LOS ANGELES – The Tesla S.U.V. turned left off Hollywood Boulevard and charged uphill toward the canyons and houses that were outside the frame of the starry tour buses. The streets are narrow and the stars are elsewhere for the time being.
« Do you see those palm trees up there? » asked the S.U.V. driver, real estate agent Branden Williams, and nodded to a frond-lined property in the distance. « Elvis, the Beach Boys, all rented this house when they came down town. It’s currently under construction. We just sold it. Drew Barrymore lived there. We sold it for them. They would do the craziest parties legend, when Hollywood still had this mystique – you know, in the late 90s. «
« Before cell phones with cameras, » he added.
As the altitude rose, more names were heard. « There’s the house we designed with Lenny Kravitz. » « We sold that to Megan Ellison. » « Orson Welles lived on this street. » « Slash, from Guns N ‘Roses, he lived right there. » A dog caught Mr. Williams’ attention and he lowered his window. « What is that, a Scottie? » he called to his wanderer. « I’ve always wanted a Scottie. »
He took a snail out of a can of yerba mate. He took a call. In front of the Tesla, a cement truck began to beep, signaling its intention to secure itself. In the back seat, Rayni Williams, the wife and business partner of Mr. Williams, rattled numbers and explanations from the person on the other end of her cell phone. Up the hill the taillights of the cement truck came closer. Mr. Williams cursed and then did his own calculation.
« Get out, Rayni, hurry up, » he said to his wife. To the driver of the cement truck and half a dozen assembled workers: « We are only two minutes. »
Entitled? Well, Mr. and Mrs. Williams are the king and queen of this lot, not just this special 13,500-square-foot lot nicknamed Stanley 2, which is being transformed from a construction site into a sleek six-bedroom apartment. GoldenEye-inspired house priced at around $ 30 million, but also from high-end post-Covid-19 Los Angeles real estate.
A colorful crew of celebrities trust this charming, brazen couple to buy and sell their homes: Jennifer Lopez, Dr. Dre, Bridget Fonda and Bruce Willis. For 10 years, Mr. and Mrs. Williams worked for Hilton & amp; Hyland, the famous real estate company that had sales of $ 700 million in 2019 alone. They quit in November to start their own business. While her brokerage, Beverly Hills Estates, is deeply rooted in the diluted 90210 zip code, she also embodies a way of life the appeal of which she believes no pandemic or state income tax rate of 13.3 percent can diminish.
« Beverly Hills is a state of mind for us, » said Mrs. Williams. « Glamor, palm trees, great weather, the lifestyle. »
If Instagram created the “mom and dad” code for status and skills, then Mr. and Mrs. Williams, employees for 15 years, husband and wife for seven years, and parents of two under 10, the mother and father who are tall live in Los Angeles. While the man who invented his car may have left the City of Angels for the Texas Tax Department, Los Angeles remains as attractive as ever to many maximalist, high-octane, or just plain wealthy people.
« Covid got people doing crazy things, » said Mr. Williams. “California has blocked going to the beach and hiking. In the meantime, Utah, Montana, Florida, Texas say, « Dude, come and live your life. » But Beverly Hills is still very desirable. You know, in Beverly Hills they won’t let the police down. «
« A lot of people will choose tax homes, » Ms. Williams said, « but most of them will always stay at home or come back. » It doesn’t make sense to have all the money in the world but to be in a place you don’t want to live. You don’t have to be 1 percent or a billionaire to afford a living in LA. Some people would rather spend their money on their lifestyle than have a big bank account because YOLO. Why not? »
Dressed to impress
At 11 a.m. on Tuesday morning, Ms. Williams, 40, was out and about at the family home in Beverly Hills in a fitted houndstooth dress by Alessandra Rich and high heels. « I get dressed every day, even during Covid, » she said. « I can’t wear sweat even to pick up the children from school. »
In the bathroom, she and Mr. Williams share a gold-colored “Grab and Go” rack with outfits in addition to blooming hibiscus and jasmine and a pentagonal shower made of purple onyx from Brazil. « Branden hates it, he thinks it is ugly, » said Mrs. Williams. « But look, all of my coat options are here. » She pulled out a Gucci cloak made of brown fur. « See? Good to go. »
Mr. Williams, 46, and his wife first bonded through clothing. In 2006, when she was a junior agent at the real estate agency Nourmand & amp; Associates, he praised the dress she wore: a sleeveless Valentino with an empire waist and a zip at the back, vintage, fitted, « really cool, » said Mr. Williams.
At the time, they were accused of selling $ 300,000 in condominiums and they are still trying their hand at the civil market – whatever that means in Los Angeles. « I just found a $ 900,000 home for my hairdresser in Van Nuys, » said Mrs. Williams. « Really beautiful. I never want to be so exhausted that all of this takes away my moral compass. »
Ms. Williams was born in Pittsburgh and raised on Staten Island and Urbino, Italy. After working as a receptionist at E! and selling subprime mortgages. « I stopped when I found out what they were about, » she said.
