Fun And Crazy Real Estate Stories That Seems Unreal With Gene Leoni

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Fun And Crazy Real Estate Stories That Seem Unreal With Gene Leoni

Real estate could be fun! Join Valerie Fitzgerald and Bob Hurwitz as they talk with Gene Leoni about different stories and instances with their real estate deals that are fun, crazy, bizarre, thrilling, and unreal! This proves that some real estate deals have a bit of fun and craziness around them with learning as well. Some involve kids, celebrities, robbers, and even animals! Listen to this free-flowing discussion with Gene!


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Fun And Crazy Real Estate Stories That Seem Unreal With Gene Leoni

We've got a great guest. He's a real deal maker. It's Gene Leoni. I've known him for many years. We've done deals together and he is hilarious. He's a real-world agent and a total deal-maker. It's great to have him here. He'll have some interesting stories to share with our audience.

Thank you, Bob and Valerie. I appreciate it.

Our readers love when we're funny, got crazy unusual stories, and all things that happen behind our real estate curtain. Let's have some fun together.

On our previous show, one of the stories I talked about was when an agent was presenting an offer in person and the seller left the room. That was Gene Leoni, who was the agent. We're sitting there going like, "Where is he?" I had to hunt the guy down. He was asleep in bed. This was Gene.

I'm looking at Bob going, "What's happening here?" You understand that my expertise was Bel-Air and Holmby Hills. When I started doing that area, there was probably only a 10% turnover rate at the time, very few homes were selling. A common experience for me would be showing a vacant house. There are a lot of levels of vacant houses. Some are fully furnished and vacant but in this one experience I had, it was an abandoned house for several years and there were boards on the windows. The only way to get in the house was we had a crowbar to open the window in the back, crawl through the window, then walk around with a flashlight.

I had these clients and I said, "I don't know if we can sell the house but it fits your description of what you want." We go and crowbar in the house, pitch-black, and there wasn't anything salvageable in this house. We're walking around and I'm thinking, "There are cobwebs and everything going on in the property. Probably, there were animals or whatever." We're there for about a half-hour and the people say, "I love it." I'm thinking, "What am I going to do now?" I knew it was an abandoned house so now I got to figure out how to sell it.

I get out and we write up something. I tracked down the owner and the people bought the house at a great deal. They remodeled it and have been there ever since. I have brought them outrageous offers but they loved the house so much. That was a good experience but it was funny. They bring it up all the time. How do you show a house that's boarded on all the windows? They screwed all these boards like there was a tornado coming through there.

Who has a crowbar along with them on the showing?

I bought it at the hardware store on Western Boulevard. One of my tools for showing real estate is a flashlight and crowbar. There are so many houses at the time that were abandoned.

When you showed them, that wasn't listed?

It wasn't even listed. I knew that it was abandoned and falling apart.

That is a very proactive agent.

RERL 18 | Crazy Real Estate Stories

Crazy Real Estate Stories: People try to take advantage, even wealthy people. If they feel that they can get the upper hand, they'll hit it to you.

That's the way I did my deals. Most of the deals were not even on the market. I had a client to who I sold numerous times. We went to a vacant house which I thought was vacant and torn down. He happened to be a wealthy young guy. I go to him and I said, "Let's walk around the property." He says, "We got to get inside." I said, "No problem, I've done this before."

We rip open the window and he goes through the window. I'm following him and then the alarm goes off. We're racing and diving out the window because he was a prominent guy in Bel-Air. If it would have been on the front-page news and the police would have come up a little bit like, "We were trying to rob a house in Bel-Air." I'm looking at him going, "We can't do this anymore. My heart's racing," but that was pretty funny.

Did you ever have any unusual requests whether it was from a buyer or seller, something that they wanted you to look for, do, or find?

I don't know about unusual things but I did a deal and the woman was separated. She had a very good trust fund, monthly alimony that she was getting. I started showing her houses. Little did I know that the amount of money she was making per month was all she was making. Even though the amount of money was six figures a month, you didn't have the down payment to go buy a $4 million, $5 million, or $6 million house. I didn't know that.

