‘I’ve seen some pretty amazing panic rooms.’
A secret room made of blast-proof steel might not be a deal breaker for most people when searching for a house on Rightmove. But for Lisa Optican, it’s quite a common feature of the homes she’s selling.
A luxury estates director with Hilton & Hyland, an attorney, and former property developer, Optican is one of the most in-demand realtors in Los Angeles and the mastermind behind the sale of Marilyn Monroe’s former residence in Brentwood in 2017. ‘I was raised by a family that was always buying, selling, and building homes in the Los Angeles areas so it felt very natural for me to get involved in real estate,’ she tells ELLE UK from her office on the Pacific Coast.
In the last year, her industry has experienced a seismic shift, with heightened international interest in the real estate scene, specifically in her native California – but not necessarily from buyers.
‘I find the best realtors are personable and charming, but also savvy and business oriented,’ Optican tells ELLE, agreeing that her industry can be both fierce and friendly. Its this knife-edge culture, in addition to luxurious 20,000-square foot properties overlooking Sunset Boulevard, that makes Los Angeles such a premium destination.
The best realtors are personable and charming, but also savvy and business oriented. ‘I think in LA there is a general appearance-based pressure but I think there is no one uniform for a female agent,’ Optican says.
‘There are successful agents that wear heels and dresses on a daily basis and there are others that are more casually chic who wear great jeans, dresses, sneakers, flats – a much more LA, laid-back way of dressing.
‘During a typical day I find myself going from seeing a piece of raw land to a construction site with debris and crews, to a $20 million house. As a result, I have to dress in a way that can take me from location to location without having to go through a full wardrobe change. I often have a pair of cute sneakers in the boot of my car to slip on during the land and construction site walkthroughs but truthfully I’m more of a jeans and flats kind of person.’
‘The top agents in the city do close big sales frequently but there are some agents who have never closed a big sale,’ explains Optican, adding that making a deal requires hard work but that it’s ‘always worth it’ when it pays off.
‘I have certainly met agents who have been in the business for 10-20 years who have indicated that they have never closed a $10 million (or higher) deal, but they are still successful because they do a larger volume of sales in a smaller price point,’ she notes.
Selling an eight-figure home is something Optican has experience in, having once sold a property in the Hollywood Hills with one of the best views in LA for over $30 million (£22.8 million) and her most famous – Monroe’s – which sold over the asking price at a staggering $7.25 million (£5.5 million).
‘The global attention received from selling Marilyn Monroe’s house was tremendous and I had to really balance the overwhelming interest people had in the house with the privacy of my client and maintaining the integrity of the home,’ she recalls.
‘I really had to put a strategy in place for selling that home and it was executed perfectly. I gave only a few interviews, did not allow any filming on the property (as we did not want to do any stories that were salacious), and when we hit the market we had multiple offers within a week and closed the deal with a wonderful buyer.’
It’s a career Optican – who lives in Bel Air (‘we have an incredible view!’) – loves. That said, selling luxury homes in LA is anything but a 9-5 job. Realtors are almost ‘always “on”,’ she says, adding: ‘There are many instances in which I work late at night or on the weekends.’
However, more than ever, the popularity of Los Angeles – with its hot climate, proximity to beaches and mountains, booming economy – and small number of properties are making it increasingly harder to sell.
‘The most challenging aspect right now is balancing seller and buyer expectations,’ Optican notes. ‘Currently in Los Angeles we are very limited with inventory so the prices are staying quite high but there are a lot of buyers looking for “deals.” Bridging that gap between the two can be a bit challenging.’
With communities like Brentwood, Bel Air, Beverly Hills and Holmby Hills where celebrities such as Cindy Crawford, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston live, it’s no wonder the fight for the best view in Hollywood is ferocious.
‘Having an incredible view in LA can cost several million dollars but to have a “compound” property – a property that has it all from land, to privacy, security, guest houses, pool houses, main houses, and even a view… it’s a different level of wealth.’