We all know the well-worn adage about the big box vs. the mom-and-pop. At the big box, patrons are said to enjoy broader selection and more affordable prices. At the mom-and-pop, they’ll find higher prices and slimmer variety, but offsetting those disadvantages will be the kind of personal touch for which there is no substitute.
Familiarity with that axiom helps furnish a big leg up in understanding Los Angeles-area real estate brokerage models. Mega-brokerages have traditionally provided agents with the chance to represent a broad array of homes, while building a reputation among big-name agencies. The majority of the top-producing brokers in Los Angeles are from a few mega-brokerages, among them Compass, Douglas Elliman, The Agency and Hilton & Hyland.
By contrast, boutique brokerages offer a more hands-on experience for buyers, and can ultimately lead to bigger closing ratios for brokers on the selling side, some say.
Enter Scott Gillen, developer of a collection of luxury residences called the Malibu Series. Earlier this month, Gillen unveiled Unvarnished, his own boutique brokerage featuring a designer-direct-to-buyer model. Seeking to disrupt the traditional platform, Unvarnished permits buyers to gain a direct connection not to the agent but to Gillen himself.
However, it’s another quality that is perhaps the most innovative aspect of the brokerage. Rather than having to build infrastructure from scratch, Unvarnished has enlisted VC-funded real estate technology company Side to serve as its back office.
Side will handle marketing and advertising, brand development, vendor management, listing coordination and transaction coordination, among other tasks. Unlike mega-brokerage agents who have to manage all those duties in addition to selling, Unvarnished agents will focus solely on prospecting, sales and client service, giving them more time to concentrate on selling and relationship building.
The yet-to-be-chosen elite brokers comprising the Unvarnished team will work alongside Gillen and will exclusively list all homes by UnvarnishedCo.
That list of exclusive domiciles will include a relisting of the $75 million mountaintop estate called The New Castle. Also included is the debut of Case No. 2, a spectacular 10,000-square-foot, three-acre spread listed at $100 million in the legendary oceanfront enclave given the name The Case. Featuring five bedrooms and five and one-half baths, Case No. 2 overlooks a more-than 130-square-foot infinity pool, and showcases sweeping views of Queen’s Necklace, including internationally-famous Surfrider and Malibu Colony beaches.
Is bigger better?
Gillen clearly views with skepticism the current Los Angeles-area real estate industry mantra of “bigger is better” when it comes to brokerage size and capabilities.
“I believe Unvarnished’s boutique, personalized and directly transparent approach, along with the expertise provided by Side, will be embraced by the high-end and ultra-high-end real estate buyer,” he says.
“I wanted to offer prospective buyers transparency and access to myself as the creator and designer behind each of my curated homes. I never sit still and have always pushed myself to innovate and evolve, so it is a natural progression to directly sell the homes I build. After many years of curating and constructing one-of-a-kind homes, I’m looking forward to this evolution and having a direct and unfiltered line of communication with every interested buyer, so they can truly understand the passionate hand craftsmanship and planning behind every house we build.”
The introduction of his brokerage division, Gillen says, will enhance the buying process for the end user. And, he adds, it will do nothing less than “offer prospective home buyers a direct connection to me. From curation and construction to closing [it will be] a true concierge service. It will change the standard brokerage model through direct connection, transparency, personalization, efficiency and innovation.”