A day in the life of luxury San Francisco home agent Neal Ward

Clean living and a disciplined routine pay off with only 20 to 25 top-priced deals a year

A day in the life of ultra-luxury San Francisco agent Neal Ward
Compass' Neal Ward (Context Visuals, Getty)

If San Francisco’s home market has become a roller coaster, then Neal Ward is using his regimented daily routine to take control of the crazy ride. 

One of just a handful of agents who dominate the city’s ultra-high-priced home listings, Ward says his day is all about staying clean and consistent, whether that means his two showers each morning, his Crossfit routine, his chef-prepared healthy meals or his regular trips to church. 

But he still leaves room for a few guilty pleasures such as his iPhone addiction, Friday night dinners at Garibaldi’s and some mindless television before bed. The routine — especially his morning time to himself — is essential to Ward’s ability to work with the big money and high-net-worth individuals who are a big part of his job, he said.

“Spiritually, physically, emotionally, I’m trying to get my mind and body in shape to face the kinds of clients and properties and peers that I have to deal with on a day-in, day-out basis,” said Ward, who turned 70 this year. “My health is key to me being able to do what I do.”

Here is a typical Ward workday, in his own words.

5:30 a.m. I set my alarm for 6:30, but I usually wake up on my own an hour earlier and lay in bed, looking at my phone and obsessing about the day ahead. It could be showings, client calls or presentations. I just toss and turn, thinking, “How do I best perform?” 

After having done what I do for so long, the obsessing is probably overkill, but it doesn’t stop me from waking up.

6:30 a.m. Once the alarm goes off, I immediately get up, make the bed, shower, put on gym clothes and then start my morning home workout routine, which I’ve done for at least 10 years: 50 sit-ups and 20 air squats, which is just a squat without weights. I like to squat all the way to an imaginary bench about a foot off the floor. If I could, I’d go down to the ground, but I’m not that limber.

7:15 a.m. For probably 20 years, I have had a smoothie with almond milk, frozen mixed berries and protein powder for breakfast. 

I’ll read a daily piece of scripture while I drink the smoothie. My faith is very important to me. I’m a member of Calgary Presbyterian Church and I used to be an elder there. I read a page from a daily devotional by Paul Tripp and drink the smoothie standing at my kitchen island. 

I like looking at the view of downtown and the Bay Bridge from there. I’ve owned my home near Twin Peaks since 1999 and it’s a little piece of heaven for me.

A day in the life of ultra-luxury San Francisco agent Neal Ward
Compass’ Neal Ward (Context Visuals, Getty)

8 a.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, I go to Flagship Crossfit in the Castro, where I meet my trainer, and on Fridays I do a group class there. I work out with my partner sometimes at different times on the weekends, but most days that part of my routine is set in stone as much as possible. My schedule can get blown apart by client needs, but I try not to let it interrupt before 9:30. 

9 a.m. After Crossfit, I head back to my house to take another shower and get dressed for the day. Unless I have a client meeting or showing in the morning, I head into Compass’ flagship Beach Street office. 

I stop en route a few days a week at St. Mary’s Cathedral, which has beautiful modernist architecture. I walk in for 10 minutes or so, kneel in front of a large bronze crucifix and say a prayer. It is very meditative and healing. 

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9:45 a.m. I’m usually getting to the office before 10 and sitting down at my desk, where I can see the swimmers doing laps in the bay. The office is in an old Ghirardelli chocolate factory building and Compass did an extraordinary job building it out. It has been a very motivating place to work.

A day in the life of ultra-luxury San Francisco agent Neal Ward
Compass’ Neal Ward (Thomas Kuoh, Getty)

12 p.m. I have a chef who drops off meals for me at the office. It’s always a good protein, a clean vegetable and all portion-controlled. I watch my weight and so it keeps me in balance as much as possible, because I enjoy eating. I grew up in rural Indiana on a farm and I’m a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. 

If I go out for lunch, it’s usually to catch up with my team. We have a team sync in the office at 11 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and afterwards we’ll often hit Perry’s, Rose’s Cafe or Balboa Cafe. 

The clients I work with don’t have time to go out for lunch or dinner, so that’s not part of my business. There’s usually just an initial call or walking through the home if I’m going to list it, and at this point listings are 85 to 90 percent of my business. I don’t do over 20 or 25 transactions a year because my model is low transaction, high average sales price. 

1 p.m. On Tuesdays, I do every single brokers tour from Pacific Heights all the way to Sea Cliff. I know the inventory religiously. 

When you take one of these ultra-high-end listings, you’re dealing with ultra-high-net-worth individuals, and they have very high expectations. When you price a $25 million-plus property, there is no linear equation for that home and it just takes a huge amount of market knowledge — each block, each house, each amenity, the view, the kind of view, the expanse of the view. It’s all so nuanced for each property that relaying that type of information as you price one of these homes just takes a mountain of knowledge and expertise. 

Everyone obviously thinks that their home is the best out there and being able to articulate the home’s true value takes years and years of experience in that segment of the market. I used to have hair and I’ve lost a lot of it over those meetings and struggles with clients to get them to understand what their home is worth, but sitting down with them and going over the data helps. 

A lot of people think San Francisco is made up of many properties that have sold for over $25 million, but it’s a small number. There is only one property in the city’s history that has sold for over $40 million and that was a listing of mine. At the end of the day, it’s the client’s decision on the listing price, but if they choose to work with me, they hire me for my expertise at achieving the greatest number possible.

5 p.m. After seeing houses and meeting with clients and agents, I usually go back to the office to regroup, see my team and think about the next day. A lot of my showings also happen at five or six o’clock because people are off work then, so if I do a later showing I don’t go back to the office after that. 

I spend a lot of time talking to the buyers’ agents to understand who the buyer is. I don’t necessarily need a name but I do have to vet them for my sellers. It’s really about understanding who the buyer is so you can make certain to relate the home to their needs and lifestyle. Constantly, while I’m showing my antennas are up, reading them, trying to understand what they like or don’t like. 

7 p.m. When I get home, I often eat another prepared meal by the same chef, usually really quickly. If I don’t have a dinner from him, I might stop at Bryan’s Grocery in Laurel Village and pick up something from the fresh food counter. Garibaldi’s on Presidio Avenue is my treat on the way back from Beach Street on Fridays — they know me well there on Friday nights. Then I sit at my computer and go through my emails and think through the next day. 

A day in the life of ultra-luxury San Francisco agent Neal Ward
Compass’ Neal Ward (Context Visuals, Getty)

9:30 p.m. I’m usually in bed before 10. My partner lives in Los Angeles and we typically see each other every other weekend; he’ll fly up here or I go there. It’s only an hour flight so it’s pretty spontaneous. It has worked for us for 13 years that way.

So most weeknights I’m in bed alone and I like to put the TV on to help me wind down. Unfortunately, I’m not a reader. I wish I read more. I really like “Ted Lasso,” something happy and fun like that. I usually crash pretty quickly, and I’m probably looking at my phone as I fall asleep.

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