The burst of the housing bubble caused a major shift in the real estate market, but one niche segment has remained fairly strong through it all—the ultraluxury segment.
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Multimillion-dollar mansion sales were up 25 per cent through the fall, and in New York City, prices on some ultraluxury apartments have recently doubled.
Of course, there’s a particular segment of the realty industry that caters to buyers of mega-mansions.
We wanted to know more about these savvy and successful realtors, so we combed the MLS listings, reached out to real estate industry professionals, and spoke to the brokers themselves to compile a list of realtors who made the biggest single-home sales in the past year.
This isn’t a definitive list. Sales at high price points are often conducted privately, and information on those deals is not made public. In other cases, sales are only listed by brokerage firm.
But we wanted to meet the individuals behind major sales, so we focused only on those realtors whom we could identify, and spoke to many of them about why they were so successful (we’ve also got their best insider tips here).
They’re presented here in alphabetical order.
Sold: An 11-bedroom, 16-bathroom mansion on Beverly Park that has both mountain and city views and a paddle tennis court.
The celebrity realtor, one of the stars of Bravo's hit Million Dollar Listings, scored the sixth-highest sale last year in Los Angeles County when this deal closed.
When pulling in such a mega-deal, Altman said his experience is his best asset.
'It's a strategy that you kind of just learn from doing lots of sales,' he said, adding that realtors have to be on their 'A-game' when dealing with high-end customers, because the customers are very smart and business-savvy and have lots of options.
Before joining the prestigious Hilton & Hyland firm, Altman invested in properties and began flipping homes about 10 years ago. From there he migrated to the finance side of real estate and eventually wound up on the agent side.
'The most important thing when showing these people houses is you've got to show them the value,' he said.
Sold: A penthouse apartment in the cupola on Fifth Ave. in New York City.
Beare got a once-in-a-career chance when she scored the opportunity to sell one of the five residential cupolas in the city.
'This was truly, truly a very unique property,' she said.
That uniqueness of the apartment lent itself to an impressive sale. Beare never advertised the vacancy in the building, but people were still drawn to the listing because of how beautiful the building was.
Beare got her start in the industry after she was introduced to some South African developers who needed her help with a project. Through the project she met the CEO of CORE Group and her career took off.
During her time in the business, she has seen a shift in her clients.
'I think the luxury market is at least changing. It's changing with the times,' she said, adding that more creative types are snapping up high-end real estate.
And one of those creative types brought her to tears. Beare had been trying to place an artist in a home for years but the right thing hadn't come along. So Beare started waking up earlier and earlier to check the latest listings and she finally found an apartment that had just hit the market.
It belonged to Elizabeth Murray, a woman her client greatly admired. Once Beare brought her client to the apartment, she said they both burst into tears because they knew they had finally found the right place.
Sold: A penthouse, located at 15 Central Park West, with four and half bathrooms, four bedrooms, 19 glass doors, and a wrap-around terrace.
Ekaterina Rybolovleva, daughter of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, bought the fancy digs that used to belong to Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill.
The apartment is the most expensive ever sold in New York City.
Blackmon, who declined to be interviewed, was the listing agent for the property. He has sold more than $300 million in luxury property during the past five years. He employs a team of bankers, tax specialists, and interior designers, among others, according to his website.
Sold: Leslie Wexner, owner of Victoria's Secret parent company Limited Brands, sold his Fifth Avenue duplex to real estate developer Larry Heyman. The building is known to be one the most exclusive addresses in Manhattan.
Boardman, a realtor with Sotheby's International Realty, represented Wexner in the transaction, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Before joining the real estate giant in 2001, Boardman worked at Sotheby's Auction House, dealing with European and English furniture, according to the biography on her website.
She was ranked the No. 1 broker by sales volume by the Wall Street Journal in 2008.
She got her start in real estate as a listing clerk in 1978, according to her website.
Sold: An eight-bedroom, nine-bathroom home at 4580-4570 North Bay Road that boasts a four-bay garage, media room, and bar.
When Bolduc wants to close a deal, he throws a party.
He hosts events at the homes he is selling as a way to advertise the properties and bring in potential buyers. In the case of the home at 4580 North Bay Road, he hosted a gala at the house for 500 people, complete with yachts and Rolls Royces.
