WSJ: Beyoncé & Jay-Z Are Clients, So Too Larry Ellison: How a Superbroker Operates
If you’re Kurt Rappaport—a real-estate agent to the stars, with billionaires on speed dial and $100 million home sales under your belt—there’s really only one way to throw yourself a housewarming party, and that’s by inviting Snoop Dogg to DJ.
The 2022 event, at Rappaport’s old Hollywood-style compound in Los Angeles, was the culmination of a five-year renovation. It epitomized the rarefied world of luxury real estate in which Rappaport operates, where A-list clients flip $50 million homes and industrious agents can make fortunes of their own helping others buy and sell real estate.
At 52, Rappaport is at the pinnacle of a gilded world of superbrokers, featured in reality TV shows like “Selling Sunset” and “Million Dollar Listing.” Now a landmark court verdict threatens to upend the business after a federal jury in Missouri found the National Association of Realtors and large brokerages conspired to keep commission fees artificially high. The industry norm is 6%, split evenly between the buyer and seller’s agents. As a result of the ruling, the federal trial judge could mandate industrywide changes to the way brokers are paid.
At stake nationally is roughly $100 billion that Americans pay each year in real estate commissions. By his own estimate, Rappaport sold $1.6 billion worth of real estate last year, an amount that almost certainly earned him tens of millions of dollars in fees.
With a newfound ability to negotiate, home shoppers with access to real-estate data may forgo having two agents, or insist on paying less. Rappaport predicts agents could have to step up their game—to work harder, work smarter, develop thicker skin, leave it all on the table, he says. “There are a lot of people who think it’s easy and they can just take their friends to look at properties and that’s really not what this business is about,” he says.
He’s confident that his own niche at the high-end is secure. “No one is buying a $50 million or a $100 million house without having someone represent them,” he says. “We don’t get paid for our time. We don’t get paid for the effort,” he said. “You get paid for whether you win or lose, whether you get the result. You can always find someone who will charge less, but will they get it done?”
Six-foot-2-inches tall with a thicket of dark hair, Rappaport grew up in Los Angeles as the only child of parents who split when he was young. After moving in with his father, entertainment lawyer Floyd Rappaport, the teenager hobnobbed with the rich and famous at Spago and industry parties.
By his 20s, Rappaport was muscling his way to the top of L.A.’s glittering real-estate scene. After dropping out of the University of Southern California, he got an entry-level job at a production company, but quickly pivoted to real estate, which he loved for its deal making, architecture and design. In 1994, when Rappaport was 22, he listed Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss’s Beverly Hills-area home, priced just under $1.8 million. (Michael Douglas bought it.) Around then, he also sold a $10 million home to Sylvester Stallone, and a slew of VIP clients followed. In 1999, Rappaport and business partner Stephen Shapiro launched their own brokerage shop, Westside Estate Agency. “I do the management,” Shapiro told real-estate trade magazine the Real Deal in 2020. “He sells.”
A turning point came in the early 2000s. Rappaport was out to dinner when an anonymous caller rang his cellphone. It was Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, who wanted to see a beachfront property in Malibu the next day. The story, now industry lore, goes that the listing agent wasn’t free but Rappaport opened the door anyway and Ellison bought the house for $11.8 million in 2002. Rappaport has since brokered more than 30 sales for Ellison and trophy-home collectors like him. In addition to Ellison, Rappaport’s repeat clients include talk-show host and serial home-flipper Ellen DeGeneres, and over the years he has represented Ryan Seacrest, David Geffen, Brad Pitt and Madonna. Earlier this year, Rappaport brokered Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s roughly $200 million purchase of an oceanfront Tadao Ando-designed mansion in Malibu, a deal that set a California sales record. He is currently marketing the Bel-Air estate of the late billionaire financier Gary Winnick for a potentially record-setting $250 million.
The unrelenting grind reaps rewards, particularly at an elite level.
In 2020, when Rappaport surfaced as a bidder to buy the New York Mets, Forbes estimated he was worth $250 million. The same year, he paid $3.7 million for a 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card. “Not only is it beautiful, but it’s rare,” he told TMZ Sports, describing the baseball card the same way one might view fine art or architecture.
Rappaport has also parlayed his winnings into his own portfolio of luxury homes. In 2018, he sold a 15,000-square-foot Malibu mansion to Canadian billionaire Daryl Katz for $85 million and his Hollywood Hills home to Tinder co-founder Sean Rad for $26.5 million. A year before selling the Malibu house, Rappaport got married there to model Sarah Hutch in a star-studded affair featuring a performance by Christina Aguilera. The marriage was short-lived; after their 2018 split, Rappaport married Zorana Kuzmanovic. They live in the compound that was completed in 2022.
Rappaport said some agents spend their money on vacations or cars, but not him. He has been buying real estate himself ever since he began selling it. “It’s not just that I’m trying to make a deal,” he said. “I put my money where my mouth is. That’s how you get wealthy. By owning, not by being a broker.”
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