I show her a property in lower Bel-Air which was a great property. She says, "Write up the offer," and I said, "Fine. We'll need 20% down or so," and she goes, "I don't have it." I go, "You don't have it." She goes, "I'm making a lot of money every month." I thought about it and I went to the listing broker. I said, "Can you ask the owner if they will take jewelry as a down payment for the property?" The broker gets back to me a couple of days later and says, "Yeah."

They went over to Van Cleef & Arpels and she came up with $15 million in jewelry maybe because jewelry is discounted when you want to sell it. She wasn't selling it but she held it in a bank account or a vault over there. They gave her 30% or 20% of the value as a deposit. She got a loan and she lived in the house. I told her not to sell the property but a couple of years later, she had an offer for $2 million or $3 million more. I said, "Don't sell this property," but she did and she was happy. She moved down to Newport Beach. The guy who bought that property from her traded it for $20 million. It was a great piece but I thought that was funny.

That was very creative and amazing to go for the jewelry. That was smart. How did you know she had so much jewelry?

It's because of her ex-husband. She had a property on the third floor, where each closet was like Saks Fifth Avenue or Barneys. It's just for the clothes which were pretty crazy.

We get to see amazing things. We're into people's personal lives.

They trust us. Even though they're worth a lot of money, they still put their pants on one leg at a time and tie their shoes. They're just normal people but have a lot of money. Talking to Bob, that's what makes all these things seem crazy but it was normal. People living in a Bel-Air hotel for years. Who would do that when they owned all the property across the street? That's what they did so it wasn't unusual to meet those types of people.

One of the things that we've talked about before and with other guests as well is how you don't know because it's such a diverse group of people that we deal with. Some people look like they have a lot of money but then they don't. Other people look broke but they're loaded. The thing that always blows me away is how people make assumptions because they own a giant house or drive a fancy car, especially in LA where there's so much fun stuff going on that they have a lot of money and in fact, they don't.

What blows me away and I've gotten laughs over the years from when a client who you assume is wealthy wants to borrow or get the agent to pay. I've had pretty famous people call me and go, "My money didn't get wired in from the UK. Can you pay my $20,000 mortgage?" I go, "No." It's weird. Did you guys have that happen when your client will call you and say, "Can you give me this money for whatever reason or loan them money?"

“If anyone wants to borrow $25,000 or $50,000 from you, run for the hills. You're better off asking someone for $1 million rather than $25,000 or $50,000 because it's a blink and a light.”

I haven't had to loan them money but I have had them want me to pay for things like during the due process of buying a house, pay for the furniture, or donate $20,000, $30,000, $40,000, or $50,000 to the deal. I've had very wealthy people ask me to do that, which is surprising.

Did you give them the money?

Yes. Usually, you do.

It happened to me, Bob. I lived in a house when I was going to UCLA. The people that I lived with had a limo driver and every time he had a meeting in the house everyone had to vacate the house and he had a Butler and all this stuff. I graduated and started doing real estate. Through the years, I started doing well, and out of the clear blue, this guy who eventually didn't live in the house anymore because he sold it, he calls me on the phone. He says, "Gene, how are you doing?" I go, "How you doing?" because I always respected and looked up to this guy. He had a limo driver, butler, and a great house. I was like, "That's what I want to be like."

My dad always said, "If anyone wants to borrow $25,000 or $50,000 from you, run for the hills. You're better off asking someone for $1 million rather than $25,000 or $50,000 because it's a blink and a light." He brings me to the Westwood Marquis and we go into this private restaurant area and he sits down and we're talking. He then brings out this crumpled envelope with this letter. The letter said that he had $175 million in a bank account in London. He said, "Gene, this is confidential but here's this banknote. I had this money over there. For some reason, I can't get it out and I’d like to borrow $50,000, $75,000 if you could."

My dad's knocking on my brain going, "Gene, it's trouble." My response was, "Not a problem. I'll lend you $150,000 but give me the title to your Aston Martin convertible," because it was a great car. His response was, "I don't own the car. It's in my daughter's name," and it was the end of the discussion. I said, "If we do the car, I'm all over it. If not, I can't do it," and I realized that it was all smoke and mirrors with this guy. It was crazy and I looked up to the guy. It's sad in a lot of ways but you learn.

