By the time Paul Lester walked through the door to the office he shares with Aileen Comora at The Agency, he had already been to West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Malibu and Brentwood. This is all after three hours of e-mailing and orchestrating open houses with clients and—most alarmingly—before having his first cup of coffee. That’s what you can expect from the dynamic duo, who are the only real estate agents in town sharing an office as well as every dime they bring in.
Since this is LA, we’ll share Paul and Aileen’s official “meet que,” the filmmaking term used to describe when two characters first meet in a scene. Both were working at Sothebys in Beverly Hills at the time, a “boutiquey” agency with 35 employees. Aileen had already taken notice of Paul’s unrelenting friendliness and work ethic, along with one other thing: his bushy, goatee beard. “I expected birds to fly out,” she recalls.
The two were in the copy room one afternoon when Paul, who had an earlier career as a classically trained ballet dancer, noticed Aileen standing a certain way. “Do you dance?” he asked, emulating her 3rd position stance, and from then on the two began a friendship that extended well beyond the office walls. After sharing listings and keeping in contact for a few years, Aileen popped the question of becoming business partners. Over a nice dinner, Paul accepted.
We caught up with the “secret agents” to uncover how they came to form a partnership amongst sharks, what makes them successful, and why they dedicate themselves to selling homes in the first place.
Why “Secret Agents?”
AILEEN: The nickname first came about when I started in this business—twenty-six years ago— because I didn’t like to be in front of the camera or stick my head out in the public eye, and Paul shares that same quality.
How did you divide and conquer your separate clients and work loads?
PAUL: We split everything in half. On a handshake. Boom. To this day, nothing has been negotiated or settled by a piece of paper.
I imagine you two have to play a combination of man-on-man and zone defense. How do you balance clients?
A: This is the beauty of our relationship: patience that is saintly. We work in tandem as well as have clients that are solely mine or solely Paul’s. It just depends on the client and situation, but one of us is always the main focus in a transaction—the point person for the entire deal.
P: It really does depend on the client because while some are all about facts and figures others just really want you to hold their hand throughout the process. We’re always there to support each other, and when necessary, step-in for the other person and take over the steering wheel.
Since joining forces seven years ago, Paul and Aileen’s partnership has evoked comparisons to a marriage—without the seven-year itch.
A: We came to The Agency as a team—a package deal—and each year is acknowledged like an anniversary. We definitely resemble a married couple and fight like a married couple.
Paul’s better at delegating.
P: Yeah, she’s a failure at that.
A: He’s a little more practical while I take on a larger slice of the responsibility.
P: Aileen has a wonderful way of describing the fluidity of a house using beautiful language.
A: I like to describe homes as one would walk through them – the flow of a home, the qualities, the features…simple and not elaborate but also wording that will lead to a client’s reading about the property and wanting to see it.
The popularity of television series centering on buying and selling homes has seen a significant growth in recent years. What would you say to fellow agents or people watching these shows?
A: It is very sad to me when agents don’t realize that this is a service business and it’s all about representing the client. A lot of deals fail today because egos get in the way. We are the “secret agents” because we are behind the scenes to facilitate this amazing process of buying a home. We aren’t here to spend our client’s money.
P: I believe that a major reason why Aileen and I are successful is our ability to relate to our clients as people—as individuals who have diverse interests because Aileen and I have diverse interests and other things going on in our lives. Being able to relate on a real level builds trust so that a client can feel comfortable getting overly excited, falling apart, sharing a deep dark secret, or moving ahead on a property. The term “Real estate agent” doesn’t define who we are. We have much more on our plates.
With a degree in English, History, and Dance Performance Studies, your plate is plenty colorful. Care to share?
P: I like having the ability to draw upon all of my eclectic background to provide to a client a sophisticated understanding of a property they are considering. At this point in my life the main hat that I would wear would be for my design work. My first love was always architecture. I was drawing floor plans while my classmates were drawing trees and families. Over the years I’ve developed an intuitive sense of the rightness of a space—the delicate play between a space’s function and aesthetic sensibility. I think this prospective helps a client immensely when they are buying a home.
Aileen and I both share a deep interest in architecture and design and are incorporating more of that into what we can offer our clients.
For Aileen, the thrill of making a sale is not the rewarding part of her profession.
A: Real estate is not merely about property: it’s about the people and finding a home for them. My most incredible memory was representing these two actors looking to purchase their first home together. While I was showing them a particular house, I had to pull this woman aside because she was shaking. She said that this was her dream house and that they didn’t care about the price—they wanted to raise a family here. This pure and honest exchange reminded me of what a home is and how important our job as real estate agents are to guide people towards finding their personal haven.
While they both claim to be out of practice in the performing arts arena, Paul and Aileen are sure to sweep you off your feet when it comes to purchasing a home. Their diligent and energetic approach as partners is certainly a winning formula at The Agency and could be the pioneering step for the future of the real estate business.