Toluca is one of those really interesting places that not a lot of people really hear about. But it’s a really cool neighborhood that’s preferred by many celebrities. Craig Strong specializes in listings in this area as well as nearby Studio City, and boy does he have interesting stories to tell! It turns out that not even neighborhoods as cool and gentrified as Toluca Lake are safe from the weird and ridiculous. As real estate agents, it’s just something we are bound to encounter, whether we’re knocking on a trailer home or a million-dollar celebrity house. Tune in for some real estate real laughs!
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Weird And Funny Real Estate Stories From Toluca Lake With Craig Strong
Bob, I'm happy to have our guest on the show, Craig Strong. Craig has been a successful investor and top-producing agent in the Toluca Lake in Studio City areas of the San Fernando Valley for years. He's been on both sides of many close transactions as a buyer and as an agent. I'm excited to hear some of his great stories.
It should be good. I'm looking forward as well, Craig. I started in Studio City and dreamed of getting listings in Toluca Lake when I was 19 or 20 years old. I’m interested in hearing some of your stories and me sharing some of the weird stuff that happened out there.
Our show is about anything funny and unusual.
Behind the curtain, what happens? It's not scripted. It's extemporaneous. I use some names. Valerie doesn't but feel free. Whatever's unusual and funny, we talked about it.
If I use any names in Toluca Lake, I probably won't get any more listings so we'll leave names out for my great amazing Toluca Lake families. I was trying to think about some stuff like what are some crazy or unusual stories and things in real estate, which at a certain point, you take for granted. As crazy as it gets, you're like, “What we do for a living is getting through this stuff.” I started thinking more about the short sales, REOs and some of the stuff that I had to encounter back then.
Each deal was a new learning education in terms of what we're dealing with some of these sellers and what you're walking into from the REOs and Cash for Keys days. That was insane because you're getting sent these properties and going all over the place from Compton to Pacoima. Bouncing around and knocking on some stranger's door to find out who's in there. What surprises are we going to get? What are we walking into?
It even got to the point where I was knocking on trailer doors because there were trailers in these yards. There were a couple of trailers I knocked on that I probably shouldn't have knocked on. You open up and there could be an orgy going on in there. You never know what you're walking into. I'm like, “How am I even still alive knocking on some of these doors?”
Were you ever scared? Was there ever a scary moment or time you remember?
Yes, there were a few. That's one of the reasons I gave up on a few of the REO accounts. I'm like, “This is getting a little hairy.” I'm not going to hire someone else to do Cash for Keys. I rather handle regular business and some other stuff and maybe keep one REO account. I let a lot of them go because you do go in there and they don't know who you are when you knock on these doors. You’re knocking on a door where there are some gangs in there. You're standing in front of a steel door that you can't see through but they can see you. There were some moments there that I'm like, “That's my last one. I'm not doing that anymore.”
All of a sudden, you walk in and have meth labs in there. There was one where some guy was able to bypass the LADWP and get direct electricity into this huge garage that was a huge marijuana plant. It was interesting. Then there was one. I went in there. The house was empty. I found a box and there were guns, some hoses and a big dildo in it. I call it guns and hoses during my short sale days. It got a little wacky. There were some people I felt bad for in those days too. They had these houses that they loved and didn't want to lose. There were a few that there were sad stories in there as well but it seemed like the more money the house was worth, the more difficult the people were to deal with in terms of that stuff.
Imagine someone showing up at your door and saying, “I'm sorry but you have to leave.”
They're like, “Who are you?” “I'm a real estate agent here. I'm here to see what's going on.” It was one house too that I got in Studio City. Every time I drive past it, I'll always remember the house was cracked in the middle of the home. It was a 6 to 7-inch deep crack that went through the center of that house. Every time I drive past there, it's usually for sale every 2 or 3 years. I’m like, “Someone must have found that crack underneath all those floorings.” Whatever they've done in there to make it look good, that house is still split in half.
What’s interesting is we rarely deal with the type of properties that come into potentially dangerous situations. I remember many years ago when the market was crummy in the early ‘90s, I started trading a lot of my listings for others. It could be gemstones or other properties. I traded a house in Beverly Hills on Roxbury for 100 apartment units, which were all brickers, which I'd never even heard of before.
When we went to do an inspection of the units, they had a big security guy stand to the side of the door because someone could come shooting. It was very sketchy. I go, “I'm not used to this.” You're getting somebody out of a property that they don't want to leave. That could be problematic. I never traded for brickers after that.
