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How Luxury Real Estate King Aaron Kirman Became the $8 Billion Man

It’s a Monday morning around 8:00am and Aaron Kirman is still in his favorite sweatpants, flanked by his two loyal dogs in bed. But he’s not slacking or sleeping in. He’s already been on 20 phone calls with clients from LA to the Middle East about their multi-million dollar homes that Kirman is working tirelessly to help them buy or sell at the optimal price in some of the most desirable neighborhoods in the world. There is likely a fresh Starbucks Venti within reach that he sips as he’s done more than $8 billion worth of real estate business from his mobile phone. In the corner of his minimalist, modern master bedroom is a modest dry erase board with his very lofty business and personal goals. 

Aaron wasn’t born into wealth and grew up with the odds stacked against him. He was born with a severe speech impediment that made pronouncing the letter “R” [in both his first and last name] exceedingly difficult. On top of that, he has dyslexia, a learning disability that often effects reading, writing and numbers. It is an understatement to say it has been a huge challenge he has had to overcome, and something he’s still working to improve. He also came out as gay at a young age and had to deal with his share of teasing and bullying from his peers. Aaron has since become a leading business voice and someone who younger people in the LGBTQIA community can look up to as a mentor

“Growing up, I couldn’t speak [properly,] I couldn’t talk,” he says. “I still can’t add numbers in my head. So how I have become known as one of the top real estate agents in the world is something that still kind of defies my odds and my history. I think I got here from hard work, strategy and learning from a lot of my early mistakes.”

Kirman grew up in Encino, California in a humble middle-class home. His mother was an educator and his father worked in trucking. Kirman said school was really difficult for him and he credits his mother with helping him to achieve the success that he has today. He says that she invested hours afters school, often into the evening, to work with him on his reading and writing and basic math so that he could get an education and have a normal life.

“My saving grace, growing up was my mom. My mom was a teacher, and she was the most loving, kind human being alive, she’s still like my soulmate,” he says. “She spent hours and hours every day teaching me how to read, how to write. I would come home at four [o’clock] and we would work until eight-thirty at night every night. I can honestly say, without her I would be nothing.”

Kirman is one of the few people in the world who knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up and, subsequently made it happen. As a young child he says that he used to ride his bike into multi-million-dollar neighborhoods and peek into the homes–even hopping the back fence when the house was vacant. He would dream about what it was like to live there…then fantasize about being the real estate agent representing the property. 

“The only thing I knew I wanted to do in life was real estate,” he tells me. “That was the biggest blessing, because that was the only thing I knew I could do.”

The challenges brought on by his dyslexia made it incredibly difficult for Kirman to join the workforce. He struggled to stay focused and was fired from three jobs before he says that real estate changed his life.

“I got fired from my first three jobs. And I said to myself, my god, I can’t be an employee. This was at the age of 18, and so real estate was my saving grace because I knew that I would have a different kind of boss working directly with my clients. There was no way anyone would put up with me in a traditional job. The day I became my own boss, all of a sudden life changed because I was in control of my own destiny.”

Prior to becoming his own boss, Kirman attended the University of Southern California. At first, his learning disabilities seemed like they would prevent him from attending the school, but after Kirman wrote a detailed letter about the struggles he faced and how badly he still wanted to attend, he was granted admission. He ultimately earned himself a degree in business and communications. 

While in school, Kirman started some of his first real estate dealings which he has attributed to sheer luck as he didn’t have much experience. It was something that came naturally to him after years of imagining himself in that world, but there were things that he had to learn and adjustments he needed to make to get himself to where he is today.

Kirman started out landing clients by flattering sellers and listing properties high to try and please them, but he says this never worked out well. Once he started walking through prospective buyers, his eye would immediately go to the flaws of a property and he’d realize that he and consequently, the seller were going to have a more difficult time selling the property.