At different properties, he has showcased artwork or other luxury commodities.
'It (the party) has to fit the profile of the house,' he said.
After he earned his Master's in Boston, Bolduc said he bought a house and renovated it, giving him his first foray into the world of real estate.
He eventually moved to Florida to work with Sotheby's International Realty.
Throughout his career, he has worked with everyone from celebrities to international businessmen.
In particular, the sale on North Bay Road, which was ultimately bought by a Russian real estate developer, introduced him to clients from 10 different countries.
'So that was pretty exciting,' he said of the sale.
Sold: A four-bedroom, five and a half-bathroom mansion on Makena Road in Kihei, Hawaii that sits on 1.6 acres of oceanfront land.
PayPal co-founder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel bought the property from Huish Detergents founder Dan Huish.
Callahan represented both the buyer in the seller in her mega-million sale, which is reported to be the biggest deal for a single-family home in Maui County.
The property was not listed and Callahan said she approached Huish with a potential buyer.
When she doesn't have the perfect client in mind, Callahan said she will sometimes use Bombardier Experience, a private jet magazine, to advertise her properties.
But, no matter how she markets the sale, Callahan said it's important to realise that only the client truly knows what is best.
'I have a sign on my desk that's 'Homes sell themselves. Brokers should have the best information,'' she said.
Before moving to Maui, Callahan got her start in real estate during her twenties while living in New York's West Village. She was with Halstead Properties when the company opened its first SoHo office on West Broadway.
'It was a very unique time,' she said.
When asked if she had any funny stories from her lifelong career, Callahan said she couldn't think of just one, saying instead, she had enough stories to fill a sitcom.
'Each and every transaction is unique to itself,' she said. 'It's really a people business and things do happen. You couldn't write this stuff.'
Chiang, who has been dubbed 'the preeminent power broker in New York, and in the nation,' serves as senior vice president and associate broker for the Corcoran Group, the company's website says.
The Shanghai native emigrated to Brazil before coming to the U.S., according to her biography.
Sold: A beachfront mansion on Gordon Drive in Naples that has seven bedrooms, seven full bathrooms, and a covered boat house.
For Collins, his affiliation with Sotheby's International Realty is his biggest asset. That connection translates into strong website traffic, he said.
'We get a lot of activity through that website,' he said. 'And we do get a lot of inquiries.'
However, every inquiry may not be legitimate.
While Collins was selling a multi-million beachfront home, he received an inquiry through the site from people claiming to represent a prominent Italian banking family. While deals of that nature don't normally being with an online query, he said he really became suspicious when the people asked him to travel to Milan to close the deal.
Through his connection with Sotheby's, Collins said she was able to track down a legitimate representative of the family, who said the family had not expressed interest in the property.
Collins got his start in real estate working for his family's development company in Chicago. He was familiar with Naples because of old spring break trips to his grandparents' home and he ultimately decided to take the plunge in the 1980s and move to Florida to work in real estate.
Sold: A five-bedroom, seven-bathroom mansion on Blossom Way in Palm Beach. The home boasts 190 feet of oceanfront land.
Condon represented the sellers, the estate of C. Graham Berwind, while Lawrence Moens represented the buyers, the Palm Beach Daily News reported.
According to a deed recorded with the Palm Beach County Clerk's Office, a trust named after the home's address bought the property, the Palm Beach Daily News wrote.
Condon got her start in real estate in 1982, working with Sotheby's International Realty. Before her move to Florida, she lived in Cuba, Chicago, and New York, according to her company's website.
Information about Moens was not readily available.
Sold: A French-style home on St. Cloud Road in Los Angeles that has been dubbed 'La Belle Vie.' The eight-bedroom home boasts a gym, beauty salon, and 12 fireplaces.
It was reportedly sold to Gene Sykes, a managing director for Goldman Sachs.
De Salvo got his start in real estate when his mother agreed to list her house with him, according to the biography on his website,
In 1979, he sold what, at the time, was the most expensive residential property in U.S. history, the website says.
He has ranked No. 1 in sales volume for Coldwell Banker Previews International.
