By SARAH SHMERLING | Managing Editor
Susan Stark moved from Tennessee to California in her 20s and never looked back. Meet the real estate agent who started with a dream of being a news reporter and ended up helping open Gibson International.
Sarah Shmerling: Tell me about your childhood. Where were you born and where did you grow up? What were some of your hobbies and interests as a child and teenager?
Stark: I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee where I was one of five children. I have four brothers so we had quite an active and boisterous household, as you could imagine! When I was growing up, I was an avid reader, a good student, a decent athlete and, even at a young age, I was very interested in traveling to other parts of the country and the world. In high school, I joined the track team and have been a runner ever since.
Shmerling: Where did you go to college and what did you study?
Stark: I studied at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in communications and also studied psychology. My ultimate dream was to be a news reporter, and that was the direction I was going in after college.
Shmerling: What was your first job out of college? What led you to choose a career in real estate?
Stark: My first job out of college was at a TV station in Memphis, working as a news assistant with high hopes of being a news reporter. While I was there, I was recruited by a sales manager at Hilton Hotels and got introduced to the hotel conventional sales world. She convinced me to take the job at Hilton where I stayed for a short time and then moved on to open the Hotel Peabody in 1981.
I loved the sales world and was a natural. Finally, my adventuresome spirit took over and I moved to Los Angeles in my early 20s. Through a series of odd circumstances, I secured a position at 21st Century Fox in the TV domestic syndication sales division, where I stayed for several years. It was in the ’80s, and during that time, I got tuned into real estate. It was a prosperous time, and I was always interested in hearing about the executives at the studio buying and selling homes. In 1989, I decided to get my real estate license and within the year had jumped into the business.
I started at Coldwell Banker in Brentwood in late 1989, and I remained there for 19 years, working with Scott Gibson and Pat Heller. In 2007, they invited me to join them in opening Gibson International. I excitedly accepted and have been happily helping to grow this wonderful company. In the eight years that we’ve been open, I am proud to say that we’ve established offices in Brentwood, Marina Del Rey, Pacific Palisades and this year, Santa Monica, as well as a successful escrow company, Vicente Escrow.
Shmerling: How does your background help you when working with clients to buy or sell a home?
Stark: I think my background in reporting and sales have taught me how to ask good questions and, most importantly, to listen, understand and really hear the needs of my clients to find out what’s most important to them.
Shmerling: Do you represent homes in all neighborhoods of the Palisades?
Stark: Yes, in the 27 years I’ve been in the business, I’ve worked in all of the neighborhoods of the Palisades, as well as Brentwood and the Westside.
Shmerling: Tell me about how you approach new clients who are aiming to buy or sell a home.
Stark: What I like to do is to sit down with a new client to discuss what their needs are, to find out if they’re realistic or not and to see if we are a good fit in terms of working together and how I can be of service. If we are a “go,” we plan together a strategy to prep and sell their home and/or find them another.
Shmerling: What are some of the most memorable homes you have sold or helped a client purchase?
Stark: The most memorable homes I have sold are the ones I’ve worked on with my builder clients. I particularly enjoy the process of finding a teardown and being involved in creating a vision and going through the building, staging, presenting and selling process. It’s a great learning experience and longer, more personal experience from start to finish. Very gratifying.
Shmerling: What are some current trends in real estate?
Stark: Inventory is low. The number of properties transacting is lower and the prices are at or above the high of 2007. I think there are several reasons for that.
Baby boomers are staying in their homes longer. There is a study that shows over 50 percent of 55-year-old people have been in their home for 20-plus years and plan to remain there. Millennials have been unable to buy as much and kids are staying at home longer. Many out-of-area investors have come in to our marketplace in the last five years and are buying, holding and, in many cases, renting their properties.
Shmerling: What is your favorite thing about the Palisades?
Stark: I love the community feel. The Palisades has got a very family-friendly vibe.
Shmerling: Thoughts on Caruso’s Palisades Village project?
Stark: I think it’s a wonderful addition to the Palisades and it has given a boost to the values of homes already. I suspect that we’ll get another boost on home values once it’s completed. I commend Caruso Affiliated for bringing this development in and their community service in providing extra parking for the area and creating extra community meeting space within the project.
Shmerling: What do you and your family like to do for fun?
Stark: I’m still an avid runner and love the outdoors. My boyfriend Lee and I now have a four-month-old goldendoodle puppy named Winston who is keeping us very busy. We have a home in Colorado that we love and that’s where we spend our off time, hiking, running, skiing and relaxing. Life is good and I am grateful!
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