Whisper listings call out to elite home buyers

By Lauren Beale • March 9,2016

Parties such as this one to sell the Riviera White House come with the territory for "pocket listings," a.k.a. "whisper listings." (Inae Bloom / Guest of a Guest)

There’s a velvet rope in L.A.’s multimillion-dollar housing market that most simply cannot pass. No entrance. No way. No how.

Welcome to the world of pocket listings, also known as whisper listings. Only elite real estate agents with rich clients are privy to these ultra-exclusive mansions that are for sale on the sly.

Don’t bother to scour the Multiple Listing Service or any of the online realty marketplaces to try to find them. Pocket-listed homes simply aren’t there, so prospective buyers have to rely on well-connected agents to score access.

This largely word-of-mouth marketing has obvious advantages for paparazzi-hounded celebrities and privacy seekers.

A case in point is the newly completed Riviera White House for sale on the site of the former Ronald and Nancy Reagan home in Pacific Palisades. Asking price: $33 million.

“There’s such rare air at this level that we don’t believe we need to be in the MLS,” said David Offer, the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.

Marketing the listing started with an invitation-only broker’s open. “Only those with the potential to sell in this price category were invited,” he said.

The next day a private tour brought 40 members of Soho House — one of the most hard-to-get-into members-only clubs in town — to view the 12,000-square-foot Spanish-style main residence and guesthouse. Two brokers also brought clients to look at the place. Among the unique flourishes: a bathroom whose walls are adorned with peacock feathers, applied by hand by a group of local art students.

The following day there was another private showing and an evening friends-and-family party. Jaman principals Janus Cercone and Michael Manheim warmly welcomed the guests, including such luminaries as television producer Marcy Carsey, who already owns a Jaman house. People milled about sipping champagne and admiring framed Picasso sketches on the walls while a pianist played classic tunes. Servers passed lamb-chop lollipops, prosciutto-wrapped fig skewers and cups of fennel salad.

The pocket listing, the private showings, the parties are all a sequel to a script that the couple employ to sell their individualized houses.

“We are storytellers,” Cercone said. “We devise a biography of who the owner will be and design based on that character.”

The pair imagined the buyer to be a self-made man or woman with big dreams and goals, Cercone explained. “We created a retreat and sanctuary where they come home after trying to make their mark on the world stage.”

An earlier house Jaman Properties designed had a two-story living room meant to appeal to a larger-than-life person with a big personality. “The first day it was on the market,” Cercone said, “Conan O’Brien walked in and said: ‘I can’t believe there’s finally a house that’s tall enough for me.'” He bought the place.

Selling luxury homes outside of the MLS system has gained traction in recent years, particularly at the Agency. The Beverly Hills real estate firm handles nearly a third of all transactions as pocket listings, said Paul Lester, an Agency partner.

But what if there are no takers?

“There is a period of time you can give yourself for an off-market listing or it doesn’t resonate anymore,” Lester said. “Thirty days is the best window.”