Unpredictable clients are what makes real estate encounters so exciting. You never know who or what you might get! From celebrities in disguise, bus-sized entourages, and even bogus buyer stories with happy endings, high-end real estate buyers make for some of the wildest experiences. Join Valerie Fitzgerald and Bob Hurwitz on another episode filled with comical real estate true stories. Listen to outrageous client encounters that are sure to leave you slack-jawed with laughter and awe!
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Unpredictable Clients: Outrageous Encounters In High-End Real Estate With Bob Hurwitz
We will give you some stories that are unusual. We understand that most of them are unusual.
There’s nothing normal, which is super interesting. We have a litany of other stories that are pretty fascinating.
You may want to pay attention to some of these. I have one where I was representing Michael Jackson. I know we’ve discussed we’re not using names and addresses, but this is appropriate to use his name in this particular story. Michael likes to go looking at houses in this old beat-up VW bus. I don’t know if you ever saw him over the years around. He had this older lady driving the bus a little on the heavy side. If you saw the bus, you’d think that homeless people were in it. It was so nondescript, you would never imagine that he would be on that bus. I was driving around and he’d follow me. We were up in the hills above the Beverly Hills hotel one day and he called me on the phone, “Valerie, pull over.” I said, “Okay.” He goes, “I like that house.” I said, “Let me call the agent. Hang on a second.”
I called the agent who had the listing and he said, “Forget it. You can’t show that house. There’s a Saudi royal family that’s renting it. They’re paying $150,000 a month.” This was July, August months. I said, “Michael, unfortunately, we can’t get in to see the house.” “That’s too bad.” The next couple of days later, we were out looking around and we drove. He goes, “Let’s drive by that beautiful house again.” We drove by this house, we pulled outside. Michael said, “I’m going to ring the doorbell.” He gets out of the car out of his bus. He’s wearing a full Arab outfit with the headdress, the long cape, the Abaya thing down to the floor and he had a beard. He was trying to look like he was Arabic. He raised the doorbell and he goes, “Blah, blah.” I was watching this and I get out of my car.
They opened the gate and he walks into the motor court. I walk in behind him and the driver sits in the car. They come out and a couple of the younger kids come out, and they’re wondering who this person is. He bows a bunch of times and he has this headdress on and the beard, and mumbling words that sound like they should be Arabic. They’re standing there and looked perplexed. They don’t understand what this man is doing and they looked around. All of a sudden, he takes off the beard and the headdress and they see it’s him. They went crazy. Not only do they let them in, they let him through the house. I was watching this. For me, it was incredible. All he wants to do was see the house.
That is too funny. You have to be prepared for everything. Sometimes these people will go off because they can do whatever they want to do. There are fascinating stories and sometimes, the clients themselves will do something very extemporaneous and you’ve got to roll with it. One of the things that I thought would be interesting is back in the day before there was internet and everything else, we used to present offers in person, which frankly, I loved. You’d have an offer and you’d arrange a meeting with the seller and with the agent representing the seller, or if you were the agent, that would be the opposite. I remember one that was funny that I think readers would enjoy because it’s off the wall.
It was a big house on Beverly Glen, just South of Sunset. There’s this old guy that owned it. He was in the entertainment business at one time. There was an agent whose name I won’t say, you would know him. He wanted to present the offer. He said it’s going to be a low-ball offer. I said, “Whatever, let’s do it.” The guy comes in and we’re all sitting in this library that had a wet bar in it. The other agent presents this offer that’s literally half of the asking price. He’s going on, he’s saying why he should accept it. The guy gets up and leaves the room. Me and this other agent are sitting there for 10, 15 minutes. The guy didn’t say a word, he bailed.
He goes, “What’s going on?” I go, “I don’t know.” This house was a giant house. I go around the house, most of the lights are out. I finally get to the guy’s bedroom and he’s sound asleep in bed wearing one of those cloth caps, it’s long with a tassel ball. He was snoring. I didn’t say anything. I came back downstairs and I go, “I don’t think this is going to work out.” He goes, “What do you mean? Where is he?” I go, “The dude is asleep.” He goes, “Can we get a counter?” I said, “Maybe when he wakes up in a few days.” It was bizarre for someone to walk out in the middle without saying anything, without acting irritating, but just peace out and goes to sleep.
That is unbelievable. How could he be so calm? I would imagine when I’ve presented offers and they were low and I represent the seller, the seller was angry with me for allowing this person to waste their time.
