Fast cars and flash fashion: how real estate agents became rock stars
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Fast cars and flash fashion: how real estate agents became rock stars

On May 24, Sydney real estate agent Michael Coombs uploaded a one-minute video to Instagram. It showed the suave 41-year-old in some of the luxury homes he's sold, or at his swanky Neutral Bay office, set to dramatic music and interspersed with headlines such as "over 1.3 billion in sales" and "setting suburb record after record".

At the end, the tongue-in-cheek credits name Gucci as the production designer and GQ as director of photography. "Eat your heart out Stephen [sic] Spielberg," Coombs wrote.

Real estate agent Michael Coombs, "the king of the north", at a property he is selling in Mosman.

Real estate agent Michael Coombs, "the king of the north", at a property he is selling in Mosman.Credit:Louise Kennerley

It might seem like an odd vanity project, but this is 2020, when real estate agents can be rock stars, influencers, celebrities - take your pick. Those at the top of the game know it's much more than just selling a house; it's about style, image and personal brand. They're in demand for product launches, society parties and even reality television.

Coombs has 12,300 Instagram followers; Gavin Rubinstein, whose patch is the eastern suburbs and whom Coombs says is "the closest thing to a celebrity real estate agent" in Sydney, has 27,200.

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Monika Tu, who specialises in selling luxury homes to Chinese buyers and is a brand ambassador for BMW and the Museum of Contemporary Art, says her event live streams on WeChat can reach up to 13 million people.

Her CBD office has a Steinway & Sons piano, a portrait of herself by Chinese-Australian artist Tianli Zu, enough art to fill a small museum and enough bottles of high-end booze to stock a bar. She is in ultra-high demand for events; she says before the pandemic she would get three or four invitations a night.

"Everything I do, it's all around my real estate," says Monika Tu, 57, who specialises in selling to Chinese buyers.

"Everything I do, it's all around my real estate," says Monika Tu, 57, who specialises in selling to Chinese buyers.Credit:Steven Siewert

"I don't have a life, you know, this is my life," Tu says, gesturing around her office. "I don't waste time. Everything I do, it's all around my real estate."

When Coombs launched LJ Hooker Avnu last year, the party made this newspaper's social pages, with Benji and Zoe Marshall, Kate Waterhouse and Luke Ricketson and Nova's Tim Blackwell in attendance. Coombs has also sold homes for Beau Ryan, Matt Shirvington and Karl Stefanovic.

Social scene: Michael and Mia Coombs at the LJ Hooker Avnu launch in Neutral Bay last year.

Social scene: Michael and Mia Coombs at the LJ Hooker Avnu launch in Neutral Bay last year.Credit:Craig Bryant

"All those people come to me," Coombs says. "I sell probably four or five times more than any other agent in this top end. Not from an arrogant point of view, but just I think I know what it takes to get the results with my team."

He calculates that he sells about $350 million worth of property a year, dominating the lower north shore and smashing his own records in suburbs such as Northbridge and Cremorne. Other agents call him "the king of the north".

Coombs credits a lot of his success to discipline: he's up at 5am every day to exercise, meditate and "have a steam", as well as spend time with his two-year-old son before getting to the office at 7am. He is a friend and follower of Nicho Plowman, the "Vedic meditation" guru who was once married to Sass & Bide co-founder Heidi Middleton.

While Coombs now shows off more of his personal life on his social media, it's not as flashy or in-your-face as others'. He says the north shore market is a little more subtle.

"It's different in the east," says Coombs. "In the east it's a little bit about 'who's the best' and 'this is great' and 'this is what we've got' ... we do a lot of that as well, but ours is more under the radar."

It's a competitive market. Rubinstein, the king of the east, was reluctant to appear in this story alongside certain other agents. In a long profile published earlier this year in men's lifestyle mag Boss Hunting, he was described as "real estate's most divisive figure", who literally dreams about selling houses, signs deals at midnight and is in the gym at 5am the next day.

