Hold your tongue. Real estate is an intimate business. Pretty quickly, you get into the personal lives of your clients. You know their financial situation, you learn about their personal relationships, and you’re very likely, sooner or later, to see them reacting to stress. No matter how famous or wealthy they are, your clients deserve your respect and your absolute discretion. It’s an honor to be trusted, so take it seriously.
As a part of my series about the ‘Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Real Estate Industry’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Gertz and Mario Seiler, Founders of Modern Butler.
Modern Butler is a luxury estate and lifestyle management company that aims to provide a “one stop shop” for maintaining wealth and luxury, without the hassle or the headache. Previously working with celebrity clients such as, Cindy Crawford, Elaine When, Suzanne Saperstein, Ida and Robbie Williams, and many more (who cannot be disclosed due to privacy reasons), Modern Butler has been in service for nine years!
Founder & Creative Director — Robert Gertz: Originally from Santa Cruz, California, Robert Gertz spent over twenty years refining his multifaceted expertise in luxury branding, creative design, marketing, events and estate management.
Modern Butler represents the culmination of his vast and varied experiences managing the lives and operations of A-list celebrities, ultra high net worth individuals, Fortune 500 companies and distinguished philanthropists.
By whole-heartedly understanding each of his clients’ needs and desires he has formed a dynamic approach to managing the interlocking components that define an exceptional life as well as the vision for how Majordomo can help to achieve it.
Managing Partner & Estate Management Specialist — Mario Seiler: As a global citizen, Mario Seiler was raised and trained in the rich traditions of European luxury hospitality. Internationally educated with a lifetime of experience in the highest echelons of society, Mario has worked with royalty, diplomats, Heads of State, A-list celebrities and high net worth individuals.
For over 13 years as Front Office Manager for such esteemed hotels as the Mandarin Oriental Group, Mario oversaw all day-to-day operations and VIP guest relations, leading teams of up to 60 employees.
Currently, Mario ranks as one of the most sought-after Estate Managers in the world and specializes in developing comprehensive operational systems and procedures that will allow your estate to run like a high-end luxury resort.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?
For more than a decade, we had been working with the owners of luxury estates, providing a wide variety of concierge services, from hiring butlers and chefs to managing house moves and huge events. Real estate seemed like the next logical step. We already had the personal relationships and the lifestyle knowledge. We understood what works in a residence and what doesn’t and knew the value of staging. So, when our clients asked whether we could assist with their real estate needs, we said yes.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?
One summer, we leased and managed a beautiful estate in the Hollywood Hills for an overseas client. The house had the newest technology; it was uber-smart. Unfortunately, on day two of this property management, while we were there, the power went out in L.A. We couldn’t operate anything in the house: no televisions, no blinds, and no kitchen drawers. Every “smart” thing in the house would not function — not the entrance doors, the garage gate, or the driveway gate. We managed to crawl out the dog door to access help!
Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
Technology is great when it works, but smart homes are not always as smart as we need them to be. You need a backup plan — and you need a generator!
Do you have a favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share a story or example of how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” You know, if the destination is to be a professional in some field, whether it’s real estate or anything else, that’s great. But for me, that goal would be entirely meaningless without the relationships that I’ve developed along the way. All of the classes and certifications and years of hands-on experience mean nothing if you don’t connect with people. People are the journey.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have a spectacular pocket listing in Outpost Estates. A Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, it is a much-altered Mediterranean-style residence that was owned by the Arensberg family, who were major art collectors. They used their home as a gallery for their impressive modern-art collection and as a salon where artists and writers gathered to exchange ideas. In their home and gardens, they hosted Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Beatrice Wood, Edward Weston, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko, among others. The Arensberg’s also commissioned various additions to their home by architects Henry Palmer Sabin, Richard Neutra, Gregory Ain, John Lautner, and Henry Eggers. Needless to say, the house has a celebrity pedigree, gorgeous bones, and loads of personality. The current owners are completing a 3.5-year restoration of the property to honor the Arensberg’s vision. It will have a new life as both residence and glamorous indoor-outdoor event space.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We love homes — from the inside out. As I mentioned, our real estate business grew out of our work as a boutique luxury lifestyle support company. What that means is that every aspect of living in a home has to be seamless. A kitchen is not just a collection of over-the-top-sensational appliances; it has to work for the cook and it has to be a space that’s just as friendly for middle-of-the-night snacks as it is for lavish entertaining. Because we understand the functionality of the home as well as what makes it beautiful, we’re able to offer a quite-exceptional level of guidance to sellers and buyers.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Well, I couldn’t have done this without my mentor and business partner, Mario Seiler. When I started the company, it was primarily branding, events, and personal assistant services. Mario has this expansive international hospitality experience and when we combined our skills and vision, it really was greater than the sum of its parts.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry? If you can please share a story or example.
- With today’s massive online real estate presence, anyone with an internet connection can see a home. But being in the business means being able to see the architecture, the landscaping, and the interiors, all up close. We get to witness trends in the making.
