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The Westside Real-Estate Wars : An Aggressive Newcomer Is Changing the Tone of the Fight to Control the Most Exclusive Property Market in the Country

January 31, 1988|NINA J. EASTON | Nina J. Easton is a Los Angeles business writer

HANDS SLICING THE air with the intensity of propeller blades, Mike Glickman can barely contain himself. He is pacing, twirling, pacing again among rows and rows and rows of desks, each grounded by identical white phones and pink bouquets. "If you think like a millionaire, you become a millionaire," he says confidently. "No matter what happens, make it work for you. . . . Before you go to bed at night, write down something you want to accomplish the next day, or a goal you want to reach. . . . You want to always make yourself feel as good as possible. . . . For five years, I refused to think anything negative, believe anything negative, read anything negative, talk about anything negative. I would avoid all negative people. I would never read the front page of the newspaper, only the sports. . . . Good-luck charms definitely work to keep you self-motivated."

This is not a motivational seminar with the latest best-selling author of the latest best-selling "how-to-get-rich-without-really-trying" book. It's just another routine staff meeting at Mike Glickman Realty Inc. And Glickman, at age 27, has decided that the topic of his talk today is "How to Become a Millionaire." Curly brown hair falls below his shoulders, a rose-quartz good-luck charm hangs at the open neck of his bright-yellow shirt, and his mother, Harriet, sits glowingly at his left. "When I was No. 1, everyone hated me," Glickman says, as though recalling a lengthy career on the eve of his retirement. "When I wasn't No. 1, I hated myself."

Anyone who lives in the San Fernando Valley knows the Glickman name, which marks waves of "For Sale" signs in front of homes. In just three years, Mike Glickman Realty has taken over the Valley, elbowing aside competitors to become the residential brokerage company with the largest number of agents in the area--and leaving controversy in his wake. Some of his aggressive techniques have generated sharp criticism from other firms, and, in one case, an industry oversight board. Now this energetic entrepreneur is moving into the Westside in hope of carving out a large chunk of the nation's most affluent market. In fact, he saved his millionaire speech for this Tuesday afternoon meeting of agents at his first Westside outpost, ranks of desks in an office on Wilshire Boulevard in Brentwood that opened in October. He'll open a Beverly Hills office, he says, this summer.

So far, competitors say, Glickman hasn't made a dent in their business. But his entry into that market raises the ante in an already ferocious war among residential real-estate brokers on the west side of Los Angeles. The three largest residential brokers in Los Angeles County--Merrill Lynch Realty, Fred Sands Realtors and Jon Douglas Co.--according to a survey published in August, 1987, by the Los Angeles Business Journal, are well-entrenched in the wealthy Westside communities that stretch across the basin from Beverly Hills to Malibu.

Moreover, those three companies are run by tough, ambitious men who experienced success early in their lives, not unlike what the youthful Glickman is enjoying now. Jon Douglas is a former star athlete who has built one of the largest residential real-estate firms on the Westside by carefully cultivating an upscale, old-money image. Fred Sands came out of Boyle Heights to build an aggressive company that mirrored his own fevered drive. And Richard Merrill, president of Merrill Lynch Realty/Beverly Hills, is the company boy wonder who arrived in town at the end of 1986 to test his talents in this lucrative market.

Real estate has a reputation for being a rough, sometimes vicious, business. And as practiced on the Westside, in particular, it has never been a place for the fainthearted. Brokers and their sales agents are not above circulating rumors--sometimes true, sometimes not--that a competitor bends the rules, has a shady past, or, even worse, is about to go out of business. And firms' standings in the market are sometimes hard to pin down: Local real-estate people often refer to the Los Angeles Business Journal's surveys of the industry--which up until now have relied on information provided by the agencies themselves. It's an environment in which the three major companies are ever locked in a battle for the allegiance of the city's top-producing sales agents.

The Glickman style--competitors call his company "the K mart of real estate"--may be out of sync with the affluent Westside, where home prices at the major firms range from nearly $200,000 to $25 million, and average a hefty $400,000. No other residential market in the country matches this area in size and wealth. And industry observers question whether Glickman can tap the business of the Big Three, which are launching their own expansionary drives there. In addition, other companies, including Coldwell Banker and George Elkins Co., once the largest player on the Westside, are also stiffening the competition.

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