Agents who have agents

L.A.’s high-pro­file mar­ket at­tracts and cre­ates celebri­ties

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Lau­ren Beale

Sell­ers of real es­tate to the stars are some­times stars too.

The face. The hair. The voice. Why does that real es­tate agent seem so fa­mil­iar?

Be­cause, in that only-in-L.A. kind of way, there’s a good chance the agent is also an ac­tor, re­al­ity show per­son­al­ity or has had some other brush with fame.

The last decade’s real es­tate bub­ble and bust spawned more than 20 re­al­ity cable tele­vi­sion shows de­voted to home buy­ing, sell­ing and flip­ping, so the odds are that some of those agents will end up at an open house near you. Broaden the spot­light to mu­sic and act­ing, and the recog­ni­tion fac­tor climbs even higher.

“There’s been an ex­plo­sion of celebri­ties,” said Stu­art Fischoff, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of me­dia psy­chol­ogy at Cal State Los An­ge­les. “There are so many dif­fer­ent venues for peo­ple to be­come celebri­ties.”

At age 17, Sharona Alperin was the in­spi­ra­tion for the song “My Sharona,” a No. 1 hit by Los An­ge­les band the Knack. To­day, Alperin sells high-end real es­tate in West Los An­ge­les work­ing for Sotheby’s In­ter­na­tional Realty, Sun­set Boule­vard. Al­though she had been sell­ing real es­tate for more than 20 years, Alperin’s web­site doesn’t shy away from her con­nec­tion with the en­er­getic rock an­them, blast­ing it on the home page.

A re­cent ad­di­tion to the ranks of real es­tate li­censees is Stu­art Da­mon, who played Dr. Alan Quar­ter­maine on “Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal.” Da­mon, who ended his role of 31 years on the soap opera in 2008, teamed with his son Christo­pher Da­mon six months ago to es­tab­lish Da­mon Group within Joyce Rey’s Cold­well Banker of­fice in Bev­erly Hills.

An ac­tor for five decades, he keeps a foot in both worlds, hav­ing made sev­eral ap­pear­ances on “Days of Our Lives” this year while lay­ing the ground­work for his real es­tate busi­ness.

If strangers give him a puz­zled glance, he just vol­un­teers who he is. It’s an ice­breaker.

“Even when I’m at Cold­well Banker, sit­ting at the of­fice meet­ings, I’ll be get­ting these strange looks: ‘ Who are you? Do I know you? Haven’t I seen you be­fore?’ And we’ll strike up a con­ver­sa­tion,” Da­mon said. “There’s just a gen­eral feel­ing of friend­ship and a kind of close­ness be­cause they know who I am, even though Iwas play­ing a char­ac­ter.”

This feel­ing of a per­sonal in­ti­macy where none ex­ists is called a paraso­cial re­la­tion­ship, said Fischoff, who has stud­ied the celebrity phe­nom­e­non.

“You feel you know them but all you know is the per­sona,” he said. “It’s il­lu­sory.”

But that de­sire to chat with Dr. Quar­ter­maine, rather than Stu­art Da­mon, doesn’t sell houses. Da­mon’s stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure for sort­ing out the fan phone calls from se­ri­ous in­quiries: “I will ask them what price range they are look­ing in and what area. Just ask those two ques­tions and you’ll know whether the per­son is for real.”

Da­mon, 73, is re­al­is­tic about the lim­its of celebrity to move real es­tate. “Peo­ple are very smart. It may be an open­ing of a door, but they are in­ter­ested in sell­ing the house or buy­ing the prop­erty. It’s who is go­ing to do the best job.”

So the agent team, which is fo­cus­ing on the lux­ury mar­ket in Bev­erly Hills and Bel-Air, at­tached them­selves to vet­eran agent Rey. Per­haps it sounds a bit strange com­ing from a Day­time Emmy win­ner, but “car­ry­ing her name” has ca­chet, Da­mon said.

His son Christo­pher, 34, who also comes from the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, rode the rise in re­al­ity tele­vi­sion to suc­cess work­ing be­hind the scenes on such se­ries as “Sur­vivor,” “The Real World” and “Big Brother.”

“Re­al­ity TV in­cen­tivizes real es­tate peo­ple to get a night gig as a celeb,” said Fischoff, se­nior edi­tor for the Jour­nal of Me­dia Psy­chol­ogy. “They think, ‘Then my day job will just blos­som.’ ”

In the case of Hil­ton & Hyland agent Chad Rogers, that’s not far from what hap­pened. He was ap­proached by pro­duc­ers to au­di­tion for the docu­d­rama se­ries “Mil­lion Dol­lar List­ing.”

