What decisions and paths should the real estate industry be prioritizing? And how can you, whether managing a team or an entire company, bring those best lessons to bear where you work? In February, in advance of building an industry blueprint at Inman Disconnect, we’ll plumb the topic of leadership with Q&As with top industry leaders, contributions from esteemed Inman columnists and more.
It’s been a year of change at the eponymous Beverly Hills boutique luxury brokerage founded by industry titans Rick Hilton and Jeff Hyland in 1993.
Last February, Hyland tragically passed away following a battle with cancer. In the wake of his untimely passing, Hilton & Hyland fell into a tumultuous period. Several agents departed the firm, including top producer Drew Fenton and more than 50 agents he brought with him to launch a new brokerage called Carolwood.
In December, Lori Hyland, Jeff Hyland’s widow, took over as sole owner of Hilton & Hyland, as Hilton announced that he would be moving on to establish a new brokerage called Hilton & Hilton with his son, Barron Hilton.
Then, last month, the firm announced that long-time top producer David Kramer, who also led the David Kramer Group, would be taking up Hyland’s former role as the firm’s president.
Inman recently caught up with Kramer to discuss what lies ahead for the brokerage during this transitionary period, which also comes as the market at large has slowed down significantly from recent highs. Here’s what he had to say, edited for brevity and clarity.
Inman: When you first started at Hilton & Hyland 18 years ago. Did you ever imagine you’d adopt the role of the firm’s president, and as it happens, stepping into Jeff Hyland’s shoes?
Kramer: I don’t think anyone steps into Jeff’s shoes. I think people learn from the company culture he created and the mentorship he gave me, and I go forward in a way that I put my own stamp on it while taking into account all I’ve learned from Jeff.
And of course, you have extensive industry experience and have received numerous accolades for your own and your team’s sales performance over the years, which speaks for itself in terms of your qualification for this new leadership position. What did you do before joining Hilton & Hyland?
I was in college, and I was an econ major at Cal State-Northridge and really didn’t know what I was going to do. Then I ran into somebody whose father owned a small boutique in Beverly Hills and he said, ‘You should consider meeting my dad and maybe going into real estate.’ And it was the weirdest thing, because a light bulb went off and everything went through my mind about what they do and how they do it, and I thought, ‘A business with unlimited potential that you can make your own — that’s what I’m going to do.’
And so while I was in my last year at college I started selling real estate, and in my first six months, I sold six houses. And I still have a picture on my desk of the first home I sold — it was a Polaroid [picture] — and it was $120,000, and it was for one of my best friends at the time. So that’s where I started. I lasted six months in that firm because they felt I was moving too fast …
[After a few years,] I had a deal with Jeff Hyland [while at Coldwell Banker], and I thought, I love everything this guy says and how he does business. And there were a lot of differences from what I had seen [before]. And I met with him for lunch and asked him a lot of questions. I asked him, ‘What does the company culture look like?’ And he said, ‘Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.’ And I was like, ‘I’m in.’ And I’ve been at Hilton & Hyland for 18 years.
Very nice. And will you still be representing clients in your new role?
Yes. [Kramer just recently closed a roughly 10,000-square-foot property in Beverly Hills for $18.35 million.]
Great. Now, I do want to address the fact that it’s been a very transitionary year for Hilton & Hyland with Jeff’s passing, leadership changes and a number of agents departing the firm. What kind of ideas do you have spinning around in your head about reestablishing a more stable environment?
What I intend to do is bring back and solidify company culture, because that’s what brought me to the firm, and that’s what I think is going to bring a lot of agents to the firm. We actually have a good stable of agents, but I believe that right now, more than anything, we need strong company culture. I call it a ‘soul’; we’re going to be a company with a soul.
I think that in the last 10-20 years, real estate has kind of lost its soul. We’re going to be about the agents. We’re going to be about helping each other as a collaborative group. One agent is going to help the other, and it’s going to be a very positive experience for everybody — not just the agents, but everybody who works at the company.
