The incredible path to success for The Agency’s James Harris and David Parnes is one for the books. The Million Dollar Listing L.A. stars and "Billion Dollar Brits" sold over half a billion dollars in real estate in 2017, and have just reached $1 billion in listing inventory in the first five months of 2018 alone. How do two lads from the UK move stateside and go on to build a billion dollar real estate empire—and keep the momentum going year after year? The answer may lie in a small but mighty team that serves as the backbone of the operation.
“Our success has been a 100% direct result of our teamwork and the individual strengths that each of us bring to the table,” says David. “Having a strong infrastructure allows James and I to dedicate ourselves completely to our clients, therefore, building on our success year after year." At the heart of the operation is Michelle Ficarra, a 30-year real estate veteran who has served as the team’s Director of Sales for the last three years, Alana Mesica, the team’s marketing and social media lead, and fellow agents Jen Winston and Shiva Elahi.
"Having someone with the experience that Michelle has to oversee the details of running our business has made all the difference for David and I," says James. "The dedication, commitment, loyalty and love we have for one another is absolutely amazing." We caught up with Michelle to get the scoop on what it takes to help manage the daily business of one of L.A.’s most successful real estate duos.
One billion dollars in inventory is no small feat, especially when you’re looking at multi-million dollar trophy properties, where some of the city’s top agents are competing with one another for the listings. What sets James and David apart from other agents?
To really succeed in real estate you have to get over the fear factor; it’s what prevents people from pushing forward. With James and David, there’s no fear or intimidation. They pick up the phone or set the meeting and make it happen. They’re diplomatic and fair, but at the end of the day they don’t take no for an answer—the work ethic is just in their DNA. Coming from a sales-oriented background, working in investments and hedge funds in the UK, they know how to close a deal, and they aren’t afraid to do the work. There is also a genuine quality to them that resonates with clients—they may be TV stars, but they’re honest, relatable, and of course, charming.
Considering James’ and David’s high-profile visibility on MDLLA, most would assume there is a huge team operating behind the scenes, but in fact, there are only four of you at the core of the operation. How does the scale of the team contribute to your overall success?
David always says, “We’re lean and mean; we divide and conquer—then we come together and celebrate.” We made it a point early on to keep our team tight. We’re all invested, and we share in the success. We get a lot of interest from the show and social media so many agents and assistants want to join our team, but at the end of the day, it’s James, David, Alana and myself as the core team. That’s crucial; it helps us maintain a level of control. The four of us have a group text and we're in constant communication all day, everyday. We’re all CC’d on every email so there’s never one person out in left field, and we’re each good at what we do. Alana focuses on coordinating showings and open houses, marketing and social media. I do all the contracts, research and analysis on pricing and I oversee all of our escrows, James and David are out there interfacing with the clients. We receive hundreds of emails a day and we answer emails and texts in record speed—that’s key to staying on top of everything. How do one or two busy agents manage ten escrows at a time, film a reality TV show and still go out and do showings and secure a billion dollars worth of listings? That’s when it helps to have a team. There’s this unspoken understanding between us; the minute we get a new listing or open escrow, we each just go out and do what we need to do—we’re on the same wavelength and have a system that works.
You’re personally approaching 30 years in real estate. How does that extensive background benefit the team?
I’ve had the good fortune of working with some of the most well-known leaders in this industry over the years. I've experienced every memorable cycle the market has gone through so one of the things that I bring to the table is frame of reference; I know the city, its people and its real estate. I run comps and perform detailed pricing analyses almost daily, so at the end of the day it's not us telling a client what their house is worth, it's the comps that dictate that to us. That’s part of my role. Being able to price something effectively comes from years of experience; knowing the houses, the market, the nuances of each neighborhood. I'm also very experienced with the contracts. This benefit is passed on to our clients who are protected if they are buying, selling or leasing. One small mistake can cost millions of dollars so I take risk management very seriously. I have a lot of agents that want me to mentor them so they can learn how to do the contracts and I tell them just read the contracts over and over again. That's the best way to master it. Providing a bit of wisdom in the form of 'been there, done that' doesn't hurt either. I can usually help David and James understand why an ad should be formatted a certain way or why we should use a particular photo or even why a specific clause should go into our contracts. All of this knowledge, experience and history in the business is one of our team's secret weapons.
What’s in store for the team for the rest of 2018; how will you maintain the incredible momentum you had last year?
One thing we were all extremely conscious of when we entered 2018 was that number—half a billion sold. How would we beat it? We did some really large deals, but the shift now is that we have built this incredible listing inventory valued at $1 billion. A large chunk of our sales in 2017 were development deals, where our client would be developing the property, and we've already signed and secured the listing for the finished product. Many of these are prime A+ residential sites where some of the city's best trophy properties will be built. I don’t think many agents are looking that far ahead—they don’t have the bandwidth, and they don’t always have the courage to negotiate the deal that far in advance. There are shades of gray with timing on all of these development projects, so it staggers out our listings and secures business for the future. We're all very excited to see what the future brings and for our next record-breaking achievement.