Syd Leibovitch Is Addicted to Real Estate

While studying law at UCLA, Syd Leibovitch stumbled into real estate trying to earn some extra cash. And after selling just a few homes, he quickly became hooked on the profession and ditched law school plans.

Following graduation, Leibovitch went on to work for a few big-name brokerages of the time, including one that merged with Coldwell Banker, when he decided the bureaucratic life was not for him and it was time to start his own company. Leibovitch founded Paramount Properties, a venture that later evolved into Rodeo Realty, in 1986 at the age of 25. Today, the company stands as one of the largest independent residential brokerages in California, operating 12 offices and with its hands in approximately 5,000 transactions a year.

Leibovitch sat down with the Business Journal to discuss his career, what’s it like running an independent firm and company growth plans.

Rodeo Realty has 1,200 agents spanning Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange counties. What’s it like to oversee it all?

It’s very rewarding. Now I have the children of some agents working here. I’ve watched them grow up and now I see them selling real estate. I’ve seen people go from nothing to doing really well. It’s always a challenge. I love handling the more difficult deals. I love motivating and trying to get people to understand that they can get to the next level if they believe in themselves and follow a program. I like to think of myself more like a coach than a business owner.

Syd Leibovitch at his desk.

Are you still selling real estate?

Back in the day, the agent didn’t want an owner that was competing against them. So I made a decision to stop selling (around 2010). I was one of the top agents here, but I made a decision to stop selling and focus on running the company. But I’m seeing a new breed now. A new philosophy where some of these people that do own these companies are selling real estate and the agents seem to like it. I will do some deals, but they’re mostly higher-end deals.

Within Los Angeles, which neighborhoods are you most passionate about, and why?

Whatever my clients are looking for, I just love the houses that are the right houses in that price range. I mean, who’s not passionate about a $100 million house in Bel Air, Beverly Hills or Holmby Hills – which is probably the area that I know best these days – but I’m really familiar with many areas because we have agents all over. I’m passionate about all real estate.

You’ve supervised more than 150,000 real estate transactions. Does one stand out to you?

I’d say the first home I sold when I was in college has to be one of them. I was 22 and I was able to show a young couple (some) homes. After seeing 10 or 15, they decided on one. It was a colonial on a large lot with a view and pool. When the escrow closed, I met them at the house and delivered the keys and a microwave oven that I bought them as a housewarming gift. The wife was pregnant, and she gave me the biggest hug and said, ‘I never imagined owning a home like this!’ That is what sold me on real estate. I knew immediately that I had found a profession for life.

Another home that I sold was a 7,000-square-foot home. The buyer had recently gone through a divorce. He was in a new relationship with a lady whose husband had passed away. I sold both of their homes and sold them the 7,000-square-foot home. When I met them to thank them and bring the keys and a gift, he said, ‘I not only got a great house, I made a great friend!’

Of course I’ve been involved in homes that have sold for $62 million, $70 million, $94 million, but it’s sales like the two above that have been the most rewarding. I’ve met so many great people and have hundreds of close relationships. I could not be more proud to be a real estate agent.

Syd Leibovitch in his company’s in-house print shop.

What’s it like running an independent brokerage? How does Rodeo Realty set itself apart from its bigger competitors?

I think the difference is that I’m a real estate person. I grew up selling real estate. I’m used to working with buyers and sellers, and I’m not asking anybody to do anything that I haven’t done myself. I think I’m in a unique position over these other companies because they’re run by brilliant people – much smarter than me, MBAs from Harvard and stuff and they ran huge companies – but they never sat in an open house and sold homes and showed property and worked with clients. It’s hard to know how something is until you’ve done it. Everything we do here is with that in mind.

This is a sad time in real estate. It’s a sad time in everything. Services are out the window. These real estate companies have cut back so much on staff and marketing and advertising that there’s just very little help for these people. And they bought all the companies that were supportive to try to get them out of the marketplace. Do we really all need to work for a giant corporation? They do everything they can to stop me. They hate me because I’m standing in their way.

Given the number of high-profile agent moves we’ve seen lately, how do you attract and keep talent?

I think you have to take great care of them. You have to have a lot of staff, a lot of service, and you have to care. And I’m very fortunate because I had three top agents that left. Two have come back and one we’re going to announce is coming back next week. We’ve been very fortunate; we very rarely have people leave.

Do you have any plans to expand into other markets or open additional offices?

Yes, we’re really looking for opportunities to expand. Right now, everybody is closing offices and cutting back. I’m kind of hanging in there, but I am looking for opportunities.

I’d really love to expand to the Newport Coast. I’d love to expand to the Pasadena area. I’d love to expand and open another office in the South Bay area (and maybe) Palm Springs. I don’t want to go so far that I can’t oversee it.

What’s next for Rodeo Realty?

We want to keep growing slowly so that we can continue to deliver everything that we promise. It’s our job to add value, to help take our agents’ careers to the next level and to make sure that our clients are getting the very best service that can be possible.

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