Q&A: Ellen McCormick

A native of California and a resident of Pacific Palisades since 1983, Ellen McCormick has been a real estate agent since 1985. A founding associate broker of the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Palisades office in 1997, McCormick is a leading broker for the firm.

Post: Tell me about your childhood. Where were you born and where did you grow up? What were some of your interests and hobbies as a child and teenager?

McCormick: I was born and raised in San Francisco, right in the heart of the city. It was a magical place to grow up. My parents loved entertaining, and their home was something of a salon for the cultural and intellectual circles of the time.

The house itself was beautiful, and it came alive with the people that were drawn to what my parents created. Being surrounded by all that talent and not wanting to compete with an intimidatingly intelligent older brother, I chose to explore the performing arts—dancing and acting in plays throughout my earlier years.

But then I went to a small, all female high school. It was a perfect match for me, proving to foster both personal and intellectual empowerment. And it didn’t hurt that the school was “housed” in a beautiful home that had belonged to one of the city’s founding families.

It spoke to me the moment I walked through the door. With elegant public rooms, small classrooms and a paneled library with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, I knew this was the place for me. 

And to the point of this conversation, between my own home and my high school, I had an early understanding and appreciation of the importance of the house and home as a reflection of self, a sense of belonging, of safety—an anchor in the world.

Post: Where did you go to college and what did you study?

McCormick: I was debating between an experience similar to my high school but on the East Coast and something different. So, I chose the polar opposite and went to UC Berkeley.

I knew I wanted a basic liberal arts education and at the time, the history department at Cal was among the best in the country. It required a thesis paper that spanned two semesters: one for research and one for writing.

I tend to be drawn to what intimidates me, and that scared me to death. So, I went for it. I had the good fortune to work one-on-one with a gifted professor. It was an amazing experience.

Post: What was your first job out of college? What led you to choose a career in real estate?  

McCormick: Well, when you study history you … go into film production? But that’s what I did.

I worked from the bottom of the production ladder to being a second assistant director in the production of TV commercials. I learned that my strength was in relating to a whole range of people from many different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.

When it became clear that the production world was not the most conductive to a healthy family life, I turned to real estate. My husband, James, had always thought I would be good at it, and I guess he was right. Thirty-four years later, I still love my job!

Post: How long have you lived in the Palisades and in which neighborhoods? What brought you here and why do you stay? 

McCormick: My husband and I moved to the Palisades in 1983. We were about to start our family, and I was drawn to the clean air, the sense of community here, and its relationship to mountains and the ocean, like the Bay Area. It felt like home.

We lived for 10 years in the Alphabet Streets, then moved to a larger home on the Sunset border of The Huntington when my mother-in-law moved in with us.

She passed a few years ago, and we have now embarked on a long overdue renovation. You ask why we stay, but I ask you, why would we leave?

Post: How does your background help you when working with clients to buy or sell a home?  

McCormick: I understand the importance of the home as both a sense of place and as an investment, and I learned early on how to connect with a wide range of people. The highlight of the job for me is being able to connect and work with such distinguished and intelligent clients.

Post: Do you represent homes in all neighborhoods of the Palisades?  

McCormick: Absolutely. And it’s fun to learn why each of my clients thinks their neighborhood is the best!

Post: Tell me about how you approach new clients who are aiming to buy or sell a home.

McCormick: I listen.

Post: What are some of the most memorable homes you have sold or helped a client purchase? 

McCormick: Well, I guess I am most fond of what I have most recently sold. I just sold a home on Rivas Canyon that has such a rich history. It was fun to delve into its colored past and present the story to the market.

And I just sold an exquisite house at Alma Real. I have represented either the buyer or the seller of this home in all of its four transactions since it was built in 2002, so I have seen first-hand how it has been transformed by its different owners.

And now I am really excited to bring to market 14400 Villa Woods Place. It is a beautifully renovated Mid-Century in the Will Rogers area. There is nothing else like it in the Palisades right now.

Post: What are some current trends in real estate?  

McCormick: The real estate market goes through cycles, and I have worked through a few of them. The press is talking about a softening market, and while I have noted a change, I see it more as a shift from a crazy, mad-paced seller’s market to one with more balance.

When a buyer has a chance to look at a house more than once before they offer, that’s a good thing. In the recent craze, I was working with someone who said she spent more time deciding to buy a pair of jeans than a house! So, I welcome this shift.

Post: What do you and your family like to do for fun?

McCormick: I feel fortunate to have been able to raise our children in the Palisades. They benefited from the great local public schools, and took advantage of the accessibility of our Village and all the outdoor amenities available to them.

But we raise our children to spread their wings, and both of our children have flown to different parts of the world. Our son lives and works in New York, and our daughter has her life in London. They have given us a good excuse to travel.

But my husband and I are now focused on finishing the renovation of our house, hoping our family will come home for a visit!

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