Business
How I Made It

Building real estate bonds

The gig: Jeff Hyland, 67, is president of Hilton & Hyland, which he founded in 1993 with longtime friend Rick Hilton. The boutique real estate firm is known for selling some of the highest-profile homes in Los Angeles. Hyland is also a founding member of Christie's International Real Estate Inc. He has become an architectural historian, helping to write two books on the estates of Beverly Hills, and is working on a third.

A restless youth: Hyland grew up in Little Holmby, a neighborhood between Beverly Hills and UCLA, and attended Warner Avenue Elementary School. He was so hyperactive that his mother made a deal with him: If he managed to stay in school every day until 2 p.m., rather than getting sent home at noon for misbehaving, each Friday she would take him on the trolley to Barney's Beanery for a burger, then to C.C. Brown's, where the hot fudge sundae was born. "That," Hyland said, "was the real Los Angeles."

Spoiled by L.A.: As a kid, Hyland said, he and his friends would do "a very California thing" — they'd spend the morning skiing in the mountains, the afternoon sunbathing on the beach and the evening surfing. The weather spoiled him, and when he went off to Cornell University's school of hotel administration, he couldn't take the cold, so he returned home to California. He finished college at the United States International University in San Diego, where he earned a degree in business administration, though he likes to say he majored in surfing.

Patient parents: When he finished college, there was no pressure from his parents to go out and find a job right away, Hyland said. He spent most of his 20s playing and partying until one morning when he was 28, he woke up and decided he wanted to work in real estate. Having that time to come to a decision helped make it stick, he said, and there was no going back once he dove in. "You develop a passion," he said.

Hyland credits his parents with instilling in him a patient attitude, which he says helps him in business, such as when his agents get flustered by a sale that doesn't go the way they wanted. "I have mellowed," Hyland said. "A talent I have learned is how to defuse that quickly and send them back out to do what they need to do." Hyland said patience is also a virtue in helping buyers find the right property — it's often not one of the first few homes they visit.

Relationships, relationships, relationships: Despite the old real estate mantra "location, location, location," much of Hyland's work revolves around relationships — with his partner, his agents, his customers and with others around the world. His first client, film producer Dino De Laurentiis, came through such a relationship — he was referred by Hyland's father, a screenwriter turned literary agent. Hyland said his relationship with clients sometimes resembles a therapist's as he tries to understand their needs and the tensions that come with buying or selling a home. And his connections with power players like David Geffen allowed him access to their private homes when it came time to write his books about Beverly Hills' most exclusive estates.

His involvement with Christie's opened the door to relationships with brokers across the globe, which means he can pick up the phone and call an expert colleague in New York, London or Paris where his clients may want to buy, he said, rather than just relying on an Internet search. As for his relationship with Hilton, his partner of two decades, Hyland said they've never had an argument. "We almost read each other's thoughts," he said. That relationship is at the heart of a business he regards as a family, he said.

Leave it at the office: Hyland has lived through four recessions in the real estate industry, he said, and he credits his marriage of more than 30 years to painter Lori Hyland with helping get him through the rough patches. "I've got a wonderful, loving wife," Hyland said. Part of how she has helped buoy him is to let him leave his work at the office so he can decompress and get away from the pressures of the job. "One of the great things in our relationship — I don't discuss a lot of the business," he said.

What's in a name? Hyland said his business is built on the integrity of its founders and agents, because working with the exclusive clientele they serve is like working in a small town. "All said and done, it's your reputation that counts," he said. But there's an extra incentive in having the business named after him. "When you've got your name on the door — your own name," he said, "it really does make a difference."

chad.garland@latimes.com

Twitter: @chadgarland

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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