I don't blame you. You go there too and see these nice cars out there. They're like, “I'm not going to short sale my house or give it away.” I'm like, “You pulled hundreds of thousands of dollars out of your home already. You made your money. Spend it on other things.” It was that concept of, “Why would I give my home away and let it go?” I'm like, “It’s because you already took the money out.”
Toluca Lake is an interesting area. When I first started in the business, I started in Studio City. Bob Hope was there. I dreamed of getting listings in Toluca Lake. Ultimately, I ended up selling a house for an interesting genius guy, Damon Wayans, on the lake and some other clients. It’s an area that I don't think most people know about. There's a lot of money and celebrity clientele there. It's a niche. When you think of the Valley, it’s whatever you think of Encino as being high-end.
I stumbled into Toluca Lake many years ago. In terms of that property where you're talking about Damon Wayans, I sold that house as well. It became more intriguing to me because there's such history in these homes here. Every time I get a property, I'm always looking at, “Who owned this one? Whom is this house built for?” There's usually some pretty decent history, even if it's not a movie celebrity. It could be for Bob Wayne or whoever.
Bob's big boy or some other type of celebrity or even the people who own something and they own this house. It's nice to see who bounces around. When most people sell their house in Toluca Lake, they buy a different house in Toluca Lake. That's also been a lot of fun bouncing people around in the neighborhood.
Do you know who owned the house next to Damon Wayans’ house? Moon Unit Zappa. That was a long time ago.
Zappa has another house in Toluca Lake. It's great. It could be John Wayne’s house. Sometimes you get houses where the kids are celebrities. It's been a lot of fun. I've been very blessed to have come here years ago and established such a strong presence. It's an amazing community and a great place to live and raise your kids.
Toluca Lake is an amazing community. It’s a great place to live and raise your kids.
Our area here on the West side is pretty large. If you go from let's say Hollywood to Santa Monica and up in the hills, there are a lot of different characters from people in the music business, film business, tech, young, old and everything in between, also old guys with young girls. We've seen it all. In one of our episodes, one guy is an Emmy winner and the husband had a drinking problem. He got there and the guy was passed out drunk but naked laying on the sofa.
He took the carpet from under the coffee table, threw it over him and did the showing. We have to improvise and land on our feet so much as things happen. Out-of-the-ordinary things happen all the time. We'll have to deal with that or jump on our feet and get through the showing, the owner, the buyer or the deal.
Especially when they were doing more lockboxes. You go into a house and you have your buyer with you. There's stuff that shouldn't have been left out. What do you do and say? Nobody is here in the living room. That's cool.
You have to roll with the situation. People that don't understand what we do don't understand that you have to constantly be a chameleon, think on your feet and turn a negative into a positive. Whatever the situation is, you can turn into a laugh. We run into ridiculous things. The bottom line is we're there to sell the property so we have to roll with it. We've had some weird and crazy stuff.
Did you run into any unusual pets?
The only unusual was aside from some dogs that probably shouldn't have been on the property at the time. There was one time I went into a house that was in a lockbox. I was asking if anyone was home. I was like, “Hello. Anyone home?” You hear, “Hello?” I'm like, “Yeah, hello. I'm a real estate agent here.” “Hello.” “I'm like, “Holy shit. Yeah, I'm an agent. I'm here.” “Hello.” I'm like, “There's something not right here. This place is 100 years old or something. I don’t know what's going on.” We get to the back of the house and it's a parrot that's screaming, “Hello.” It sounded like a human being from upstairs. That was quite the wackiest aside from dogs that I should not have encountered.
I've had snakes and big lizards. We had one guy on our show who had to go walk his bunny rabbit on a leash in the middle of their listing appointment.
Wayans bought the house from these clients of mine and they had birds that were unbelievable in the house. They were so freaking loud. There was a cockatoo that sounded like it was tearing a car part. You couldn't do anything about it. They couldn't move all the birds and stuff out. Maybe Wayans had a hearing problem that's why he ended up buying the house.
The house hasn't changed since he had it. It's pretty much the same.
The cool thing about Toluca Lake is people don't realize there are boats and stuff. For certain, all the properties aren't directly on the lake as I recall. A lot of them aren't on the lake. The ones on the lake have boats. Is that how it works?
