High up in the winding roads above Beverly Hills, you'll find a house. This isn't the kind of place anyone will just happen upon. It sits on one of those Los Angeles cul-de-sacs that only makes itself available to people who have a reason to be there—it's like the Room of Requirements in Harry Potter, and the criteria for entering is that you're a celebrity with a multi-million dollar budget. Keep driving up the hill past the Beverly Hills Hotel until you slowly realize that every home is guarded from view with a giant hedge or a wall of the kind that used to not stir up a political argument.
And it's not just any kind of house. 1317 Delresto Drive sits on a plot of land that spans just over an acre, with a three-car garage and a resort-style swimming pool and over 9,000 square feet of living space that contains, among other things, seven bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, a wine cellar and a screening room. It just happens to be the latest property for sale by The Agency and it could be yours for the very reasonable price of $16.9 million.
You've heard of The Agency before. Even if you're not an A-lister, or the agent in charge of an A-lister, or the studio executive who hires the A-lister. It is, with no excessive posturing needed, the foremost real estate agency for Los Angeles' wealthiest and most famous inhabitants. It's also found its way into the pop culture vernacular of the reality show viewing set—yes, you've heard of it because of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, where CEO Mauricio Umansky occasionally appears alongside his wife, star Kyle Richards. Or maybe because of E!'s own Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, which starred agent Brendan Fitzpatrick. Or maybe because of Million Dollar Listings, which follows Agency employees James Harris and David Parnes as they, well, list million dollar properties.
(Of course, it begs pointing out that having a successful television show is not actually a criteria for employment at The Agency. As outlined by Umansky, they only have two real qualifications when they hire salesman to be in charge of their swath of mansions: Don't be an a--hole, and have fun.)
The Agency's offices sit in the heart of Beverly Hills, surrounded by a Mercedes-Benz dealer, the Four Seasons and the headquarters for nearly every major Hollywood agency. Umansky technically holds court in a glass-walled room equipped with the headset you would expect from a wheeler and dealer, but most often he can be found hanging out with masses in their colorful hallways, filled with toys and decorations more fitting for a Silicon Valley startup than a real estate company—the ping pong table is the current procrastination tool of choice. As Umansky put it, his goal when starting the company was to completely redefine real estate.
"I always thought it was archaic," he says of the industry. "What we do is sell homes, but we changed the experience of buying and selling."
But don't let the games fool you: The Agency's dealings with the homes of the Hollywood elite has been outrageously lucrative. Since its start in 2011, the company has sold almost $9 billion worth of real estate. They pretty much do not deal with homes that aren't worth millions, and it wouldn't be out of place to find one of their properties commanding a price of $30 million-plus. Yes, seriously. Their clientele is of the utmost bold-named, too. They've dealt with everyone from Michael Jordan to Sofia Vergarato Kanye West and a host of Kardashians. Last year they sold the Playboy mansion for a record-breaking $100 million.
And there are a great many few celebrities who have used the company, yet who you won't find on any Wikipedia page. When your main mission is to serve at the pleasure of the entertainment industry's most powerful, there is a certain set of rules that must be adhered to.
"The number one priority is knowing how to keep your mouth shut," says Umansky. "Particularly with celebrities. Everybody is always wanting to know where they're living, what they're doing, and it's okay if they say something first. But it's not okay if we say something."
Mauricio also calls upon another anecdote to explain the A-list guidelines: "A fish gets caught by its mouth. Keep it shut."
But a little storytelling never hurt anybody. And there's nobody better to ply stories out of than the person who has represented two kings and a prince—that would be Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Prince, of course.
"One of the things that was amazing about Prince is that he was all about energy," says Mauricio. "He would walk into a house, and it doesn't matter how beautiful or how ugly it was, he'd walk in, feel the energy, and if the energy was no good he'd leave. He wouldn't even walk past the foyer."
Jackson was a little bit less cosmic with evaluations. "I remember showing Michael Jackson a house and he heard his voice echo in a hallway, and he stopped and started singing. It was one of the most magical things I've ever seen."
