She’s Got the Whole World…
Betty Graham is ready to take on the world. Graham, previously the president and COO for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Greater Los Angeles, in March was named the president of the Coldwell Banker Previews International division for NRT. In this new role, Graham will oversee the drive to increase visibility of Coldwell Banker Previews International’s luxury marketing program, which represents many of the world’s most prestigious real estate on the market today.
By Ken Weingartner
“I think exceptional properties should be marketed exceptionally,” says Graham, who in April began her 36th year in the real estate business. Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Greater Los Angeles, for which Graham oversaw 33 sales offices and more than 2,300 sales associates, is the market leader in Southern California.
Graham was born in Alabama and later moved to Missouri, where she worked on the family’s cotton farm. When she was 15, the family moved to California and Graham settled in the Los Angeles area to go to school and study photojournalism. She got a job at CBS and at the age of 18 was hired as Johnny Carson’s personal assistant. Two decades later, she began a career in real estate, where her Hollywood connections were invaluable.
“I was made for it,” says Graham. “I was so excited when I started that I couldn’t sleep the first several months. I was wired; it was so much fun. Johnny was a very selective and loyal person. To have a longstanding relationship with him was a great honor for me and he was instrumental with my springboarding into the field.”
Graham recently spoke with Homes & Estates about her new position and her blueprint for success.
H&E: Congratulations on the new position. How do you view your responsibilities in this role?
BG: I’m excited! I simply want to shine a brighter light on our Previews accomplishments, and drive greater focus to the luxury division while we steer our marketing to the right eyes. An increasing number of our buyers are coming internationally, from Russia, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. What’s clear is that it doesn’t matter if it’s a beautiful apartment on the Il Saint-Louis in Paris or if it’s a showplace in Honolulu with views of Diamond Head, we have an incredible collection of beautiful properties. These properties deserve to have exceptional marketing and exceptional presentation.
H&E: What is the key to accomplishing that goal?
BG: People always ask how we have such success in LA. They want to have the formula. The formula is having smart, caring agents with deep relationships engaged in the same goal, which is to do the right thing, be professional, and be the most informed. An agent must be really truly equipped to handle the high-end buyer and the high-end seller. It doesn’t just happen without attention, wisdom and sensitivity to their needs.
H&E: In what ways have you created attention to such details?
BG: There are many ways. One of our successes in LA is that we have an architectural division. Jan Horn, who started the division in 1991, saw there was such pride in sellers who own finely designed properties and thought we could open up an opportunity there if we defined it that way. We started with six that closed that year that were notable for their architectural designs. Now in Greater LA alone, we are closing at least 150 annually. The sellers have a lot of their own identity attached to the beauty of their home. When they have a fine architectural home, they don’t think they have just a house, they think they have a treasure. The truth is they do.
H&E: It seems like being informed is valuable on a number of levels.
BG: You’ve got to know the inventory and you’ve got to know what people value. Putting together buyers and sellers is a very satisfying accomplishment for an agent. I think that’s what drives great agents. It’s like a puzzle. If you’ve got an intellectual, private couple that likes to play tennis, you look for another intellectual, private couple that likes to play tennis. Putting together the right personalities and the right house is great fun.
H&E: Coldwell Banker Previews International had last year’s biggest sale with Bel Air’s Le Belvédère (at approximately $50 million) and had several other notable sales by the end of the year. How was that accomplished?
BG: Le Belvédère was a perfect example of putting the right buyer and seller together. The property had more than 20 garage spaces and the buyer is a car collector. We were very proud of that sale, as well as a $40 million beach home, and several in excess of $30 million. The end of last year was amazing; we were popping them right and left with really high-end listings. We represented either the buyer or the seller on 25 transactions in excess of $14 million. Smart money is coming back into real estate. The fact people are putting that kind of investment into homes is exciting for real estate in general.
H&E: Previews has the three most expensive listings on the market now and four of the top eight. That must be exciting for the future.
BG: As successful as Previews has been in certain areas of the country, I think we’re going to see it explode in all high-end areas. Global strength is so important to our network and our industry. I think the global market is ripe for the expertise, innovation, reach and vision of Previews. It’s important for a seller to know they’re getting maximum exposure. I wouldn’t want to be on this journey with anybody but Coldwell Banker. I’m thrilled. We just want to break new records and reach new milestones, and I expect we’ll do so.
A Storied Career
Betty Graham began her career as a top-producing agent in Malibu. She owned her own firm, Coast and Canyon Realtors, prior to joining Jon Douglas Company in 1982. She was promoted to branch manager two years later and in 1990 introduced the company to San Francisco by opening and managing its Pacific Heights office, as well as serving as regional manager and vice president of Jon Douglas Company. In 1993, she was appointed branch manager of the firm’s Beverly Hills North office. Four years later, the company merged with NRT under the banner of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.
Graham received the company’s coveted Manager of the Year Award in 1998 and 2002. She is an active member of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce and was honored with the organization’s Women of Achievement Award in 1999 and President’s Award in 2000.
“I was 40 years old when I got my license, and my life started then,” Graham says with a chuckle of satisfaction. “Every single day since then has been amazing.
“Emotions and money go hand in hand, so it’s a thrill to be the rock, to be the stability, for buyers and sellers in the emotions of a deal. You get to ride that ride. It’s much more fun than the entertainment industry. If you are intrigued at all with psychology and what makes people tick, this can be an incredibly satisfying business.”