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San Fernando
Saturday, Dec 2, 2023

Area Professionals Who Are Leaders in Their Industries

Area Professionals Who Are Leaders in Their Industries Ryan Addis Chief Operating Officer Western Pacific Mortgage Corp. Woodland Hills When Ryan Addis joined Western Pacific Mortgage Corp. in January 2002, the company was writing about $2 million a month in funding. Today, Western Pacific is funding about $15 million in loans a month. Addis concedes that he can’t take all the credit the company’s fortunes have risen in part as a result of the low interest rate environment which has driven the market for home loans and refinancing. At the same time, Addis has helped Western Pacific capture a larger share of that burgeoning market by implementing a business model that adds a number of financial services to the company’s mortgage lending practice. “He is mainly responsible for our growth,” said Larry P. Merton, the company’s founder and president. “I was doing my own loans, and he came in with a lot of fresh ideas and a vision of what the company should be and we worked towards that.” Among the services Addis introduced are an in-house law firm, escrow company, a financial analyst to assist clients and an insurance department. “The classic example is I have great credit and go to a bank and get a 30-year loan,” Addis said. “The loan officer never asks how long I would be in the house, and if it’s just five years, I can get a much better loan rate. We can build a comprehensive financial solution rather than order taking and throwing out misleading interest rates.” Since Addis, who was recently named chief operations officer, joined the company, Western Pacific has grown from a five-person operation to a company of 40 staffers. The next step, he says, is to develop relationships with Realtors and developers in the commercial real estate market. “We’re trying to position ourselves for the (coming) increase in interest rates,” said Addis. Shelly Garcia Stella Balasanian Agent Prudential John Aaroe Sherman Oaks Seven years after coming to the San Fernando Valley from her native Iran, Stella Balasanian got into the real estate business. She was 20 years old. Balasanian moved to Prudential John Aaroe in April 2002 after several years with Coldwell Banker in Burbank. She has consistently been one of the office’s top performing agents, specializing in the Valley’s multi-family dwelling market. Her colleagues say she has earned a reputation for being a fierce negotiator with a take-no-prisoners approach to closing deals in record time. “I have to say, I have never met anyone more professional or more honest,” said Debbie Jaeschke, a broker with Prudential’s Studio City office. “I think Stella exemplifies who and what a realtor should be because she’s an excellent negotiator with an incredible focus on the market and her clients’ needs.” Jacqueline Fox Jay Belson Real Estate Broker and Agency Owner Re/Max on the Boulevard Sherman Oaks At 18, Jay Belson already knew what he would be doing the rest of his life selling real estate. It was a brief meeting with a savvy Philadelphia real estate agent that got Belson interested in the business. “He took one look at me and my long hair, earring and cowboy boots and said “you might want to rethink the hair and the earrings. The boots are alright,” Belson recalled. From 1979 until 1986, Belson sold real estate in his native Philadelphia before coming to California and joining Jerry Berns and Associates in 1986. By 1988 he joined Mike Glickman Realty and later Jon Douglas Co. before starting his own firm, Re/Max On The Boulevard, in 1992. Over the past decade, the company has grown steadily even through the difficult period following the 1994 Northridge earthquake. “I opened in 1992, smack in the middle of the worst recession in recent history,” he recalled. “About 14 months later, the Northridge quake hit. It was the best training in the world for owning a business.” Today, the company operates five offices in the Valley with more than 300 agents. The company’s fast growth and performance earned Belson the Re/Max “Broker/Owner of the Year Award” for California and Hawaii. Belson’s firm was also named the Re/Max top commercial real estate operation in the country. Belson’s efforts have also led the firm and its employees to donate their time and efforts on behalf of the Children’s Miracle Network, and scores of other charity and community organizations like End Autism Now and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Carlos Martinez Margarita Billings Owner Encino Escrow Encino Margarita Billings, a native of Cuba, launched Encino Escrow in 1984. The company recently merged with Southland Title Corp., one of the largest independently owned and operated title agencies in the country with roughly 500 employees. Billings serves as escrow administrator and oversaw roughly 500 escrow transactions in 2002, a record year for the firm. She also served as the California Escrow Association’s director to the American Escrow Association from 1999 to 2001 and is the incoming president of the California Escrow Association. “Margarita handles roughly 90 percent of our business,” said Brian Hatkoff, president of Chatsworth-based