An Interview with Josh Altman of BRAVO TV’s Million Dollar Listing

by 21 Dec 2011

"You Haven’t Done Anything Right Until Someone Wants You Dead."  What every Loan Officer needs to know about The Killer Instinct

Managing Editor of The Niche Report magazine, Rick Roque, interviews Josh Altman of BRAVO TV's Million Dollar Listing

Josh Altman on March 2012 Cover of TNR
Editors Note: In my experience of working with sales professionals, loan officers and real estate agents are a dime a dozen.  There are always excuses as to why deals don’t get done – the market, the borrower, the banks, underwriting conditions, state laws, technology, bad sales manager, companies don’t equip the loan officer with the right tools to be successful etc…

The loan officers who complain to me about this will email me blaming all the above and most of all the real estate agent.  The top producing loan officers, on the other hand will nod their head in agreement and close more loans.  Top producers defy the odds; they are good when the market goes down and they are even better when the market goes up.  Their relationships grow more solid in contracting markets while their relationships expand during periods of economic growth.  These types of sales professionals are just that – they are professionally solid, presentable and have an attitude that will always get something done; bottom line:  they are competitive and strive toward success.   Without compromising one’s ethics, top producers have a killer instinct.  They size up every person they meet – they calculate and gauge weaknesses in their opponents and exploit them wherever necessary to get the deal or the relationship done.

They work tirelessly to serve their clients.  They thrive on working on days when they know their competition is not.  They also love their trade secrets – the things they do, they believe is at the heart of their success.   They can be ruthless sales creators and for all the other sales professionals who are vying for the same deal, they are cold hearted (sales) killers.So, what can a loan officer learn from a top producing real estate agent?    We chose Josh Altman, One of America’s top producing Real Estate Agents and coincidentally, star of the acclaimed TV series, Million Dollar Listing on the BRAVO TV network.   The success of the show has increased as a result of Josh Altman’s professional demeanor whose acumen raises the bar for every real estate agent who watches.  I found him alarmingly smart, quick to read an audience and on top of his game.   At 32 years of age, he has mastered the ability to rise to the top.  In the years to come, we will keep in touch with Josh and will reveal his recommendations at staying at the top.  As for me, I have no doubt that if he maintains his sense of humor and his professional discipline, the man his peers call “the Shark,” will be wildly successful.   I met Josh in Los Angeles, California at one of his multi-million dollar listings for this intimate interview.  Read along to gain insight on why they call him “The Shark.”

Josh, Rick Roque, nice to meet you.

Josh:  Nice to meet you - how are you doing?

:  I am doing great; I appreciate you taking the time on this lovely day in LA.

Josh:  Not a bad view, huh?

:   No, this view is amazing.  For starters, tell us a little about this house?  

Josh:  This is my new hottest sexiest listing in the Hollywood Hills, $6.75M.  Just finished this week; it is the modern, California, bachelor dream house.  Open living views to the nines; affinity views and on top of Mulholland Drive where everyone wants to be.


:  How did you get in touch with the family who owns the house?

Josh:  We were contacted because of how well known we are for high end homes in Los Angeles.

:  Contacted through whom?  

Josh:  They had read about the Altman Brothers.  We were the right people for this house because of our recent sales in the area and the type of homes; modern, state of the art homes, big time houses and our clientele; they wanted to get the right people.  This is important in an agent, and their reach.  Serious money is coming from overseas these days and we have that reach.  This house by the way is an entertainers dream, we have the background in the entertainment business from the publicists, agents, artists, the actors.  Usually, people like this buy homes like this.  

: What is your network?  How would you describe your reach?  Do you work through your publicist (Melissa) and her relationships?  Do you have other people like her?   

Josh:  It is more about our history in the business.  My brother and I have done everything from flipping homes to the mortgage business to the agent side; because of all of this in real estate, this helps in knowing people in this town.  My brother was a talent agent at CAA & Hirsch and therefore we know everyone in the entertainment business in LA; the show has helped in gaining international buyers overseas  

:  So the show was your big break?  

Josh:  No, the show helped; I just fell into specializing in overseas buyers and it could have been in part because we work for Hilton Hyland and Real Estate.  They are affiliated with Christie's Great Estates.  When I list a property, it will be listed not just locally but nationally and internationally, especially these mega homes that are $20-$30M.  