I’ve been around for a while — we had that many years ago, Hilton & Hyland definitely had that. [And] we still have it, but we’re going to reinforce it. We’re going to make it stronger and better, and I really feel that will help the firm grow to where I want it to grow.
If you had to choose, what would you say are the one or two most important components of company culture?
As a company, mutual respect for each other, and on the agent side, I call it a generosity of spirit. You’re hoping that everyone else does well, you cheer them on when they do well. We root each other on when we do well, we help each other when we have problems, we give information freely [and] trust each other.
Our business is tough enough, and that extra support [is important], and I don’t want to sound ridiculous but making it kind of a family.
I don’t think that sounds ridiculous at all. Speaking more about transitions, the real estate market in general has been going through its own transition and becoming more challenging as it slows down. What advice do you have for Hilton & Hyland agents, or any agent, in terms of getting through this period?
It goes back to company culture again. On average, Hilton & Hyland has sold 33 percent of our listings in-house, and that’s because in our business, information is power. A lot of clients will say, whoever finds me a house makes the sale. So information is important.
By freely, trustingly sharing information, you do a lot more business. And it’s not only sales, but it’s also just to get information. [For example,] if I have an issue and I need a specific type of lawyer, or I have a problem that I haven’t seen before. So by collectively helping each other and sharing information, we will be fine. We will continue to make money.
One of our strongest years in the company history to date was 2008 when a lot of the industry was struggling; we did very well. And I believe that is because of company culture. In January , we already had a lot of agents sharing information, helping each other out … You do much better, you’re not on your own, and you’re not subject to the ups and downs of real estate as much as you would normally be.
Thinking more about what lies ahead for 2023, do you have anything on your to-do list in particular in terms of your personal or professional life?
In terms of my work life, I really think that we have a lot of work to do to grow the firm the way that we want to grow it and bring in people who understand the generosity of spirit and want that environment. And we will help agents flourish.
The reason that I came to Hilton & Hyland is because I felt that it was a company where there was no limit, that if I needed help in the high-end, I had someone to share with or someone who could help me understand how to deal with larger listings, how to deal with clients that are in the high-end. It’s a skill, and it’s something you learn through time. So I think Billy Jack [Carter], Lori [Hyland] and I have a task ahead of us to really grow the company in that way.
It really comes back to creating an environment where there are no limits, that you’re in a helpful, caring environment where you feel good, you’re happy to go to work. You have a sense of pride in the firm. You have a sense of pride in the people you work with, and you know that when you go to an event or a broker’s open, and people know you’re with Hilton & Hyland, they know what you’re about. And it’s not about arrogance at all — that’s something that’s really important to me, is not to confuse confidence and arrogance.
Got it. Now, for a bit of a lighter question — there are so many iconic, historic properties in L.A., some of which you’ve represented in the past (like Spelling Manor). Are there any on your list you dream of representing in upcoming years?
Great question — I’d have to think about that. If I start naming names … [laughs]
I’ll say this: Part of the reason I love this business is because of the interesting properties I get to represent, as well as some of the interesting people I get to represent. Some of the properties I’ve represented may not be famous or iconic, but the people have been fascinating and interesting and wonderful — and surprising, quite frankly.
I’m sure you meet all kinds of interesting people. I’ve got one more forward-thinking question for you: As others in the industry not affiliated with Hilton & Hyland watch on as the firm evolves, what should they expect to see from you all this year?
I think they’re going to see the firm grow and evolve into a group of people who are going to be there, not just to do well within the office, but also within the industry. Agents with a helpful spirit who are going to try to effect some change on this industry, with a level of education, with a level of knowledge, with a level of professionalism, a level of cooperative spirit. So I think our company culture is going to extend beyond our walls and into the industry.
I didn’t become president to be president, I became president to have an effect on the industry that I love so much. The one thing I got from Jeff is, he loved real estate. He loved the business, he loved the people, he loved what he did. And I’ve been like that since the moment I got in this business. I said at our first meeting, ‘We’re the luckiest people in the world.’ And I really, truly feel that I believe that, and I want Hilton & Hyland to be the shining beacon on this industry. And it was — and it will continue to be.