“And I got the role of Chad Rogers. So it’s a good thing I knew how to play that char­ac­ter,” he said. “I’m ex­actly who I am. It’s like an advertisement for my busi­ness as op­posed to when you are a celebrity play­ing a role.”

The “Mil­lion Dol­lar List­ing” gig has re­sulted in clients. When Texan Michael Jen came to town look­ing for a house, he con­tacted Rogers’ of­fice. Jen’s wife had watched the show.

An­other time, Rogers and a client were stand­ing in front of a $7-mil­lion house in the Trous­dale Es­tates area of Bev­erly Hills, dis­cussing the prop­erty. A Star­line Tours bus drove by, stopped and then backed up.

“We look at each other like ‘What’s go­ing on?’ ” Rog- ers said. “Then the driver picks up his mi­cro­phone. ‘We have a celebrity agent do­ing what he does best: sell­ing houses. Take your pic­tures now.’ ”

Be­ing on tele­vi­sion also has helped Rogers, 33, at­tract show busi­ness clients. He has worked with Kristin Caval­lari of “The Hills,” ac­tress Paris Hil­ton and ra­dio per­son­al­ity Jonathon Brand­meier, among oth­ers.

A de­sire for star­dom by as­so­ci­a­tion leads some peo­ple to seek out celebrity agents, Fischoff said. “They want to buy into the celebrity class. It has a brag­ging rights con­nec­tion.”

But sell­ers shouldn’t let be­ing star-struck keep them from ne­go­ti­at­ing an agent’s fee down or ask­ing for other re­duc­tions or con­ces­sions. Nor should they be too trust­wor­thy with­out a ba­sis for it, Fischoff added. “There’s a halo-ef­fect” to celebrity that may cloud judg­ment, he ex­plained.

“Es­pe­cially in L.A. — where the fig­ures are so high — the mun­dane re­al­ity of ac­tu­ally buy­ing a house be­comes a lit­tle bit more sur­real,” Fischoff said. “Add to that the celebrity fac­tor and you’ve moved into a ‘Twi­light Zone’ type of sit­u­a­tion.”

Ac­tress Cindy Am­buehl, who dab­bled in real es­tate for 20 years while work­ing on TV but has been sell­ing houses full time for the last three years, has found her­self in that zone more than once.

Other agents and clients of­ten rec­og­nize her from parts she played on sit­coms in­clud­ing “Se­in­feld,” “Frasier” and “Mal­colm in the Mid­dle,” as well as her three­year stint on “JAG.” It was her mem­o­rable “Se­in­feld” role as Jerry’s girl­friend So­phie, who thought she had con­tracted a so­cial dis­ease from a trac­tor, that caused a stir at a house tour she held for 75.

“I was pour­ing wine and a buyer came in and just kept star­ing at me,” Am­buehl said. “Fi­nally she said: ‘I’m so sorry. Are you the gon­or­rhea girl?’ ”

Am­buehl found her­self backpedal­ing to ex­plain the sit­u­a­tion to the bro­kers in at­ten­dance. “No, no. I don’t have gon­or­rhea. The char­ac­ter I played did.”

The Pa­cific Pal­isades-based agent re­cently sold two houses, has two list­ings and is work­ing with 12 buy­ers.

“Act­ing pre­pared me for this,” said Am­buehl, 45. “In act­ing you never know where the next job is. You can’t freak out if you’re be­tween act­ing jobs or in a slow spot in real es­tate.”

And she par­tic­u­larly cred­its her love of com­edy. “Thank God I have a great sense of hu­mor, with this real es­tate mar­ket.”

Pho­to­graphs by Ri­cardo DeAratanha Los An­ge­les Times

CAM­ERA READY: Real es­tate agent Chad Rogers, hold­ing an open house for other agents, also stars in the TV se­ries “Mil­lion Dol­lar List­ing,” as him­self. “It’s like an advertisement for my busi­ness,” he says.

PART­NERS: Vet­eran soap opera ac­tor Stu­art Da­mon, right, and his son Christo­pher be­gan sell­ing real es­tate to­gether six months ago.

CA­REER MOVE: Cindy Am­buehl, who has a long list of act­ing cred­its, now sells homes full time.

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