I had to blame it on the guy. When the guy woke up and I spoke to him the next day, I said, “I had no idea he was going to come up with that much of a low-ball offer.” He wasn’t worried about it. He just figured, “What the hell?” Then he went to sleep but without saying anything, that’s what’s so weird.
I had in the last few years another royal family experience. They would come into town and they were staying in a rented house. Of course, I was always told no one should know who they are, which I don’t ever talk about who my clients are. You’re given a name, you give a name who the buyer is when you ask for the appointment. It was a name of a business partner, a business manager. I get there and they have a fleet of cars. They have the security car in the front, the actual principal is going to ride in the second car, and they have a large bus with about 40 people in it, their personal doctor, their housekeepers, their cook, their valet. They have all the staff, everybody’s on this bus. I look at them and I go, “Are all these people going to follow us to every house?” I remember going down Benedict Canyon, right next to the Beverly Hills Hotel with my blinker to make a left with this fleet behind me and the bus at the very end, trying to try to keep track of who’s following me where. We would roll up to these houses with all these people. I said, “With all due respect, please, people on the bus cannot come into the house.”
That is too funny. It’s weird, I have that with some Chinese clients who would often come with a big entourage to a big house I had. They would turn it into a tour. They were told upfront, the client and the agent, and maybe if they have a translator whatever, that’s fine. They would show up sometimes with a busload of people of 3 or 4 different cars to show this incredible house. It’s like turning into a tour on a Disneyland jaunt. The bottom line is the seller has expected us to limit it as to who the real parties are as opposed to just taking people through who are not buyers.
To be discreet is super important, but when you’ve got an entourage, it’s pretty difficult to get around when you show up to the appointments. It’s happened to me with rock and roll people, and people on that level, where they’ve got many people with them. It’s hard to keep it quiet. All of a sudden, word gets out that so-and-so is looking for a house. I ran into a neighbor but I had the house, and this is the third wife. They have multiple wives. The head of security called me and asked me to look for some houses. I went up to meet with them at the house.
Sometimes clients will do something very extemporaneous, and you just have to roll with it.
She had two security teams. One was what they called the sweepers, where they would go into a house, the elevator, into wherever we were and sweep it, check for cameras, check that no cameras are on to photograph her. Honest to God, she must have had ten nickel-sized emeralds around her ankle, like an ankle bracelet. The jewelry was astounding. I love seeing her because I love looking at all that jewelry. It’s the same thing. We had a team in the front, but she didn’t touch a door handle. She didn’t touch light, she didn’t ever touch anything so her fingerprints could not be anywhere.
It’s interesting how you learn all these things when you’re with people. We went out looking at houses and none of them worked. The security guy came back to me and said, “She would like to buy a small building to have her own personal private gym.” I said, “Okay.” We were looking in West LA, which is an unusual area, but it’s nondescript over there. It doesn’t draw too much attention. We found a building that was 5,000 square feet with a big open space. We had the team come back a couple of times and she came back. This time, she brought her trainer. Her trainer was this big dude, handsome, full of muscles. As it turned out, and she decided she brought in a designer with her, she was going to do the gym and make part of it his apartment. The other part is for her to work out in. Put two and two together, and you’ve got to figure out what was going on there.
While we were in escrow, this is a very private family. They were doing rage parties. The kind where they send out the notice at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, thousands of people show up, and rage for a couple of hours, and they leave, then the police bust them up. They were using this building as a place to rage. We would find out and put locks on it, then somehow, they got in again. They had 2 or 3 rages. They’re breaking into this building with having no clue that this prominent family was buying it.
People are fascinating. Readers are always fascinated by what happens on the super high end with the royal families and the Silicon Valley billionaires, and whatever. Sometimes, it’s the more mundane things that are pretty funny. One time, I was showing a property, which I know you know the owner as well. It was up on Benedict Canyon. The guy had this dog. It was a vicious dog, a German Shepherd. If you knew the dog’s name and the dog was cool, but if you didn’t, the dog was pretty vicious. I went up to show another celeb at the time. We’re walking the grounds and the dog was supposed to be locked up, then the dog suddenly came out while we were walking the grounds. We run to the tennis court, it was me and him and we’re climbing up the chain link fence.