Sold: A Tudor-style home on Horseshoe Road in Mill Neck, NY, with seven bedrooms, a pool, and a tennis court.
When marketing such an impressive piece of property, Devendorf said she relies on a 'very high-end marketing program,' that utilizes local, national, and international listings, websites, an 8-page brochure, and Sotheby's auction house in New York.
Devendorf got her start with a small firm in Locust Valley more than 25 years ago.
'In those days, there were smaller, independent firms,' she said.
She eventually came to work for the Daniel Gale/Sotheby's affiliate office in Locust Valley.
'We have market share but it's the overlay with Sotheby's that's so important to us,' she said.
And while she has some crazy stories about her work in the real estate market, she wasn't at liberty to share. Since she works with celebrities and wealthy international buyers, her work has to be confidential, Devendorf said.
She has also sold luxury properties in Lattingtown and Centre Island, NY.
Sold: Brad Pitt's Malibu beach house. The four-bedroom, four-bathroom modern mansion, which was bought by daytime TV funny woman Ellen DeGeneres, faces Point Mugu State Park on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.
Francisco got her start in real estate more than 32 years ago and is now one of Coldwell Banker's top agents, according to her biography on her company's website.
Before joining the real estate industry, Francisco earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in physical education, the website says.
She worked as a counselor and physical education instructor at Santa Monica High School for 13 years, according to the website.
Sold: The English Tudor mansion on Atherton Ave., in Atherton, sits on 12-acres.
It boasts five bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a basement garage with room for six cars.
The children of Madeleine Hass Russell sold the home, which once belonged to denim magnate Levi Strauss, to an anonymous buyer.
Gullixson studied pharmacy at the University of Pittsburgh. Upon graduation, she moved to the Bay Area and jumped into the real estate industry, according to her website.
She and her son Brent, who joined the family trade in 2005, work in towns on the San Francisco Peninsula, which includes Atherton, Woodside, and Palo Alto, her website says.
Sold: A seven-bedroom, eight-bathroom, 11,388-square foot home on W. 28th St., Miami Beach.
Hertzberg's advice on working in the upscale market?
'You have to really know your market,' she said.
The success of her mega-million dollar closing can also be attributed to the fact that she loved the property.
'It's one of the finest properties in our whole city,' she said. 'You had a very, very significant home.'
The sale of the mansion, which is a 10-minute walk from the heart of Miami Beach, garnered the second-highest price for a home sold in the area, Hertzberg said.
Sold: An English Cotswold-style manor on Wild Way in Los Gatos that has six bedrooms, five bathrooms, four half-baths, and a wine cellar.
Houston has worked as a Realtor for 36 years and is currently a part of Coldwell Bank, according to his website.
He has closed 1,700 transactions, resulting in more than $1.3 billion in sales, his website says.
Sold: A mansion at 14 Meadow Lane in Greenwich that includes a gallery, conservatory, library, and five bedrooms.
According to Hvolbeck, working in the luxury real estate market isn't that different from working with any price point.
'It's pretty much what you do with all properties, except everything is magnified.'
He got bitten by the real estate bug as a young boy while shopping with his mum during the summer. He said he noticed 'two very dapper men,' who drove convertibles and were surrounded by women and his mum told him the men sold real estate.
So in college, Hvolbeck attended business school where he took real estate classes and ultimately got his licence at 28.
'It's not an easy business,' he said of his chosen profession. 'It's a very challenging, complicated business. The negotiation has to be handled very carefully.'
While he can't disclose the names of his clients, Hvolbeck said he's worked with everyone from royalty to financiers.
'They're not easy to work with,' he said of the former.
Sold: A seven-bedroom, 8,812-square-foot home that boasts ski-in/ski-out capabilities and an attached garage on Pine Crest Drive in Snowmass Village, Colo.
'That particular home is the largest home to be built in Snowmass Village,' Jones said of his monster sale. 'You just can't really duplicate it.'
The family that bought the home includes 10 children and 20 grandchildren, making the large home a necessity.
In such a competitive market, a realtor's reputation is key, Jones said.
'More than anything, it's about building up trust and experience over time.'
Jones began building his reputation nearly 25 years ago. He got his start in property management and earned his real estate licence quickly after.