:  Where are these buyers from?  

Josh:  Asia, Middle East, Russia.  Mostly are where the international money is coming from. For them it is almost half off.  If they are coming over with their currency because of the devaluation of the US Dollar, there are some real deals.  

:  Tell me how long you’ve been in business with your brother?  

Josh:  About nine years.  

:  How is this going?  

Josh:  It’s great!  We get along but we fight just about every day.  <Laughter>  

:  I grew up in Vermont in a family of six boys and I wouldn't go into business with any of them!  

Josh:  So you know the relationship.   You get into a fight, and a second later, you move on.  

: That is amazing.   Are you 50-50 partners?  

Josh:   Yes, he is one of the only people I can really trust and never have to worry about.  He is my older brother by three years and we both represent the company well.  We are both good representations of one another actually.  Whoever he meets with I can trust he would represent us the way I would.  

:  Where did you grow up?  

Josh:  Born and raised in Newton, Massachusetts  

:  Really, I’m from Vermont.  

Josh:  Growing up we had a ski house in Killington, Vermont.  Then I went to Syracuse, New York where I played Football, I was a kicker.   

:  I mean you are a big guy but…  <laughter> to play Syracuse Football, that’s impressive.  You must be like five foot tall, or something…  

Josh:  Hey, don’t’ knock it…  I am five foot, nine and half inches!  <laughter>  

:  That half really means something.

Josh: Yes it does.  That’s how you know I am not such a big guy when I depend upon that half inch. <more laughter>  

:  Having gone to University of Hartford (Connecticut), I am also from New England.    I am familiar with how impressive playing football is at Syracuse.  Good for you.  

Josh:  Yes, that’s ironic.  Yes, after college, I moved to Manhattan for a year and a half and then came to Los Angeles.  

: what year was that?  

Josh:  It was 2002.

:  No one comes to LA and immediately makes an impact.  How did you get that first deal.  

Josh:  You need a lot of time, energy and money behind you.  You need some of this to support you until you can gain traction.  

:  Did you save money before coming out here?

Josh: Yes.  My brother and I put some money together; we bought our first condo and we put it on the market two months after buying it, essentially as a joke.  We made some improvements on this condo in West Los Angeles and we made $200K on the deal.  It was during this time that you could buy a house, paint it and then sell it and make a profit.  It wasn't that we were doing anything magical or impressive.  So after that, we were on to something.  We just made $200K in one month.  So from then, we started flipping bigger and bigger properties.    At one point, we asked ourselves the question:  Why do I need to break off commissions to mortgage brokers and real estate agents every time we sell a property?   Every dollar counts during a sale, so I ended up getting my real estate licensed and the mortgage business.  This was in 2005.   

:  It was good timing.  

Josh:  Yes, I didn't realize how important the timing really was.

:  You wanted to control more of the process?  

Josh:  Yes, that’s right.  I wanted to understand the process most importantly.  I ended up breaking records for the company I was working for, and the next thing, I was running the branch and then opening up others.  I did that for three and half years.  I was still flipping homes on the side, at that time, the business started to get really tough and the world started to fall apart; it was a perfect time to start learning the last part which was the real estate agency side of the business.   I am a relationship builder most importantly.  I love to go out.  to restaurants, bars, clubs... We always liked meeting people so we really got our arms around Los Angeles.  So, it was easier for me than most people because of whom we knew.  I am not like one of those kids who grew up here, in Los Angeles.  That is a different story.    I got into Hyland.  The owners of that company, Rick Hilton and the grandfather of the Hilton Hotels.  I mean they are legends in real estate.  

:  Do you see yourself establishing your own firm?  

Josh:  I see myself establishing a firm under them.  They are like my Fathers; with that said, I couldn't be happier.  I have no plans to leave.  The other guy is Jeff Hyland who wrote the book on Beverly Hill’s Great Estates, It is a four volume book you know.  Legends that I get to learn from.  

:  What are the things they teach you?  

Josh:  Something that is so important, is to surround themselves with professionals.  Just being around them, in the office meetings and listening to other people, listings in town, and you know, the things going on in town.  It is so important to soak up all of their knowledge.  There are a lot of realtors who never go into an office.  They are half realtors.  They are less likely to truly learn and be driven by their peers.  