Eventually, he'll get milked. The thing to me that's weird, if you're an agent, we get paid based on success, how good we are at what we do. I've had sellers say, "You'll pay staging like the previous agent?" I go, "No, that isn't what I do. I will get you the highest and best price for your property but I'm not going to pay for staging, artwork, and cars in your garage."

Hire the best person whether it be me or somebody else who you think is better to represent you the most professional and gets you the highest and best price. Or if you're the buyer, gets you the lowest price, but don't ask an agent. This is me speaking. A lot of agents do this and I'm not trying to denigrate people. Everybody has a different business model but I always think my professional job is to represent them to the best. They come out the best, not to pay for stuff. I'm curious. Are you seeing more of that, Valerie?

I'm seeing it even more so now because the inventory is so tight. It's so tight that they're cutting the commission and, "I'll pay for everything." That's 100% and I come up against it all the time. I've got a few staging companies where they'll stage it and get paid at the close. I can work with that but in terms of putting out $30,000, $40,000, or $50,000 to stage it, pay the monthly and do all that to list a property? No.

I agree with you. I tell the client whether it's a buyer or a seller that I've never lost a deal over a commission. I'm always there to make the deal happen, but you can negotiate a deal when there's not a deal on the table in regards to the commission or what you're going to do. I say, "We're business partners. You're trying to sell a $10 million house and if I can get you $10 million, I'm worth it. If we start talking $7.5 million or $8 million and you're losing money, I feel for you. I'll do the best I can but don't start negotiating the commission," and they do it all the time upfront. It doesn't make sense.

You negotiate it when you have something on the table. It takes experience. Until you lose a deal, you get beat on a listing, get a listing, and all that stuff, you don't have the experience. I never could understand that when I started. We're still learning. It's the craziest thing. You do deals nowadays and it's like, "I never heard of that before. I was never in that situation before. It was nuts.

That's a great point that you made. The truth is, especially the type of properties that we deal with, they're usually very expensive properties and there's a lot of commission there. If something comes in, that is not palatable for the seller, at that point, you can discuss things. But upfront, to try and get people to cut things down and nothing, all it does is destroy the motivation of the person representing them. You've then got to offer less than the outside agent. It defeats his own purpose.

RERL 18 | Crazy Real Estate Stories

Crazy Real Estate Stories: Being a real estate agent, you have to deal with a lot of things. It's not always glamour.

I tell people, "If this amount of money that you want me to take from my commission makes this deal a bad deal, bottom line.” It's natural to try and do that. It's human nature but the reality is if that bit is what makes it the difference between you accept this or not accept this, you shouldn't accept it. That's my philosophy but you are right. To negotiate upfront and try and discount something to me is inappropriate. Although it is the nature of the business now.

We've had people on our show, they've had pretty funny stories, dealing with animals, showings with their buyers or sellers, or with kids. Have you had any funny experiences in your career with dealing with children during your business or the animals?

I'll go with the animals. I was showing a house on Perugia Way and I'm waiting for my client. I see this little eight-week-old puppy going down the driveway. I'm thinking it's a lost puppy so I get the puppy and I put it in the car and it's a yelper. I'm going, "What is happening here?" I had this dog in the car and my clients showed up. I can't bring the dog into the house to show it. The dog’s in the car, I let the window down, I show the property, I come out, my clients are talking, and the dog's barking.

I hold the dog and I go, "Let's go to the next house." I'm doing four showings babysitting a baby dog who I had for fourteen years. I called him after a street in Bel-Air. I called him Bentley. I couldn't call him Perugia. I ended up selling them a house where I found the dog. It was the funniest thing. It was crazy. That was my experience with animals.

We had a friend of ours who was on the show, who was talking about a client that said they had to walk their pet and he laid down and leashed up a bunny. It's a seller. I was interviewing to sell the house. He goes, "I have to walk my pet." I said, "I'll go with you."

You were probably going, "What is happening here?" There are some properties in Bel-Air that have llamas. I used to go look at the llamas a lot. I heard there was a huge pig at someone's property. In the Moraga Estates, he had an aviary where the whole backyard was all netted off. You had to go through a gate to then go through a gate, and you'd go and the birds are all flying around. It was pretty crazy. It was like Jurassic Park. It was the wildest thing.

