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L.A.-area real estate agents are holding open mansions

Amid the market downturn, the public is welcome to see some properties listed for more than $10 million.

For Florence Mattar, each open house has a routine. She drives around the neighborhood placing signs, brings in fresh flowers, stocks the refrigerator with bottled water and sets out a sign-in sheet.

Similar scenes play out across Southern California every weekend, with one expensive exception. The Tuscan-style house she is “sitting,” to use the industry term, is listed at $21.9 million. And anyone is welcome to see it. All 9,691 square feet of it.

Whether spurred by the down housing market, the opportunity to promote themselves or a determination to make a sale, a select group of area real estate agents has raised the bar on public open houses above $10 million — to $12.9 million in Beverly Hills, Malibu and Brentwood Park, $18.9 million in Pacific Palisades and even higher in the “bird streets” area of the Hollywood Hills, where Mattar’s reclaimed stone, brick and wood listing sits serenely at the end of a cypress-lined driveway.

“You get more people because they are curious,” the Coldwell Banker agent said. “They’ve never stepped in a house that price.”

Through bubbles and busts, the open house has remained a key tool for buyers and sellers, at least for properties with price tags that are less than gold-plated.

Nearly half of recent buyers used open houses for information during their home search, according to the National Assn. of Realtors, and 15% found a home through an open house, a number that has held fairly steady since 2001.

When prices were headed for the stratosphere, a certain amount of open-house upscaling could be expected. Yet now, with home-profit expectations tumbling back to Earth, the public showing has gone even more up-market.

Simon Beardmore of Sotheby’s International Realty in Brentwood doesn’t typically hold public open houses at higher price points, but made an exception recently for a newly built 10,300-square-foot gated estate in Brentwood Park listed at $12.95 million. The first week it drew about 150 visitors, the second 100 and the third from 60 to 70.

“It was very appropriate because it’s a showcase for my client, who is a builder,” he said. The open houses have brought work for builder Paul Morrow; Beardmore said it was a good business decision for him, too, because showings often attract curious neighbors.

“I’m very lucky to be able to hold an open house at this price because it gives me a lot of face time with the clientele of the neighborhood,” he said.

A major reason to have an open house at a pricey property, agents agree, is to pick up more clients.

The showings attract people relocating from other states and countries, as well as locals, Beardmore said. “You’d be surprised at the high-profile people who come through on a Sunday open.”

Richard L. Peterson of San Francisco-based Market Psychology Consulting conjectured that dropping in at top-dollar open houses could become a pastime for the well-heeled, adding that “there may be something to being seen at such an open house.”

Before her foray into the $20-million-plus heights with the Hollywood Hills listing, the most expensive homes Mattar had ever held open were in the $6-million to $7-million range.

Built in 2006, the six-bedroom, eight-bathroom villa on a landscaped promontory of more than an acre is a second home. It was her idea to start holding the open houses and the owners agreed as long as they are out of town, Mattar said.

“They don’t live in it permanently, so there’s nothing personal,” she said of the house, which was furnished by a designer and has no art or other valuables.

Mattar, who also markets the home through all the usual channels, is realistic about her chances of selling it through an open house. “The probabilities are very slim,” she said, but in this market “you have to take that extra step. To go beyond the norm. To expose the property and show it and make it accessible to everybody.”

Drew Fenton of Hilton & Hyland in Beverly Hills has held public open houses this year on properties priced as high as $19 million. But don’t expect a genuine view of the occupants’ opulent lifestyle.

“The homes are staged,” Fenton said. “I even had a home owned by a celebrity in the bird streets we held open. There was nothing personal in the house.”

Jade Mills of Coldwell Banker in Beverly Hills has turned to public open houses at a newly constructed $12.95-million home in the Beverly Hills Post Office area (since lowered in price to $10.995 million) and a 10,000-square-foot home listed at under $20 million in Beverly Hills. She approached the sellers of her Beverly Hills listing about using public showings to give the home more exposure.

“Maybe we need to have the neighbors come over,” Mills said, “and maybe they’ll have friends who want to live in the neighborhood.”

The six-bedroom traditional house is staged and unoccupied, and Mills has multiple people manning the events. If too many people show up all at once, she’ll lock the door and put out a sign that says, “Doing a showing, please wait.”

Queen of the Palaces

An estate specialist at Coldwell Banker in Beverly Hills, Florence Mattar sells multi-million dollars properties to people who have nothing to do—but buy them! No wonder her website is: “Selling a property is all about exposure. My business comes from referrals from past and present clients all around the world, said Mattar. “I use innovative marketing to have the properties open and seen by as many people as possible. This past January I closed a listing on an incredible property and decided to go out of the box when it came to the open house—which is normally just for brokers and their clients. But, I took this gorgeous $22 million mansion and opened it to everyone. The entire property is such a masterpiece… why not let people enjoy the beauty of something that otherwise they would never see. Making that decision got the property sold because a person who came to see the home was from the LA Times. She wrote an article about what she had seen along with photos of the property. Possibly someone saw the article and decided to buy it. The article was titled, OPEN MANSIONS.” Mattar’s strategy is that someone sees a property and tells someone who tells someone and—it’s sold! According to Mattar what also sells a property is client service. As busy as this A-list broker is she has no assistant, no helper on her open house days; no she does it all herself. “My motto is that I put my heart and soul into my business and smart people who do business see that up front,” Mattar stated. “I am not trying to sell a house just for commission sake. There is more to it than that. I treat my clients like family because I love what I do and they deserve my very best. I don’t have any assistants because I would never want one of my listings to be shown by any one other than myself. Assistants make mistakes and I can’t tolerate any mistakes for my clients.” With more than 21 years in Beverly Hills real estate, Mattar has earned a reputation that offers clients calm assurance that they have made the right decision. By having always put her clients first—her business stays steady and on track despite any slow down in the real estate market.

“I personally don’t pay attention to bad news. I am a positive person and when I speak with clients I am positive as well,” Mattar explained. “I am not in denial, but in any market there is a reason why some people buy or some sell—it’s not just in this market. We live in southern California and it is the most desirable place on earth. People around the world want to live in Beverly Hills…talk about living in Beverly Hills. There has been some movement, but prices in this area are steady because of the location. People who want to live in a Beverly Hills mansion are prepared for the price tag attached.” Professionalism, integrity, market knowledge, marketing savvy, and effective negotiation skills—all essential qualities of a top real estate specialist. Would you expect any less from the person who is handling your multi-million dollar sale or buy? The mansion shown is owned by the lady who designed it and built it which is listed by Mattar. The marble is imported from different parts of the world and there is Mahogany wood throughout. The quality of craftsmanship and detail is beyond what most people have ever seen. The owner has kept the mansion in perfect condition; there is not one scratch, dent or blemish anywhere. The owner is a perfectionist and the entire property is extraordinary. “This is one of the most elegant estates ever built,” stated Mattar. “There is a grand domed entry, indoor and outdoor pools, a gym, two level library, game room, massage room and an underground disco and guard house. It is truly spectacular.” Located just five minutes from Rodeo Drive, in Holmby Hills, the home is more than 27,800 square feet sitting on more than an acre. Several fireplaces, high ceilings, patios overlooking lush gardens and a comfortable six bedrooms and 13.5 baths offer plenty of room to enjoy a life of the rich and famous.

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