:  You think going into an office is important?  

Josh:  I’m a competitive guy; I love it.  It makes me rise to the next level.    That is important.  Working with better and more talented people.  Now, when I sell a house, I can get the financing at reasonable rates and I get the highest qualities of service.     

:  Your buyers, what are their sources for financing?  

Josh:  I have a couple of mortgage professionals I work with.  As far as mega homes, the majority is all cash buyers.   If you are buying a $20M home you are writing a check for it.  If a loan is taken out, it is to leverage low rates.  Overseas, foreign national deals are taking a long time.  They use different systems in different countries.  It takes longer to trace everything.  Locally, as long as you have the right documentation.  The people buying homes today can afford them and should be buying them, as opposed to five or six years ago, anyone could get a house.  If you can't qualify for one, you shouldn't be buying one - there is a reason for that.    As far as the Altman Brothers, we have about $150M in listings, somewhere around the $20M right now up through 2011 (June) we have another $10M in escrow.  We are hoping to hit $50M this year.  That is on top of taking the show and flipping homes.  

: What were your listings last year?

Josh:  $40M  

: The show has had a great impact on you?   Are people seeing the show and then saying:  Hey, if he can do that for this buyer, then he can do this for me?!

Josh:  Yes and No.  Our business knows us and regardless we would be successful.  We literally sleep with our cell phones. 

:  I've seen that from the show!  

Josh:  When I tell my sellers to call the other top agents in town, at 11pm, they won’t get a hold of them.   

:  Availability is indeed key.  

Josh:  The show has made it easier to get out there.   It is a great platform for our business.  I look at it like an infomercial.  

:  Any downside to the show?  Have people come away with an impression that you didn't want them to come away with?  

Josh:  Those people, I don’t really want to be friends with anyway… <laughter>   

: I love the confidence.  

Josh:  In life, people either love you or hate you; you need to do what makes you happy and love what you do, surround yourself with good people, It doesn't matter what other people think.  

:  That is great.     

Josh:  The more haters in this business you have, probably the better you’re doing.  There is a famous quote from a book by Bernie Brillstein:  In Los Angeles, you haven't done anything good until someone wants you dead...  It is the same thing.   

:  I love that, You are no one in Hollywood until someone wants you dead; does anyone want you dead?  

Josh:  well, I’m not sure.  

: What is your relationship with Madison (co-star of Million Dollar Listing) and Josh from the show?  

Josh:  Our relationship is Professional but we definitely don't hang out.   

: So Madison has never slapped you around, like he was about to on the show?!  

Josh:  As much as Madison would like to, No.  But hey, Madison has a lot of time on his hands while I am too busy selling homes.   

:  Does Madison, from the show want you "Dead?"   What is the deal, did you steal away his employee?  

Josh:  She’s still my girlfriend, you'll have to watch the new season to see what happens.  

:  I have to know, we can break the lead story…  

Josh:  Yes, she’s my girlfriend. She was given an ultimatum by Madison to stop dating me and so she left him.  It was really stupid.  She’s on her own and she will be a force to be reckoned with.     

:  Plus she's learning from you... what would you say to be your main reasons for success up to this date?  how old are you?    

Josh:  I'm 32  

:  In your first ten years out of college, what has been behind your success?  

Josh:  My top three reasons for being successful is two-fold:   First, Being 24x7 - I say that, people laugh, but it is true. Second, I would do it regardless.  I love looking at real estate on my free time.  

:  Especially if you are driving a nice car!  

Josh:  Yes, that is definitely true!

:  Do you have a toy car?

Josh:  1965, Shelby Cobra.  It is not my everyday car but it is pretty spectacular.  It was a private sale.  A rebuild.  

:  How much did you pay for the car? Josh: … <laughter> about $60K

:  Ok, that isn't bad, and besides, it’s fast and unique.    What is successful factor number three?

Josh:  third, I'll do anything for my clients.  

:  what is a memorable thing you’ve done for your clients?  

Josh:  I have flown in people on private jets.  I've done some spectacular things.  I can provide people a concierge type service when they are in town.  I work with the best - contractors, builders, designers, and people outside of the business - car, restaurants, where to find a nice watch.  With us, the Altman brothers, you get a first class service.  We are a high end brand.  

:  So, that’s your niche.  

