pens.

Below the glitterati are a crop of clawing strivers trying to pave their way into the limelight of L.A. real estate. Still operating largely on their own or with one or two assistants, many of the brokers in this category have found success through their ability to sell and list off-market. It helps prove that a broker is informed, in addition to adding a certain panache to the deal, brokers said.

After conversations with brokerage founders, industry experts, and other real estate professionals, The Real Deal compiled a list of up-and-coming brokers who are set to compete with the entrenched group leading the pack today. This hungry group did anywhere between $30 million and $50 million in sales last year – a level most are expecting to surpass by the end of this year.

To “make it,” said Michael Nourmand, president of boutique brokerage Nourmand & Associates, brokers need to have the contacts and know the product. “If you don’t have both of those things, you’re not going to sell luxury properties,” he said.

“It’s not rocket science,” said Bryce Pennel, a Coldwell Banker broker who got into the business after meeting L.A. star broker Jade Mills. “You have to be savvy and hungry to go after the business.”

TRD compiled its list based on mostly self-reported sales information, with additional data coming from supervising managers at brokerages.

Donovan Healey | Hilton & Hyland

Donovan Healey was making $200,000 a year remodeling homes and selling stucco window roofs in Compton and Watts before becoming a broker. “My then-girlfriend (now wife) said, ‘Why the hell are you selling bits and pieces to houses when you can sell the whole house?’ So that’s where I realized,” he said.

A decade later, he is on his way to becoming one of the leading brokers at Hilton & Hyland. He said he expects to close $75 million in sales by the end of 2018. Among his bigger deals is a $20 million home in Paradise Cove. But his “bread and butter” are the eclectic homes in the $2 million to $5 million range that other agents stay away from.

“I’m known as the guy that sells strange properties,” Healey says. “I tend to have a good track record with funky L.A. real estate.”

Healey joined the firm late last year, leaving John Aaroe Group shortly after its eponymous founder retired. He sells homes in the Malibu coastline, all the way out to the Hollywood Hills East. “I’m a 101 warrior,” he said, referring to the busy freeway.

Mark Kitching | Pacific Union International

Before it was called Pacific Union International, Mark Kitching was one of the 20 founding members at a boutique brokerage named Partners Trust. Nearly 10 years ago, he left his career as a film and TV production manager to pursue a career in residential real estate, finding the “community aspect” of real estate resonated with him. “If you don’t have solid relationships with other agents, you likely won’t be that successful,” Kitchin said.

Some of his biggest deals include selling the home of Marmol Radziner’s principal Ron Radziner for $4.4 million five years ago. Very little had sold for over $3 million in Venice up to that point, he recalled. He also sold a teardown, 11,000-square-foot lot for $6.5 million recently.

Kitching, a one-man team who gets a quarter of his business from developer clients, made between $50 million to $60 million in sales last year. He’s expecting sales of $75 million this year.

Kevin Dees | The Agency

Last year, Kevin Dees sold five penthouses for Johnny Depp at the iconic Eastern Columbia Building, a deal he said put him on the map in Downtown Los Angeles. He’s one of the up-and-comers at the Agency, who really hit his stride in the last three years.

“When you do something that is high profile, people certainly take notice,” he said.

With a background in construction and home flips, Dees started off at Partners Trust in 2013 and then joined the Agency in January. He focuses on Downtown properties, but also works on the Westside, in the Valley, and even in Orange County.

Despite having a famous radio broadcaster for a father — Rick Dees — he claims to come from humble beginnings. He sold his first house — a teardown in Sherman Oaks with an empty pool – to someone he met at a development site, where he was actively soliciting potential buyers. “I took it as an opportunity to walk up on job sites and get out there,” he said.

Dees said he made $50 million plus in sales last year. Today, Dees in the process of closing musician and artist Vincent Gallo’s home in the Arts District, while also listing Lena Horne’s penthouse in Manhattan.

Darlene Hutton | Pacific Union International

“I have very famous clients,” said Darlene Hutton. “It’s not like I need to be on a bus bench.”

Hutton reached nearly $30 million in sales in the first quarter of 2018, with most of those transactions happening off-market. That’s equivalent to how much she pulled in for all of 2017. This year? She’s projecting $100 million.

With a team of two, Hutton does most of her business on the Westside. She works with clients in entertainment and sports, specifically business managers and attorneys. Most notably, she represented Hollywood’s go-to manager Scooter Braun (who Kanye West claims to have recently fired), when he purchased a pad in Brentwood for $13 million.

Hutton was working at Partners Trust, now Pacific Union, since its founding in 2009.

Bryce Pennel | Coldwell Banker

One meeting changed the course of Bryce Pennel’s career.

He was on his way to court Mills as a potential client for Morgan Stanley, when the conversation took a turn.

“One thing led to another and I sort of signed on to be mentored by her,” Pennel said. “The best thing I learned from her is to constantly stay in touch with clients — to follow up actively and take every phone call.”