Hatkoff Investments, which buys and sells both commercial and residential properties throughout the region. “I’ve worked with her for about 15 years and, is often the case, as a broker you are forced to use an escrow company you wouldn’t normally use, which is how she came to us. But she knew the inner workings of the entire system and knew how to deal with issues that came up and how to resolve them quickly. A lot of times she has the knowledge that brokers do not have, so she has become an invaluable resource for us on many levels.” Jacqueline Fox Gene Bleecker Owner First Southwestern Title Santa Clarita Gene Bleecker began his career in the title industry in 1985 as an account executive in the Santa Clarita Valley, becoming No. 1 in residential market share for the region his first year. He joined as CEO of the Santa Clarita office of Pasadena-based First Southwestern Title in 2002, which currently averages roughly 33 percent of the local market share. Bleecker is also the founder of the CMA Group in Santa Clarita, considered the largest independent association for real estate professionals in Southern California. Bleecker has served on the Santa Clarita Board of Realtors as chairman of the affiliate committee since 2000 and has been the recipient of the association’s affiliate of the year award. “Gene is probably one of the most liked and copied in his industry,” said Neal Weichel, a real estate broker with Re/Max of Valencia. “He’s been my title representative for a good seven or eight years and he is by far the most cutting edge representative to work with when it comes to helping Realtors grow their business. The laws keep his pricing the same as anyone else, but what he does is he offers value-added services that help you as a Realtor do more transactions. “For example, because the industry is very busy right now he’s willing to have preliminary title reports done in advance of a sale, which helps expedite the entire process. This tells you in advance of a sale what the issues or problems with the property are. So, what I mean when I say he’s on the cutting edge, is that he’s always looking for and offering us new ways to grow.” Jacqueline Fox Susan Brown President Dan E. Levine Executive Vice President Celebrity Escrow Corp. Northridge Not long ago, Celebrity Escrow Corp. was asked to handle a transaction that involved mother and daughter co-owners. The daughter lived out of the area; the mother was in a convalescent home. The courts were involved, power of attorney needed to be assigned and paperwork multiplied exponentially, all for a sale that amounted to a mere $145,000. “It went on for a year and most escrow companies would have given up,” said Bruce Hiltermann, a realtor with Re/Max Olson & Associates in Northridge. “Sue stayed with it and guided it through the legalese. There was so much involved and Sue never dropped the ball for a second, and that just doesn’t happen (in the industry).” Sue Brown, who is president, and her brother, Dan E. Levine, who is executive vice president of Celebrity, have been pulling off the unexpected for a loyal following of realtors and clients since 1980 when they opened the company in Northridge. Brown, who had clocked eight years in the business prior to forming the company, personally oversees the escrows. Levine handles the business and marketing side. He came up with the name, “celebrity,” as a result of his previous background managing bands in the 1960s and because “it lends itself to good promotion,” Levine said. Others say it is also descriptive of the kind of special, celebrity-like attention clients receive. The partners take pains to write the escrow in language that is easy to understand, and, if clients have questions, they deliver explanations patiently. “I never want anything leaving the office that I would be embarrassed to have a judge rule on,” said Levine. “It’s like health care. If it’s not stated in a way that’s understandable, you can change the path of that person’s health for eternity.” Shelly Garcia Barry Burnett Broker/Owner Barry Burnett Realty Burbank Like most brokers, Barry Burnett, owner of Barry Burnett Realty in Burbank, has been too busy to come up for air lately. But unlike others, Burnett has also put as much time into efforts to promote and shape the industry as he has into the growth and development of his own business. Presidential liaison for the California Association of Realtors, a former state chairman of the association’s legislative arm and a past president of the Burbank Association of Realtors, Burnett has also written and developed real estate courses for Cal State University Northridge. “I’ve known Barry for almost 30 years, and he is an incredible example of someone who is of the utmost professionalism,” said Minnie Lush, a Realtor who is currently president of the Burbank Association of Realtors, and an author and lecturer on real estate. Burnett, who was the youngest state director for the California Association of Realtors, has been influential in shaping a lot of legislation that revolves around private property rights in the state. He also helped to integrate the Burbank association into the multiple listing service of the San Fernando Valley, which greatly enhanced the