If you considered a lake house, then yes, you're going to have a dock and boat. If you're on the park portion of the lake, you have a shared dock so you can still have a boat. You just have a dock and have to share it. Everyone on the lake does have access to the park. As well as if you're in the park, you have access to the lake. It's how you get to park your boat. It's interesting. I've gone through a couple of dock boards like, “Whose dock is it? Based on the title going back, technically, this is not your dock anymore. It is our dock.” They go at it. Sure enough, someone wins and someone loses a dock.
Has the drought affected the lake?
No, because it's manmade and they fill it up when needed.
From where? Those are droughts.
They turn the faucet on where it fills. That's it.
Have you ever had any divorce situations? I've had them where they won't move out of the house so they're living in separate parts of the house and then you have to manage them both, show it and all of that.
It's always a tough one. You're putting yourself in the middle of essentially their war. How are you going to handle it? Especially when you're representing both parties and all you can do is disclose everything to all parties and the attorneys but for the most part, someone is very upset and not happy. You're going to pay the price for that. There have been many times when I've said to the attorneys, “I'm out. This got to be over the top emotionally ridiculous. I don't need this in my life.” They’re like, “We'll get him or her their agent so they can deal with it and communicate to us.” I'm like, “If you want to do that, I'll do that but I can't continue doing this.”
There's a time when a woman was like, “Don't worry. I'll set it up for you and show you the property. I'll help you show it.” I'm like, “You don't have to do that. It's fine.” She's like, “I don't mind helping you. I used to be an agent. It's fine. Don't worry about it.” I'm like, “Okay, but I'll show it. We don't have to be there.” She would set it up and she was always there for the showings. When I finally sold it, she's like, “You should give me a 25% referral fee on there.” I’m like, “That's not going to happen.” That's the only bad Zillow review I've gotten because I didn't do that. I'm like, “I'm not going down this road anymore.” It takes one person that's upset that puts you on Zillow and you can't remove it.
It just takes one person that’s upset to put you on Zillow and you can’t remove it.
I've only had good experiences of doing tons of divorce deals but have you had bad experiences with the divorce situation?
I have. They start screaming at you. “Why didn't you tell him this? Why didn't you tell her that? This is what I said. This is how I wanted to go but she doesn't want to do that. Tell her to blank herself.” You're in the middle of getting boxed on both sides. You're right. It's a very difficult place to be in. It's very stressful. The energy there is so intense when that's going on. I try to get one of them to leave the house. Having them both in the same house is impossible. Somebody has to move or leave at least during that process.
It helps tremendously but it’s a lot. It gets you to drink martinis early in the morning. When it's finally done, you’re like, “I went through their divorce.”
I've never had that where they're both in the house. I've dealt with tons of divorces and it fuels a lot of our business. I don't know. Maybe I've been lucky but it's imperative. Unless they have diverse expectations of the results to get them both to understand that I'm on both their sides to try and get them the maximum amount of money for the property. I'm dealing with a couple. Maybe it's just luck.
Craig, have you had any unusual requests to get a listing? I had a rocker who made me go up to Sacramento to see his concert and it wasn't music I particularly liked but I had to do that.
I was supposed to go upstate during the winter. It was a good listing but I was busy. I remember I sent John Aaroe back in the day. I still have the voicemail that he left for me. He's like, “Craig, I'm out here in the snow. The snow is up to my chest here. No one's home. What’s going on?” I’m like, “I’ll call you later, John. I have to tell you.” I don't know. There are not many crazy requests to get a listing.
What about a buyer? Does a buyer ever have a crazy request?
Sometimes with a buyer, it's tough. There are not so many crazy requests. It's more like, “I'm not sure exactly where I want to live but somewhere between Pasadena and Ojai. Anywhere between $1 million and $6 million, I'm good with it.” I was like, “I’m not doing this.”
I’ve had those too. I was like, “I’m busy for you.”
For me, it's been such volume all the time. I can't take everyone's requests. I do such a high volume but I like to keep it closer to Southeast Valley but then I have clients that are business managers, attorneys and money managers that know how I operate. I'll take care of their clients in Brentwood, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills or something. I'll do that but I like to keep it more under control. When someone is requesting something crazy like that, I’m like, “I got the perfect agent for you. They're new and they got time. They love it. They got a new car and they want to drive it.”
Have you had bogus clients that you've dealt with?