"No one works harder than me," Rubinstein told the publication. "I'll do what it takes for the sale. Will the other guys keep up? No, they won't."

Now in his early 30s, Rubinstein was Ray White's top NSW agent for seven years straight before establishing his own Ray White office, the Rubinstein Group, in Queen Street Woollahra. He is renowned throughout the eastern suburbs for his determination, drive and myriad connections.

Rubinstein's Instagram, specifically his Versace dressing gown, has become gossip column fodder, and he has a chauffeur to ferry him between houses on inspection days. The Boss Hunting profile mentioned he owned a Lamborghini, a Ferrari Spider and a Range Rover, but they're not featured on his Instagram because "he thinks it makes him look detached".

Eastern suburbs real estate agent Gavin Rubinstein has cultivated a mass following on Instagram.

Eastern suburbs real estate agent Gavin Rubinstein has cultivated a mass following on Instagram.Credit:Instagram

In Melbourne, however, rock star agent Zed Nasheet has no such compunction. The 30-year-old, who used to be repped by celebrity publicist Max Markson, proudly posts pictures with his orange Lamborghini (his second) and says he's worth about $12-15 million. He frequently speaks in aphorisms and his favourite is from the late American entrepreneur Jim Rohn.

"Formal education will make you a living but self-education will make you a fortune," he says. "That quote changed my life."

"I don’t stop because I don't want to lose the lifestyle I have right now":  Melbourne real estate agent Zed Nasheet.

"I don’t stop because I don't want to lose the lifestyle I have right now": Melbourne real estate agent Zed Nasheet.

Nasheet sells most of his property in Brighton. On his desk he has a paperweight that says "fucking brilliant"; behind him on the wall is an artwork with his face imposed on a $100 bill, and a series of smaller frames that spell out "In Zed We Trust".

Zed Nasheet sells property in Melbourne's Brighton.

Zed Nasheet sells property in Melbourne's Brighton.

In his spare time he plays the drums, and last year he released an original song and music video called Zold, filmed on a private jet and replete with champagne, sports cars and choreography.

Nasheet once sold a house in just 15 minutes and boasts that he can sell properties over Facebook. "I don't stop because I don't want to lose the lifestyle I have right now. I had a Bentley when I was 27. I've had every car that anybody could dream of. I've had it all in my 20s."

Unlike others, he's not an early riser. "My day starts at 9am," Nasheet says. "I'm not a morning person. A lot of entrepreneurs say, 'I get up at 6am every day' - it's all fucking bullshit bro."

If there's one thing that does seem to unite these agents, it's their rags-to-riches back stories. Nasheet came to Australia as a refugee from Afghanistan when he was 12, not speaking a word of English. Coombs grew up with three sisters cared for by a single mother on the northern beaches.

Tu came here as a student and first worked at Paddy's Markets, as she told Miriam Margolyes in the documentary Almost Australian. "People look at me now and think 'oh my god, you're a rock star' ... you have all the luxury, bling blings, diamonds and stuff, driving the luxury cars," she says. "But where I came from was [different]."

"The best is never cheap": Monika Tu

"The best is never cheap": Monika TuCredit:Steven Siewert

It has been a rough few months for everyone, including the real estate business, although the high achieving agents in this story say they've held their own. And as the coronavirus restrictions are lifted, their social calendars are finally starting to refill.

This week Tu has the Valentino season launch; she's going to invite her top 10 clients and do a live stream about the new collections. And on Friday she will help launch the Archwood Residences, a boutique set of "exclusive four-bedroom townhouses for elite Roseville families", designed by DKO Architecture.

"The party is going to be phenomenal," Tu says. "They're spending a lot of money. My thing is, like, 'never cheap', right? If people don't share your vision, you cannot sell at the price you want. This is not cheap. They don't want to be cheap. They want to be the best. The best is never cheap."

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