I forgot the dog’s name. I knew it was like a biblical name. I go, “I don’t know.” I was coming up with all kinds of names, it turns out the dog’s name was Samson, which I eventually found out. You know the guy that owned the property at the time. It’s one of those funny things where you’re stuck in this weird situation. We could have been up there forever. When you’re freaked out, it’s pretty hard to remember stuff. That was an interesting situation. Luckily, we’re both athletic enough to climb the chain link fence.
We have to be on our feet all the time adjusting, adapting, protecting. In your case, saving your legs from being chewed off.
One of the things that’s pretty interesting that I thought going back to the situation. People that are super rich oftentimes are insulated from the real world, they’re used to getting whatever they want. I remember in the early ‘90s, I had a call from somebody back East that said, “I see your ads of unique homes. I know the translator for this Italian family and I don’t know how much they want to spend. Will you pay referrals?” “Yes, of course.” I said, “What are they looking to spend?” “I don’t know. Maybe $3 million or $4 million.” They fly out and they come with a full-on jet, not just some private jet. I realized, they owned eighteen properties around the world, and nothing that was on the market would work for them.
I made some calls. I’ll never forget, I showed them four different properties. The translator goes, “They’ll buy this one or that one.” They don’t care. They’re using it for two weeks out of the year to go shopping or whatever. The wife said, “We’ll pay.” At the time, it was $10 million for one and $8 million for the other. I said, “We’ve got to write it up.” She goes, “Don’t write anything up. Tell them we’ll pay that.” I go, “That’s not going to work. If you’re in the States, you’ve got to write something up.” She goes. “No, pay this.” I said, “Okay. Out.” The bottom line is I called the agent. She goes, “You’ve got to write it up.” I said, “They won’t write it up. They’ll pay this.”
A month later, she called me from Switzerland, “Do they accept the offer?” The English were a little bit better. I said, “No, we’ve got to write it up.” She goes, “I have an attorney because they were buying the Andrew Lloyd Webber place in New York. This attorney speaks Italian, write it up.” Because they’re used to getting everything they want, “Say this and it’s done.” That’s how they got most of their other properties. It’s about adapting on the fly. It’s about telling them the proper ways to do things and how things are done here. At the end of the day, it worked out.
Did you make that sale?
Yes, but it was bizarre. I had to present that in person. The funny part is when they agreed to write it up and I wrote it up with the attorney, they had their architect from Argentina fly out with a briefcase with $500,000. We met up at the airport. We went to this bank downtown and redeposit it. He spoke English. The seller, who’s a very famous guy himself, wanted us to present in person at his Malibu house. I said, “No matter what, all you say is, ‘Tia Relly not pay more.’ It’s the only English you know.” He was upset. I said, “Our job is to get Tia Relly the house. That’s all you’re going to say, let me do the rest of the talking.” We went up to present the offer in lunch. The owner goes, “I know who these people are, they’re billionaires, they’ll pay more, right?” He goes, “Tia Relly not pay more,” when we got in the house. Sometimes, you have to maneuver the situation, but it worked out. It was the biggest sale in LA in 1992.
We’re dealing with all different nationalities, and I’m sure it’s not our area, but other agents we have coming up all over the country, they’re dealing with different ages, different socio-economic cultures, different price points, different issues, divorce, marriage, death. Have you ever heard of someone with a lottery? Have you ever had someone show up who won the lottery?
I showed a house in Alberta to a guy who had bought it from winning in the lottery. I never actually had a client that won the lottery. I’ve had people claim they were going to win it. You’ve got a guy that won the lottery?
You have to be prepared because there’s a flip side to everything.
No. I’ve had a couple of people that showed funds because you can fake bank accounts, you can do almost anything online these days. At the beginning of my career, it was easy to fall for it. Now, I would double-check, triple check, go to the bank and you can google almost anything, which is helpful.
It is weird. People are creative. I had this guy presented an offer on a listing of mine in Encino. I knew that this buyer was bogus. First of all, when somebody looks at a big property and they start talking about buying other things at the same time like adjacent properties, they’re usually 99.9% bogus. The guy seemed bogus. I told his client, “I don’t think this guy has got money.” He goes, “No, he’s rich.” I said, “Why don’t you get verification funds?” He writes an offer and I go, “You’ve got to get me some verification of funds.” The guy’s girlfriend was legit. She worked at the studios, but she couldn’t afford this property.