Sold: A four-bedroom, five and a half-bathroom at the Hualalai Resort in North Kona. The house also boasts a pool and a view of the ocean. The home was purchased by hedge funder Ken Griffin and his wife in March.
Kildow has worked with everyone from Cher to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. But, surprisingly, he didn't find his high-end clientele through magazine or Internet ads.
'We do no advertising,' Kildow said. 'Fortunately we've got the world's best PR company.'
Not that he think it takes that much effort to sell his properties.
'The place embraces you,' he said of Hualalai Resort, where he sells properties.
And he walks the walk when it comes to talking up the resort. He and his wife actually lived there when they made the transition to Hawaii.
Before moving to the island, Kildow made beer for Olympia Brewing Company in Washington, which he said was the dream job for someone in his 20s.
But his racquetball partner sold real estate and convinced Kidlow to do the same.
'I guess I'm a real estate junkie,' Kildow said.
Sold: Aaron Spelling's former home at 594 South Mapleton Drive in Los Angeles, which includes a bowling alley, gift-wrapping rooms, and a beauty salon. It was bought by young Formula One heiress Petra Ecclestone.
'Money is not so much the object, it's more about their happiness,' Kramer said about his gigantic sale. 'You really need to get into their head space to see what drives them is what I always say.'
Even though Candy Spelling originally wanted $150 million for the mega-mansion, she finally dropped her bottom line.
'The price of the house is the cost to extricate the seller, because they don't need to sell,' Kramer said. 'We were there at the right time with the right buyer.'
He had the right buyer, but, from the sounds of it, a pretty difficult time getting that buyer--who the world later found out was Petra Ecclestone--into the house. Everyone has their new house inspected before they move in. But we're guessing most people don't bring in an entire team of PhD's.
'Inspections at this level are very intrusive, or can be,' Kramer said.
The Ecclestone team hired a professor with an advanced degree to test for mould in the house. They used a team of forensic inspectors and set up a lab in the middle of the now-former Spelling mansion. They collected 95 samples and were able to get results immediately.
'That was the most fascinating thing we did,' Kramer said. 'It was an interesting transaction.'
Gregg Lynn, Bernadette Lamothe, and Louis Silcox sold a $28 million San Francisco penthouse for Bank of America
Sold: The two-floor Museum Tower Penthouse at the St. Regis Hotel & Residences on Minna Street in San Francisco.
The impressive abode boasts 20,000 square feet -- 2,900 of which is reserved for terraces -- floor-to-ceiling glass windows, six bedrooms, and seven bathrooms.
The palatial penthouse was actually a bank-owned home and sold through Bank of America. In addition to all of its other beautiful amenities, the lucky new owners, who remain anonymous, will benefit from use of a movie theatre, steam room, and parking for six cars.
Lynn has been ranked as one of the top five Realtors in San Francisco and as one of the top 25 Sotheby's International Realty agents in the world. In 2010 he boasted the second highest sale in the city, according to his biography on Sotheby's website.0
Both Lamothe and Silcox also work through Sotheby's International Realty.
Sold: A 12,000-square foot townhouse that bounced around the market for seven years before finally finding a buyer.
The townhouse's facade was designed by Robert A.M. Stern, the same man who created 15 Central Park West.
The proclaimed 'queen of U.S. real estate' serves as vice chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman. Her sales exceed $7 billion, according to her website.
Born Idaliz Dolly Camino in the Bronx to Spanish immigrants, Lenz got her first job at the tender age of 12, the website says. She got her start in real estate buying and renting out apartments to supplement the income she earned from United Artists, it says.
Sold: A five-bedroom, 10,000-square foot home on North Hillcrest Road. The Hal Levitt-designed home reportedly belonged to Jennifer Aniston and was sold to bond investor Bill Gross.
Mills ranked in March 2011 as the No. 2 real estate agent in the world, she says in a video on her personal website.
She has more than 30 years of experience in real estate and works in Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills, and Brentwood Park, the website says.
Sold: The former home of the Knoedler Gallery on E. 70th Street in New York City. The Renaissance-inspired mansion housed the gallery for the past 40 years and boasts eight bedrooms, two libraries, and an elevator.
Mohr is a senior vice president at Sotheby's International Realty and has ranked as one of the company's top producers for more than 24 years.
