He’s been ranked Los Angeles’s top realtor—and with over $6.5 billion in residential real estate sales—it’s hard to argue with his track record.
Aaron Kirman, the current President of the Estates Division at Compass, and star of the show Listing Impossible, has made a name for himself over the last two decades selling some of the most luxurious houses in the country—from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House, to the $65 million Danny Thomas Estate.
So what’s his secret to success? Turns out there’s no one magic bullet—and ultimately, many of the techniques used to sell to the world’s ultra-rich are not that different from your everyday realtor.
Sitting down with Aaron for two hours, I had the chance to pick his brain on what current home buyers buyers want, and how agents and home sellers can use this information to maximize their value on the real estate market.
Selling like a millionaire, I learned, came down to four main principles.
1. Sell The Lifestyle Not The Home
If you’re focusing on the number of bedrooms and square feet—you’re doing it wrong.
“Storytelling is the best way to sell property,” Aaron quickly tells me. “If you can tell a story of that house—the wine cellar, the room, the story in the background—then the house becomes for sale…it’s a much better story for buyers and they’re much more interested.”
Indeed, the idea of homes as a “lifestyle-first” purchase is backed up by data. The December 2019 issue of the Luxury Market Report found that a key trend in luxury real estate was not size or location, but finding a more “holistic approach to living.” The report found that “[s]avvy homeowners, luxury real estate professionals, developers, architects, and designers are all reporting a significant importance being placed on the infusion of a healthier cadence into our everyday working and living environments.”
In other words, buyers don’t just want to just see the house they can live in—they want to imagine the life they can live.
“I call myself a lifestyle curator today I swear,” Aaron tells me. “I have to curate a house to make sure it’s right for the buyer’s lifestyle. I didn’t always have to do that and it adds about 50 percent more work to my job every day. But whenever I do it, I get a high number for a house. And when I don’t do it, they get a low number.”
Aaron isn’t alone in seeing the addition of curation to his typical workload. Home staging has exploded over the last decade to the point where virtually all listings above a certain price point are now typically staged. A report by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) found that roughly half of realtors surveyed found staging to increase sales price by between 1 and 10%. The same study found that 83% of buyer’s agents said that staging “made it easier to visualize the property as a future home.”
What lifestyle to convey will differ by client, neighborhood and home, but it’s important to stay on top of trends. For instance, the Luxury Market Report also found that “big, bold plants” such as rooftop gardens, as well as natural woods and terra cotta colors all play a large role in conveying a wellness-based lifestyle to buyers.
Aaron is notorious for emphasizing proper staging and lifestyle framing—sometimes bluntly. In the season premiere of Listing Impossible, he didn’t hold back on one of his clients, exclaiming the black satin furniture in one of her bedrooms resembled that of a “sex dungeon.”
Needless to stay, the home received an interior makeover.
2. Get Your Brand Out There By Any Means Necessary
When it comes to selling real estate, the name of the game is exposure.
While in the past this previously meant oversized billboards and magazine spreads, the industry has evolved to include YouTube, social media, blogs, search engines—and for top realtors like Aaron—television.
“We have the ability to bring our product to buyers on a national, global and localized scale,” he tells me. “And if we’re doing our job right, we’re getting to people before they’re getting to us.”
The idea of online presence becoming the primary funnel for realtors also appears to be well backed up. A survey by NAR on real estate in the digital era found that the most common first action taken by prospective home buyers was searching for a home online—more than twice as popular an action as reaching out to an agent directly. The same study found that social media was considered the best tool for generating “high quality leads” by realtors, surpassing even the MLS itself. This trend may only increase over time: buyers under age 28 were twice more likely to contact agents through social media than any other cohort.
However, the nature of this new media landscape means that the effects of messaging can often be indirect.
“I’ve had people from Hong Kong—recently from Shanghai—people from Saudi Arabia, reach out to me just based on a story and be like, ‘I really like the way that was curated, what do you have for me?”
Aaron’s self proclaimed specialty is currently on Instagram, where he posts photos of extravagant homes and celebrities to his 287 thousand followers—garnering upwards of two thousand likes per post. However, he appears to be a minority in the real estate industry, where Facebook dominates among realtors who use social media at 97%, compared to just 39% for Instagram.
But it’s not catching up on Instagram that Aaron recommends, but rather being in tune with whatever channel is reaching buyers. When asked about the best channel to reach buyers, he was hesitant to answer.
“If I have to pick one today it’s Instagram,” he finally answers. “With the right to reserve next year…let me see how I do on my YouTube channel.”
3. Don’t Confuse Your Passion with Your Asset
For many individuals, a home is the largest asset they’ll ever own. However, unlike most assets, one’s home is also highly personal—often modified to personal preference and taste.
Yet if you are viewing your home as an investment, Aaron warns, then certain realities need to be remembered when modifying it.
“Evaluate: are there buyers that are going to want the changes? And evaluate what the house is worth versus what you’re going to spend and make sure that there’s profit margin in there. Because if there’s not, you’re running on losing time, energy and money.”
For instance, one of Aaron’s clients built a beautiful beachfront house by the ocean. The only problem? They built their house facing backwards, thus eliminating any view of the ocean.
Another client had a beautifully designed home, with one major overlooked detail:
“There was like a great modern house, which should have worked really beautifully, except that she didn’t think about the privacy. And so she had all these walls of glass, and the neighbors staring in on her!”
Aaron himself knows how difficult it can be to have foresight on a passion project.
“I over designed a house,” he admits. “I had to change structure, which I wasn’t expecting. The structure was super expensive. Once I had to change structure, I had to basically tear it down.”
Avoiding modification pitfalls above all comes down to research. Looking into current real estate trends reveals that open-concept kitchens, granite and stone countertops, and smart home features like video doorbells are very popular. In the luxury market, popular currently features include wellness spaces like meditation and yoga rooms. Knowing if the addition you want is in line with the market, and how much it will cost, will help to buffer against risk in the event you choose to sell.
In other words, when it comes to home modification: measure twice, renovate once.
4. Know The Nuances
“Where we [realtors] add and provide our value is the nuances. The nuances of the street, the nuances of a house, the nuances of a neighborhood. Those nuances can cost somebody hundreds of thousands—if not millions of dollars.”
Indeed when it comes to what buyers want from realtors, the National Association of Realtors found that helping to find the right home was the most wanted quality— higher than handling paperwork and home price negotiation.
While expertise may seem an obviously desirable trait for realtors, knowing how specific that expertise should be is sometimes difficult. For instance, when evaluating what neighborhoods to live in, 27% of homebuyers under age 28 considered convenient access to vets and outdoor pet spaces to be an important factor. Many buyers will have even more specific requests.
A truly good agent’s expertise should also go beyond knowledge of the present.
“For me when I say nuance, it’s not just about what’s happening at that moment in time,” Aaron says.
Speaking on a rapid overdevelopment of the Hollywood Hills in the last 5 years, Aaron expresses how he foresaw a bubble forming, and warned homebuyers.
“I feel like I was able to save my clients that were buying that property. I stopped them from buying dirt in the Hollywood Hills two and a half, two years ago”
Ultimately, whether it’s a $50,000—or $50 million dollar house—the details remain quintessentially important. Knowing the market, the media landscape and how to communicate these to sellers is invaluable knowledge for any realtor, and the key is learning how to tailor these concepts specifically to your situation.
Once that’s mastered that, there’s no ceiling to one’s real estate selling potential. As Aaron to put it, “It is an interesting and fun game.”