Josh:  We know what they want, and we get it done.  

:  what else is key - I think in some ways you have a clear focus on what you are going after.  Many companies spread themselves so thin; they are trying to get it all.  Would you say your sense of clarity?  

Josh:  I know many millionaire listing agents who only sell $500-$1M properties.  They are making an amazing living  

:  Is it the same strategy behind the $500K sale versus a $15M sale?   Josh:  like I said when I was a place kicker in college, you kick a 20 yard field goal the same way you kick a 50 yard field goal.   If you start to tweak your style based on a difference in target, it will get in your head.  It is the exact same thing.  I guarantee it.  That guy who is successful at standard properties is doing the same thing that I do at the 10M mark.  I know how to deal with my audience.  You need to know your client.   People get that energy off of us.  People love what I do.

: Do you entertain your clients?

Josh:  Yes, I just took some clients to Las Vegas.  Wealthy people are great, I mean, they are knowledgeable.  Someone who is buying a $20M home did something right.  I can learn from that.  So, I like spending time with them because I can pick their brains, geniuses in their respective business.      

:  How do you select your deals?  Sometimes you choose deals out of your comfort zone.  

Josh:  The Altman brothers are fortunate.  We can be selective.  Does it fit our brand?  Is it priced correctly?   We can be pickier.  The higher end homes.  Realistic sellers.  These are the homes that fit our brand.   Don’t get me wrong,  I'll take an $800K condo.  If it is priced right, I’m a business man.  I'll do it.  

: Do you have any assistants?  You can only show so many properties at one time.  So, if someone hires Josh Altman, how do you scalable your efforts?  

Josh:   I deal with people face to face; the agent needs to show the property.  I have four people to help me in my back office, the paper work side rather than the showing side; I am at as many showings as I can and I always negotiate all of my own deals.  Now, since the success of the show, because of our brand, I just listed a $14M home in Newport Beach who lives next to Kobe Bryant, in an area called Pelican Crest.  If I get a call to show it this afternoon, obviously I won’t be able to get to it if there isn't enough lead time so I work with some select people to help me in those cases.  

:  Do you give them a benefit should the house sell?  

Josh:  Many times I'll bring the properties to them so we'll work out a referral situation; but through us, they are getting Hilton and Hyland which is a top brand; you are also getting Christies International Real Estate, which is the best brand out there.  We had 100,000 hits per week on our website during the show which is more than the company I am with, Hilton Hyland Company gets, just on the Altman Brothers.  Just putting the property on that site gets attention.   Most people have to pay $5K just to put a listing on the cover on a magazine; most realtors won’t do that right now given the economy; very few will do that.  Because of the show, I'll get asked to place something on the magazine without having to pay for anything.   That is a nice perk.  

:  What is the web site hit rate when the show is not going on?  

Josh:  hmmm... I believe around 20,000 hits.

:  That’s fantastic.  How would you describe what you do differently for clients?  There are a lot of realtors in this industry; they are a dime a dozen here.  What do you do differently?  Or is it all of the above?   

Josh:  It is the entire package.  In LA, there are all of the actors, and then there are the actors who aren't working who are also realtors.  So, it is the hard work.  It is the success rate.  It is our appearance.  It is our company, our affiliate, who our clients are - so it is all of that.  

:  How do you deal with a seller who’s priced out of the market?  How do you get in their head about giving them a sober view of the value of their home?  

Josh:  We pride ourselves on being very straight forward, no bull shit agents.  We have to tell them some way or another and being straight forward is the best way.  They don’t' like to hear that sometimes.  

:  Yes, well there are always agents who will say “yes” simply to get the listing….  

Josh:  Of course, you know what I say to them?  Call me in six months when your listing agreement expires because your house will still be on the market; and at that point, if you want to talk real numbers I'd be more than happy to do your listing and represent you at that time.  In our business it’s better to get the listing the second time around.   I have a $4M house right now that was on the market for a year and a half.  I got it and reduced it and put it into escrow three weeks later.  

:  Tell me about the mistakes you've made.  

Josh:  Where do I start??  

:  Not the people you've dated, just bad business decisions you've made… <Laughter>  

Josh:  Here’s how I look at it, everything is not a mistake but a learning opportunity.  

:  Tell me about a deal you've screwed up?  