Her monster sale on E. 70th Street, in which she represented the seller, ranked as one of the top five residential sales in 2011.
'The property was in a landmark area first of all,' she said about her multimillion dollar closing. 'And it had a marvellous looking facade.'
Before joining the ranks of New York realtors, Mohr worked as an interior designer in Florida. She moved to New York City more than 30 years ago and opted for a career change.
'I wanted to do something other than just go to lunch every day,' she said. 'And I thought real estate would be really lucrative.'
She began her career with Alice Mason Limited and then moved over to Sotheby's, where she has been for nearly 25 years.
Sold: A mansion on Hanalei Bay in Kauai.
Norman has worked in Hawaii real estate, which he calls a small market that can 'dominate' the high-end field, for nearly 30 years.
'I have a very strong network of buyers,' he said.
In his market, there are only a few people working with luxury homes, which means that about '5% of the brokers are doing 95% of the work,' Norman said.
Before becoming a realtor, Norman worked as a builder and furniture designer. Even though he has switched career paths, Norman said he's still a developer and loves architecture and beautiful properties.
'In that price range, there is a lot of really beautiful stuff,' he said.
Sold: A 9,500 square foot home in a gated community in Holmby Hills. The mansion boasts a tennis court and swimming pool.
For Nourmand, her connections help highlight her properties.
'We're one of the leading real estate companies of the world,' she said, adding that her job is to have great photos, virtual tours, and well-written descriptions to make her listings more appealing.
Her entrance into real estate began as a family affair. Nourmand's husband founded the company in 1977 but became bored with the business while Nourmand was 'barefoot and pregnant,' she said.
Nourmand took over the firm in 1988 when her youngest child, who now serves as president of the company, was nine.
It's not that she was drawn to real estate as a profession, Nourmand said, but all of her discussions with her fellow mothers seemed to circle back to real estate, so her husband recommended she earn her real estate licence.
While Nourmand said she has worked with many interesting clients, she declined to share any stories, saying her motto is 'Show and sell, not show and tell.'
Linda Reiner and Lisa Deslauriers sold a $21.93 million Park Ave. apartment to hedge fund manager Lulu Wang
Sold: The penthouse at 970 Park Ave. boasts three floors, five bedroom and five and a half bathrooms.
Hedge fund manager Lulu Wang bought the penthouse at the end of August.
Before joining the real estate market, Deslauriers rode as an Olympic-level equestrienne. She and Reiner have been working together for 14 years, according to their website.
Before joining Warburg Realty, Reiner worked with a smaller Manhattan firm for two years, the website says.
The team's website says they work exclusively from referrals.
Sold: A two-bedroom, three-bathroom home at 1473 Edgecliff Lane in Montecito.
'That was an interesting sale,' Riskin said of her multi-million dollar listing. The house was a little cottage but sat on good land. And it went up for sale at a perfect time.
Riskin had former clients who were having difficulty building their dream home because their current lot wouldn't support their plans.
When the Edgecliff Lane property became available, Riskin said her clients were in New Zealand.
She called them and the husband got on a plane, flew to Santa Barbara for two hours to look at the property, and then flew back to New Zealand so he could on safari in Africa.
'They bought it on the spot for full price,' Riskin said. 'It was a fun and unique sale.'
Before becoming a realtor, Riskin worked as a professional ballet dancer in New York. But an injury forced her to abandon that career and move back to Los Angeles.
Riskin said her mum was fixing up houses and selling them at the time, so Riskin got her real estate licence in order to represent the properties her mum was fixing up.
'I got my licence and I completely loved real estate from the get go,' she said.
When asked if she had any interesting stories from her career, she could only laugh.
'Oh God, I could write a book,' Riskin said.
Which is what she's doing.
Riskin and her sister have started writing a book about the ridiculous things Riskin encounters in the real estate world.
The real estate duo first entered the industry more than 35 years ago. Prior to selling real estate, Paul served as deputy mayor and village trustee, according to their website.
Joan majored in art and sociology at SUNY Stony Brook.
The pair boasts on their website that their listings typically sell between 90 and 180 days and often fetch at least 95 per cent of the asking price.
