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Secrets of a Celebrity Agent: Conversation with Chris Cortazzo

If you’re looking to live the Malibu dream, look no further than Chris Cortazzo. The Point Dume-born luxury real estate master has spent the better part of two decades championing the sun-kissed Malibu lifestyle. Again recognized on top this year — as the No. 1 Sales Associate associated with the Coldwell Banker® network — Cortazzo ended 2017 with a total of 60 closed properties, resulting in over $574 million in sales volume. He knows Malibu real estate better than anyone.

In some respects, Cortazzo is the antithesis of the power broker. Friends describe him as a “sensitive soul”: he has been a vegetarian for 33 years, and a passionate supporter of environmental causes and animal rescue. He treats his team of associates like family. In fact, he is more likely to encourage them to take hikes or surf breaks during the day than drive them hard during high stakes real estate transactions. While he counts Shannon Doherty and Martyn Lawrence Bullard among his friends, he is especially tight with his mother Patricia and brother, Danny. Despite celebrity friends and clients, he doesn’t relish the spotlight. As the son of a firefighter, he still seeks the simple things in life that ground him: nature, family, friends, pets, home.

Chris Cortazzo

Yet, Cortazzo’s reign of success has elevated him to a nearly iconic status in real estate circles. He has logged over $5 billion in sales since 2000 and quietly amassed one of the most enviable personal real estate portfolios in Malibu to date, as well as an increasingly impressive art and photography collection. These are the byproducts of being No. 1, and maintaining a constant presence in the nation’s lead agent rankings. What is the secret to his success after all of these years? What insights can he share with us about living, working and succeeding in a celebrity paradise market like Malibu? We recently made a special trip to sunny Point Dume, where he lives, to get the real story behind the agent.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury You have a unique ability to be laser-focused on a client, in a way that makes them feel there is no one else in the room — some would call this “the Clinton Factor.” How did you develop this kind of focus and how has it helped you in your business?

Chris Cortazzo I love what I do. I was born and raised in Malibu. I truly believe in this lifestyle, so it’s very easy for me to show and sell Malibu. It’s the greatest place to live in the world. I do focus in on my clients, because I have found that the more you talk to people, the more you understand their desires and understand what they want in a home and in a lifestyle. I really think it’s important to listen to them. I ask pertinent questions that can help guide me and guide them to find their dream home in Malibu. My clients trust me because I know the market better than anyone. Being in this business for over 24 years, I understand the locations and the lifestyle each unique area provides.

For example, I recently had a celebrity client who came to me originally wanting a beach house. Instead, I ended up selling them a beautiful mid-century house on two acres in the enchanted Sycamore Forest because they revealed to me that they love horses. Now their property is a block away from the water — so they can ride their horses to the beach. Because I took the time to understand what this client was really looking for, they ended up being so delighted with their purchase. I had another client who wanted a beach home, but they ended up buying a Point Dume house because what they really wanted was land. Now they live in Malibu full time, and they’re so happy. They had one perception of what they wanted, but I was able to find them a property that was more conducive to their lifestyle. I love what I do! 

Chris Cortazzo with his family

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Your nickname is “The Vault.” How did that moniker evolve?

Chris Cortazzo I think it started while I was working with a famous fashion photographer, Herb Ritts. He worked with a lot of celebrities. But I have practiced discretion my whole life. If someone shares a secret, I will never divulge it. I really stay true to safeguarding my clients’ confidentiality. I hold their information near and dear to my heart. They, in turn, feel safe and trust me. It all goes back to trust. If you can’t trust someone, there is no relationship.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Why did you decide to become a real estate agent?

Chris Cortazzo At the end of a two-and-a-half-year stint with Herb, I wanted my own identity and to have a business of my own. I was already working with these celebrities. I thought real estate might be a good option for me because they would often ask me for my opinion, since they knew I was born and raised here in Malibu. It turned out to be true. I earned my real estate license in 1994, and I sold my first house that year.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Tell us about your first sale.

Chris Cortazzo My first sale was a $5 million bluff beach house in 1994 sold to one of the biggest celebrities. After this first sale,  I then got one of the most expensive listings in Malibu, which really became my entry point into the Malibu market. The sale gave me the opportunity to purchase my first property next to my parent’s home on Cliffside Drive. Every transition in my career has been important. I view it as I’m taking on the responsibility of a really important aspect in someone’s life — whether it’s a $50 million sale or a $2 million sale. It is equally important to me.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Looking back, which of your sales taught you the most valuable lesson that you still live and work by today?

Chris Cortazzo I learn from every sale I do. During every transaction, I look at myself and I’m always learning something new. That’s the beautiful thing about real estate. It’s never boring. It’s like being an actor — every role is different.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury What is a common pitfall you see new agents in the business make?

