Mills got her start in real estate after a divorce in the late 1970s when she worked as a cocktail waitress while getting her real estate license.
After some initial success, Mills took a break before returning with renewed dedication to the work — and she would become one of L.A.’s top-producing brokers. While Mills began by selling homes in Sherman Oaks, today she represents celebrities and millionaires and closes deals on ultra-luxury properties in wealthy enclaves like Beverly Hills.
Some of her most notable sales include the Chartwell Estate, also known as the “Beverly Hillbillies” mansion, which sold for $150 million; Spelling Manor, which sold for $120 million; and the Playboy Mansion which sold for $100 million.
Mills sat down with the Business Journal to discuss what drew her to real estate, her role as co-chairman of the International Luxury Alliance for high-level client services and how Covid has impacted the L.A. market.
How did you first get interested in real estate?
I didn’t really know what real estate was all about, and I was getting a divorce from my husband. We quit college to get married, and then I had a baby. So, when he left, I really had no occupation and nothing to do. But we had a little house in Sherman Oaks that we had purchased, and my real estate agent at the time said to me when I was saying I didn’t know what I was going to do, he said, ‘You should sell real estate.’
And what was your reaction?
I said, ‘Well I don’t know anything about real estate.’ He said, ‘You can go to Anthony School,’ which at that time was the place to go to get your license, ‘It takes about a year, and then you can come into my office,’ which was Forest E. Olson at the time. And so, I did. I worked as a cocktail waitress at the Century Plaza in the lobby until I got my real estate license, and then I started working. At that time, he changed and opened his own company called Booker Realty. I worked in this little three-person office in Sherman Oaks, and that was the beginning of my real estate career.
How did you go from that to luxury homes?
I married my second husband, who I met selling real estate. I was married until he passed away in 1988. I didn’t work for nine years while I was married to him, and then I went back to work in 1990 and married my present husband. We lived in Beverly Hills, and I started working with the parents of my children’s friends from school. That’s really how I got started in the upper-end, through living and working in Beverly Hills.
What brought you to Coldwell Banker?
I had to sell my home in Beverly Hills when my husband passed away, and my real estate agent was Joyce Rey, and she said to me, ‘You have to come back into real estate. I know that you loved it before, and it’s going to be very easy,’ which it wasn’t. But I did. I went back, and at the time I went to Prudential California Realty. I have never left that company, but Jon Douglas bought Prudential, and then Coldwell Banker bought Jon Douglas. I’ve never transferred companies, but we were purchased twice, and we are now Coldwell Banker, which is amazing.
We’ve seen a lot of agents jumping to new agencies lately. Why have you stayed with Coldwell for so long?
I’m very loyal, and Coldwell Banker has been really great to me ... It’s been a very positive experience for me, so I feel like there’s really no reason for me to move.
How has the role of the agent changed during your time?
There are a lot of younger people in the business, and they are sort of in and out. There are younger people that stay in the business, but it seems a lot that people come in, and they think this is going to be a very easy job. And then they discover there’s a lot more to it, and it’s a lot of time, and you have to give up a lot of your personal life to be there for your clients and do a great job for your clients, which is what carries you on year after year.
What do new agents need to do to be successful?
Learn the business. It takes years and years and years to understand different areas, who has lived where, what things sold for 10 years ago, 15 years ago and what a great investment real estate is. Although we have ups and downs, real estate is a great place to put your money, and I think it’s so important that new real estate agents are giving their clients the right information and are advising them in the right way — where to buy, where not to buy, again what you would do if you were buying for yourself. Knowledge is everything in our business.
Have you had any major mentors over the years?
When I started again, it was like starting over. I had just met my husband, and he was an actor, and we were both going into a new business. He was going into buying and remodeling and selling homes, and I was going into selling real estate. We sort of started my business together. He would always push me out of my comfort zone. He was very big on name recognition, which I realize now is really important ... The biggest part of my success is always doing the right thing, always wanting the best for your client, and then you get referrals over and over. Most of my business today is name recognition or referrals.
Can you talk about your role as co-chairman of the International Luxury Alliance?
About four years ago, I went to Coldwell Banker, and I said I would love to start a group, maybe 40, 50 agents all over the world, upper-end agents, where we can meet a couple of times a year and we can share everything. We can share information on listings, we can share how we do business, we can share what works for us as far as (everything from) price reductions to advertising. This is not only the agents who sell the most or the highest priced listings, these are agents with integrity that will share and want other agents to succeed because of their success.
How has that idea turned out?
We now have 70 (agents) in International Luxury Alliance. We used to meet twice a year in person. We would go to a location, and everyone would come there, and we would spend three days together. We now do it on Zoom, and we do it probably four times a year.
What has changed as a result of Covid?
We’ve had a lot of people leave the city and go to Malibu, Montecito, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, Aspen, out of the big city. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they moved and sold their homes here. A lot of those people just bought second homes.
What have sales in L.A. been like during the pandemic?
We had some very big sales this year. The highest sale so far in the flats of Beverly Hills was $18 million, but there are a couple that are coming or are pending that should be a little bit higher than that and a few in Malibu that are really just showstoppers, really, really big numbers. This year has started very, very well — a very robust market.
What has changed about buyers and what they’re looking for?
The buyers are not necessarily international buyers right now. They are people that are moving around in the United States. But we are seeing people that want more home gyms, that want more home offices, (homes) that have a bigger outdoor space just because people have really liked the idea of spending more time at home.
What do you think this year holds for you?
I hope that this year is as amazing as last year. I sold just under a half a billion (dollars) last year, which was my very best year ever, and it is my goal to do that for this year.
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