Real estate’s grande dame
Joyce Rey in her Benedict Canyon home.(R. Daniel Foster / For The Times)
Joyce Rey has been behind the sales of mega-million-dollar properties known for historic names, not mere addresses: Pickfair, Owlwood, Greenacres, Le Belvedere.
Since launching her career in 1974, the real estate agent’s superlative deals now exceed $3 billion. Her best year to date: 2014, when she racked up $300 million in sales with Coldwell Banker Previews International.
Rey continues to shred records year after year. Her most recent sale was one of the priciest south of Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills: a $20.9-million Georgian traditional.
Her formula for remaining relevant well into the 21st century: a keen eye for trends, a knack for Instagram, acres of patience and a youthful energy. “I always involve myself with young people,” Rey said with effortless charm. “I have a pretty young spirit.”
Rey has handled six of former California State Treasurer Kathleen Brown’s home transactions and also sold Brown’s parents’ Beverly Hills property in 2002.
“She’s dogged, intense, enthusiastic,” said Brown, sister of Gov. Jerry Brown. Rey worked as Jerry Brown’s travel and appointment secretary during his initial 1974 gubernatorial campaign — the year she met Kathleen, a onetime candidate for governor in 1994.
But she didn’t get her start in real estate. Instead, Rey taught business law at Baldwin Hills’ Dorsey High School as the 1960s civil rights movement raged.
“I had a passion for helping cure racial difficulties,” said Rey, who earned $600 a month during her four-year stint at the largely African American school. “I learned a lot about the obstacles blacks face.”
Rey moonlighted as a flight attendant, and although she lived paycheck to paycheck (“Fatburger was all I could afford”), the former Joyce Bowman used a flight pass for a fated vacation to Acapulco.
Cue the dashing, Argentine-born movie star Alejandro Rey — then playing playboy casino owner Carlos Ramirez on the hit TV show “The Flying Nun.” The pair met on the plane.
“One of the most charming men I ever met,” said Rey, who married him six months later.
Although they divorced after 10 years, it was house-hunting with Alejandro that sparked Rey’s zeal for real estate, and her famous husband opened some Hollywood gates. Rey’s first sale was to Christina Onassis in 1974, but her breakthrough deal came in 1976 when she found the perfect Brentwood home for director and acting teacher Lee Strasberg.
“They fell madly in love with the house and thought I was a genius,” Rey said. The Strasbergs spread word of Rey’s prowess. “About the best PR I could get,” she said recently from the midcentury Benedict Canyon home she and Alejandro bought in 1972. Her reputation was soon sealed with the Owlwood and Pickfair deals in the late 1970s.
In 1979, Beverly Hills Realtor Harleigh Sandler asked Rey to form a division to handle $1 million-plus estates.
She’s also passing along some of the wisdom she’s gained over the decades.
Eight years ago, Rey partnered with Stacy Gottula, a former dental hygienist who, down on her luck, was initially Rey’s assistant. The pair now have six assistants.
“She runs circles around me,” said Gottula. “We’re almost like mother and daughter. We do yoga, take little jaunts, go on vacations. There’s just this warmth she has.”
Rey’s take: “Stacy’s tougher than I am. I’m kind of a soft touch, ever the diplomat. I don’t have a daughter, so I feel I missed out.”
As for market ups and downs, Rey has weathered surging interest rates, wars, 9/11, recessions, the mortgage crisis.
But with such lofty listings, just one or two big deals “kind of saves the year,” she said. “And so oftentimes, I would have a good year when no one else would.”