It was amazing but another crazy story was I was showing the property where they give you the wrong alarm code or you miss it. A house in lower Bel-Air, I opened the door, I'm trying to hit the code and it's blaring. I did a whole twenty-minute showing. Cops didn't even show up with the alarm blaring. It was like the siren right in my year. It was the craziest thing.

If they call and you forget what the code word is, the cops are going to show up, and it costs money every time they show up.

It was embarrassing. How do you concentrate and show a property with the alarm going off?

I find it horrible when the smoke alarms are going off.

When they're out of batteries and they're in there dinging?

We have to figure out which one it is.

You negotiate when you have something on the table.

We had that the other day on Stone Canyon, we were doing a showing for a celebrity. All of a sudden, the electricity had been shut off from the previous tenant. When we got in there and the surge had come on, the alarm went off and all the smoke detectors went off. I shut the power down to shut everything off at that point. It's nerve-wracking and very distracting. You're panicking and running around trying to figure out how to turn it off.

In today's environment, I read about it all the time. It's very sad with these drive-home robberies and all that stuff in these open houses. Some of the things that I did, I didn't think about, I just did it. Now, you couldn't do that. Now, it would be very serious. One time I took a client to who I sold a house and I said, "We need to go look at this property," and I go up the driveway. We're in the backyard and all of a sudden, this guy comes out with a shotgun. He said, "Get off my property," I'm sitting there and I'm shaking in my feet because this guy has a shotgun loaded, pointed at my client and I am going, "This is embarrassing."

One of your talents was trespassing.

I would have a free out-of-jail pass. I was playing monopoly. I was like, "Go for it." I thought that house was vacant. It was in the 200 block of Bel-Air Road. That was nuts. We meet so many unusual people. Unreal things are real because of the amount of wealth and the power that these people have. Whenever you get a call, you have to take it seriously.

A friend of mine called me one time and said, "I had this wealthy guy and they want to buy a property, he's coming up and can you give me a referral?" I said, "No problem. If you say this guy is a rock-solid, we're good." We set up a showing in Bel-Air and I see this entourage of seven Ford Explorers going in one trail and I'm going, "Here they are. They're coming." They come up and they all get out.

The first couple of cars were bodyguards. These 6'8, 6'9 professional bodyguards come out and I'm thinking, "Oh, my God," and they are Versace-ed out, brand new alligator cowboy boots. I'm thinking, "This is pretty crazy." A guy comes up. He says, "How are you doing?" Walk through the house, nice. Go to the next house, nice. A couple of days later, he called and said, "Let's make an offer." I said, "Great. I need to come to meet you and discuss the financing."

I don't know what hotel at the time he was at. I don't know if he was at the Western Marquis or the Bel-Air Hotel. He was in so many different hotels. I met with him, I go to the hotel room and knock on the door. One of his bodyguards comes up and he says, "Come in and sit down. Wait for the boss." I go, “This is good." Eventually, he calls me back into the room and this guy sitting on the bed. He opens up this briefcase and he starts throwing these $100 bills around.

He goes, "I got tons of money. You have to tell the people I deal in cash." I said, "No problem. I'll discuss it." When you go to another broker and you see a guy dealing with cash, they don't want to deal with you. I went back to the guy and I said, "It's not going to work. Let me know when we could figure out some banking relationship. I'll give you all the connections and all that stuff." He said, "No problem."

A couple of weeks go by. He said, "Gene, they won't allow me to give cash as a deposit at a hotel. Can I use your credit card to put as the credit for my room? I'll pay you back." I said, "One of the reasons why I'm trying to get you deals is because I maxed out my credit cards and I can't do that, unfortunately. I'm broke. I need to make this deal with you." He says, "I feel for you." I said, "No problem."

He disappears for a few weeks and then all of a sudden, the phone rings, a call comes in and he says, "Gene, come meet me at the Bel-Air Hotel." I went to the Bel-Air hotel and he's in a suite that's $2,000 or $2,500 a night. I'm thinking, "He's at The Peninsula Hotel for a week, and he's at the W Hotel for a week, then at the Four Seasons for a week, and now he's at the Bel-Air hotel for a week." The guy's like throwing me for a loop. I couldn't peg this guy.