Sold: 7,500-square foot, full-floor apartment at Park Ave., that includes five fireplaces and an entertainment room.
Financier David Matlin's apartment was listed as a co-exclusive between Robert Schulman of Warburg Realty and Joan Swift of Prudential Douglas Elliman.
'Yes it's a big deal, it's a very big deal,' Schulman said. 'But in all cases, in all deals, it's got to be right for both parties.'
Schulman was brought in on the deal because the sellers had been his clients in the past.
'You're thankful that you have a chance to be involved in something like this,' he said.
He got his start in the market at birth. His father was a successful real estate developer in Washington County, and Schulman worked for his father during high school and for 15 years after college.
'I always say I was trained by one of the best negotiators in the industry,' Schulman said of his father.
When it comes to his own success, Schulman stressed the important of being honest, fair, and accountable -- traits that give him an advantage over his competitors, he said.
Sold: A 6,000-square foot condo in The Plaza. It was the highest price ever paid for a condo in New York.
Russian composer Igor Krutoy and his wife Olga reportedly bought the condo from Simonsen, who said she made the sale for the unlisted property through a personal connection.
'We never advertised that property,' Simonsen said.
Before joining the real estate world, Simonsen ran a successful company, which helped her transition into her new role.
'I've always just been fascinated with real estate,' she said adding that her intuition and customer relationships help her succeed.
At the end of the day 'there's always something that will surprise you with your clients,' Simonsen said. Clients who originally wanted a view of the park might wind up in Tribeca, or dramatically change their plans in some other way.
'You just have to be flexible,' Simonsen said.
Sold: A six-bedroom, nine-bathroom mansion on Heather Road in Beverly Hills.
The house includes a screen room -- with a separate entrance of course -- a pool, and a lighted tennis court.
Sullivan is part of the Sotheby's International Realty Southern California Branch, according to his website.
A representative for Realtor.com confirmed for Business Insider that Sullivan handled the sale.
Reality-TV husband Mauricio Umansky handled the $19 million sale of co-star Lisa Vanderpump's mansion
Sold: The 17,000 square foot mega mansion prominently featured on Bravo's Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Radar Online reported the sale price; it was initially listed at $29 million.
Umansky, best known as Kyle Richards' husband, got his start in the real estate business in 1998 when he joined luxury firm Hilton & Hyland, according to his website.
He now runs The Agency. His sales, in addition to Vanderpump's abode, include the 2010 Esquire House, his website says.
Sold: The former Dawkins mansion at 80 West River Road in Rumson boasts six bedrooms, seven bathrooms, and a wine cellar.
The sale of the former Dawkins mansion tested Zaccaro's skills as a negotiator, she said.
The house was originally listed at about $20 million, which Zaccaro's buyers weren't willing to pay. Negotiations to lower the price and close the deal lasted about six months, she said.
'I think they did realise it was a little overpriced when they had it at that number,' Zaccaro said of the sellers.
Before joining the New Jersey real estate ranks, Zaccaro worked in New York City but decided she didn't want to commute while her children were little.
So she switched career tracks.
'This is something I have a passion for,' she said. 'It's really emotional for me. I feel like I'm not working.'
Zaccaro has had some interesting experiences while working as a realtor. She recently sold a property at 72 Bayside Road, which, she later found out, had been the site of top-secret, government radar research and testing between 1941 and 1945.
'I was wondering why it had a barbed wire fence around it,' she wrote in an email.
Sold: A 17-bedroom, 32-bathroom, 65,000-square foot home on Tomiyasu Lane in Las Vegas.
Zanganeh credits his personality as the secret to his success.
'We're far more personable than anybody else,' he said of his firm, Luxe Estates Collection.
His company doesn't send assistants into the field to show houses to potential customers. Instead he has 'a SWAT team of agents,' who show houses, he said.
That dedication to service might be why Zanganeh counts the late King of Pop as his favourite client.
'He was extremely knowledgeable,' Zanganeh said of Michael Jackson, adding that he always had the sense Jackson asked questions he already knew the answer in order to check whether people were telling the truth.
Zanganeh got his start in real estate at the tender age of 13, when he landed an internship at a mortgage company. By 15, he had an internship with a commercial broker.
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