opportunities available to Burbank brokers, Lush said. For Burnett, who formed his agency in 1978 and now oversees a full service company with 16 agents, the crux of the business lies with matching the needs of clients to his own operating style. That often includes turning down potential clients he does not think are a good fit. “Mine’s not a one-time business,” said Burnett. “I live on referrals. If I’m dealing with people that are unhappy, then I’ll starve to death.” Shelly Garcia Tom Carnahan Broker and Owner Carnahan & Associates Tom Carnahan is a testament to why word of mouth is so important in the real estate business. In the industry since 1975, Carnahan can boast a 90 percent repeat and referral business over all those years. “When you do a good job, they want to come back to you and they send their friends,” Carnahan says. “It’s also a lot easier to keep your business going that way.” Carnahan comes from a real estate tradition. His father, Joe Carnahan, was one of the owners of Paul-White-Carnahan Realty, a chain of real estate offices that operated in the Valley from 1946 to 1980 and where the younger Carnahan got his start. He has received several awards throughout his career and has also served in several industry leadership posts including a current term as president of the Southland Regional Association of Realtors. Carnahan has developed a reputation as a tough negotiator within the industry. “He’s very fair,” said Laurie Singer, a Realtor who has worked with Carnahan for the last eight years and is currently his office manager. “He’s exceptionally knowledgeable about the industry in general in addition to selling residential real estate.” Carnahan is a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Realtors and the California Association of Realtors. At age 28, he was the youngest director of the National Association of Realtors. Active in the community, Carnahan does everything from delivering Thanksgiving turkeys to the homebound, making regular visits to the elderly and is involved with the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation, American Diabetes Association and Boy Scouts of America. Jason Schaff Lisa Chase Associate Manager Coldwell Banker, Studio City West Lisa Chase launched her career with Coldwell Banker in 1990, one of the most turbulent years for the real estate industry. But she hit the ground running and hasn’t slowed since, consistently ranking among her Studio City office’s top-producing agents for the last 12 years. In 1999 she was promoted to associate manager and is a member of Coldwell Banker’s prestigious Presidents Circle, a designation for the firm’s top 5 percent of sales associates across the country. Chase’s year-to-date sales have exceeded $23 million, and she is the second highest performing agent for the firm’s Southern Californian market. “I think Lisa has an amazing way of knowing what the right property for a client is,” said Mary Deckebach, senior managing director, First Republic Bank in Century City. “I’ve known her for nearly 20 years and I know her clients consistently say that the is dedicated and reliable. She has a really good intuitive sense of how to match the client with the property, which is very important, because clients don’t want to be dragged around to a bunch of properties that aren’t ever going to get their attention.” Chase, who specializes in the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood Hills and Mulholland Corridor, says roughly 99 percent of her business today comes from repeat referrals. From 1998 to 2000 Chase served on the grievance committee for the San Fernando Valley Association of Realtors and she is chairwoman of her office’s “Summer Spruce Up” campaign, which helps low-income homeowners beautify their properties. Jacqueline Fox Ana Maria Colon Real Estate Broker/Owner Rocking Horse Realty Inc. San Fernando When Ana Maria Colon’s parents were trying to buy their first home in the early 1970s, they couldn’t speak a word of English and they couldn’t find a Realtor who spoke Spanish. After Colon found herself translating for her parents throughout every step of the transaction she realized there was a significant need for brokers in the Northwest Valley who could speak Spanish in order to serve the Hispanic market more efficiently. Colon obtained her real estate license and bought Rocking Horse Realty Inc. in San Fernando in 1985. She and her 16 employees serve all of the San Fernando Valley, but specialize in helping Spanish-speaking residents in the Northwest region buy their first homes. The company handled roughly $11 million in transactions in 2002. “A lot of our Hispanic clients don’t have good credit so we specialize in finding them lending programs that use alternative forms of credit, and we have built the business on a strong word of mouth because everyone wanted to come to the lady who speaks Spanish,” said Colon, a native of Mexico. “Primarily what she does is she takes the time to talk to people, and she is always very patient with her clients and very professional,” said Ed Garcia, senior loan officer and former owner of North Valley Funding in Mission Hills. “I’ve worked with her for 28 years and I can tell you that she has managed to make things much