Deals and Doughnuts : When Brokers Breakfast, Sales Pitches Are on the Menu

Times Staff Writer

The real-estate salesman moves to the microphone to tell about a hot new listing: a 2-bedroom house in San Gabriel.

"This is without a doubt the most beautiful home you will ever see," he tells an audience of 250. Not a single person hoots at the possible overstatement, for these men and women of real estate respect the well-made pitch.

And the pitch is what happens every Thursday morning, as it has for 31 years, when the West San Gabriel Valley Board of Realtors gathers for a breakfast meeting of coffee and doughnuts.

"Beautiful curb appeal," the man says. "If you don't see it, you can't sell it."

Asking price: $370,000.

Ding! goes the silver time-limit bell at the head table. The audience awaits the next in a line of 20 salespeople who are getting to make their pitch this Thursday.

With voices, backgrounds and accents that reflect the San Gabriel Valley's ethnic diversity, board members swap stories, ideas and deals in their primary territory, which covers Monterey Park, San Gabriel, Rosemead, Temple City and Alhambra. Even though much of the real estate networking these days is done through computers and multiple-listings books, old-fashioned human contact still plays a major part in how brokers trade information.

"The owner's leaving the country," a saleswoman says of the seller of a 4-bedroom, 3-bath house in Arcadia. "He's very, very motivated."

"Price?" someone shouts.

"Three twenty-five," she says--real estate shorthand for $325,000.

Another woman promises that a San Gabriel house, reduced to $274,000, has a "huge, gorgeous avocado tree full of fruit for guacamole or what have you."

An Arcadia couple, yet another woman says, has a week and a half to sell a 3-bedroom house with a 5-car garage before closing on another residence. Included in the $499,500 price, she says, is a 2-bedroom mountain cabin at Big Bear.

An Alhambra broker describes the owner of an investment condo in Montebello as a highly motivated seller. The owner is expecting a baby and absolutely must sell at a rock-bottom price of $48,888.

Then there is an Alhambra house selling for $279,500. "For all intents and purposes this is a new house," a saleswoman says.

"You know sometimes you embark on a project and suddenly you find that before you do this, you have to do that? That's what happened here. They were just going to add on. Then they decided to change the windows. So . . . they had to change the studs--and all sorts of things."

The weekly meetings are used to dispense inspiration as well as information.

"It's a social kind of thing," said the board's executive director, Gloria A. Pietri. The meetings give real-estate people a chance to meet and greet one another in a setting that promotes more harmonious buying and selling, said Temple City broker Antonio Rios.

Bankers, lenders and representatives of mortgage companies come to the meetings to advertise the latest mortgage rates and the newest financing methods.

People come from throughout Los Angeles County, for the membership extends well beyond the western San Gabriel Valley, with its estimated population of 300,000, Pietri said.

"This is a very keen area," she said, because immigration over the past decade has brought in new residents and investors from Asia who are willing to pay cash for property.

As a result, Pietri said, salesmen, bankers and lenders from outside the area's five cities have joined to gain access to the board's listing of new properties.

In size, she said, the board ranks 16th in the country with 2,300 members, the most it has had in its 66-year history.

When board President Adela Nicely got into the real-estate business in the San Gabriel Valley 20 years ago, she said, "the houses were thirteen-five, fifteen and seventeen-five." Then, she said, 2-bedroom houses in Alhambra began to sell for $25,000, "and I thought that was the top of the market."

But now, she said, "you can't find a 2-bedroom house for less than $125,000 to $150,000 anywhere in the area."

High Asking Prices

The speaker at last Thursday's meeting, broker Herb Kanigher of Alhambra, addressed the issue of high asking prices. "Right now there's a problem out there," he said. People think you can list the house for any (price)."

Kanigher made that comment while explaining how he built his his success on "real-estate farming"--a method of selecting a neighborhood and cultivating potential buyers and sellers by simply knocking on doors regularly and getting to know the residents.

Kanigher even publishes a neighborhood newsletter that tells who died, who graduated, who went on vacation, who was born and who celebrated a birthday or anniversary.

In a question-and-answer period, Kanigher was asked: "How many (homes) do you have in your farm?"

"Fifteen hundred."

"Will you tell us where your farm is so we can stay out of it?"

After the meeting, board President Nicely walked through the entryway, where members, standing before display racks, picked out fliers about individual houses.

Some were written in Chinese as well as English. "Bring your fussy buyer," said one. "Drive-by only," said another. "Korean older couple, don't speak English," said a listing for a Monterey Park house. Another read: "Big, friendly dog in yard will greet you."

Even in the computer age, Nicely said, the written material and human contacts at the meetings help. "Our people can't carry a computer in their cars," she said, "but they can carry our listing books."

Lugging to his car an armload of freshly printed booklets of property listings, Mel Wong, 44, who owns an Alhambra real estate firm, explained why he comes to the breakfasts.

"You find out new ideas," he said. "Some of these people have hot properties; they've got to move it now. They're out there broadcasting and pitching. That's part of their job."

Wong, who had made a pitch that morning, said two people had already stopped him to say they wanted to see a property.

"You never know what might strike another agent or what will attract attention," he said.

Pitching a 2 1/2-bedroom house, a representative from a Monterey Park firm found a way to attract attention for at least a moment.

As the bell rang to cut him off, he added a final ear-catching amenity: "There's motorcycle parking in the back."

"Motorcycle parking?" one man asked, looking up from his coffee cup, the remains of his chocolate doughnut and his morning newspaper.

"That's right," the salesman said with a knowing look. His pitch had hit the target.

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