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Hidden Gem

Over the last 24 years, top real estate agent Lisa Gutman has chased down horses that escaped from barns, sneaked celebrities into properties and set records for selling the most expensive properties in Hidden Hills, an affluent community in the San Fernando Valley. She averages $30 to $40 million a year in sales volume, and has received nearly every honor available for top sellers in her field: the RE/MAX Diamond Club, Hall of Fame, Lifetime Achievement Award. Not that she’s keeping track.

“I take a hand-holding approach to real estate,” she says. “I specialize in one client at a time.”

Her personal touch to real estate has literally opened doors. About 80 percent of her business comes from repeat clients and referrals. Many of her clients eventually become friends. For a Memorial Day barbecue she recently hosted, at least 20 guests were clients.

“I love the people here, and I love helping people,” says Gutman. “Buying a home is the most important purchase of anyone’s life, and I love being a part of that process.”

For Gutman, being a part of the process means personally driving to her clients’ house in order to walk them through a contract or taking them down the city’s Department of Building and Safety to introduce them to the head of the department. She not only advises her clients on local housing market values, but also the city’s unique Homeowner Association dues and strict building requirements. If a client needs a local builder or architect, she simply pulls out her BlackBerry for a contact.

She explains: “Hidden Hills is an incorporated city, with its own mayor and architectural committee. It can be impossible to get a remodeling or building project done in this area without knowing the ins and outs. You need to know so much about this community in order to work here and advise clients appropriately. I live and breathe Hidden Hills every day.”

She isn’t called the “Hidden Hills Queen” for nothing. She knows every road, trail, home and piece of land by heart from Spring Valley Road to the back canyons. When it comes to coveted pocket listings—properties so exclusive they are not logged into the Multiple Listing Service—she hears about them before anyone else. In fact, she estimates about 30% of her properties are word-of-mouth, or pocket listings.

“Residents here are very private, and may not want to put their home on the market or advertise in the MLS,” she says. “But they know I have a pulse on the community. That comes from living and working in the community on a daily basis.”

Hidden Hills could very well be the Beverly Hills of San Fernando Valley; celebrities Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, Denise Richards, and the Kardashians reside here among the curving hillsides, equestrian trails, rolling white fences and relative quiet set behind the city’s private gates. When visitors pass under the arching white Hidden Hills sign for the first time, they know they have arrived at a place that marches (or trots) to its own beat. Few people may recognize this rural Los Angeles—but to Lisa Gutman and the 2,000 residents who live here, it’s home.

“I made a real connection with Hidden Hills when I started working here 20 years ago,” says Gutman, who is also an 18-year-resident. “It’s very exclusive, yet not pretentious. It’s also very quiet and secure. Children can ride their horses. Residents can get away with not locking their doors. If you’re a celebrity, nobody will bother you here.”

The New York-born/Orange County-bred Gutman discovered Hidden Hills in 1987, after starting her real estate career at RE/MAX in Woodland Hills. While driving through the city with another agent one day, she knew she would eventually live and work here.

“It was so gorgeous,” she recalls. “I got my first buyer in Hidden Hills soon after that day and it snowballed slowly, but progressively. When I moved in two years later, it helped solidify my standing in the area.”

After more than two decades with RE/MAX in Woodland Hills, Gutman recently joined Keller Williams in Calabasas as Lead Director of the Luxury Home Division. She represents estate properties priced from $1 million to $10 million in Hidden Hills and its better-known neighbor, Calabasas. Whether it’s a 1950s original ranch style home, a $20 million French Country mansion or a sprawling 5-acre lot with a teardown, she always maintains her signature hands-on approach with clients. “Dedicated,” “knowledgeable,” “experienced” and “friendly” are the words they might use to describe Gutman, who prides herself on being available 24/7.

She notes: “I’ve had listings where a client started out with a bigger name agent, but they ended up feeling like they weren’t getting the attention they needed or wanted. They felt like a number. When they call or email me, I answer immediately. They appreciate that level of response.”

Gutman might show 10 properties a day or meet with 10 clients a day—but one thing never changes—she prefers to operate in the field, as opposed to a desk. While other agents with a similar sales volume typically employ an entire support team, she keeps her business close. Her dedicated assistant of 10 years, Sheree Yablon, manages the majority of the administrative part of the business. With Yablon’s guidance, Gutman aggressively advertises her listings in The Los Angeles Times and sends out local postcard mailings to nearby zip codes. She also owns the www.hiddenhills.com domain—a clever online lead generator for anyone who happens to be searching for information about the area. Yet despite the new media she embraces on a regular basis, Gutman remains decidedly “old-fashioned” when it comes to her clients.

“If they have a question, I will get in my car, drive over to their house and sit down with them so they can see it on paper,” she says. “I’m very much there for them.”

In the future, Gutman plans to double and triple her marketing efforts this year in order to capitalize on the housing market’s expected rebound. Over the next five years, she hopes to see a minimum of 10 percent growth every year. And while Gutman is an accomplished real estate veteran, she has no plans to retire any time soon.

“I’d be bored,” she says. “I love what I do.”

When Gutman isn’t working, she is spending time with her 14-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son, riding one of their three horses, or caring for their other pets, which include a mini-donkey, two goats, three dogs, four cats, two guinea pigs, two turtles and two fish. She also runs four days a week with a running group called the Hidden Hills Trail Runners, and runs marathons for children charities. Such is the life of a Hidden Hills real estate agent, who serves as proof that the mantra “all real estate is local” is still alive, well and true.

For more information, please contact Lisa Gutman at (818) 535-0862 or lisagutman@aol.com.