easier in this portion of the Valley for first-time and Spanish-speaking homeowners. “Something she does is you can buy a home from her and come back in a year, or two or three, and she will know who you are and she will take the time to take care of you and not charge you,” said Garcia. “She considers every one of her clients clients for life.” Jacqueline Fox David Cronenbold Jr. CEO and President Southland Title Co. Burbank Spending the early part of his professional life with other title firms, David Cronenbold Jr. knew he could build a strong independent title company if he put his mind to it. By 1979, Cronenbold did just that. Starting with a handful of staffers and a lot of know-how, he established Southland Title Co. “When we opened our doors, we hit a strong real estate cycle where everything was selling,” he said. Born in La Paz, Bolivia, Cronenbold graduated from Agoura High School and later, UCLA before embarking on his career. “From ’84 to ’87, we had another strong market and we took advantage and bought a couple of companies and grew even faster,” he said. Today, Cronenbold’s firm employs more than 700 people in its Burbank corporate headquarters and 16 other branches in Los Angeles, Ventura, San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. By focusing on residential resales and staying away from other segments like hard money lending, the company has grown steadily and overcome difficult periods while competitors went by the wayside. “We’ve tried to be innovative by being the first company open past six o’clock and being open on Saturdays and Sundays and allowing clients to access their accounts 24 hours a day,” he said. Craig Peskind, president of Stoneridge Escrow Inc., credits Cronenbold’s business acumen for his company’s success. “He’s a great communicator and is very shrewd when it comes to business,” Peskind said. But for Cronenbold, his people are the ones who make the company succeed. “We keep investing in human resources and in the right people and it’s paying off,” he said. Carlos Martinez Aaron Des Marais Loan Officer APR Mortgage Inc. Northridge Here’s what one broker had to say about Aaron Des Marais, a loan officer for APR Mortgage Inc. in Northridge: “The average loan officer closes about 70 percent of their loan attempts. And he’s closed 100 percent,” said Barry Burnett, Realtor and owner of Barry Burnett Realty in Burbank. If the acid test for a mortgage lender is coming through with a loan for a potential homebuyer, Des Marais passes with flying colors. A 15-year real estate veteran, he has worked in the mortgage banking sector for 11 years, the past eight of those with APR. Des Marais’s seasoning presumably helps him to achieve that close ratio. But his success can also be traced to a rather unusual approach in the mortgage banking industry. While others tend to take on all potential clients, hoping to find a way to assist those with credit problems or other obstacles to getting loan approval, Des Marais turns away clients if he knows he can’t deliver for them. “When somebody comes to me for a loan, you analyze it as fast as you can, and figure out if it fits,” Des Marais said. “If it doesn’t feel like it’s going to fly, I kill the deal off right away.” Not that Des Marais won’t go to bat for a client. Burnett notes that he’s gone so far as to speak directly with a client’s employer or roll his sleeves up and restructure a client’s debts. But what he won’t do is make promises he can’t keep. As a result, by Des Marais’s estimates he handles between five and 10 loans a month, a relatively small number. “But I close all of them,” he said. “That’s the catch.” Shelly Garcia Doreen Freeman Escrow Officer L.A. Escrow Express Tarzana Doreen Freeman is a true veteran of the greater San Fernando Valley escrow industry. In the business for 42 years, Freeman is considered one of its leaders a professional who clients and colleagues go to when they can’t find answers to those hard questions or when the escrow gets extremely complicated. In fact, she has a lifetime credential to teach real estate, most recently teaching an escrow class at Pierce College in Woodland Hills. “I’m a 24-year-veteran and there isn’t a lot I don’t know. But when I have a gap in my knowledge, she can fill it in,” said Michael Fidler, owner of Valleywide Lending and Help-U-Sell, both in Northridge. “She thrives on problems and gets them solved,” Fidler said. Freeman started her career in 1961 as a tract escrow officer at the old Brighton Built Homes in Beverly Hills. Freeman said that before she took the job she didn’t even know what an escrow was. “I said what’s that and how do you spell it,” she said recalling that she later learned to love the business. Over the years, Freeman worked for several companies such as the Larwin Group Cos., Valley Federal Savings, Enterprise Escrow and S & S; Escrow. But things have never been as busy for Freeman as they are these days with the Valley home sales frenzy fueling a huge boost in business at L.A. Escrow Express, where she is manager of a four-person office that processes 60 to 75 escrows a month. Freeman said 16-hour days are not uncommon. Insistent on returning all phone calls, Freeman is known by clients and colleagues for her patience