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Solid growth for real estate firm

After less than six months in business, luxury-home seller Surterre expects to turn a profit.

March 16, 2007|By Amanda Pennington

NEWPORT BEACH — Despite reports of doom and gloom in the real estate market, one new company is thriving in its niche luxury market while representing all kinds of properties.

Surterre Properties started in October 2006 with cash, two people and an idea.

Founders Gary Legrand and Paula Wilhelm wanted to create a new kind of real estate firm, one that focused on teamwork rather than individual accomplishments. And even with threats looming about the local market's "bubble" about to burst and the increasing number of foreclosures, they dove in head first.

"Paula and I both saw an opportunity in the real estate community to create something new and different," Legrand said Thursday, sitting at a reclaimed wood table at Surterre's headquarters on Newport Center Drive. "We got together and talked about how to create a company that could benefit the top agents and clients in the luxury market."

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In its infancy, Wilhelm and Legrand planned to bring 18 top agents they had established relationships with previously in their careers.

"We wanted to take a few top agents from each office … and create the team; however, when we called them to come out Oct. 15, 34 showed up," Legrand said with a laugh.

Despite not having room for all the agents, Wilhelm and Legrand welcomed them to what was their temporary office space.

When the company officially started business in November, Wilhelm and Legrand were ready for the long haul, not expecting to be profitable for at least a year or two. But this month, the company expects to see its first profitable month after it just about broke even in February.

In four months it has already grown out of its 13,500-square-foot permanent offices, where all office materials are eco-friendly, using recycled and reclaimed materials.

By the end of April the company will knock down a wall and add 6,500 square feet. They've grown to about 120 agents and staffers.

The company is working to become a full-service office, with its mortgage division recently open and an escrow service on the way.

It also has its own studio where all promotional materials are created.

"We're here to support the agents and the clients and let them do the best job they can," said Wilhelm, the company's chief brand and marketing officer.

Already Surterre has helped its agents sell a number of homes, including two listings that went for more than $20 million.

And although Surterre is focused on the luxury market, Wilhelm said they're happy to take listings that aren't nearly as expensive.

"We want to be the Tiffany of real estate boutiques — whether it's the $400,000 or the $20-million listing, the clients want the same service," Wilhelm said. "You can go into Tiffany and buy something for $100 or $100,000, but everybody feels good holding that little blue box … and we hope it's the same when you see Surterre."

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