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Aaron Kirman rose from humble origins to become one of the most successful real estate agents in the United States. Today, he is the president of the estates division at Compass in Los Angeles, and in the past, served as an executive at the John Aaroe Group as well as at Hilton and Hyland. Kirman has also made a name for himself by representing high-profile properties from famous architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry.
Many people outside of L.A. and the world of luxury real estate should also recognize Kirman from his appearances on TV, including Secret Lives of the Super Rich and Listing Impossible.
Kirman recently chatted with Inman to preview the remarks he’ll deliver at the upcoming Inman Luxury Connect, and to share tips for breaking into the exclusive world of luxury real estate. What follows is a version of that conversation that has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s the most important thing you want to convey at Luxury Connect?
My topic is new money verses old money. My view is that money is money. When it comes to property, a lot of the things people are looking for are very similar.
When I think of old money, I think of old family money. Hollywood royalty. And we even have some real royalty, from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Old money means generational money, and new money means money that is not necessarily generational.
But in L.A. right now, everyone wants a very similar product. They want new, and they want modern, and they want private. It seems like the properties in demand are universally the same right now.
Here’s an example: I sold a $45 million house to a Saudi royal, and we sold a $39 million house to a 22-year-old tech billionaire. And both buyers looked at both houses.
Talking about new verses old money reminds me that you’re a self-made man, right?
I came from a very, very modest family in Panorama City, California. My dad was in the trucking business and my mom was a school teacher. They lived paycheck to paycheck. It was a super modest upbringing.
How did you take those first steps into what is a pretty exclusive world of luxury real estate?
I never believed I would be representing royal family members and billionaires. I had a lot of challenges growing up. I had learning disabilities, I had speech impediments. So I knew I needed to be my own boss. And when I was a kid, I always wanted to get into real estate. I just always knew that was what I wanted to do.
I started like everyone else. Some people have contacts, but I had zero. I really had to work my way up. What I did was, I started realizing that I needed a niche in order to make myself different. So I sold what were considered architectural houses. I finally got my hands on one, and then that led to two and then to three. Then eventually, because those were interesting and cool houses, I made connections with people in design. I started to meet a lot of musicians and actors, because those were the people who wanted those cool houses.
I started getting quite connected in that intellectual world. I built my name and my brand around that and those houses. Eventually it switched over into the mega-mansions. You know, the $50 to $200 million homes.
A lot of agents just jump in and say, “I’m selling houses.” But it’s a business, and you have to be interesting and you have to be curated and you have to be calculated in your approach. There are so many real estate agents out there and it’s such a competitive job, if you’re not taking a different approach to the game you’re going to lose.
You mentioned some of these high design houses and architectural properties. How does marketing a property like say, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House, differ from another property that is also high-end but maybe less high-profile?
We always start with great press strategies. We think that that tells a great story. From there, I have a very highly targeted approach to marketing and advertising. I have a massive database. So we start off asking who the buyer is of this house.
You’re in a position to do that, but what advice would you give to someone who maybe isn’t quite there today?
If you don’t have both the right company and the right mentor to get you there, it’s going to be very hard. That’s why you see the growing demand for mega teams. If you look, a lot of the same 10 agents represent a lot of the most grand homes in the world over and over again. And so breaking into that market is almost impossible.
I would say the best thing a newcomer can do is join the right team and join the right agency. Work toward getting the right support because it’s very expensive to do what we do. Build a portfolio and then hopefully copy it and do it better.
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