and thorough approach to the escrow process, which can be a nervous time for first-time homebuyers who have a lot of money invested in the transaction. She says some of her job consists of simply being aware of this emotional response and calming down clients when needed. “People’s dreams and desires are in our hands,” she says. “I’m the caption of the ship to get the escrow closed.” Jason Schaff Harry Geozian President Chase Financial Corp. Granada Hills Ask Harry Geozian about his marketing strategy for Chase Financial Corp., and he will tell you simply that it’s the loans his company writes. “When you do a loan, you literally have a walking billboard,” said the president and owner of Chase, a Granada Hills-based mortgage company. By that measure, Geozian has been advertising for 15 years, first at his former company, Century Home Loans, and, since 1995, with Chase. By his count, Geozian figures he closes about 17 to 20 loans a month, about 25 percent of those for repeat customers. Some of his clients started working with him when they were purchasing their first condominium and have more recently returned to finance multi-million-dollar home purchases. “Whether a client is buying a $100,000 home or a $1 million home, you’re going to get the same level of service,” said Geozian. Expediency is only one element. Brokers like Geozian have to be able to seal the loan, even when there are problems. “He anticipates problems before they arise,” said Carolyn Schneider, an agent with Miller & DeSatnik, who said she won’t deal with anyone else when it comes to her single family and two-or four-family home sales. “He’s extremely knowledgeable and can direct clients to programs to best suit their needs and personal financial situation. And if there are any types of clouds, he will actually do the work to resolve those problems.” Geozian, who estimates that he closes about 90 percent of the loans he opens, says technology helps mortgage lenders to shore up their close ratios, but concern for clients plays an equally important part in the process. “It takes a lot of time to look for a house,” he said. “I’m both aware of people’s time, and I’m also concerned about the emotions involved in buying a home.” Shelly Garcia Minnie Lush Instructor, Author, Realtor, M. Cunningham Realtor Burbank It is said that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. Minnie Lush is the exception to that rule. A practicing Realtor at M. Cunningham Realtor in Burbank, Lush has also for the past 25 years taught and lectured at colleges, universities and Professional Realty Institute, the National Association of Realtor’s graduate training program. Author of two widely used texts on real estate California Real Estate Exam Guide and California Real Estate Finance, which she co-authored, Lush is the current president of the Burbank Association of Realtors and a director of the California Board of Realtors. She also sits on the board of the Burbank Housing Corporation, an agency that works to create affordable housing for low- and moderate-income tenants. So far, the agency has helped 109 families to obtain low cost housing through its renovation efforts in Burbank. “She cares about people. She knows her job and she is able to give that magic blend of learning the principles behind real estate and being able to demonstrate those vocational skills,” said Buck Stapleton, a professor in the Los Angeles Community College district and state coordinator for the Graduate Realtor Institute who oversees about 160 instructors. “I would give everything if I had more instructors like her.” Stapleton took one of Lush’s classes back in 1978 when he was fresh out of law school, and he invited Lush to join the faculty back when he joined Los Angeles City College. Lush, who has been selected to train the instructors for the NAR’s programs, said her work in the real estate community and as an educator is simply part of her personal philosophy. “A philosophy I’ve had for a long time is if you earn your living in a certain community, you really must give back to that community,” she said, “and that has always inspired me.” Shelly Garcia Raquel Magro Real Estate Agent Pinnacle Estate Properties Mission Hills Raquel Magro wasn’t always a real estate agent. She owned her own beauty salon and cut hair for a living in Van Nuys. “Then somebody approached me about being a real estate agent and I got interested,” she recalled. Even as she took a real estate course, Magro continued to cut hair and later began to sell real estate. “I got hooked on it and I’ve been doing it ever since,” she said. Having gotten her start at Valley View Realty in Mission Hills in 1989, Magro moved on to Pinnacle Estate Properties in 1994 just as the foreclosure market began in earnest after the Northridge earthquake. With male agents mostly handling foreclosures, Magro overcame resistance from customers who at first balked at a female agent. “That just made me want to do the deal more,” she said. One of her most memorable deals came shortly after she started in real estate. She was charged with finding two homes side by side for a developer planning to build an apartment complex. “It was literally going door-to-door to find the right property for this project,” she