Courtesy of The Agency
The agents of The Agency can disclose other secrets a bit more circuitously. Like the fact that they regularly get requests for wine cellars. (As The Agency President Billy Rose points out, most people at this level of wealth start to form collections, and will buy wine to keep for years if not decades. Thus, they need somewhere built into their home to keep it.) Or the fact that, in Los Angeles, a screening room is basically a given. (They are, in fact, taken very seriously—clients are more often than not in the film industry and need a place to watch or even edit their own movies.)
Or the fact that they get requests for indoor tennis courts, indoor pools, bowling alleys, helicopter pads and garage space for car collections that are larger than most elementary school classes. And then there was the time that they sold a house with its own plastic surgery recovery center, to allow its inhabitants to bring the doctors to them. You can bet the origins of that story are going to stay very close to the vest.
The most important part of actually selling a house to the type of person who wants a plastic surgery recovery center on the premises is to understand where they're coming from. Most people don't actually know what it's like to be on the A-list and need to get your face lifts done without crossing their own driveway, so The Agency will often put together a dossier before they do any showings. They want to know exactly who is coming to see a certain house and what they might like. They'll do everything up to changing the scents wafting through the house depending on what the person's preferences are, or, as Umansky put it, "For Snoop Dogg we'll get that weed smell going real fast."
Back at the house above the Beverly Hills Hotel this principle is alive and well. It's thriving, really.
The 9,000-square-foot abode is a perfect example of everything a celebrity is looking for. Rose and Managing Partner Santiago Arana are in charge of getting the listing off the market (in case we've piqued your interest and you have a few dozen millions to spare, you can check it out here), which typically takes about three months (not much time at all when you're talking about the GDP of a small country). On top of the aforementioned pool and in-home theater and seven bedrooms, it boasts something that no celebrity client of The Agency takes for granted: Privacy.
"Privacy is key for celebrities," explains Umansky. "It's all in the way you access the property: The gates, the foliage, and if there's a secondary exit for top celebrities, that's great. A secret exit, a back door, an underground garage—just to be able to sneak out without everybody knowing."
And as much as it can seem like people who have indoor tennis courts (or a personal zoo, if you're at the Playboy Mansion) are hard to relate to, the CEO insists that they're looking for homes that give them a sense of comfort when they come home at the end of the day, just like everybody else.
"Keep in mind that celebrities are people too," he cautions. "They want to live normally, they want to live their life. The only thing that they really require that's different [from a regular client] is a bit of privacy. They don't want to be hanging out in their backyard and see paparazzi snapping photographs."
The company will go the extra mile to convince these A-listers that they can feel at home in their properties. Staging is important, with gestures like filling the fridge up with champagne or putting a celebrity's own movie on in the screening room during a showing (Arana copped to one particularly tricky situation when he had to track down an old DVD of Jean-Claude Van Damme). But it takes more than that when you're trying to woo stars who are constantly wooed in every aspect of life.
"I've had celebrities come to look at a house a second time and we've hired a chef," says Arana. "They cooked for us and we had dinner outdoors—it happened to be a full moon and the house had amazing views. Then we went down into the basement wine cellar to have a raspberry cobbler and port wine. If you see someone is really interested and you want to close the deal, you do extra."
The same goes for stars who are trying to beat out their fellow celebs for the perfect pad. The Agency once had a client who wanted a house that already had multiple offers on the property—that client was a television producer and he offered to allow the seller's children to walk on to his show if he was chosen as the buyer. Not surprisingly, he got the deal.
"I also had a case where the seller was an ex-tennis pro, and the buyer was also quite an accomplished tennis player," dishes Rose. "We were apart on the money and the buyer offered to play for the difference in price—if the seller won it was his price and if the buyer won it was his. The seller, being the former tennis player, won."
But, adds Rose, the buyer didn't really care: "He just wanted a chance to play with that guy, and the money wasn't that important to them." And thus, the most perfect allegory for celebrity real estate was born.