Q&A: Sue Kohl

By SARAH SHMERLING | Managing Editor

Sue Kohl knows Pacific Palisades. Living in the Alphabet Streets since 1994 and raising five kids in the area, she’s become an expert on all things community, including schools, sports and good take-out.

Read all about why the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices agent loves the Palisades, how she approaches new clients and more.

Shmerling: Tell me about your childhood.

Kohl: I was born and raised on the Westside in Beverly Hills when it was just a sweet little village with a local record store, Baskin Robbins, etc. After school (at Westlake), we would drive into town for ice cream or to meet friends at Hamburger Hamlet. It was quite different from the international destination that it has become.

I loved riding horses at the Griffith Park Equestrian Center and pretty much all sports. My kids love to make fun of my “nerd factor” when I tell them that during the last two years of high school, I spent most of my weekend nights studying for the SAT. They weren’t inclined to follow in those footsteps!

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

Kohl: I went to Northwestern University for undergraduate and graduate school in Evanston, Illinois, and received both a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in speech and language pathology. I worked in clinics with stroke and cerebral palsy patients, and also with children who had speech disorders.

College was an exciting adventure after spending kindergarten through 12th grade in an all girls school! I loved being just outside of Chicago and experiencing real seasons. The winters weren’t as rough as many make them out to be (maybe a little cold and windy) but, of course, I came back to LA at the first opportunity.

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

Kohl: My first job out of college was teaching high school students with language disorders and learning challenges. I taught all the subjects they would have taken in a regular classroom: English, history, math, driver’s ed, sex ed … It was fun and very rewarding.

My mother had been in real estate when I was growing up, and I had free time at night and on weekends, so when a real estate broker friend asked if I would join his firm and work part-time, I jumped on board and found that I loved it! That was the beginning of my real estate career.

Not long after the beginning, I took a 12-year “hiatus” during which time I was busy raising four lovely children—later to be five. I have now been working full-time in real estate for 29 years, first with Jon Douglas in Brentwood and for the past 20 years at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices here in Pacific Palisades. Time flies!

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

Kohl: I moved from Brentwood to the Palisades in 1994. All the kids went to school here, both at St. Matthews and Corpus Christi schools. All their sports activities were here, and it seemed like quality of life might be better with less time spent driving on Sunset and more time spent at work and play.

We have lived in the same house on Iliff in the Alphabet Streets since 1994. What I love most about the Palisades is the sense of belonging to a small community while living in a huge sprawling city. I love walking the dogs into town or to the beach and running into friends along the way. It’s hard to find what we have here, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Shmerling: How has the Palisades changed in the time that you’ve lived here?

Kohl: The Palisades has become a bit less “sleepy” during the time I’ve lived here. There are more restaurants, schools and, of course, many more people. Shops have become more upscale, and real estate values have skyrocketed.

In most neighborhoods, many older, smaller, single-family homes have been replaced with new, larger homes. The Palisades tops the list of locations for families looking for safe, friendly neighborhoods and excellent schools. Plus, we have a terrific rec center, a fabulous community aquatic center at Pali High and a wonderful local library. Almost every religious organization is represented here, so you don’t really ever need to leave town.

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

Kohl: Well first of all, experience is the best teacher in the real estate profession, so I feel extremely well educated. And by experience, I mean not only transactional, but also knowing how to deal effectively with clients during what can be a very emotional transition, whether buying or selling.

A person’s home is typically his/her largest asset, so negotiating skills are critical in order to achieve the best possible outcome for your client. A major part of that negotiation involves the broker on the other side, so I’ve made a point to maintain great relationships with other local professionals, which has been easy, as most of the brokers in town are terrific, smart people.

It also helps to have raised a family and to have lived here for so many years. I have extensive knowledge about schools, sports and good take-out. Additionally, I have served on the PPCC (Pacific Palisades Community Council) for the past four-and-a-half years: one year as youth sports representative and for the last three-and-a-half years representing the Alphabet Streets. It has been a unique opportunity to get to know other community volunteers, stay in the loop about what’s happening in town and to have interaction with LA city officials on a regular basis.

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

Kohl: Absolutely! My three main areas are the Palisades (all neighborhoods), Brentwood and Santa Monica.

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

Kohl: My first job with buyers is to ascertain the client’s priorities. What do they value the most? Privacy? Views? Proximity to the Village? It helps to know what the most and least important factors are in the client’s search. The next step is to make sure the client is qualified and ready to jump in when the right property comes along.

For sellers, the main focus is getting the highest price, but again, it’s important to find out about other priorities, as each seller has a specific reason for selling and specific needs in the process. The first part of my approach with any client is making sure they know I am available 24/7 via any means of communication they choose. Staying in close touch is the key to a happy transaction.

Shmerling: What are some current trends in real estate?

Kohl: We’ve had several hugely successful years here on the Westside, but it’s been more difficult than usual during the past few months to find homes for buyers, as our inventory has been historically low. Consequently, buyers have been forced to deal with multiple offer situations, which are not fun for buyers, but usually work out well for sellers.

We’re anticipating a lot of new listings sometime after the first of January. It’s hard to know without the benefit of a crystal ball about future interest rates, but so far we’ve been lucky that they have stayed so low. 2018 should be great.

Shmerling: Thoughts on Caruso’s Palisades Village project?

Kohl: I could not be more excited about Caruso’s Village project. He is transforming what was a semi-dead, depressing street into a picturesque, thriving village center. How fantastic and fun will it be to walk into town for dinner and a movie? To sit at a restaurant having dinner and a glass of wine while your kids play in the new park?

Caruso and his team have done an extraordinary job of outreach to find out what we want and how we envision our new village center. I think we should thank our lucky stars to have a developer with such excellent aesthetic taste and sensitivity toward the community.

Only eight more months!

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

Kohl: We have a very large, blended family, which can be crazy but mostly a lot of fun. There are five Kohl kids (all grown—Courtney, David, Jonny, Kristin and Gunnar), plus a son-in-law, Jay Paulson, and two adorable grandsons.

My husband, Bob Benton, has three sons (Michael, Chris and Greg), plus a beautiful daughter-in-law (Molly) and new baby grandson. So the family get-togethers are generally raucous, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Our favorite escape is the golf course (definitely a love/hate relationship with that sport), and for the sake of sanity, I get out for a five-mile run at the beach almost every morning with audible books. We would love to travel more, but so many places and so little time!