recalled. Eventually, a deal was struck, but not before months passed with Magro nearly exhausted from the search. Today, she continues to be her office’s top seller with 125 homes sold last year with even more projected for this year. With real estate occupying much of her day, Magro still finds time to take in stray dogs for the dog rescue group, Last Chance for Animals, while chairing for the last three years, the non-profit Spondylitis Association’s Valley chapter, which supports those suffering from curvature of the spine. Carlos Martinez Andrew Manning Real Estate Agent Prudential John Aaroe Sherman Oaks A million dollars just doesn’t go as far as it used to in San Fernando Valley real estate. Just ask Andrew Manning. Manning handles estate properties for Prudential John Aaroe, mostly in the Hollywood Hills and the southern reaches of the Valley. Before the huge run-up in real estate prices in recent years, a million dollars was considered an estate but now Manning says that classification is reserved for properties $1.5 million and above. But despite the pricey atmosphere, Manning is one of the area’s best producers when it comes to real estate sales. Last year, he was the No. 1 agent for Prudential California Realty in the San Fernando Valley in terms of sales. He’s also ranked in Prudential California Realty’s PREA 100, which consists of the top 100 agents out of the company’s 43,000 agents in the United States and Canada. Although known as a top seller, Manning is also known in the industry for his attentiveness to clients, who some of the time are very demanding. With the market in a frenzy, he now has four people working on his team out of Prudential’s Sherman Oaks office. “You just have to delegate,” he said. “My goal is to return calls within 24 hours.” Manning has been interested in real estate, architecture and design ever since he was a teenager growing up in Sherman Oaks and Tarzana. He began working full-time in real estate in 1986, just as the market began its upswing and he right away became one of the top producers. “During my first five years in the business I attended every real estate seminar that was ever created,” Manning said. As hectic as the current real estate market is, Manning said he tries to keep his clients’ hopes from getting too inflated as prices soar. Some agents these days, he said, “overpromise and underdeliver.” Although he concentrates on estates, Manning said he still markets condos and other lower-priced properties. “From Condos to Castles” is his marketing slogan. Jason Schaff Rich Miehl Title Officer Stewart Title of California Glendale Rich Miehl enjoys a good challenge, so when business at his office at Stewart Title of California began to increase a few years ago, he simply worked harder and built a team to handle the increasing workload. “It’s never about me or any one person, but about the team we have here,” said Miehl, whose team handles 1,400 orders a month. “When I got started, it was crazy if we did 500 orders a month that’s how much things have changed. Having started out at Chicago Title Co. in 1987, Miehl was challenged by the research and law elements of the work. He later moved to Stewart Title where he helped the company move past a difficult economy marred by high interest rates and declining business. “I felt that we had to really focus on our relationships with customers and lenders and work as hard as you can,” he said. “It made you realize how important customer service is.” Despite the 1995 recession, business continued to grow steadily as the late ’90s economic boom took hold, further growing the business. Today, amid the refinancing boom that’s been ongoing for three years, Miehl has continued to see growth from not only Valley clients, but those in the San Gabriel Valley, Orange County and even San Diego County. Born and raised in Valley Village, Miehl still makes his home near there with his wife and four children. “This year my youngest had a brain tumor, but it’s all gone now so we count our blessings,” Miehl said. “But I’ve been very fortunate to have a great family.” Carlos Martinez Joyce Riskas Real Estate Agent Dilbeck Realtors GMAC Woodland Hills Just a few years after becoming a real estate agent, Joyce Riskas has become the top seller of Dilbeck Realtors GMAC’s Woodland Hills office. It wasn’t that long ago that Riskas was a housewife who decided to take on the challenges and rewards of selling real estate. By learning the ropes from her veteran colleagues and others, Riskas has gone on to sell scores of homes of all sizes from tiny one-bedroom startups to a $6.5 million, 28,000 square foot home recently. “I’m pretty steady and every year, I seem to do better than the year before,” she said. Although Riskas says selling multi-million-dollar homes is always exciting, her most memorable deal involved a small cottage for a modest price. “He was a first time buyer and the guy was in heaven when he got the keys to his house,” she recalled. “He was great throughout the process and he was so happy in the end that he sent me an autographed picture of him at his house.” But to Riskas, each deal is as important as the next. “The small deals aren’t any easier to close than the big ones because these days you’re