With all the nips and tucks being taken to tighten the sagging U.S. economy, most conspicuous spenders are cooling it. Except, that is, in regard to Beverly Hills real estate. The lush, 5.6—square mile carpet of multimillion-dollar mansions surrounding Sunset Boulevard remains a kind of real-life movie set where no one has yet yelled, “Cut!”
That’s how it looks, anyway, from the Polo Lounge, the venerable see-and-be-seen watering hole in the Beverly Hills Hotel, where many of these pocket Xanadus are bought and sold. The Polo Lounge is the office-away-from-office of petite, blond Realtor to the stars Elaine Young, 56. She deals in some of the most expensive residential properties in the world, palaces that soar to $50 million and beyond. (A “fixer-upper” in this market is any home under $2 million.) For more than three decades she has handled transactions for the likes of Paul Newman, Sylvester Stallone, Dudley Moore, Elizabeth Taylor and Ringo Starr. “I sold my first house to Tuesday Weld for $25,000 and leased my first house to Warren Beatty for $390 in 1958,” says Young during a rare moment when the phone on her Polo Lounge table is quiet. “The only thing different in 33 years is that we’ve added a lot of zeros.”
Celebrities trust and like Young for her thorough homework and her easygoing manner. “You show the house five, six times a week,” she says, “so they have to like your demeanor.” She tracks the stars’ favorite colors and kitchen quirks and sends them gifts on their birthdays. She notes their favorite restaurants so she can ring them in case a hot offer comes up at lunchtime. “Their time is more valuable than other people’s time,” she says. “At least they think it is.”
Over the years, certain deals stand out. When Young showed an eight-acre spread called the Knoll to high-living producer Dino De Laurentiis, Dino’s wife got lost wandering through the sprawling expanse. Elvis was a problem “because he had to have a room for his monkey.” The biggest house that she has leased, 2320 Bowmont Drive, which belonged to Producers Studio head Fred Jordan, has a quasi-demonic history. “Donovan leased it and did something to the toilet paper rack. Elliott Gould leased it and threw the furniture in the pool. Everybody did something.”
Young’s memory for such details is long and lively. She started working in a real estate office while still a UCLA student because her father, David Garber, formerly a Universal Studios executive, lost his money in bad investments. She was among the first women admitted to the Friars’ Club last year and is currently working on her second Rolls-Royce. “I really need one to take clients around,” she says. “It’s so elegant.” She is married to her sixth husband (“I hate to be single”) but keeps the name of her second, actor Gig Young, who took a fancy to her while she was showing him a house. That union taught her a home truth: If a house has been owned by a star, buyers will pay a premium, “especially the Japanese.” When Gig and Elaine sold their house in 1966, a woman offered thousands of dollars extra if she could also have the bed that Gig slept in. So they threw in the bed.
Young keeps a long jump ahead of the competition by stalking marriages on the rocks. “To a good broker,” she says, “a California divorce can mean four sales: You sell the house that the couple lived in, you sell each of them a new house, and if one of the attorneys likes you, you sell him a house too.” To pick up the latest divorce gossip, Young stays friendly with hairdressers and chauffeurs and has even learned Spanish to talk to housekeepers. “Anyone who doesn’t,” she confides, “is crazy.”