Chris Cortazzo on how he became the biggest broker in Malibu

Cortazzo's name is on almost every listing in the area

Chris Cortazzo
Chris Cortazzo

Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, it’s hard to miss Chris Cortazzo’s name. 

The Compass broker is on the majority of listings in the affluent beachside enclave, whether the homes are up for rent or sale. The median listing price for a home in Malibu was $6 million in March 2024, according to 

“I’m the luckiest human to have such control of this market,” said Cortazzo, as he sat down at Soho House’s Malibu outpost on a Wednesday afternoon in April. 

Cortazzo has been working the Malibu market for nearly three decades, closing more than $8 billion in sales over the course of his career. 

He dresses the part, understated and beachy — a blue linen shirt and sunglasses — but still emblematic of the wealth that Malibu is home to. After lunch, he drove off in a Rolls- Royce SUV.

TRD chatted with Cortazzo about growing up in Malibu, selling his first home (to Richard Gere) and the frenzy of the 2020-2021 market.

Malibu has had a lot of ups and downs. In 2018, the Woolsey Fire burned down more than 1,600 homes across Malibu. Then the luxury market rebounded in a big way.

We got wiped out by that fire. I was running around everywhere, putting out fires for every needy family. I only lost one property in the fire. My ranch unfortunately burned down. Did you ever watch “Lord of the Rings”? It was like The Shire. The Chumash Indians lived there. I had 28 acres. 

I’m rebuilding that back again. In the process, I was able to buy 200 acres behind me, with my own waterfall. I own the whole valley. 

And then Covid hit.

I thought, “Oh, my god, here we go.” The whole western side of Malibu is gone. I can’t believe we’re getting hit again. And then it turned. Everyone discovered Malibu, and I sold over $1 billion that year. It was crazy. It was like 12-, 14-hour days. I had 20 to 24 escrows at a time, continuously. I was just closing, opening. I’m really organized. I’m so precise and very hands on. I talk to my clients all the time, I give feedback. Even though I might not be on an inspection, I know all the inspection reports. I’m very type A. 

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You grew up in Malibu.

I had this fairy-tale life. I actually bought the home next door to my parents and said, “I will see you all every day.” My dad left his body over 16 years ago, but he was a firefighter. My backyard was the beach. I was then a beach lifeguard and then became a model in my early 20s. I traveled the world — I was in Europe for two years, Australia for two years. I got engaged with a beautiful Australian girl. A whole fairy tale. 

But then I made a seismic shift and went in a different direction. I met Herb Ritts. In 1992, he was the most famous photographer in the world. His best friend was Richard Gere, who was married to Cindy Crawford, and the four of us traveled the world. 

How did you get into real estate?

At the end of that relationship, I wanted my own identity and got my real estate license. My first sale was to Richard Gere, in Paradise Cove. It was a $5 million sale, which today is probably $100 million. My first listing was from my first massage client — I was also a massage therapist. He gave me an $8 million listing. Massive sale, massive listing, and I was 28. 

I can’t imagine it was easy.

In 2000, I had seven escrows in January. I thought, “This is my year, this is amazing.” Most people would probably do, Eat, Pray, Love, and say, “This is not my thing.” But I think so much in life is about attitude and how you can handle disappointment. 

A lot of your listings are rentals, which pick up in the summer. What has the luxury rental market been like over the past year?

Last year was challenging, because our weather was so choppy. But we’re seeing a lot more activity this year. After Covid, everyone wanted to go to Europe. But I think everyone got it out of their system and they want to come back. We’re getting really busy. Once people experience Malibu and what it has to offer, they always end up buying. It’s a one, two punch.

Are you still in the house you bought, the one next to your parents?

Well, I tore it down. It’s my office now. I love real estate. I own a lot of property around the world. I own nine properties in Malibu. I’ve really stretched myself financially on every purchase, but every purchase has turned out to be so amazing. I believe in the Malibu market, massively. 

Besides property, is there something you spend money on?

It used to be a CD. I didn’t have a lot of money 29 years ago. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t buy an iced latte for $10 and just say I can’t believe I could afford it. I appreciate everything. I’m literally the same guy with my massage table. I haven’t changed. I feel poor every day. I’m not kidding you. I feel poor. I race out, gravel flying in the air out of my driveway to try to make money every day. I’m very humble. You never feel like you really have it.