dealing with sophisticated buyers,” she said. As a top agent, Riskas was named Associate of the Year in 2000 by the San Fernando Valley Chapter of the Southland Regional Association of Realtors. She has also become an organizer of that group’s annual golf tournament and is the current president of the San Fernando Valley Chapter of the Women’s Council of Realtors. “She is very unique for a real estate agent,” said Greg Nierenberg, a mortgage banker with Irwin Mortgage who often works with Riskas. “She’s very diligent and knows every detail of every deal she is working on and she never stops trying for the customer.” Carlos Martinez Cheryl Shields Co-owner, Escrow Officer J.C. Shields Escrows Inc. Newhall It didn’t take long for J.C. Shields Escrows Inc. to start producing. Since opening its doors in January 2003 with three family members, the Newhall-based company has already hired three additional employees to handle the business coming through the door. Admittedly, part of that surge can be traced to the real estate market, but a good measure is also due to the company’s co-owner, Cheryl Shields. “The red hot market does have a lot to do with it, but in this town, it’s hard to get people to come over,” Shields said. “I think we’ve razzle-dazzled them mainly because we’re nice.” Escrow companies get their clients through real estate agent- and lender referrals, but each job offers the opportunity to attract another referral source the agents for the other side of the negotiation. “The real estate agents and lenders that had to come over here because someone else picked us ended up staying with us,” said Shields. Shields launched the company with her brother Jamie after deciding that she no longer wanted to make the commute to the San Fernando Valley where she worked at Celebrity Escrow Corp. for 10 years. She shaped the company from her own personality. “People absolutely love her,” said Dan E. Levine, the executive vice president of Celebrity Escrow. “She’s made of the earth. She looks after everybody and she’s very qualified.” Phones are answered on the second ring by a ‘live’ person. There is no voice mail. The fridge is stocked with soda and cookies offered up to clients who come to sign loan documents. “We’re family owned and managed and we make everybody feel like family when they come in here,” said Shields. “So that’s our secret, besides being honest.” Shelly Garcia Alan and Stephanie Shotsky Agents Coldwell Banker Calabasas Six years ago Alan and Stephanie Shotsky were in the coffee vending business in Connecticut. But keeping a promise he made to his wife, Alan Shotsky agreed to a move to the West Coast in 1997. Stephanie took a position with a property management firm, which required her to get her real estate license, and Alan, who did not have a position lined up, decided to join her. “We were a team before we moved here and I decided why not go to school with her,” he said. Alan got his license and went to work for Fred Sands Realty in Calabasas and Stephanie came on board a year later. The company is now owned by Coldwell Banker. The couple jointly represent the West San Fernando and Conejo valleys, with sales exceeding $10 million in 2002. “I think what sets us apart is the great personalized service we offer,” said Alan Shotsky. “We have literally shown a property to a husband, videotaped the showing and delivered the tape to his wife in a hospital bed downtown so she could be included.” Jacqueline Fox Nancy Troxell Real Estate Agent Re/Max of Santa Clarita Santa Clarita Back in her college days, Nancy Troxell knew she wanted to work with people in a job that not only would challenge her, but would be one she would love. It didn’t take long for the Valley native to turn her attention to real estate after graduating from Cal State Northridge. “When I started selling real estate, the market was really negative and it really challenged you to make deals when there were so few of them to be had,” she said. Despite the rough economy of the mid to late 1980s, Troxell learned to put together deals well at Re/Max of Santa Clarita. Through hard work, patience and persistence, the then 24-year-old Troxell began to produce sales with increasing regularity. Becoming one of her office’s top producers, Troxell continue to improve even as the Northridge earthquake put a damper on sales during much of 1994 and 1995. “We had a recession after that and it just made me try harder and work as much as I could,” she said. With other agents in her office pressing as well, her office overcame the difficult economic climate of the time and continued to grow. Today, Troxell continues her busy sales activity while focusing on her family and especially on her two children, Drew and Sydney. Her activities include membership in the city of Santa Clarita’s Executive Advisory Committee on Realtors and Private Owners and volunteers for that city’s various community and sports programs. Carlos Martinez Stephanie Vitacco Realtor/Vice President Coldwell Banker North Valley Regional Office Northridge When Stephanie Vitacco started in the industry at age 21 in 1986, the real estate market was red hot so hot, in fact, that when she went to colleagues for help in learning the ropes, everyone was too busy