Carolwood, a startup boutique residential firm staffed by many agents who previously worked at influential brokerage Hilton & Hyland, has officially launched.
Company website Carolwoodre.com went live on Nov. 9. The web presence started after Hilton & Hyland star broker Drew Fenton and his partners spent several months quietly building a roster of about 50 agents which includes prominent Hilton & Hyland alums such as Linda May, Bjorn Farrugia and Jonah Wilson.
Carolwood will mark its debut with an ad campaign on the week of Nov. 14. Carolwood agent Susan Smith posted listings under the Carolwood nameplate earlier this month.
The startup is helmed by Drew Fenton, who will serve as the company’s CEO. He is one of Southern California’s top dealmakers who has been involved with sales of trophy properties such as The Playboy Mansion and The Chartwell Estate which sold for $150 million in 2019. Fenton was ranked as one of The Real Deal’s top Los Angeles residential brokers in 2020. He had worked with Hilton & Hyland since 2007.
Ed Leyson will serve as Carolwood’s chief marketing officer. Leyson helmed Hilton & Hyland’s marketing division for more than 18 years. Nick Segal, a veteran broker who worked on prominent startups in the past, will take care of Carolwood’s day-to-day business operations as the company’s managing broker.
Segal most recently worked as managing director for Avenue 8’s Southern California operations since September 2021. Segal said he would continue work with Avenue 8 as an advisor and would keep an ownership stake in the white label brokerage. Segal’s resume includes launching startups DBL Realtors in 2004 and Partners Trust in 2009.
Carolwood’s owners are Fenton, Segal and Leyson. There are no outside investors in the new brokerage. Carolwood has a support staff of 10 people. It is headquartered at a 10,000-square-foot penthouse at 9440 Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Fenton designed the office interior.
Carolwood most likely will hire more agents, Segal said. He declined to confirm commission splits. For high-end boutique firms, commission splits range from 70 to 75 percent for new agents to 80 to 85 percent for top talent, according to an anecdotal survey of a handful of agency general managers and agency chiefs.
The new boutique firm will pick up where its new agents left off. Currently listed on the Carolwood website are listings that Fenton had been representing at Hilton & Hyland, such as a $65 million offering at 1005 North Alpine Drive in Beverly Hills and another $65 million listing at 133 South Mapleton Drive.
Agents successfully transferred listings from their former firms such as Hilton & Hyland, Segal said. Carolwood’s inventory of listings at launch are valued at around $1 billion.
Carolwood’s focus will be the high end of luxury properties, which Segal called “triple prime locations.” While Carolwood is making its debut during one of the worst real estate markets in more than a decade, Segal said that the market for high-end luxury listings are typically insulated from the economy’s ups-and-downs.
“The transactions will continue. There is still a need. People are still buying,” he said.
The Real Deal broke news in August that Fenton, Segal and Leyson had filed notice with the California Secretary of State to start a business. However, it took months to make an official launch because Fenton had been negotiating with Hilton & Hyland owner Rick Hilton over a possible ownership stake in the company. Fenton’s real estate license is still affiliated with Hilton & Hyland. Fenton’s real estate license transferred affiliation to Carolwood on Nov. 10.
While a phalanx of Hilton & Hyland agents defected from the Beverly Hills firm, this will not be the first time star agents left the 29-year-old H&H to start new ventures. Branden and Rayni Williams left Hilton & Hyland a few years ago to start The Beverly Hills Estates. Mauricio Umansky left to start The Agency a decade ago, Rick Hilton, co-founder of Hilton & Hyland, said the company would take inspiration from its origins to rebound.
“We decided to mold our business model and return to our boutique roots,” he wrote in an emailed statement. “The future is looking bright for H&H and the premium real estate market.”
There are about 100 agents currently working at Hilton & Hyland, according to the state Department of Real Estate.
The next few years will see an increase of boutique brokerages, said Anthony Marguleas, founder of the boutique firm Amalfi Estates, headquartered in Pacific Palisades.
“This recession has caught a lot of people off guard,” he said. “The smaller companies found that they can weather the storm much easier because they have less overhead and are more nimble. If they want to try another geographical market, or shift their marketing focus, they can change much easier than a big-box company now. The age of the boutique agency is the future.”