Knowing when to get in, and out


The gig: For decades, Fred Sands’ name was ubiquitous on Fred Sands Realtors signs throughout California. The company merged with Coldwell Banker in 2000 in a nine-figure deal.

Sands is now chairman of Vintage Capital Group, where he specializes in turning around distressed companies and shopping centers.

In the last 12 months, Vintage has picked up 1.6 million square feet of retail space and has brought its shopping center occupancy up to 95%, Sands said.


Gracious in demeanor, Sands, 70, is blunt when sizing up the housing market. In 1989, before the last crash, he wrote a letter to his brokerage clients warning them the market was in trouble and recommending that if they were thinking of selling their homes, they should do so promptly.

In November 2007, when many real estate agents claimed the housing market would recover from the early stages of decline, he shook up a California Assn. of Realtors conference by advising agents to be ready to find a new line of work.

The worst was not over, he said, because “someone who makes $100,000 can’t afford a $2-million house, but that’s what’s been going on.” Sands then declared, “The idea that everyone is supposed to own a home is baloney.”

Background: Sands knew something about lifelong renters and baloney. His parents never owned a home, he said, and owned a lunch counter on Brooklyn Avenue in Boyle Heights. The family had moved from Sands’ native Manhattan to Los Angeles in 1945, when Sands was 7.

Education: He graduated from Roosevelt High School and attended UCLA but did not earn a degree.

Personal: Lives in Bel Air with wife Carla. An avid art collector, Sands is a trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art.


How he started: Sands began flipping houses -- many of them foreclosures -- with whatever money he could scrape up, and in his 20s he owned several apartment buildings. During one 1960s market downturn, he decided flipping houses wasn’t paying, so he got his real estate license and began working for Coldwell Banker.

He founded his own brokerage in 1969 with an initial investment of $25,000. Fred Sands Realtors was the 11th-largest brokerage in the nation in sales volume before its 2000 merger.

Fred can rock: Apart from real estate, Sands bought the struggling radio station KNAC-FM in 1983. His decision to switch the station’s format to heavy metal -- after personal research that included being a fish out of water at rock concerts -- caused a sensation.

“The phones melted down” with request calls, he said. “People were putting wire hangers out their windows [to pick up the signal in distant areas].” Sands sold the station in 1994 for five times what he paid.

The truth can hurt, but so what? “Economic cycles haven’t gone away,” Sands said. “Every time somebody says, ‘This time it’s different,’ the end is near.

“People in real estate often are not very analytical. By choice, if you’re in a selling business, you have to be optimistic or you’ll go into depression when things go bad.


“But you have to tell the truth. If somebody has to buy a house, they’re going to buy it anyway -- even if prices are going down. You tell the truth, at the end of the day you’ll win.”