The Wall Street Journal - Michael B. Bell
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Success Stories

Read some of our Success Stories and learn more about how we approach the real estate transaction from a different perspective.

Expansive Mediterranean-Style Estate
I received a call from a La Canada homeowner who tried unsuccessfully to sell her estate. She didn’t want to use her previous agent, saying that they weren’t aggressive, didn’t have very good marketing, and didn’t seem to have “a fight in them”. This beautiful Mediterranean estate was previously on the market for 87 days and fell out of escrow with the other agent during negotiations, and sat on the market. She hired me as the 2nd agent and I sold it in less time for more than that previous agent, and in a shifting marketplace. How did I do it? I started with a high-end photo shoot, drone photography, we had the floorplan drawn, along with aggressive local and international marketing. I did something special that no one ever seems to do, and in the end this is the one thing that sold the house: I made just over a hundred phone calls to agents who have sold similar properties over the past few years. The agent said to me “thanks for the call, no one ever calls me, and I’m glad you did because I didn’t quite realize that my client would love this house”. Yes, old fashioned phone calls get homes sold. Reference provided upon request.

Stunning Luxury Condo On South Orange Grove Boulevard
This stunning contemporary condo was on the market for almost a whole year. With the previous agent it received no offers, and barely any showings. The marketing strategy was all wrong, it had a 3rd bedroom that wasn’t being marketed, and the typical passive methods were being used. We were able to utilize our vast marketing resources and use a really effective strategy that allowed us to secured 2 offers, a bidding war, and ultimately sold it for only a few thousand under the asking price, all in a market that was slowing down. My client could finally move on with life, and retirement, in the desert. Reference provided upon request.

Classic Craftsman Bungalow
We took over the sale of a 1922 bungalow built by William Henrichsen that is in the National Register of Historic Places portion of Bungalow Heaven Landmark District. It was previously on the market with another agent, went into escrow, and ultimately fell apart through negotiations. It had building code violations that seemed scary, but I was able to get the violations cleared for under a thousand dollars. With an easy clearance from the city, it was a natural decision to measure the home, which was 254 sf larger than the assessor measurements. A permit search verified that the assessor was wrong. In a marketplace where the average square footage is between $600 per foot, this was a substantial (and easy) discovery. I received 5 offers and closed it for more money than the previous agent’s offers. Reference provided upon request.

Estate Sale To Happy Sale
This past summer I was driving around and spotted an estate sale sign. I love estate sales. While in the house I asked about a few antiques, and as a good Realtor I asked what they were doing with the house. The lady said they already had an investor buyer that their Realtor brought to them and they didn’t need to go on the market. I asked if they signed a listing. They explained they hadn’t yet, and that their agent was out of town. I couldn’t help but ask how they felt about their agent earning 3 commissions and not getting back-up buyers, and if they were comfortable not knowing if they got a fair price. “What do you mean?” they asked. I didn’t know this when I walked into the house, but most of the people in the front room were brothers, sisters, and grandkids of the owner who recently passed away. Now I had an audience. I explained that they were going to give a listing commission to the agent, the buyers side commission, and the third commission was the listing commission that their Realtor would make when the very happy investor relisted the house. Their eyes opened up wide. They then asked me how much the house was worth and their eyes got a lot wider. The house was 10 blocks from my home, and it was easy to tell them what the house was probably worth. They came to my office the next day and hired me. I sold the house for $150,000 more than they were told it was worth. The sellers love me (pretty much most of them do!). Reference provided upon request.

Mom’s Death Was The Least Of Our Worries
An attorney referred me his full authority probate client who was the administrator of her mother’s home in Pasadena. Among the challenges: the lender had not received a payment in almost 9 months, the home was being rented to 2 families, and the City of Pasadena gave the home multiple code and zoning violations (zoning violations cannot be transferred to the buyer, but need to be remedied as a condition of closing regardless of Probate Code), the mother passed away inside the home (this is a statutory disclosure regardless of Probate Code), along with highly emotional family members. There was almost $300,000 in tax-free equity to be protected. The lender started foreclosure. We were able to negotiate with the lender, clear the zoning violations, move the tenants out, we received 10 offers, and were able to close the transaction with my leadership in this concerted and emotional effort. Attorney reference provided upon request.