Chris Cortazzo I sold my first house in 1994 at $5 million. I saved every penny of that sale. I didn’t go out and buy a new car or a new watch; I re-invested it in my business. Often, a new agent will see the money coming in, and they don’t plan for their future. My dad was a firefighter in Malibu, and I grew up cutting out coupons. I don’t take anything for granted. I believe in this market, and re-investing in this market. Right now, I own five homes in Malibu. I know how quickly things can change. Every market has lost value at some point, just look what happened during the Great Recession. 2009 was a particularly tough year for me. I became a No. 1 agent and lost my dad that year, who was my best friend. I try to keep a positive attitude no matter what. You get knocked down and pick yourself up to keep going.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Let’s talk a little bit more about your passion for house flipping and re-investing in Malibu real estate. How many homes have bought and sold, as investments?

Chris Cortazzo I’ve built or renovated eight homes in Malibu. I have built one, and renovated seven. I’ve been fortunate to work many talented designers for these projects — Martyn Lawrence Bullard, Vanessa Alexander, Simone Harrer and others who bring great vision to these homes. For example, right now we are working on a Brazilian architectural home in Point Dume, with architect Richard Landry and interior designer Vanessa Alexander. It’s going to be an indoor/outdoor design with an open floor plan…Malibu lifestyle at its best.

33740 Pacific Coast Highway | Malibu, CA. | $49,500,000

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Switching gears, which trends are hot among Malibu buyers right now?

Chris Cortazzo Malibu buyers typically want architectural homes with lots of glass and open floor plans. Another popular style is Palm Springs mid-century modern; people have a huge appreciation for this style. These homes sell almost immediately. Buyers really respond to open floorplans with kitchens open to the family room. The Malibu lifestyle is not formal; it’s open and casual.

In terms of locations, Carbon Beach has always been a hot spot. Point Dume is also very desirable with a good elementary school at the heart of the neighborhood. It’s known for secluded beaches and great surfing.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury What trends are you seeing with your luxury sellers right now?

Chris Cortazzo Since a lot of the locations in Malibu are so beautiful, we are incorporating a lot of drone photography and video into our listing marketing programs. For bluff houses, a drone video helps you get an overview of the lifestyle.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Has anything surprised you this year (so far), in terms of prices or sales or demand?

Chris Cortazzo Malibu is consistent. It has not had the elevation that other markets have had. There are still tremendous buy opportunities here. Malibu has such a cachet that it is becoming an international destination. We are beginning to see interest from Chinese and Russian investors. People that normally want to be in The Hamptons in the summer now want to be in Malibu. It’s like The Hamptons of the West Coast.

33740 Pacific Coast Highway | Malibu, CA. | $49,500,000

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury In your view, why is Malibu unique, compared to other Los Angeles-area luxury markets?

Chris Cortazzo The ocean, of course. There are so many amazing hiking trails and beaches, plus it has clean air and great schools. It’s the ultimate lifestyle because not everyone has to drive into work everyday. You can have both the beach lifestyle and the mountain lifestyle here. Malibu is maturing too. Soho House opened Little Beach House Malibu, which is one of my favorite spots. There’s also Nobu on Pacific Coast Highway, and casual farm-to-table spots like the Malibu Farm on the Malibu Pier. It’s becoming known as a wine destination with a number of new tasting rooms and vineyards cropping up — some places even give you the experience of bottling your own wine and olive oil. The shopping has improved too, with new stores and boutiques at places like the Trancas Country Market and Malibu Country Mart. Open any magazine, and there are always photographs of celebrities on the beaches of Malibu. It has that cachet. The lifestyle in Malibu is laidback, casual elegance. People don’t want to be dressed to the nines everyday. It’s a wonderful lifestyle.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Are you seeing the price ceiling being pushed in Malibu, like we’ve been seeing in city locales like Beverly Hills or Bel Air?

Chris Cortazzo Last year, there were a number of big closings in Malibu. For instance, my top sales last year were a Paradise Cove Bluff Property for $38.5 million and a Cliffside Drive Bluff Property for $23 million. On the listing side, I have a co-listing — an Ed Niles masterpiece above Point Dume Bluffs — for $81.5 million. I would say that there is a new step up in pricing. You know, the saying — $3 million is the new $2 million.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Any final words of wisdom for anyone seeking the Malibu lifestyle?

Chris Cortazzo Spend time in Malibu because there are so many different living experiences; there’s beach, bluff, or a more rural setting among the hills and mountains.


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Secrets of a Celebrity Agent: Conversation with Chris Cortazzo

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