Los Angeles real estate veteran Steve Lewis, formerly a VP with the John Aaroe Group, watched with growing wariness as his brokerage merged with peer Pacific Union in 2016, then as Partners Trust joined the combined companies in 2017, and as Pacific Union took a majority stake in Gibson International, and all three were renamed under the banner Pacific Union International in early 2018. With around 900 agents, it was just too big for Lewis’s comfort.
He left the company late March 2018 to set up his own brokerage in April, the business officially getting its license on May 25. This week he announced the launch of his own Beverly Hills luxury boutique brokerage, the Core Real Estate Group.
Core will specialize in luxury residential and commercial property, covering mainly the Los Angeles Westside property markets.
Lewis and Core have signed over 30 agents in 30 days, including senior agents from the Pacific Union LA branch, among them: Mimi Starrett, Jeanne and Joey Valvo, Nina Chinn and Craig and Evelyne Ashley. Alissa Solomon, formerly of the recent Douglas Elliman acquisition Teles Properties, has also joined the growing team.
The new brokerage, based at 250 North Canon Drive in Beverly Hills, is coincidentally in the same building as John Aaroe’s first company, Aaroe & Associates and until recently, Hilton & Hyland, which has moved nearby.
It will be consciously boutique in its approach, with a tailored and uncomplicated focus, said Lewis, who has brought seasoned office administrator, Craig Rogers and marketing director, John Dowd with him.
As president and broker of record, he sees his role with his agents as helping them through transactions, doing “deal doctoring” when called upon, with no axe to grind of his own.
“It really is about giving agents a steady hand, it’s an insecure time in the business,” Lewis told Inman.
Lewis has talked to his own mentors before launching. “John Aaroe is an industry icon and another mentor of mine and he’s been nothing but incredibly encouraging.” he told Inman, adding that the timing of Core’s launch seems to have been just right for a number of senior agents.
Agents have in the last several months started to realize that the big companies may not be for them, that this is not a “one-size-fits-all” business, he said.
For example, two agents have come over from Douglas Elliman in L.A, which bought Teles Properties last August. Why choose Core over their new corporate owner? “Teles started as a boutique, family-style company it’s now much more corporate, you have to do things the corporate way, ” Lewis said.
Of Core’s 32 agents so far, with very few exceptions, Lewis said he has worked with virtually every one of them.
“If you are here, you are a pro,” he said.
For the past few years, agents might have thought if they were not with a big company they might not be taken seriously but all of a sudden this is changing, he said.
Agents in companies that have been acquired by corporate-style brokerages are thinking, “What am I getting, other than a lot of frustration?” said Lewis.
Lewis is backed by a trust which owns his building. When it comes to the ever growing technological components of real estate, he said he will be cherry-picking and buying outright the tech and tools his agents ask him for, but that, in contrast to other brokerages, it will be about keeping life simple for agents.
“These companies feed new tools like a firehose at the agents, the managers gets on to the agents, saying, ‘we need you guys to come to a seminar to learn about this tool.’ The agents say, ‘No, I don’t need that,’ so the company managers get frustrated.”
Meanwhile the LA market is extremely competitive at the moment and only getting worse, said Lewis, with trust going out of the business. “What we want to do is empower agents, to quote my mentor, (real estate great) Jon Douglas, ‘to do the right thing.’ You are not seeing that in the current LA market.”
“LA has gotten ruthless – dollars are so large but it’s a race to the bottom,” he added.
The Core president said he could see his company growing to as big as 100 plus agents, but vowed it will maintain just the one office. While the bulk of agents he is taking on are seasoned players, he said he is talking to an agent mentor in the market who, when she arrives, will be able to train new agents.
He has been surprised at how often agents are coming into the office.
“It’s fun, I like being here on Canon Drive – it’s real estate row,” he said.