- Real estate is totally a “people” business. Building relationships with sellers, buyers, other agents, and people in the various related services is enormously gratifying.
- I love L.A. and every time I talk about L.A. with a client, whether they’re local or international, it feels like sharing something personal and valuable.
We recently worked with a buyer whose main criteria was the “wow factor.” Location, price, and style were all secondary. What could possibly impress such a person? We know L.A., so we took the time to get to know the client, to create that relationship. We ended up finding him a drop-dead sensational contemporary estate in Beverly Hills with wraparound views, a movie theater, and everything else that added up to “Wow!” That’s the beauty of L.A. — it’s all here if you know where to look.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest? Please share stories or examples if possible.
- Most real estate transactions are strictly transactional, they’re not about relationships. Here’s a little story: a friend ran a real estate marketing business, so she received tons of materials from agents. When it came time to sell her own home, she selected a local agent who had been diligently reaching out. The transaction went well. But after escrow closed, the agent dropped her like a hot rock. She never heard from him again. The reality of this business is that the people are more important than the deal. Sometimes you have to advise clients against the thing they’ve set out to do. But it seems more important to us to put the value on the relationship. There will always be another property.
- The real estate industry is highly competitive. Nobody wants to say no to a potential client, even if it means stepping into an area where you have no real expertise. Commercial leasing? Probate? Residential investment property? Architectural estate? We’d like to be experts in everything, but frankly, we’re not. But we hold the cards when we create relationships with people who are experts and use our referral power. I’d much rather refer a client to an expert than bungle a deal, because I don’t know all the subtleties.
- To be successful, Realtors have to be nimble. “The way we’ve always done it” just doesn’t work. Take the past year, for example. Our entire way of conducting business has changed. No brokers’ opens, no open houses, no agent caravans, no (or very few) international buyers. We’ve had to figure out how to operate in this new environment, to make our clients feel safe, and to provide comprehensive service even when it feels like so many parts are missing.
3 ways to reform or improve:
- I’m feeling like a broken record here, but truly, it’s all about the relationships. If we have strong communication with our peers and with our clients, we can weather just about any crisis. The agents who are the real stars of this industry build their business almost entirely on repeat and referral clientele. You don’t get that by dropping clients like a hot rock.
- Technology, obviously, is changing by the minute and as real estate professionals, we need to be ready to adapt. Buyers and sellers now expect to see property websites, drone photography, and 3D imagery, among other bells and whistles. The learning curve never stops curving!
- One of the biggest challenges of being a real estate agent is information management. I don’t mean the transaction documents, I mean the sheer daily blitz of email, texts, and tweets. I wish there was a way to create a digest of all that stuff, the “abridged” version. A skilled staff person can help, but I wish there was a better way.
What advice would you give to other real estate leaders to help their teams to thrive and to create a really fantastic work culture?
The role of leadership is to provide a model of both technical expertise and personal values. That means you have to know your business and you have to genuinely care about your co-workers and your clients. There’s no faking it. People’s moods and personal challenges, including health, can affect the outcome of a transaction. As a leader, you need to know what’s happening. “No surprises” is a really good goal for a real estate deal.
Ok, here is the main question of our interview. You are a “Real Estate Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the Real Estate industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each
- Do your own comps. Early on, we made an expensive mistake, relying on comps that had been provided to the seller by another agent. Market conditions had changed subtly and we had to waste a lot of time catching up with where things should have been from the beginning.
- Don’t just tell clients what they want to hear. Salespeople are “pleasers.” We want our clients to like us. Giving them the advice they want is the easiest trap for agents to fall into. Whether it’s regarding pricing, condition, a decision on purchasing, or negotiating, it’s absolutely critical to do your homework and say the hard thing if that’s what needs to be done.
- It’s not all about the money. The money is certainly a nice reward, but it’s not the only one, and you’re going to work your butt off to get it! It helps a lot if you enjoy what you are doing and value the people you’re doing it with.
- Take a deep breath. This business requires a lot of patience and a bottomless reserve of positivity. You’re going to hear the same questions over and over — often from the same client — and what worked last time isn’t necessarily going to work this time. Everyone has their own pace and process.
- Hold your tongue. Real estate is an intimate business. Pretty quickly, you get into the personal lives of your clients. You know their financial situation, you learn about their personal relationships, and you’re very likely, sooner or later, to see them reacting to stress. No matter how famous or wealthy they are, your clients deserve your respect and your absolute discretion. It’s an honor to be trusted, so take it seriously.
Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Well, it’s certainly not my original idea, but empathy is something I think about a lot: the idea of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. We’re very quick to make assumptions about people. If we were required, especially at some point in our youth, to exchange lives with someone else for a while, I think the results would be pretty profound.
Our interaction with our real estate clients often doesn’t start or end with a sale or purchase. Our relationship continues with lifestyle management services. It’s very gratifying to have this ongoing trust and communication.
We are currently representing a classic estate in Beverly Hills and handling the lease of an architecturally significant property in Hollywood. We also represent buyers, including two who are looking for ocean front properties in Malibu.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.