I had one. This is the one that sticks out. I don't understand it. This person had me showing her houses that were $20 million and had me writing on stuff. We finally got into escrow on one but couldn't produce the funds. It didn't have funds and maybe her proof of funds wasn’t real or something. Do you have this time on your hands to go look at these properties? When it came time to perform, all of a sudden, we started arguing and then I got fired. She went on to another agent. I'm like, “This is interesting that somebody would have this time on their hands to go out there, BS to look at these houses and come up with some BS offers. I don't get it.”
It makes them feel important. It’s the attention.
It's either that or they need to show somebody they're an escrow to make their other fraudulent business look legitimate. They’re like, “I'm over $20 million.” It’s a waste of time.
We've all had a few of those.
I've had more than that. That's one of the reasons for sure where they'll use the idea that they're buying something from a legitimate agent for a high price to establish credibility to rip off investors. I've had that exact thing happen. Some people are delusional though. I've dealt with a lot of them, especially with my super high-end overseas properties. Some of the stuff is outrageous and then suddenly, they'll say something. With a lot of these types of buyers, you can't establish verification of funds or who they are. It's weird that they come up with crazy stuff and it's hard to figure out. It's usually either they're trying to rip somebody else off or they're delusional.
I have asked for verification of funds on one recent deal. It was $50 million overseas. He goes, “I'm going to get it from you from Dubai.” I said, “Well get it for you because I'm not doing anything else until you do.” He stays in touch and goes, “We're working on it.” I said, “It doesn't take that long.” If I'm going to buy something, I call Morgan Stanley and say, “Send them a letter. This is weird.” People are dreaming about buying something maybe.
I've gotten offers from people whose money is overseas and they can show you an overseas account. I'm like, “Doesn't he have at least a 3% to put down here? How's he living here? He doesn't have any money here to show but he can buy a $3 or $4 million home. He can buy it all cash with the money overseas but doesn't have $1 here. I'm missing something here.” It’s out of a debit card or something.
As salespeople, it's baked into us that we want to try and make a deal happen. My philosophy, unless they're bogus, is to give rope. I've had people that look like haven't got two nickels rubbed together or caked down with coin and other people look like they're rich and broke. It's fascinating. I've had agents write offers on properties of mine and I know the person is bogus.
I'll say, “Your client hasn't got any money because of the way the deal is structured. There are various red flags.” Solid agents will say, “Bob, let's make this deal.” I said, “You can't make a deal if the guy hasn't got money no matter how good you are.” Even with sellers, it’s the same thing. “Let's get it under escrow.” Forget it because then we're stuck. Somebody comes in and the guy has got a listing on the property and we're toasted. Agents want to take the hook. That’s the general rule.
We have so many new agents out there that want to build a name quickly. That's one way of doing it without thinking about what the consequences are afterwards. When I sold the Bob Hope estate a few years back, they were all coming out of the woodwork on that one. It was amazing to me. It wouldn't show it unless someone showed all of their funds upfront. Forget about the fact that it's an hour to show the property. It’s a waste of time for people that’s curious about what it looks like and don't have the money to buy it. That was interesting when that happened.
I have to tell you, Craig, this has been fun to talk to you. Would you hope you'll join us again another time in the show? Thank you so much for joining us and sharing your unique experiences. If people reading want to reach you, what's the best way?
You can always either email me at [email protected] or they can always call at (818) 930-4050. Those are probably the best ways to reach me.
Thank you for coming to the show. It’s interesting to hear your stories. Toluca Lake is an interesting area that most people never even heard of.
It's the best.
Thank you for joining us.
I love our show.
It was cool and good. We've never had anybody from that area before. The East part of the valley is a unique area because you're on a lake in the middle of the valley.
I haven't been out there for years.
Me too. Since I sold the birdhouse but I do remember Moon Unit Zappa living next door.
It's cool because we get all different perspectives from different people but still, it boils down to us all having very similar experiences.
If you're in the business long enough, you're going to get all kinds of experience. In the valley, I was selling stuff. My biggest sale when I was a kid was $200,000 and it was unbelievable. It’s a $3,000 commission or something. It was crazy. It's weird. Especially in the high-end, we got a lot of interesting people. I find that the experiences are amazing and you have to roll with them. You could write a book. I'm sure you're the same as me. You'll be at dinner and people want to hear stories. You tell them. You can drop the names because it's not public
Thank you, readers, for joining us on the show. Tune in again. Like us. Go to www.RealEstateRealLaughs.com. Follow us. Tell your friends. Join us. Until next time.
Valerie, it’s great as always. We'll talk to you soon. Take care.