He calls me, “He’s completely legit.” I go, “Explain.” He said, “We went to Merrill Lynch and he said, ‘Wait in the car.’ He went inside and he talked to his people and he came back out.” I said, “He probably just went in and used the bathroom.” Sure enough, the guy was completely bogus. If any agents read this, it’s a good thing to use. He had written an offer. I used his offer and his potential buyability, to prove he is bogus, to get somebody else to pay a record price for the property because they were going to beat out somebody else.
Because it makes it look like that there’s somebody else interested and they don’t want to lose it. They jumped them over. We see that all the time.
There’s a flip side to everything. It’s a double-edged sword. This guy is bogus and you’re not going to make a nipple, and you’re Mr. Agent, and put the next person in. It benefits everybody. I think as we said at the last episode, everybody wins when the sale goes through. Nobody’s going to sign off on a deal they hate. Buyers don’t like when they lose the property to somebody else, but when they buy it, they’re not going to go through it unless they really want the house.
We’re starting to see a few foreigners slowly coming back into the market. Are you seeing that too?
Yeah. The segment of the Chinese buyers in Mainland China, who I dealt with a lot a couple of years ago when I was in China, they’ve dried up. The ones with money are already here, who are from Taiwan, Singapore and Canadians are a big segment right now. I don’t know if you’re seeing that as well. I do think the US, with everything going on, is still looked at as a safe haven for investment and a good place to live.
I have one other thing I thought I would bring up. A few years ago, I did all the high-rise developments, The Carlyle, The Century, and Latitude 33. The Four Seasons approached me and asked me to take their private residences to Dubai and Saudi Arabia. I went to Dubai and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. I had to buy the abaya, the thing that you wrap around your head, and you’re all covered up. We landed in Riyadh. At the airport, only a man at that time could pick you up. Women could not drive, a woman could not be without a man on the street in public. I had to have a note from the government who approved me to go there because it’s close to tourism.
The driver picks me up and as we’re driving into Riyadh, we get to the Four Seasons, which is where I’m staying. We walk in, it’s beautiful, 40-foot ceilings, it’s very modern, and we were waiting for my room, which is going to be on a floor with only women. You can only have women on the floor. I walked into this room and I thought, “Look at all the men in here, this is great.” I went to sit down and the Maître d’hôtel came running around, “Madam, no.” I should be out of the room. I’m trying to figure out, “Where are we going to do the presentation?” They showed me the room and I go, “What’s that curtain there for? There are chairs on one side and the other, but there’s a curtain in the middle. They said, “You can’t be in the same room together with men and women, they have to be separated.” I said, “No, I have meetings. I had a lot of the royals coming to the Four Seasons and times scheduled meetings. I have to be able to look them in the face and talk to them.”
We ended up taking this suite upstairs where I didn’t have to wear the Abaya. I could do the presentation there and I didn’t have to wear the whole Abaya. The experience of being a woman and doing presentations because that’s not the culture there on women in business, it was quite different. It was quite a unique experience. It was cool. We go from leasing a beach house to getting on a plane and going to Europe. You particularly, you do a lot of business in Europe, don’t you?
Yes. It’s always smart to do some research on the culture where you’re going or the people you’re dealing with, so you don’t inadvertently do something that is a faux pas. I give you huge props because first of all, there’s a lot of chauvinism in this business even here in America. To be able to go over there and deal with the situation that you had is pretty amazing. In Europe and overseas, I sell islands, I sell a lot of stuff I haven’t even seen, which is also another pretty interesting thing. Stuff I haven’t seen and stuff I’ve never met the sellers or even the buyers, which is easier now because everything is done remotely. I’m with you. To me, the fascinating thing are the people we meet. I had this one guy I had dinner with, who is a genius on his own right. He’s a pretty famous guy. I was talking to him about Elon Musk. I had seen a podcast with Musk. He said, “I’m smart. Elon Musk is so much smarter than anybody else I’ve ever met in my life. He’s not maybe a great businessman,” and this was before he likes to rescan the planet.
He’s not a very good businessman but?
Now, he’s worth a trillion. He thinks of stuff that other people don’t even imagine, and he can manifest it and make it happen. To me, those kinds of conversations are interesting. You and I get the opportunity in the course of doing business at these levels where we do meet super fascinating people. Not necessarily the richest people are the most interesting, smartest people that you don’t think have a lot of money are fascinating. The things and experiences that they have done a pursuit in their lives will blow you away, and you appreciate we’re lucky to be in this business and make good money doing it.