The Agency taps ex-Compass exec to head Los Gatos team

Jeff Barnett is eighth person to join luxury brokerage from Compass this year

Jeff Barnett (The Agency, Getty)
Jeff Barnett and Old Town Plaza in Downtown Los Gatos (The Agency, Getty)

Jeff Barnett, who helped lead Compass’ Northern California operations for three years, has joined competitor The Agency to oversee the luxury residential brokerage’s expansion into Los Gatos and surrounding markets.

Barnett started at The Agency on Aug. 1 after departing Compass about a month earlier, he said in an interview.

He was one of New York-based Compass’ four managing directors in Northern California, a role he took on after the firm acquired Alain Pinel Realtors and its 1,300 agents in 2019. That deal has helped Compass become the Bay Area’s largest residential brokerage by gross sales volume and number of agents, the latest San Francisco Business Times data show.

The Agency didn’t crack the Times’ list of the 25 largest brokerages, and on headcount alone, Compass has a clear edge: It had nearly 2,600 agents in the Bay Area as of June, according to Business Times data, compared with The Agency’s global headcount of more than 1,000 agents as of May.

Yet Barnett’s relationship with Compass wasn’t the smoothest, as the two butted heads from the start.

“It just wasn’t my style,” said Barnett, who joined the Bay Area’s Alain Pinel in 1991 as one of its first sales agents, according to a news release. “Not that they were wrong, but not what I wanted to do.”

A Compass spokesperson said in a statement that the company is excited for Barnett and wishes him well.

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When Compass announced in June that it was laying off some 450 employees, or about 10 percent of its staff, Barnett decided it was time to return to a firm with a “boutique feel.” Cue The Agency, which had already hired seven former Compass agents and executives this year to bolster its push into the Bay Area.

The Beverly Hills-based firm plans to open its first Silicon Valley office in Los Altos before the end of August, accommodating 12 agents and support staff, said Northern California Regional Manager Jeff Samuels. The Los Gatos space would be its second in the Valley. Compass, by comparison, has three offices in Los Gatos, two of which it got through its merger with Claremont Properties in 2017 and its purchase of Alain Pinel.

Barnett’s former Los Gatos office, the longtime Alain Pinel space, totaled about 18,000 square feet, he said. He and The Agency are awaiting a response on their offer on a 5,000-square-foot space downtown.

He anticipates growing his team to between 80 and 90 agents over the next 12 months. Their target markets are Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga, and the Willow Glen and Almaden neighborhoods in San Jose.

Barnett will be tasked with mentoring those agents and overseeing his office’s operations rather than selling homes; the last time he did that was in 1993, he said.

Barnett sees the local residential brokerage industry “going back to boutique.” That’s one of the reasons he attributed to being the eighth person to join The Agency’s Northern California team from Compass this year. Save for The Agency and Keller Williams, “every real estate company in my area is owned by corporations,” Barnett said.

“I think a lot of people are missing Alain Pinel and are looking at The Agency, which, out of all the firms out there, is the highest in luxury ‘boutique feel,’” he said. “That’s the new energy.”

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