Local vs. Semi-Local
I happen to live in a historic district called Bungalow Heaven. Homes in historic districts tend to attract buyers who love the history of the area, and the culture of the neighborhood. Oftentimes these buyers will pay more, and oftentimes a home needs to be promoted a bit differently to attract that higher paying buyer. I recently competed on a listing in my neighborhood with a very experienced agent who doesn’t live in Bungalow Heaven, and who I felt didn’t know how to connect the right buyer to this historic home. We were almost $100,000 apart on our suggested list and probable sales prices, and the owner of the home was a semi-retired salesperson and attorney who completely understood the risk of listing a home with too high of a price. I needed to really convince them that I would make them more money. Obviously, since I’m writing this story, you can figure out who earned the listing. In hindsight, the way the bids came in, the sellers realize that they would have probably lost out on tens of thousands of dollars had they not taken my advice. Local experienced agents who know the market tend to make sellers more money than anyone else. Reference provided upon request.

This Doesn’t Pencil Out. So What. Trust My Strategy.
I received a call to help a family sell their 8 unit apartment building that needed to be repositioned. It was in fair condition, the leases were month to month, and the tenants were paying under market rents. If you ever interview me to sell your home, you will hear this advice from me: if you want the most amount of money, you need to focus on who your best and highest paying buyer will be. An 8 unit building might seem straightforward and it would be easy for anyone to just pull comparables and perhaps discount the value because of the condition and low rents. That can be a huge mistake, and my clients trusted me with my plan, which was quite simple. I was 100% right when I told them that their highest paying buyer would be a local buyer who wanted a project to keep them busy, didn’t necessarily care about CAP rates or rental multipliers, needed to buy because they were getting close to their 45 day window to designate a suitable 1031 exchange property, and felt the apartment market would continue to improve. It took 2 months and we hit BINGO. The buyer wound up paying almost $300,000 more than our 3 other offers (which were based upon CAP rates and GRM’s). I have a lifelong client. Reference provided upon request.

Saving The Investor
I don’t work with many investors, but when I got this call I figured out the problem pretty quickly. These folks were presented a too good to be true investment. Their Realtor represented both buyer and seller on a supposedly great investment with an easy $50,000 return. The deal seemed to get better: my clients would have to pay cash, and only put in $10,000 worth of material into the house because their Realtor would do all the labor for free. The Realtor only wanted a small sliver of the equity and the sales commissions. It seems like low risk because everything seemed to look good on paper. Well, what was supposed to be a 6 week flip turned into a 3 month fiasco that ballooned into $25,000 in materials, more holding costs, and re-evaluating the real estate market without fuzzy math. At that point, their Realtor disappeared. He just walked off the job and didn’t respond to calls or emails. He. Was. Gone. The sellers called me in a panic; we evaluated what needed to get done; I met their new contractor and guided them to do what was necessary and value enhancing. The new kitchen, bath, windows, flooring, paint in and out needed to be finished. We sold the house for what I thought it would sell for, and we were able to sell it with multiple offers just before the market slowed down. Reference provided upon request.

Let’s Just Fix This And Move On (Dirty Deeds)
I was consulted by a local real estate attorney to look into questionable strategies by another broker to sell a $3,000,000 estate property in South Pasadena. Without unnecessary drama or threats of potential litigation for breach of agency, my 11 recommendations to the real estate attorney was the driving force to help the client/seller avoid a short sale and net almost $500,000 more than the contract that their dual-representation broker was encouraging them to finalize. My strategies and standard of care recommendations were game changers. Attorney reference provided upon request.

Sometimes Renting Is Better Than Selling
I received a call from a local attorney asking if I would be willing to be one of many agents to interview for a listing of a $1M+ home in Pasadena. The owner passed away recently in the house, and her daughter was selling it. She told me I was the 10th agent she interviewed, and she didn’t care for the other Realtors. I thought to myself that this would be a tough client and tackle this like I always do: I ask a lot of questions. What I found out was that the daughter, even though she was so distraught that she couldn’t bear to go into her mothers room, seemed desperate to sell. She seemed. What I found out was that she thought she should sell. With my questions she realized that she needed to protect and grow her new investment and the best way to do so was to rent it out instead of selling. She has been a repeat client and I have rented the house out many times over the years. She tells me I’m the only Realtor who discussed renting the house out. She is so thankful that she told all of her neighbors and one of whom hired me to sell their house. Most of my business is from referrals like this one. Reference provided upon request.

The Rats Did It
I was hired to sell a $1,200,000 trust property, a referral from a prominent local law firm. Weeks before closing, the air conditioner was turned on by the beneficiary the day they moved their personal items out. While temperatures averaged over 100 degrees, the main air conditioner condensate drain line was plugged. The old secondary line was chewed out by rats causing about 10 gallons of water to leak out of the condensate line and drip pan over a 20 hour period. A bedroom lathe and plaster ceiling in this 1920’s home collapsed and the wood floors were destroyed overnight. Within 4 days, I had the room completely fixed and painted. It was fully disclosed and the buyer continued to close with no further investigation. Because I used a licensed general contractor, we were able to make this sale happen quickly and without causing delays. Attorney reference available upon request.

