You can’t work in residential real estate in L.A. for too long without hearing her name. Jade Mills of Coldwell Banker International is the top female luxury broker in Los Angeles, according to The Real Deal’s April ranking. But the agent, who scored nearly $360 million in sales for properties of $7 million or more in 12 months, began life in less glitzy climes, growing up as the daughter of a dairy farmer east of San Francisco. After a brief stint as an actress and model in L.A., Mills got her real estate license. Her career representing high-net-worth individuals and celebrities began in earnest when she met Lionel Richie on the valet line at a charity event on Rodeo Drive. From there, she went from knowing no one in Los Angeles to becoming one of Hollywood’s household names. Last year, she was involved in the record-breaking $100 million sale of the Playboy Mansion to Hostess heir Daren Metropoulos and went on to represent his brother, Evan, in his $65 million purchase of billionaire Gilbert Chagoury’s Trousdale Estates palace. The Real Deal sat down with Mills to get the skinny on her stunning client roster.
What was your childhood like? My dad was a dairy farmer. I grew up in a small town, and we went back and forth between Alamo and Turlock, where the ranch was. I thought I had everything that I could ever want or need growing up. I had amazing friendships with my neighbors. The families all got together and we had potluck dinners.
What were you like as a kid? I wasn’t a girly girl at all. I had girlfriends who I am still in touch with, but I really enjoyed playing baseball and football with the boys. I would ride my bike faster than them. I’ve always been very competitive in whatever I did. I sold a paper called the Valley Pioneer in a paper drive for a charity, and I sold more than anybody for that charity.
What were your parents like? My brother and I grew up with the most fabulous, loving, kind parents who always told us we could do anything we wanted if we set our minds to it. And now I have four children and seven grandchildren. My children are all, in my eyes, perfect….We are a very close family, and we just got back from Maui, where there are now 16 of us who go every year for my birthday.
What brought you to Los Angeles? I met my first husband at Berkeley, and he was a singer. We quit school and loaded up the car and came to L.A. We lived in a motel for a month, and then found an apartment right off Hollywood Boulevard, on Orange Drive…The first year we were married, he worked all around L.A. in different nightclubs. If they ever needed a female onstage, I was the tambourine player.
How did you break into the real estate business? My first husband and I were married for three years. Then, when my daughter was born, he decided he really didn’t want to be married. I was trying to support my daughter by doing some commercials, and some modeling, and it was really hard to make a living. When I got my divorce, we had a house [to sell, in Sherman Oaks], so I called a real estate broker, whose name was Spike Dresser. He had been a policeman, and we became very good friends. He said to me, ‘Why don’t you get your real estate license? It’s really something you could do sort of part time.’ Which is not true, but the idea was that I would be able to watch [my daughter] Tiffany, and sell real estate on the side.
I understand that you now work with your husband in some capacity. What does he do? My husband is actually my third husband. My second husband passed away at 39 years old. I am now married to the most wonderful man on Earth, and he has his own business. He buys and fixes and sells homes, but he also works with me in advertising. Stephanie [Zebik] does all the advertising in the office, but Adam is always calling Stephanie and driving her crazy with ideas. It was his idea that [our ad should run] in the playbills, and as it turns out, the playbill has been amazing for my business. It’s great name recognition.
How did you start building your client Rolodex? I think that the best way to get clients is through your contacts and through your friends. I worked with the Beverly Hills Education Foundation, raising money for the schools, and I worked with a couple of children’s charities. Through the children’s friends’ parents, and through charities, I became acquainted with real estate, and these people started trusting me, and that was the beginning.
Do you still get starstruck? Coming from the farm, I’m still very star struck. Some celebrities, I’ve sold [to or for] and then I really don’t see that much after. And some I consider good friends. But I’m still very starstruck.
You’re in high demand — how do you make sure you have time for all your clients? I have definitely weeded out clients. I work with the clients that I really love and enjoy working with, and I’ve given up a few clients that I find don’t mesh with my way of thinking.
What are your vices? Probably too much work. My children always say, ‘Mom, we want you to spend more time with us.’ I think I’m better now at balance than I have been in the past. I do love to go away occasionally, but when we go away, I end up doing business wherever we are. So we were just in Maui, and I had to see houses and condos and visit the Coldwell Banker offices.
What is your favorite thing you’ve ever purchased? Well, I will say that I am a shopper. I love fashion and design. I have also earned my own money. So I love to buy things on sale because I have worked very, very hard for it and won’t just buy anything at any cost. So I would have to say sale shopping is another vice.
What do you do in your spare time? I love being with my family. We have a house in Malibu, so I love for everyone to come there. Honestly, I would like to know a little bit better what free time is like.