James Harris remembers being fed up with school and launching his real estate career at the tender age of 16. The Londoner persuaded his mother’s friend to take a headshot of him in a shirt, tie and blazer. (No employer would be able to tell that he was still donning his favorite track pants.)
But he was impressive for a teen, introducing himself to a number of real estate offices with his “awful” resume. He joined a firm that he ended up working with for five years in London’s trendy West Hampstead area, just five minutes from his home in St John’s Wood, a district northwest of the city.
Now in his 30s, Harris (pictured on the right above) is a top producer with luxury L.A. firm The Agency handling $40 million dollar properties in greater Los Angeles, New York, Switzerland and Hawaii with his business partner and best friend from London, David Parnes (pictured left), who stars in Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles.
Together they have a small, well-oiled team, a director of operations, an assistant to help with marketing and showings and two buyer’s agents.
In line with Harris’s inclination to break the mold from a young age, a major contributor to the pair’s success this year has been business coming through ThePLS.com (PLS stands for Pocket Listing Service), a online platform for pocket listings launched by top producers at The Agency (including Harris and Parnes) in August that has helped to double the British duo’s 2017 sales volume over 2016.
ThePLS.com aims to replace today’s scattershot marketing of pocket listings with a central repository accessible (and free) to all real estate agents — and no one else.
The service is designed to enhance the value proposition of agents by restoring their role as data gatekeepers to at least some degree, and by providing them with a way to test price points for homes and generate showings before listing them on the MLS.
Marketing homes off the MLS is controversial. Critics say the practice denies a home exposure to the full universe of buyers, creating the potential for it to sell for less than it should.
But as of late November, ThePLS.com had shared an array of off-market listings totaling $1.5 billion in value among 2,500 plus agents in L.A. and other U.S. markets.
Of Parnes and Harris’s $530-plus million sales volume so far this year (as of November), around 40 percent of their business has come from off-market transactions, Harris said.
Before ThePLS.com, Harris said he would get about 20 off-market listing emails a day that were hard to track. It’s easier to have them all in one place, he says.
“The whole purpose of it is bringing the power back to the real estate agent with companies like Zillow and Trulia taking the power away from agents,” Harris said.
In addition, with high-end sellers, qualifying buyers is key. Putting properties on ThePLS.com has suited a number of the agents’ well-heeled clients who would prefer to keep their property activities on the down low — they don’t want hordes of lookie-loos trawling through their homes. Some of Harris’s clients have stipulated that buyers are only allowed to literally “walk the land;” if they want to come inside, the owner wants to see proof of funds first.
“ThePLS.com is a great way to generate off market exposure before the property is complete,” Harris said. “We wouldn’t want to hit the MLS before it was 100 percent complete because it would be detrimental for the property, and we would accrue days on market.”
The platform is on track to accelerate Harris and Parnes’ sales volume in 2017 to $600 million, compared to $250 million last year, Harris said.