It's hard to imagine a more tumultuous year than 2005 as experienced by brothers Brad and Jeff Luster, owners of the commercial real estate brokerage and investment firm Major Properties.
The firm brokered $600 million in deals, compared with $76 million in 2004. That capped an incredible three-year growth spurt in which commissions have risen to $36 million from $3.3 million in 2003, making it the fastest growing privately held company in Los Angeles County.
"Last year was a perfect storm. It had all the right conditions for us to have a phenomenal year," said President Brad Luster. "A number of clients with large portfolios decided to sell because property values have increased 10-fold."
But while the company was finding unprecedented success, the brothers' father and company founder Arnold Luster was forced to put his professional life on hold as he battled cancer, which has since gone into remission.
"It was a very tough year for all of us," Brad Luster said.
The elder Luster is now semi-retired; he still comes in three days a week to help manage some of the properties and his strategic vision still drives the brokerage, which also owns and manages about 60 buildings, mostly in downtown Los Angeles.
"We are active buyers, but rarely sell," Brad Luster said. "My father taught us to take a very conservative approach to real estate. We carry very little debt, roughly 5 percent. We could own a lot more property, but we like to sleep well at night unlike many of our clients and competitors."
Major Properties has operated in downtown Los Angeles for 42 years, and has expanded into all of the offices in the building it owns at 1200 W. Olympic Blvd. overlooking the Staples Center.
The company is seen as a strong advocate for the downtown area.
"They are good, hard workers who give back to the community. They have done a great job promoting downtown," said MJW Investments President Mark Weinstein, who worked with the company to secure property for the Santee Lofts project. (MJW ranks No. 64 on the fastest growing list.)
Brad Luster's primary focus is downtown, while brother Jeff concentrates on the Hollywood area, where he currently has more than $200 million worth of deals in escrow.
The downtown market still has enormous potential, Brad Luster said. While he doesn't expect to repeat the record year, he sees the market staying strong and advises clients to hold onto property because it will continue to increase in value as the city grows denser.
Brad Luster joined the firm in 1986, following his brother Jeff, who had come aboard in 1982. In 1992 they began running the operations at the firm their father founded in 1964 with his partner Jeff Mills, who died soon after the business opened.
In addition to cultivating the decades-long relationships that provided the base for their huge 2005, Brad Luster credits his father with teaching him the value of charity. His personal involvement with various philanthropic endeavors has helped advance his professional career, he believes.
He served as the chairman of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles' real estate construction division, helping raise more than $10 million. He also supports the Jewish Home for the Aging, local hospitals and other causes.
"I became friends with very influential people," Brad Luster said. "The more charity work I did, the more business I got."
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