Pennel, who is now at Coldwell Banker along with Mills, said he racked up sales just shy of $30 million in sales last year. He’s projecting he will pull in $60 million in sales in 2018.

He specializes in architectural properties or homes with significant up-size potential, in neighborhoods like Beverly Hills, Hancock Park, Bel Air and Holmby Hills.

His tricks?

“I like to pocket list for a while and gauge the traffic to make sure a home is priced correctly before hitting the market,” Pennel said. “I definitely think there is something to be said about off-market.”

Jason Hastings & Henriett Novak | Pacific Union International 

Couples that sell together, stay together?

Jason Hastings and Henriett Novak, partners in more ways than one, have been selling real estate for two years. They currently have a $30 million listing in Beverly Hills and an off-market $18 million listing in Trousdale Estates. Together, they’re expecting to close around $40 million in sales in 2018.

Novak is a former actress from Budapest, while Hastings comes from a background in multimedia and mortgages. Novak’s international acclaim has helped the two jumpstart their career in a short time, they said.

“We don’t come from L.A. We’re just normal folks who aren’t fast-talking, slicked-back hair people,” Hastings said. “That seems to be a breath of fresh air for people in our industry.”

They also credit their success to a sharp-dressed landlord. “He took us under his wing and mentored us in business,” Hastings said. He’s now a client of theirs, interested in the $30 million house they’re selling.

Ryan Jancula | Compass

“It’s confidence, not arrogance,” Ryan Jancula, a broker at Compass, says of his demeanor.

Jancula is a 27-year-old broker who co-founded a group, called “My Westside Home,” that sold more than $56 million in sales last year. Individually, he was the lead agent on over $35 million of that.

“In my price range, there’s a lot of people who have been doing it for 20 or 30 years and have an antiquated way of doing business,” Jancula said. “They don’t realize the change that’s happening right in front of their eyes.”

The hip, new technology is what he claims to have attracted him to Compass, a firm he’s been at since December 2016. Prior to that, he worked for Berkshire Hathaway and Prudential.

Jancula and his team, including two other partners, conduct most of their business in the Pacific Palisades, working with developers to identify sites for teardowns. His team recently closed a $5.5 million home in the neighborhood, as well as a 1.3-acre plot of land he expects will become a $30 million home in a year and a half, he said.

He is especially proud of the internship program he helped create with his team, which has graduated 17 people so far.

“In the luxury market, where you’re dealing with sophisticated buyers and sellers, you have to be able to be charismatic and successful so these are the things that we try to instill in our Junior Associate program,” Jancula said.

John Kostrey | Nourmand & Associates

John Kostrey moved to Los Angeles from Chicago to pursue a career in law. Those plans were quickly derailed when he was approved for a broker’s license in 2011 and started selling homes to his friends and family during the weekends. That turned into a full-time job at Keller Williams, and now with Nourmand & Associates.

He leads a team of six at the family-run brokerage, selling homes in Echo Park, West Hollywood, Silver Lake and the Hollywood Hills.

“I’m a Midwest small-town guy, so I like the family-oriented business at Nourmand’s,” he says.

Kostrey said he and his team did just over $50 million in sales last year. He said he’s on track to beat that number in 2018.

Alexander Partridge Team | Hilton & Hyland

The Alexander Partridge Team, comprised of Justin Alexander and Mick Partridge, partnered up and moved to Hilton & Hyland from Halton Pardee and Partners nearly six months ago. Alexander previously served as director of sales at Halton Pardee, while Partridge was one of the six listing agents on the team.

“Our personalities complement each other,” Alexander said. “Meeting each other and joining forces helped push us along.”

The two recently broke a record in Sherman Oaks, where they sold the home of “Gotham” actor Michael Chiklis for $4.8 million. They also represented a high-end developer when she purchased a plot in the Pacific Palisades for $6.5 million, soon to be relisted for $15 million.

They’re expecting to hit $50 million in sales this year.

Ignacio Rodriguez | Westside Estate Agency

A self-proclaimed architecture buff, Ignacio Rodriguez is one of Westside Estate Agency’s rising Malibu brokers. He made close to $30 million in sales last year.

“In the last couple of years, all the relationships and connections started to pan out for me,” Rodriguez said, who has been at Westside Estate for nearly a decade. “The last couple of years have been a turning point.”

Rodriguez, originally from Spain, started his career in 2008, when the real estate market was struggling.

The up-and-comer credits Mark Gruskin, a real estate lawyer-turned-broker who is also at Westside Estate, for helping launch his career.

Even with a nudge in the right direction, Rodriguez has to compete with nearly 1,000 active realtors in Malibu alone, he said. The wealthy coastal city has a population of less than 13,000.

“There’s no barrier to entry in the real estate market– you take a test and you get a license,” Rodriguez said. “You got to hustle and you got to stay positive. If you do a good job for your client, then things will pan out for you.”