Dam House
This was a fun house to sell. This house was built on a city dam over a hundred years ago. When Sierra Madre expanded, they decided to abandon this city dam, but the dam foundation was so big and thick that it served as a perfect foundation for a huge 3 story 9,000 sf house. Yes, there is a house in Sierra Madre that is built on a dam. This house had been on the market for 429 days with 2 different brokers. I knew about the house because I had clients who were interested in it when it was listed. However, at that time the listing agent was a little difficult to deal with, as she seemed to be interested in working directly with buyers rather than cooperating with agents. When the listing expired, the owners called me. I was one of many agents to be considered as the new listing agent. I explained that being the 2nd or 3rd agent is a little difficult because those homes have been on the market for so long, and the property can be stigmatized. The next agent needs to be aggressive, the listing needs to be targeted to the right buyer, and to get different results the strategy needs to be better and different. It took a few months, but we finally sold it without having to reduce the $2.5M price. Reference provided upon request.

Cannabis Not Included
I received an email from a potential seller in Altadena who needed to sell their home. They found me through my updated new website (yes, it’s working!). I immediately called them and they asked me to come to their house. Both husband and wife were disabled and grew, well I think they grew, marijuana in their home and garage. When I sat down with them to determine the price of the house I told them their house was worth just under $1M. In unison, they both said “you’re joking”. I wasn’t quite sure if they thought I was too high or too low (pardon the pun), so I asked. Believe it or not, but both thought their home was worth “maybe $400,000” and thought that no one would want to buy their house. They said they’d be happy with “almost anything” because the owner, the husband’s mother, recently passed away and they wanted to move out of state. They’re lucky they met me because some agents would take advantage of the situation, by offering them a low price, and these sellers would probably never know it. They had some probate and trust issues they needed to work out so I referred them to my trusted resources. When we put the house on the market, I didn’t realize that the small bush-like trees in the backyard were marijuana trees. They thought it was funny that I didn’t know what marijuana looked like, and I didn’t have it removed for showings. Of course we had to disclose all of this to the next buyer. Part of the purchase contract stated “all plantings in the rear of the home are not included in sale”.

Just Try To Make Me Blink
A local attorney asked me to help her client/seller sell the primary residence in a divorce that was described by the attorney as “the most difficult divorce I’ve litigated”. The sale successfully closed in 2 months, allowing the divorce to finalize. Among the challenges included one of the clients being incarcerated, 3 liens from past attorneys, a home invasion a week before closing, the buyer was represented by a rookie agent, and a mother-in-law who sold the home to the divorcing couple had an unsecured lien and wanted unusary rates. Also, there were multiple trips to court to enforce the stipulation, the spouse in possession vacated the home early and canceled all utilities, pool and yard maintenance, and prior to close the lender required the peeling paint to be remedied, among other challenges. The transaction closed with no renegotiation. Attorney reference provided upon request.

Help Me, I Can’t Sell My Last 2 Townhomes
A local developer called me to help sell the last 2 townhomes of his luxury development in downtown Pasadena. They had interviewed 10 other brokerages, and they chose my strategy. Prior to hiring me, they had hired 2 different agents who sold the first 22 homes, but were stuck with the last 2 of these new $1M+ luxury units, the toughest ones to sell. They had almost a thousand buyers on their interested list, but they all passed on these 2 units. I took over their development website, completely re-engineered the marketing, re-staged the units, promoted the properties separately with separate signs and SEO’d websites, completely changed the messaging, brought a high-end photographer, had drone photography done, and I made over a hundred phone calls. Yes, over a hundred calls. I was able to find a buyer from the Westside, and another from Denver. It was a lot of work but I got it done. Reference provided upon request.

But I Thought My Agent Was Working So Hard
I received a call from a trust attorney who said he had a client who couldn’t sell their home, and the client was getting really frustrated. I went to the house to meet the client and we discussed what had been going on for the past 3 months with her current Realtor. What concerned me is that she said the agent brought about 10 people to the house for showings, but none of them had a Realtor. To the casual observer, it might seem that the agent was doing a great job, and that the area Realtors were lazy. The harsh reality is that the agent was shutting out other Realtors and trying to get his own buyer so that he could earn a double commission. When I explained this to the attorney, he decided to confront the Realtor. Thank goodness the Realtor decided to cancel the listing so the owner could hire me. I sold the house for $55,000 over the previous asking price and got 5 offers. Attorney reference provided upon request.

