Compass’ Chris Cortazzo has the listing for 31118 Broad Beach Road in Malibu at $100 million.

Compass’ Chris Cortazzo has the listing for 31118 Broad Beach Road in Malibu at $100 million.

Even with a Covid-related slowdown last spring, Los Angeles County’s top residential real estate agents said 2020 was an exceptional year for home sales.

Compass’ Chris Cortazzo, a Malibu mainstay with 26 years of experience in the business, said he had his best year ever.

 
“The market has never been stronger in Malibu. We got really hit with the fires the year before, and Malibu is coming back so strong because everyone wants to be out of the cities,” Cortazzo said. “Our market is booming, absolutely booming.”


He finished No. 5 on the Business Journal’s list of residential real estate agents ranked by 2020 sales volume in L.A. County, with $625 million worth of sales.


Jade Mills, with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, also had a record-
breaking year in 2020.


“I sold right around a half a billion (dollars) worth of real estate, which I’ve never done before,” said Mills, who ranked No. 11 on the Business Journal’s list.


Mauricio Umansky, founder of The Agency, said sales in the second half more than made up for a slow start to the year.


Umansky finished No. 15 on the list with $322 million in sales.


Like other top agents, Compass’ Sally Forster Jones rode the market roller coaster last year, starting with a steep drop in the spring followed by a sudden and sharp climb.

 
“With the pandemic, everyone was really in shock, so in the middle of March things came to a screeching halt,” she said. “There was a lot of panic and uncertainty. … That was from the middle of March, and then suddenly in May everyone woke up and decided they needed to buy or sell a home.”


Forster Jones, who ranked No. 7 on the Business Journal’s list with $559 million in sales, called 2020 “a record year for me.”


At the top of the Business Journal’s list are Westside Estate Agency’s Kurt Rappaport, who finished No. 1 with more than $1 billion in sales, and Hilton & Hyland’s Drew Fenton, who had $782 million worth of sales and took the No. 2 spot.


The husband-wife team of Branden and Rayni Williams generated $715.2 million in sales, good for the No. 3 position on the list. And Aaron Kirman’s team at Compass posted $661 million in sales to come in at No. 4.


What buyers want

The Covid-19 pandemic changed priorities for buyers. High on their home-shopping wish lists now, according to top agents, are outdoor space and home offices.

“The biggest transition or change that I’ve felt has been the shifting of space to wanting more space or yard versus being vertical,” said Nourmand & Associates’ Rochelle Maize. “Condos and high-rises have been hurting through Covid because people don’t want to be in elevators. They want to shift to some more land and would rather compromise and go away from the central area and be in not as great of a location to gain the land.”


For some, she added, that meant leaving the center of L.A. for the San Fernando Valley. Maize registered $141 million in sales in 2020 and finished No. 51 on the list.


Hilton & Hyland’s Susan Smith, with $85 million in sales and a No. 93 ranking, touted the importance of home office space.


“One of the biggest changes is it’s very important to have a home office space or even dual office spaces so each spouse can have their own office,” Smith said.


Mills added that gyms and outdoor entertaining areas are also important to buyers.


“We had a couple of years where people were scaling down and buying smaller houses and properties, and now people want all these things in their homes,” she said.


Kitchens and pantries, in addition to outdoor eating and cooking areas, also became more important as people ate in more and went out less, agents said.


Seeking second homes

Then, there were buyers who were looking for second homes.

“They realized the value of the second home, the third home, the fourth home, the fifth home, the sixth home,” Umansky said.


Agents said that if there was one area of L.A. that generated even more interest than usual, it was Malibu.


“What’s unusual is one of the areas that has really blown up in L.A. is the Malibu area, which is not typical in the winter months,” Smith said. “A lot of people rented there in the summer when they couldn’t get to Europe and realized it was beautiful.”


Malibu expert Cortazzo said that what buyers wanted depended on whether they were looking for a primary residence, in which case land was important. If they were in the market for a secondary abode, beach access became a top priority.

 
Another change sparked by the pandemic was a deep pool of local buyers, according to agents.

 
“Quite a few of my buyers were just moving around in the L.A. area,” Maize said.


Cortazzo added that he is seeing some buyers from areas like San Francisco, Chicago and New York, but “no international (buyers) right now just due to the fact that they can’t come in to see the properties.”


Smith said roughly 80% of buyers in the $20 million and above price point are national buyers. 


Future sales

Agents said there’s been no slowdown in the market in 2021, and they expect the pace to continue throughout the year.
 
“There is a lot of demand. We are very, very busy,” Jones said. “The year has started off very strong. It ended very strong, and 2021 has begun with just tremendous demand, multiple offers on almost any property that is a good property and priced appropriately. I’m anticipating that 2021 will be a very busy year.”


Smith said anything priced below $3 million is a very active market, usually with multiple offers.


Most properties, Jones said, are priced appropriately, not for an outrageous amount above market value. And when properties are priced well, she said, they sell.
“When a property is priced appropriately it flies, and it flies with multiple offers,” Umansky added.


Part of the reason so many people are buying now, agents said, are the low interest rates.

 
But Maize said that could change. Some believe interest rates could go up, “which ultimately would soften the market a little bit.”


Advancements in technology, which surged during the pandemic as agents sought new ways to show houses, figure to be a factor for the market going forward.


Smith said she hasn’t been able to show homes in open houses or in a broker’s open. Instead, she has to do individual showings.


She also does more with 3D model videos allowing people to really get a fe
el for a home before seeing it, something she said she believes will continue.
 
Cortazzo said his teams had to do a lot more videos showing off homes and, in some circumstances, even provide FaceTime tours of properties.

 
Smith called all the technology now being used “a different way of selling.”


“Because the technology has improved, it’s easier for people to go on quick and see the property before making an appointment,” she said.

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