One in a million – that’s what Ken DeLeon is, according to the Wall Street Journal and REAL Trends, Inc. Well, that’s not all he is – he’s a crazy dancer as well, but we’ll touch on that a bit later. Deleon, with $275 million dollars in sales volume in 2011, is the country’s number one real estate agent out of over one million agents.
Achieving that title was no doubt helped by the fact that he lists and sells pricey Silicon Valley real estate. In fact, the average selling price for one of Ken’s 2011 listings was $2.7 million.
Add to that the fact that he sold 106 of those enormously expensive homes – one priced at a whopping $100 million (Put the calculator down, because I figured it out for you – if he didn’t double end it, the commission was $3 million) and it’s easy to see how this leading Realtor® racked up $275 million in sales.
Interviewing the king of real estate agents is a bit like trying to get a sip of water from an open fire hydrant – one is overwhelmed with rapid, pressure-propelled blasts of information – shooting from one topic to the next.
Like many Realtors®, real estate isn’t DeLeon’s first rodeo. His formal undergraduate education consisted of majoring in math and economics. He went on to the University of California’s Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall), graduated with honors and picked up a sweet gig with Silicon Valley’s largest and most prestigious law firm, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. While there, he practiced intellectual property law.
While he credits his education with providing him with negotiation and analytical skills, he chalks up his one-in-a-million success story to eschewing the typical cookie-cutter mentality of most real estate agents and a focus on what’s important, brought about by two close brushes with death.
DeLeon is not only a cancer survivor, but he was hit by a bat-out-of-hell drugged driver while walking down the street. Both experiences led him to wonder: “Why do Bad Things Happen to Sexy People?” the title of his forthcoming memoirs.
I asked Ken how overcoming the scary challenges in his personal life have affected his real estate business. “Big picture: I realized coming so close to death makes you gain a greater awareness of life. How short life can be. I stopped caring about what other people think about me. I discovered one of the great secrets of life: The less you care about what people think about you the more they want to be around you.”
In the broadest of terms, there are two types of real estate agents: those that stick to the status quo and those that harbor an innate drive to pioneer – to reinvent – and who are utterly unwilling to do real estate the traditional way. Deleon falls into the latter category, and his bias for reinvention extends throughout his entire life, both in and outside of real estate.
Are his marketing tactics innovative? You bet. Expensive? Absolutely. But the man knows how to stand out in the crowd and, overall, be memorable.
“In my city there are 700 agents selling 400 to 500 houses. I realized that since I wanted to be distinct, I needed to do something bold. I did some pretty crazy ads, such as a two-page spread in the local newspaper with me dressed as the Village People. Instead of “Y-M-C-A, I was singing S-O-L–D. I became so distinctive and memorable that people started calling. Right now, in my town, I’m selling about 12 percent of the available homes,” he says.
The more analytical side of Ken DeLeon is the one that led him to create the neighborhood guides and videos that his buying clients treasure. These 200-plus page guides contain charts, graphs and information on which Silicon neighborhoods show the best appreciation potential.
His sellers deserve no less and DeLeon pulls out all the stops, using statistical data to devise the pricing structure and laser-like marketing plan for each listing. He thinks nothing of dropping $12,000 for production of a listing video for his highest-end clients.
Then there are the infamous DeLeon open houses with catered food and a professional barista serving up lattes and mochas – open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
But wait – there’s more! The Ken DeLeon Concierge Service, wherein Ken promises to create a “customized plan of action for creating the most value for your home.” To do this, DeLeon’s concierge is tasked with the job of creating a network of the best service providers in Silicon Valley. Ken, in turn, negotiates discounts for his clients who use these providers. His clients love the service, mainly because “I’ve already done the due diligence and negotiated with the provider on my client’s behalf,” he explains.
DeLeon is convinced that, as a whole, real estate agents are overly eager. “What a seller is telling you when he wants to overprice a listing is: ‘I’m going to demand that you spend 100 plus hours working on marketing the home, you’ll spend a huge amount of money, the house won’t sell and I’ll badmouth you all over town.’” Therefore, agents need to be selective, and “not be so afraid to turn down a listing,” he suggests.
Asking a man who makes gobs of money listing and selling real estate why he likes his job may seem like a “duh” question. DeLeon, however, claims that the money is secondary. “What I love about my career most is that I’m working with people who are changing the world, people who are innovative and interesting, and people that want to disrupt the model – geniuses. They push me to evolve my practice. I’m trying to be the most innovative agent in Silicon Valley, and I find that brilliant people keep me stimulated.”
Outside of the demanding world of Silicon Valley real estate, DeLeon likes spending time with his four children. He also loves to dance. “I may not be the best dancer, but I’m the fastest. I go to a lot of dance clubs and when the siren song of techno music calls me – oh, I dance like a madman. My two greatest dance partners are my shadow and my reflection.”
Those are probably the only two things that can keep up with the whirling dervish that is Ken DeLeon – survivor and one-in-a-million. He did slow down long enough to offer some parting advice to other agents: “Be true to yourself. Distinguish yourself. Be free and you will succeed.”