Not Quite Ready To Retire
I received a call from an attorney who I’ve worked with for many years. He explained that he had been looking for a condo for years, something he could buy today and rent out for a few years until he and his wife are ready to retire. It was a surprise to hear that he had looked at dozens of homes over the years, they had been going to open houses, looking through Zillow, etc. I wish I could say that sales like this are easy, but they can be if you have the right network. I called all the top agents in the area and asked if they had a property coming on the market, or perhaps they had a seller who didn’t necessarily want to market their home. Believe it or not, there are sellers who do not want their homes on the MLS, they don’t want a for sale sign, and want to keep their sale private. Amazing, but true. I was able to find a fantastic deal on a very rare detached townhome with one shared wall, much like a PUD (Planned Urban Development). I believe we had instant equity once we closed escrow. Reference provided upon request.

Oops, No One (Before I Got Involved) Read The Letters Of Testamentary…But Me
I was able to help an attorney navigate their limited authority sale on the 1/2 ownership interest that required probate (and a court confirmed sale), and the other 1/2 ownership that the decedent’s brother co-owned and lived in this $1,000,000 property. The first agent did not secure a valid full contingency removal so that buyer decided to back out with no penalty when they found out they needed to go to court. Maybe it wasn’t the agent’s fault (even though the attorney had misread the Letters, but the agent should have been able to figure that out). After the first agent was let go, I was hired and sold the property for close to $100,000 more than the first agent, and with no drama. Reference provided upon request.

You Will Never Sell It For That Much
I received a call from a private fiduciary who was in charge of the estate of a little old lady who had no family. The trustee was her longtime neighbor, and he had no experience with real estate. He did his best to get educated about the real estate sales process, and the marketplace by looking at real estate websites like Zillow, Redfin,, etc. When I met with him, I was impressed at his newfound knowledge of the process and market data. We reviewed my market data, looked at a number of absorption graphs, discussed who the highest paying buyers are and how they will likely react to the house, and of course, we determined the best way to market the house. But the seller did not want to list it for what he felt was way too high. We agreed to meet in the middle, a little lower than what I suggested. We received multiple offers and he was able to sell to the highest bidder who just so happened to be a veteran. A few times a year, I have a seller who chooses a Veteran. Veterans oftentimes do not have a large down payment, and their loans can have challenging underwriting causing sellers to choose stronger buyers. Reference provided upon request.

A CalTech Scientist’s House With A Full Laboratory With Bunsen Burners
The managing partner of a prominent law firm suggested 3 agents to interview to help his clients, an out of state family, sell their parents’ estate property. To get the best buyer numerous small and tedious items needed to be completed, including historical permit research to fix a major square foot discrepancy between tax and permit records, a difficult occupancy inspection, termite work, a major estate sale, home cleaning, toxic material disposal, pool fixes, and other value enhancements. The property sold above what all other brokers suggested it could sell for, and this $1,200,000 estate sold with multiple bidders. References available upon request.

20,000 Sq Ft Of Custom Bliss
I received a call from an attorney about her client who could not sell their luxury compound in Los Angeles County. This multi-million dollar estate was being marketed for almost 2 years with a good local Realtor, but realized the marketing was only reaching a limited pool of buyers, and certainly not the wealthy. This property was 20,000 sf of custom bliss: 2 master suites, lots of ensuites, offices, maids quarters, pools, garages, and really everything you could ask for. The challenge was that the home didn’t fit in the neighborhood, and of course it is always an uphill battle when you are the 2nd or 3rd agent hired. In this case, I was the 3rd agent hired and the home had a very long marketing history on all the portals (which is impossible to erase, and it never helps when buyers can see that it has been on the market many times for years). It was a daunting challenge, and I focused not only on reinventing the marketing for the regional area, but also pushing this property to the national and international audience as never before. I was able to receive offers from local and international buyers who said they had never known of the home before, and they all said that they had been looking for real estate for years. Reference provided upon request.

Let’s Position This House So We Look Like Professional Sellers
A local attorney was appointed successor trustee for a family of 11. He interviewed many brokers, and hired me. Working with different personalities and dynamics, and coordinating cosmetic repairs to enhance value and marketability, I was able to position the $1,000,000 property and encouraged other agents and their buyers to fairly bid. With minor and inexpensive enhancements, I was able to reposition this home to look like the sellers were smart and sophisticated to attract a family rather than a low offering investor. We had a very successful close. Attorney reference available upon request.

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Michael B. Bell | Making All The Difference In Real Estate