Josh:  Ok, ok, when I first got into the business, this is the number one thing you never do.  Here's the story - It was a huge lease, my client agreed to do the lease, so I told the owner of the property to kick out the present tenant,  because this guy was ready to go.  The present tenant was month to month and my client was going to do it for a year and a half, he kicked out the tenant paying $36K per month and before I could get the contract, the client changed his mind.  So, I was on the hook for $36K per month until I could get someone into the lease.

:  How long did it take you?  

Josh:  About… took me about three weeks.  

:  Tell me another one.  

Josh:  Hmm…  

:  Any deal you've pushed too hard?  Maybe you were being too stubborn?  

Josh:  Deals like, ahh… trying to think… the other day, I made an offer on a house for a client, in this market, I felt it was right to go in lower than the asking price to start it out.  A low ball situation, the number we started at, the seller did not respond to us.  They took it personally and someone else came in higher and they ended up doing the deal with them.    Because we low balled them, they didn't respond.  And guess what?  My client would have gone higher than what the home closed at?  It was just a situation that… I always tell Sellers, always respond because you never know.  Don't ever not respond to an inquiry or a lead!   

:  What are your tips for sellers & realtors?

Josh:  One, Respond to all offers. And two, make sure your house is as non-cluttered as you can make it.  Get your house ready for a sell.  Even if it is going to cost you $10-$15K.  

:  How much should a seller spend to prepare their home?  

Josh:  Probably one percent; cleaned, buying different pieces of furniture.  Appearance is everything and you only get one shot.  The goal is to wow them.  

:  For a $500,000 house - $5K.  Fresh paint etc… What else do I tell Sellers?   

Josh:  I've seen people spend as much as three to four percent.  You do what you need to do to sell the house.   Numbers don't lie.  Never go for what things are listed for but what homes have sold for in your neighborhood.  A listed property is not a comp for appraisal purposes.  Go off of the comped sales over the last six to twelve months.  Numbers don't lie.   

:  you mentioned the mistakes you had made and you referred to the things realtors should never do.

Josh: Yes - Always get everything in writing.  I had another deal where I represented the buyer and the realtor told me "ohh, yeah, I'll fix that,” told this to the buyers face, my face.  The deal closed, it was never fixed.  Since it wasn't in writing, it never got fixed.  The response was "Ohh, you didn't have that in writing."  

:  Do you see other realtors tripping over themselves to do a fraction of what you are doing?  Could you coach them?  

Josh:  When I coach less experienced realtors, it’s more about picking up business rather than what you do with the property you are listing.   Lead generation.  Going after expired listings is critical; it is over fifty percent of the listings out there.  It expires and they list it with someone else.    Get your expired listing letter and packet ready to go.  It needs to be perfect and ready to go.   Social Media is key.  Social Media, Twitter, Facebook etc… are all key.  I sold $20M last year when the buyer didn't even see the property.  It was almost fifty percent of my deals.    Your website needs to be incredible.  People go over what they see; the picture of the property is key.  You have to invest in yourself and your business and your clients.  I guarantee you if you aren't doing this someone else is.   I have about 12,000 Twitter followers at this time.  

:  You have some work to do on this.  Ashton Kutcher has like…

Publicist:  How many do you have?  <laughter>  

:  Well, you know, I have about four or 500.  But I don't have a national televison show.

Publicist:  He actually started out really fast.  

Josh:  It should double with this next season.  With the Twitter thing, I am bad but I will improve on it.  

:  Twitter is amazing.  While doing this interview, I am writing a lot of what you are saying, while I am also tweeting things down into more memorable, bite sized points.   It would be interesting to have you reflect on the day and in between appointments, to tweet reflections and tips that come to mind.  What you can benefit from, 700,000 other realtors could too.  

Josh:  Right.   

:   Because of  the success of the show, both real and perceived, people will hang on everything you say.  The Altman script, people will follow.  I am going to follow this to a T.   If he can be successful on this, so can I.  

Josh:  in my book, which will be coming out when the next season comes out…

:  When does the next season come out?  

Josh:  later in the year.  Late 2011; we are shooting in the fourth quarter.  With the book.  I am doing a lot of speaking engagements.  I am the new spokesperson behind a company in Minnesota called Renters Warehouse.  

:  It is good to know.   