After a lot of trial-and-error, Kirman realized that there was a better way; that his job wasn’t to sell his clients or flatter them, it was to guide them and sometimes that meant a little tough love. It was about telling the truth. Kirman believes that a good salesperson doesn’t have to sell, but that it’s their job to educate and he uses his own unique tactic when it comes to educating his clients. This level of honestly and transparency sometimes qualifies him to be in a position to represent both the buyer and the seller. How is this possible? Kirman adheres to a strict no B.S. approach. The reward for having a reputation for telling the truth to both parties also earns him double the commission. 

“My sales approach is opposite of most,” he says. “Most people sell by saying things are beautiful, trying to push product, trying to push a house. I actually, in my world, call everything that’s wrong out. I’ve said, ‘Ms. Seller, your floors are bad; your walls are falling apart; your location is on a busy block with too much street noise and you’re not going to get what you want.’ So, I use a reverse floor plan to sell. And that reverse floor plan gets people somewhat shocked, somewhat unhappy but if they really evaluate the moment, they go, ‘Wow, that guy’s looking after me. He’s calling out what’s wrong before we launch, before we go, and he’s saving me time, energy and money.'”

Kirman’s strategies have worked for him. He has sold $8 billion dollars-worth of homes in his career to date, and those numbers keep climbing. Kirman not only works as a real estate agent he’s also an investor, philanthropist and has starred on CNBC’s reality series, Listing Impossible. He’s recently rebooted his Youtube channel and is sharing the behind-the-scenes of how he actually does what he does to help aspiring real estate professionals and others wanted to invest in residential property. Kirman sits as the president of AKG Real Estate and his star-studded client roster includes Hollywood royalty like Rhianna, Orlando Bloom, Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber, Arianna Grande, Jennifer Lopez to name a few as well as royal families from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. 

Many of Kirman’s sales have been historic in their own right. He is known for high profile listings including the Danny Thomas Estate which sold for $65 million and is the second highest real estate sale in Beverly Hills’ history. Kirman has also sold historic homes by Frank Lloyd Wright, John Lautner, Richard Neutra and Frank Gehry to name a few. A flurry of new developments and listing are popping up each week, like the stunning home on Wallace Ridge with a 250 year old olive tree — transported by two humungous cranes and planted in the center of the downstairs living room adjacent to the giant indoor waterfall.

Kirman’s flexible and relaxed attitude may also attribute to why he’s been so successful. Don’t get me wrong, he has great taste and a flair for style. He certainly enjoys nice things like his Bentley and day-driver Porsche Taycan. But he also orders in El Pollo Loco salads for lunch and would rather wear a comfy t-shirt and jeans instead of the Armani suit. He just doesn’t take anything more seriously than he should. He also doesn’t mind hearing criticism from his team if he goes into diva mode. This is a pivot from the past when he couldn’t keep an assistant because he was too demanding and mean [ala The Devil Wears Prada, starring Meryl Streep]. Flash forward to today and he learned the value of surrounding himself with a talented team who can get results and work together to achieve their collective vision. Kirman says he views business like a game of chess. You win some, you lose some and when you lose, you just have to shake it off and move on. Kirman likes to celebrate his wins, but says he’s always got his eye on the next game. 

“I could sell the biggest house in the world,” he says. “And the next morning I’ll love reading about it, I’ll love the press, but [I] better think, what’s my next big house? Because if I don’t do that, I’m out of business.”

While Kirman admits that some people are simply lucky, he thinks he’s had a hand in making his own luck. He’s become more grounded and spiritual and mindful of others. He’s refused to let setbacks take him down, and he’s charged ahead boldly even when the odds are against him. He’s not afraid to fail and views his failures as opportunities to regroup and grow. It’s a system that’s working for him and it’s honestly inspiring to see. For a man who used to dread the first day of school because he had a hard time introducing himself and pronouncing his own name, to now being at the top of his game professionally, you can’t help but root for him. 

“People look at me and they’re like, how did he do it? How did you get to where you’ve got to and I’m like, so much failure. I got to where I got to by making so many stupid mistakes, but I’ll tell you, from every mistake I learned. And that has made all the difference.”

Watch more Behind the Brand with Aaron Kirman here:

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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