I go visit him. He says, "Gene, I need a favor from you." I said, "What do you want?" He goes, "I have a safe with $9 million in it that I need to store for the weekend." I go, "You have a safe with $9 million in it and you want me to store it?" He says, "I trust you." My friend, who I was doing this whole transaction with said, "This is crazy." I said, "Fine. Let's do this under the radar. Where do you want me to pick up the safe?" He says, "You go to the W Hotel or Western Marquis at the time and we'll transfer from one trunk to your trunk. We're good."

I'm thinking, "You got to be kidding me." I said, "Fine." I go to the W Hotel. There was no one there. It was 11:00 PM. It was dead. His bodyguard takes the safe out, which was bigger than what would fit in my trunk. We're trying to put the seat in the front of the hotel in my trunk and it's not fitting. It's covered with a sheet. We throw it in the backseat, drive up, go to my house and I'm sitting there with my partner going, "What did we just do?" We're looking at the safe. We're trying to figure out how big is $9 million because an inch is $10,000. We're going, "It's big enough for $9 million."

RERL 18 | Crazy Real Estate Stories

Crazy Real Estate Stories: We have to think on our feet, be very diplomatic, and be professional. That's why we have value because it makes a big difference.

We had it over the weekend and I'm sweating bullets. I'm going, "There's going to be some people coming up here and sticking me up and stealing the money or doing something crazy." Nothing happened. Thank God. All of a sudden, it went dormant. I didn't hear from the guy anymore. The guy who referred me to this guy said, "He's being prosecuted for fraud." I go, "What are you talking about?" He says, "This guy has been stealing from these churches who have been giving him money to go invest to buy real estate."

I said, "What's up with the cars?" He said, "He went to a Ford dealership and the Ford dealer took on the story and said I'll lease you all these seven Ford explorers. He stopped paying for it. He then went to a clothing place and got all these high expensive clothes. He must've spent $100,000 or $150,000 on all his bodyguards and stuff like that and it was absolutely insane.” I go, "What is in the safe?" My buddy and I break open the safe. We threw it off a building. We're hitting it with sledgehammers. It took forever to open up and there was a sheet and a pillow in there. We're laughing and going, "Oh, my God."

He was borrowing people's credit cards as a deposit for the hotel. When the credit card would get maxed out, he then would go to another hotel and do it for a week until it was maxed out. As I said before, you have to take everything seriously because you can't judge a book by its cover. There have been very successful people that I've met that you wouldn't think would have anything and they could buy the whole street. These other people come in with all the flash and it was a big fraud and got thrown in jail. Thank God. An FBI agent called me and said, "Do you know this guy?" I said, "No, I was a real estate agent and I had no part of it. I can't help you on that." That was pretty crazy.

That's an amazing story. It's like a movie plot.

All the bodyguards and we'd go in these rooms with meetings and he turned on the TV. We're sitting in the room screaming at each other. I go, "What is going on?" "We don't want anyone to hear." "What are talking about? Turn the thing down." He had this lawyer and everybody on the hook because once you're on the hook for $10,000, $20,000 then you're chasing your money to get it back. He had these people chasing it. We're sitting there, looking at this stuff going, "This is nuts."

That was fast of you to go with the maxed credit card deal.

You have to think on your feet because it happens a lot. People try to take advantage, even wealthy people. If they feel that they can get the upper hand, they'll hit it to you.

I have this one guy and I was doing a TV show for a property in Sonoma and he was a cool client. He represented some major music celebrities and stuff. He called me on the phone when I was about to do this NBC shoot on this property and said, "Can you loan me $18,000, $19,000 for this payment?" I'm thinking, "This is not right. This doesn't make sense." He said he needed it right away and I said, "I can't wire you the money because it's after 2:00 PM and I'm out of town."

Eventually, he was evicted from the place I had leased him. You might as well figure you're losing the $20,000. If someone is hitting you up, kiss the money goodbye but you got to think on your feet. Luckily, it was literally past the wiring time. He blew it by saying he needed it right then. If he would've said in the next couple of days I wouldn't have had that excuse but it was perfect.

It's interesting because I've lost two deals by hours. The first deal was on Mapleton before the Caysons bought that property. I had a client that wanted to buy the deal and I could not find a fax machine at the time. I drove from where the people were to the broker. By the time I was able to drive from where they were to the broker, a deal had already been signed. It was so upsetting.