Mr. Williams was born in Los Angeles and came into real estate through Hollywood. He played Homeboy No. 1 in « Can’t Hardly Wait » and also appeared in touchstones of the turn of the century such as « Never Been Kissed » (with Mrs. Barrymore) and « Entourage ».
« And then it was 2005, » said Mr. Williams. « I was just before my 30th birthday and thought, ‘Man, I can’t audition again. This is not my dream. It’s time to take on the reality, find a real job. “He prayed, meditated, and went surfing with a friend who was a real estate agent and showed him a check he had recently received.
« I met Rayni my first week, » said Mr. Williams. « It was like meeting my best friend – someone who liked the same music, the same style and had an old-school mindset. » And: « She came from mortgages, knew contracts and I thought if I have to do contracts and such, I will never make it in this business. »
They have different but complementary personalities.
« Branden doesn’t hold people’s hands, » said Mrs. Williams. « He doesn’t think holding hands is efficient. I’m a mother and woman who is more emotional, so I’m more of the spoiler. »
Bruce Makowsky, a developer, called the couple « without a doubt the two best realtors in Los Angeles ». He hired the Williamses to sell a 12-bedroom Bel Air mansion and bowling alley for $ 250 million in 2017. That made it the most expensive house in America at the time.
« I took a billionaire to buy this house, » Makowsky said. « Unfortunately, it went straight to the market after the president decided to alienate China and Russia. » After three years, the Williamses sold it to a local businessman for $ 94 million, a result that Mr. Makowsky liked quite well given the circumstances. « You are selling the dream of living in California, » he said.
The color of money
The Williams are « on » to the extent that an occasional observer would assume they must be into something. In fact, Mr. Williams sobered at 29 and Mrs. Williams sobered at 25 after commenting, « You know you’re a good agent, but you would be really good if you stopped drinking. » She goes to recovery meetings once a week, he goes once a month.
“Every now and then someone will say, ‘What? Come on, « said Mrs. Williams. » But then they’ll look at us somehow, « Wait, you have so much fun and don’t drink? Branden, you’re so crazy and don’t drink? Oh, you care about our greatest asset? Yes, stay sober. «
« I mean, I’ve had customers who drank Coke in front of me, but I don’t judge them, » she added. « To each his own. »
Never face a hangover or the threat of a D.U.I. gives them focus, said Ms. Williams, who sets them apart. Even so, they occasionally allow wine and booze in the new office slash clubhouse they’re about to open on Sunset Boulevard. Imagine a Soho real estate home, with cabanas instead of cabins, a self-playing piano like the one at the nearby Magic Castle, and a juice bar: green velvet and marble as far as the eye can see. « Green is the color they use in the Beverly Hills Hotel, » said Mr. Williams. « Besides, it’s the color of money. »
Sometimes they park their old Rolls-Royce in the driveway of a show for luck, their answer to the convention of an apple pie in the oven. But while their personal style is based on Old Hollywood, they sell all kinds of real estate.
There’s the 24,000-square-foot solid concrete house they’re building with Scott Mitchell, the architect behind Nobu Malibu’s clean lines and target angles. « This will be here after Armageddon, » said Mr. Williams, pointing out the locations of a future waterfall, bridge, guest house and nightclub. “The garage also has a view. When you see Scott’s finish, sophistication and zen, you will be transported to another world. «
(How does a Zen master work with Mr. Williams? « He’s a doll, » said Mr. Mitchell. « And who in 7.4 billion people would not appear like a Zen person besides Branden? »)
Beverly Hills has a seven bedroom A-frame with white stone walls and French oak floors that looks like a Goop satellite office. « It’s not me and Branden, but it’s like yuppie porn, » said Mrs. Williams. « People will eat that up. »
And then there’s the one who, at 105,000 square feet and $ 350 million, is said to be the largest house in the world. Indoor and outdoor pools, 360-degree views, two art galleries, a 400-foot jogging track, a movie theater, a hookah lounge – the list of amenities makes it seem less like a home than a territory. Although the One is not on the market, Ms. Williams has a clear picture of her future owner.
« You have a 200 to 300-foot yacht, » she said matter-of-factly. “You have an airplane. You probably have a tax authority in Monaco. If you’re American, your primary residence is in Texas or Palm Beach. This will be their family home where they will meet. The woman loves wellness and yoga, she comes here to get all of her services. Her husband comes into contact with some of the business things he does here and then they bring friends from the extended family because they have 21 bedrooms and 42 bathrooms. «
As Mr. Williams drove from a visit to the One, he raced through every yellow light and honked the horn to show a modest (by comparison) three-bedroom home in West Hollywood. The Williams represented the seller. This was the third time they showed the home to this potential buyer. The sky had gone dark and the 360-degree views had shrunk to 45. What fantastic vision could you evoke in this place?
« The thing about living in the hills is you get some freaks, » said Mr. Williams, pointing to a house above the one he was selling. “Do you see that window right up there? There is a man standing naked. “One observer suggested it was a mannequin.“ What are you talking about? ”Mr. Williams said,“ This is a man masturbating in a window. Welcome to the Hollywood Hills. «
The prospective buyer made an offer and the home is now in an escrow account. The Williamses have moved on to the next.