San Diego Lisa Whitney's cerulean-blue Jaguar glides through the streets of La Jolla at 8:15 a.m. Its driver is bound for a "pitching session" with the La Jolla Real Estate Brokers Association. She is dressed in a black pants suit, and, though the sun has not finished its magisterial ascension, she wears dark sunglasses.
"It's very exclusive," Lisa says of the Brokers Association, nosing the Jaguar Sovereign into a parking spot. "But you have to be in it if you want to sell in La Jolla."
Lisa Whitney knows about selling residential real estate in La Jolla. Within the last two years, the 30-ish Coldwell Banker agent/former model has risen through the ranks of seasoned La Jolla real estate salespersons to become one of the area's top reps. With her husband, Gregg, she's now a member of Coldwell Banker's "President's Elite," earning gross commissions over $250,000 a year.
"Very seldom have I ever seen an agent climb the ladder of success as quickly as she has," says La Jolla Real Estate Brokers Association (REBA) president Karsten Joehnk, who is also Lisa Whitney's former landlord. "Agents often take 10 to 15 years to get up to that volume level -- and she's accomplished that in 2 years." Doing this was no small feat. According to "residential biz" insiders, breaking into the La Jolla market is like storming a family gathering at Buckingham Palace -- very few succeed. It takes chutzpah, connections, and an almost delusional belief in one's sales abilities. A touch of La Jolla "old money" image helps, too.
After fielding a call from Gregg on her car phone, Lisa alights from the Jaguar and enters the very un-La Jolla REBA building at 908 Kline Street. Within its 1960s-drab interior are convened nearly 60 agents. Some have already taken seats in metal fold-up chairs. Others are shmoozing -- sipping coffee, shaking hands, nodding "hellos" across the room, and talking into cell phones in urgent, hushed tones. Only two look like Central Casting Real Estate Agents -- a pair of bejeweled dowager-blondes attired in bright colors. They, too, wear sunglasses, despite the fluorescent lights. Most of the other agents -- clad in short sleeves, slacks, cotton dresses -- could claim just about any profession: accountant, librarian, lawyer, nurse. Except Lisa Whitney, who is perched against a dinette wall, surveying her compatriots' bobbing heads.
With her mane of cocoa hair, green eyes, and black-suited 5´8´´ frame, she commands attention. Her polished leonine look is less La Jolla than Beverly Hills, where agents boast Cristophe haircuts and chauffeur starlets and visiting sheiks in glinting-black Mercedes convertibles. Black, right now, is the "in" color for California real estate agents. A recent Brentwood "for-the-trade" open house lured so many black-suited, black-dressed, black-car-driving agents that at least one passerby mistook the gathering for a wake.
As Karsten Joehnk bids greetings to the agents, a few female reps approach Lisa to rave about her seven-month-old toddler, Brooks. Hearing her daughter's name brings a huge grin to Lisa's face. "She's so adorable, Lisa!" an agent whispers, as Joehnk continues his speech. "She's the most adorable baby!" "She's such a beautiful baby," says another.
The "pitching session" has begun. Joehnk summons agents one by one to the front of the room, where they lean into a microphone to describe the properties they're selling. A young Arab man tells the audience that his client is "very motivated" to part with a million-dollar home. A cherubic matron, in an inaudible voice, sings the praises of a four-bedroom home.
"Lisa Whitney?" Joehnk calls out.
Lisa Whitney steps up to the microphone to introduce a $339,000 Coast Boulevard condo. "The buyers have tremendous motivation to sell," she begins. "And these kids have done a fantastic job remodeling the whole thing." She quickly details the condo's assets and, with great subtlety, underplays its size -- less than 1000 square feet. "It's great for a first-time buyer, trade-up, or second home," she concludes, and is soon followed to the microphone by a succession of fellow pitch artists: a rouge-cheeked sprite; a Jane Curtin lookalike who apologizes for her ailing seller who "can't show the house for a while"; a soft-spoken midlifer who, shrugging, announces that his property-under-construction has been increased an extra million dollars (from $2.9 million to $3.9 million) because "it's turning out better than we thought"; a red-haired woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to Queen Elizabeth I; a sun-hatted European who repeatedly refers to her $1,395,000 property as "chahming, chahming..."; and a mirthful brunette who informs the group, amid chortles, that the red-kitchened, red-walled house she's been trying to sell finally has been discounted.
The most poignant pitch, however, comes from a dark-complected man with a vaguely Indian accent. "I need your help," he says. "This house I am introducing is my daughter's house. She has just bought another house." And he launches into the morning's lengthiest pitch, describing his offspring's four-bedroom residence with passion and detail.
After the pitch session, Lisa Whitney beelines for the REBA entrance but is broadsided by more well-wishers. "You have the sweetest baby," one tells her. "How's Brooks?" asks another, clutching her arm. After praising Lisa's toddler, the woman secures Lisa's promise to co-orchestrate a baby shower for another agent, a mutual friend. Soon Lisa is back in her Jaguar, heading toward the condo on Coast Boulevard, which she will show to fellow agents until noon. Just a block from the condo, she passes a white Jeep Cherokee driven by a good-looking blonde man about Lisa's age. Lisa brakes mid-street. "Honey!" It is Gregg Whitney. The two lean out their windows to exchange schedules. As cars approach, Lisa and Gregg agree to meet for lunch, wave good-bye, then head off in opposite directions.
The condo building at Coast Boulevard is tall, old, and faded. Its lobby is small and smells of cooking. The elevator is tiny, almost antique. Lisa Whitney strides up the edifice's stairs, where she meets three waiting agents. "They're redoing the entire building," she says, before they ask. "Remodeling everything, and it's going to look great. The lobby, the elevator... The workers are outside right now." As if on cue, electrical equipment revs up.