to give her the time of day. But this is a woman who’d been selling everything from Girl Scout cookies to magazines since she was a young girl, so she was determined to dig in. Things changed dramatically, however, just a few short years later when the bottom fell out of the market, sending housing prices tumbling. But instead of abandoning the industry, as many Realtors and agents did, she set out to tackle it and, since 1993 has been the top selling broker of all of Coldwell Banker’s roughly 3,500 agents in the Greater Los Angeles area. Vitacco, recently named a vice president for the North Valley Regional office in Northridge, handled roughly 180 transactions in 2002. She’s averaged about one closed sale every three days since 2000. “I was able to thrive in the down market during the mid-1990s because I wasn’t afraid to work hard,” said Vitacco. “When my own clients couldn’t sell their homes I went after the lender market because the banks had all these repossessed properties on their hands and I knew they had to sell them. So I started cultivating the banking industry, as well as the people by providing a very high level of service. It was a market when people needed a lot more hand holding and I was willing to do that.” “She’s not just a broker, she’s become a very creative marketing expert,” said Jeannette Kester, vice president, trust office for First Regional Bank in Century City. “She happens to understand trust and estate properties that many brokers don’t. And so when we have an estate or trust property in the Valley to sell, she handles it for us. She makes the process very easy and she does whatever it takes to make the process comfortable. She’s even returned calls to me in the middle of the night or will call me while she’s out walking her dog to tell me she’s had an idea.” Jacqueline Fox Mel Wilson Realtor/Broker Re/Max on the Boulevard Woodland Hills Mel Wilson probably has more name recognition outside the real estate industry than most professionals in his field. A candidate last year for mayor of the San Fernando Valley city in the failed secession bid, Wilson has also been on several local and state boards and commissions having to do with a wide range of issues. His posts have included the California State University Northridge Advisory Board, California Physical Therapy Board, Los Angeles City Fire Department Commission and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He’s also served as president of the United Chambers of Commerce and chairman of the Pacoima Enterprise Zone Advisory Commission. “Mel is one of the most well-respected and vocal members of the community and one of the most well-known Realtors,” said Jim Link, executive vice president of the Southland Regional Association of Realtors, of which Wilson served as president in 1997. “He carries a message that the elected officials respect.” Link said that Wilson’s community involvement brings clout and greater public exposure for the real estate industry. Wilson is a former National Football League player who was drafted by the New York Giants in 1976 and has been licensed to sell real estate for 25 years. Housing has been his passion and has kept him in the business all this time, he said. “I love helping people and helping them realize their dream,” Wilson said about his profession. “I’ve now sold to three generations of people.” He also does land use consulting which, he says, has become more important these days due to a shortage of housing in the area. Jason Schaff Daryl Wizelman President and Partner United Pacific Mortgage Tarzana As head of United Pacific Mortgage, Daryl Wizelman knows what it takes to make his company grow. It was just 13 years ago that the company was a two-person operation with lofty goals of someday becoming a major industry player. Today, Wizelman heads a staff of 230 people with sales of $1.3 billion last year from his Tarzana-based business. “The big change came going to mortgage banking from a retail shop,” said Wizelman, who sought to improve revenue by underwriting its own loans rather than merely brokering loans. By making their own loans the company had more control and flexibility with its customers. Wizelman’s move in 1993 allowed the company to better compete against competitors while at the same time improving its overall bottom line. “I don’t think anyone expected the refi boom to go on for three years and impact the business as it has,” he said. Today, the company’s small office has grown into a sprawling Tarzana corporate headquarters with six branches located in Pasadena, San Diego, Santa Clarita, Ventura, Westlake Village and West Los Angeles. But much of the company’s success comes from his ability to build a solid mortgage banking team. “If you have a lot of good people then you’re going to be successful because there’s no substitute for quality,” he said. “The first employee I hired 13 years ago is still here and so are some others and that’s a credit to the quality of people we have.” As for the future, Wizelman is optimistic about his company’s growth even as interest rates move upward. “The real estate market is getting strong and we’re continuing to build on that momentum.” Carlos Martinez

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