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Selling LA, Episode 201: A Special House for a Special Person

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Welcome to Episode 201 of HGTV's Selling LA. Each Thursday night we join local brokers and their clients as they try to sell or buy high-end properties in a tough market. This week we're following Valerie Fitzgerald and the amazingly lovely Marisa Zanuck. Let's begin.

At the beginning of this week's episode, Valerie Fitzgerald of the eponymously named real estate agency meets with client Christine Holifield, the president and CEO of Van Nuys-based Elite Aviation. Christine explains that she is ready to unload the monster of a house she purchased with Valerie's help ten years ago. She's been leasing out the house for the past six months while living in her other home, but now she wants to sell the 18,000 square foot house in order to free herself of one of her mortgages. See, the rich really are just like us. Christine also informs Valerie that she needs to sell the house quickly--specifically within six months. We assume that is when the tenants are scheduled to leave.

After their confab in one of Christine's private jets, Valerie travels to visit Christine and take a tour of the house, which sits just above the Bel Air Country Club. Given the massive size of the house, it still manages to seem relatively homey and subdued--at least the parts we're shown. The house, located at 534 Barnaby Road includes eight bedrooms, eleven bathrooms, and, per the listing, a "children's wing" with three bedroom suites. The house is being listed at $28.5 million. Valerie's potential commission is $1.425 million.

During the tour, Valerie makes note of the tall ceilings, the 3,000 square foot master suite, and a crazy beautiful kitchen. The house basically sells itself. Thus, it's too bad that Valerie won't have free access to it because the tenant currently living there apparently can't be bothered. Valerie's challenge is to sell the house without actually showing it, i.e. doing any caravans or open houses. Christine reassures Valerie that she has faith in her selling skills, and they toast to the nearly impossible task.

Later, in a totally non-scripted moment, Christine calls Valerie to invite her to the relaunch party for her company. Apparently there will be oodles of rich people there with money falling out of their pockets, which Valerie quickly realizes will be a perfect opportunity to find interested buyers with $28 million to spare. She organizes her pretty lady agents into a room where they work out strategy for canvassing the party with flip books and big posters of the house. If they can't bring buyers to the house, they'll bring the house to the buyers! Or at least tiny pictures of the house. All this scene is missing is a "Go team!" hands-to-the-sky moment.

Several weeks later, Valerie and the girls go to the Elite party, which is being held in a hangar. The pretty lady agents, including past Selling LAers Nicole Contreras, Katy Landrum, and Dominique from Episode 3, work the room to find a potential buyer. As an aside, we wonder if this is the best strategy--throwing pretty sales girls at men with their aging, botoxed wives standing next to them. Considering women typically make the final decision in large purchases, perhaps the girls could have been uglied up a bit to seem less threatening. Please correct us if we're wrong.

At episode's end Valerie meets Christine for lunch. She happily tells Christine that a potential buyer is in the crosshairs, and she may have an offer within a few weeks. The interested party has made three visits to the house, and has scheduled an appointment for a fourth visit. He even brought his wife. Christine is thrilled that she may finally be getting rid of the Barnaby property. Unfortunately, the postscript notes that no offer has been received yet.

No sale for Valerie Fitzgerald.

In the second storyline of the episode, Hilton & Hyland broker Marisa Zanuck is attending a private yoga class. While being twisted like a pretzel, she discusses a possible listing with her yoga instructor Mark. It seems that Mark has friends who are ready to list their multi-million dollar home on Mulholland and they're looking for an agent. Helpfully, Mark has recommended Marisa.

Later, Mark brings Marisa to the house on Mulholland, which from the outside looks nice but fairly innocuous. At the door they're greeted by the homeowner Ross Vance, who leads Marisa into the home where she comes face to face with...well, an overwhelming display of Renaissance-style frescoes painted onto the walls of the house. We want to say it's hideous, but we've seen worse, so on the scale of hideousness, with 10 being the most heinous and 1 being something that makes your eye twitch a little, this would probably be a 4. The house, located at 13319 Mulholland Drive, features 7,000 square feet, five bedrooms, six baths, a saltwater pool, and views of the Valley. It's being listed at $9.95 million. Like the Barnaby house, the kitchen is huge and designed for hosting parties. The house also includes inlaid mosaics on the floor, and similar frescoes on the outside.

Marissa explains that the frescoes were painted by a man from Italy who is the only man alive to have ever restored the paintings in the Vatican. The walls are insured for $1.4 million.

It's a bit overwhelming and Marisa wisely recognizes that most buyers will find the frescoes tacky or just plain ugly. However she couches her words carefully over and over again, in order to avoid saying that. A sampling of her very carefully thought out statements:

"This is a very special house for a special buyer" "It takes the right kind of person for every house. Somebody needs to walk into this house and really get it."

"I do have to think about who that specific buyer is going to be. It's going to be someone who has a love of the arts, loves Europe, loves Italy...who really wants a special Mediterranean home on a lot of acreage."

"The house will sell. It's just a matter of finding that right buyer."

"This is a very specific house. Somebody is going to walk in and they're going to get it."

Keller Williams agent Rob Aigner adds his take on the unique ugliness of the house: "It's a strong statement. It's powerful." But it's a $9 million listing, so what is she going to do? Turn that down? NO! Marisa decides that she will need to immerse herself in the art world to find a way to sell the house.

Marisa begins her immersion by visiting her friends at Lab Art. Her plan is to host a party/open house where she can merge the old-world style of the frescoes with the street art that we typically see pasted to the side of utility boxes when we drive down La Brea. She hopes the mashup of artistic styles will lure a crowd of art lovers, potential buyers, and people who enjoy seeing trainwrecks. As a sideshow, she plans to have an artist on site to paint for the enjoyment of the assembled guests.

The Lab Art people agree to provide 20 pieces of street art for the party and to find an artist to do the real-time painting. Marisa reminds them that the artist can't start spray painting and wheatpasting all over the walls. They agree to keep him away from the walls.

Later we join Marisa at the art party, which seems to be going well. A number of her co-brokers attend with a few potential buyers and some artsy looking fellows wearing scarves thrown in for good measure. The performance artist has been isolated outside where he happily paints a skull. Everyone seems impressed by the art party, although one of the agents in attendance suggests Marisa might want to look for an international buyer. Ugliness has no boundaries, people.

Following the party, Marisa explains that she has been contacted by agent Rob Aigner, who thinks he might have some potential leads. She sets up a private showing for Rob and his fellow Keller Williams agent Christian Stevens. Rob believes that Christian's international client base might mesh perfectly with this listing. He tells them both that he has some clients in Europe who would definitely be interested in the house. As Marisa noted earlier, people who like Europe, Italy, and art would be the perfect match for the property. People interested in Asia, Thailand, and cooking would not. Sadly, the postscript notes that no offer has been received on the house to date. Better luck next week, Selling LA!
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