Josh:  I speak at agent association(s) and at their events; conferences for new real estate agents.  I love doing it.  

:  Tricks of the trade?  Successful strategies?

Josh:  Yes.   I was a speech communication(s) major at Syracuse University, so I am very comfortable speaking in front of large audiences.   I just spoke to 200 Syracuse University new grads in LA, in the SU chapter last week; giving them guidance.  Giving them tips on surviving in LA.  

:  What was one of your tips?  

Josh:  Get ready to kiss a lot of ass.  

I actually have a question from a Niche Report Reader - I have a $14.9M listing; I've had it outside of Philly - had it over a year; 22,000 square feet.  Appraised at $19M; the problem is, the highest amount in that neighborhood sold is $10M - sellers are already selling below property values - how would you sell this property and to whom?   

Josh:  You need to market this to a very specific audience.  Knowing about the house, let’s say it has an Asian theme, it is an original that has a lot of something - ask yourself, who is into that theme?  Through Christie's you can identify an audience who is into that theme.    The buyer probably will not be local.  If only one property has sold for $10M and this is $19M; this is a $19M property in Philly.  This is an international buyer or sports star.  You have to call Donovan McNabb or someone who can afford that today.  Who is my favorite QB by the way.   You need to go to heads of businesses.  Read the newspaper; identify who is making money in Philly.  Think out of the box.  Who is the guy who just sold his business for $200M; how do you get yourself in front of him.  There are no written rules on how to do it.  You have to be creative and think out of the box.  

: <continuing reading from the readers question> I've done the usual target of CEOs, sports figures; I've marketed it to top agents and Manhattan brokers.  

Josh:  It was good to bring in the Manhattan Brokers, by the way, properties like this sit on the market eight to twelve months if not sixteen months.  So setting the right expectation with the sellers is vital to your success.   Also, in a property that size, you will need to spend about $20-$30K just to market and sell it.   The Spelling mansion which Hilton Hyland represented on both sides, was the largest sale in LA history, at $85M.  It was listed for one and half years.  A 22 year old girl from England came through and bought it.  Trust fund child.  It was 150M sold for $85M.  It was worth $85M.  Things like this will take a while to sell.  Especially if it is the highest priced listing in LA.  It will take a while but it will be worth it.  

:  The price will move it.  There is always a tipping point with a price.   

Josh:  If it is priced right, it will sell.  

:  What are you seeing about the industry as a whole?  

Josh:  A lot of the wealthiest people in the US live here and that reflects a bubble.  I don't read the magazines that have negative articles.   Everyone else does, but I don’t;  it'll just get you down.  How bad the economy is etc…  In LA, since January 2011 to June 2011, there have been fifteen sales over $15M.  The high end market is on fire right now.  Jennifer Aniston's home just sold for $3500 per square foot.  So the market here is on fire.  I can't speak to everyone else.

:  What would you do if you weren't in real estate?  

Josh:  Real estate.  

:  That is a great answer.   

Josh:  Someone asked me, “Josh, what do you do for fun?” And I said "Real Estate.  No, flip homes; What else other than this, "Mortgages…."  

:  I think what they mean is, what are your hobbies?     

Josh:  I go out all of the time; I have a very active social life.  I love travelling.  I like staying healthy and going to the gym.   I have two dogs that I rescued that love to go to parks.  I just got a new car.  I love recreational driving and the finer things in life.  I like to party when I close a big deal.  When Josh gets paid all my friends get paid.  We like to party with the best of them.  

:  We love Vegas.  And sometimes we'll throw industry parties.   You can be my special guest.  

Josh:  I’m there!  Hey, there is one thing you can add to the interview.  The most important thing to me as a real estate agent are the emails I get from other real estate agents saying "Thank you for representing the real estate agent community in such a professional way."

:  The other guys on the show don't portray that about the industry?  Especially Madison.  What was up with those boxers?!  

Josh:  He spends more time in… well, let’s just say, his attention is on himself and not on selling real estate.       

:  Let’s take a picture and plan an event in Vegas!?  

Josh:  Done.


Josh Altman and Rick Roque, managing editor, of The Niche Report magazine
For questions or comments to this article, contact Rick Roque at rick@thenichereport.com.  You may also send questions to Josh Altman, at josh@hiltonhyland.com

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