Another time, I have a counteroffer. If a person sends a counteroffer email or whatever in writing, by text, or by wire canceling that counteroffer, it's dead. I get this counteroffer for a property on Perugia and I go to the guy and said, "This is a great counter offer. You need to sign this offer. The people are skittish." He said, "Let me think about it." 1:00 AM I get this text that the counteroffer was rescinded. I lost the deal. They got cold feet.

You can't get there fast enough because there are twenty offers on everything. It's very painful. It's changed so much right now.

You have to take everything seriously because you can't judge a book by its cover.

I sold ten homes in Perugia. I had a client to who I sold a couple of homes. We were in escrow on a property in Perugia. What happened was sometimes people have bipolar and just because you're wealthy it doesn't mean they're not immune to certain things. This one particular client I didn't know at the time was bipolar. 1:00 AM, I get a phone call and she goes, "Gene, I trust you. Talk to this police officer."

The police offer is on the phone and says, "Can you help us out here?” She's asking for a police escort back to her house because she walked from the house in Bel-Air all the way to this house that I was in escrow on Perugia. She was knocking on the door at 12:30 talking to the owners and they call the police. I'm thinking, "Oh, my God." I get dressed. I go over to the house. I go up to her. I said, "Everything is okay." She goes, "Gene, they're coming to get me. There are helicopters out there. There are people on the golf course."

I'm thinking, "It was so touching that she called me." I said, "Everything is going to be okay. Get in the car," and I went to the sellers and I said, "I'm very sorry." One of the owners was not even well. He was very sick and the wife was upset. I said, "No problem. We'll deal with it another time." We get in the car and I have at least 5 or 6 police cars follow me through Bel-Air up to her house.

When we got to the house, I then had to get her in the house. I knocked on the door. Her husband answered the door who was totally in a different space. I explained the story and the police officers had all walked in. I calmed the police. I said, "No problem. It's a dead issue. It's okay." I said goodnight to everyone and I'm thinking, "What happened?"

Did her husband miss her? Did her husband know she was gone?

He didn't know where he was. He couldn't even stand up. He's at the door, "Gene, what's happening?" I go, "I wanted to bring your wife back. She had walked a mile to this house." We ended up closing the deal and it was okay. Being a real estate agent, you have to deal with a lot of things. It's not always glamour. It's a lot of sad things, divorces, illness, and deaths. Thank God, I've never walked into a house where someone was dead. I'm very thankful for that. I've been to houses where people have died and they said, "That's where they died," but never been in a house where I came in and then they were laying on the floor dead. Did you guys ever walk in on someone dead?

No, but I had a client who went to look at an apartment building. The apartment manager had gone ahead to open a couple of the units for the guy and somebody died in one of the units where they were supposed to stay. He goes, "Can I get it for less now?" This is so much fun. I hope you'll join us again.

I'd love to. This is the first time I've ever done this. This is enjoyable but it's nice to speak about this stuff because if you tell people these things they'll think you're crazy. You can bring up any topic with me and I've pretty much confronted it. When you're in the mix, you're in the mix. It's pretty unusual.

We got to have Gene back.

That's what's fun about doing this show because the readers are all over the world and they love our stories that are so different. People don't realize what goes on behind the deal and when they hear the stories, it puts a whole different light on what our job is, what we do, how we have to land on our feet, deal with each other, and deal with the clients.

It's a lot of personalities. We have to think on our feet, be very diplomatic and be professional. That's why we have value because it makes a big difference. I lost a deal because the guy was mad that the guy took the drapes out the night before the closing. The guy says, "I'll give you $50,000 for these 25-year-old drapes," and the guy said, "You can cancel or I give you $50,000." The guy was brilliant. He cancels. The next day, I said, "What did you just do?" The deal fell out and it was sold within hours. He didn't realize what he lost but over drapes that were worth nothing.

We've all seen crazy stuff like that.

It happens all the time to all of us. We've all been down there. We got to do some more of these stories but I want to wrap this up and say thank you for joining us so much.

It's great having you here, Gene.

Bob, it's always great talking to you. Valerie, keep up the great work. I love your emails and you're doing so well. It's awesome. I'm happy for you.

Thank you.

We'll talk soon.

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