Saturday, July 23, 2011

Storytellers: For 30 years, Walt Danley quietly closing the big deals

Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic

"My clients come to me because they know I won't sell and tell," says Walt Danley, who has built a career selling to the ultrarich.

Walt Danley can drive down almost any street in Paradise Valley and tick off the name of who lives there, what it last sold for, any major renovations done to it and its current value.

But he probably won't share any of that information with anyone but a close friend - or maybe an important client.

Danley has spent 30 years as a real-estate agent for the most expensive homes in the Valley.

His reputation for being discreet is one of the reasons wealthy buyers go back to him over and over again to purchase Arizona mansions with seven- or eight-figure price tags.

One house, on Paradise Valley's Mockingbird Lane, Danley has sold four times.

For Danley, the work of ultra-expensive real estate is a delicate balance.

First, there is the competition for clients. The number of high-end buyers is small, so he must compete against his mentor, Paradise Valley real-estate diva Ellie Shapiro, and agents he once trained with at Coldwell Banker. But he is soft-spoken and careful with his words, not the type to make enemies in such a niche business.

Then, he must have finesse with his clients. Their experience is as smooth as the ride in his white Mercedes. But behind the scenes, he is a workaholic, making sure his deals close.

At age 65, the balance comes in knowing himself. Clients have to trust him, and he has to know he can work with them. If the relationship becomes confrontational, he'll politely suggest they work with someone else, no matter how much money they have.

The clients

The conference room of Danley's north Scottsdale office could be in a design magazine.

"You must make clients with millions or billions of dollars feel comfortable and confident of your taste," said Danley, who has been driving clients around in a newer model Mercedes for decades. "A client buying a home for $1 million or more expects a lot more from the experience than someone looking at a tract home in Goodyear."

Danley or one of his team members often picks up out-of-state clients at the airport, then wines and dines them before showing potential buyers six to eight homes a day. His favorite restaurants are BLT Steak at the Camelback Inn and Sanctuary, both in Paradise Valley, where he lives.

"To look at any more than eight houses a day is too much," he said. "It's overwhelming, and buyers can't really discern what they like and don't like."

Going luxury

He was born in Oregon but came to Phoenix at age 29. He obtained a real-estate license to partner with a friend to build and sell custom homes, but then the friend died.

Danley sold tract homes and led his office for sales. That focus changed the day he played tennis with a couple at John Gardiner's Tennis Ranch in Paradise Valley. They finished the match, and he sold them a $1 million home that same afternoon.

"I was a much better tennis player then," he said. "I just don't have time anymore. After that day, I quickly realized the luxury market was where I wanted to be selling homes."

His next big sale was a home on East Cactus Wren Road in Paradise Valley, which a buyer paid $4 million to acquire. Danley remembers the sale fondly because he represented the seller and buyer, so he received a double commission. The home sold again for almost $12 million during the most recent boom but was foreclosed on last year. The lender sold it for about $4 million - the same price it drew 25 years ago, Danley said.


Danley has worked with many famous buyers but won't confirm or deny any of their names.

"The word gets out through the public-sales documents soon enough about famous buyers," he said. "My clients come to me because they know I won't sell and tell."

Danley vets his clients to make sure they can afford a luxury home before they're given the star homebuying treatment.

To keep up on what some clients are up to, he has to stay current on magazines such as Vanity Fair.

Danley said most deep-pocketed buyers now are focused on value and are looking at smaller homes with fewer expensive extras.

"We are done with the days of huge estates, even if buyers can afford them," Danley said. "Tennis courts are also out, as are theaters and in-home gyms."

The new popular million-dollar home amenities in Arizona are now masseuse rooms, bigger garages, multiple family rooms and a master suite with two bathrooms. "And you can never have too fabulous of a kitchen," he said.

One north Scottsdale house had a carousel garage for multiple cars so the owner could take out any one he wanted to drive that day. Another home had a full-size shooting range in the basement.

Now, he said, many buyers are paying cash because they have it and find investing in a home the best place to put it.

His company's business is down about 40 percent from the boom, but Danley believes prices in metro Phoenix's luxury-housing market will start to pick up in the next nine months.

The work

Danley has carefully styled salt-and-pepper hair and is known for dressing elegantly. His work uniform is black-cashmere sweaters and slacks in the winter and finely pressed khaki pants and white short-sleeved silk shirts in the summer: Even an ultraluxury real-estate agent spends a lot of time climbing in and out of hot cars.

His typical day starts in the morning walking his two yellow Labrador retrievers. Then, he starts making calls. Typically arriving at his office around 10 a.m., Danley spends most of the day there working with clients. He usually goes home around 6 p.m. and keeps making calls until 10.

"I have a bit of a reputation of a workaholic, but I enjoy my job," he said. "Almost all of the clients I work with are lovely people."

Almost all.

The most difficult buyer he ever worked with was Georgia Frontiere, who owned the St. Louis Rams.

"I talked to her on the phone and knew I didn't want to work with her," Danley said, laughing. She was too demanding.

"But she was relentless," he said, "and convinced me to have dinner with her."

In time, the woman he thought he couldn't stand as a client became a close friend.

"I helped her purchase several homes in Arizona and California and a few ranches in Sedona," he said.

Danley's typical workweek lasts 80 hours, although he is talking more about slowing down and spending more time at his house in Laguna Beach, Calif. His friends and clients aren't really expecting that, though. It's obvious he still loves his job.

He has visited the Laguna Beach house only three times this year, and he rarely travels anywhere else.

Friends and clients say his unaggressive and caring approach is what keeps many coming back whenever they are ready to sell or buy again.

"I can't stand that hard-sell approach. I could never do that," he said. "Arizona's a great place. My job is easy because people want to move here, and the state sells itself."

by Catherine Reagor The Arizona Republic Jul. 18, 2011 12:00 AM

Storytellers: For 30 years, Walt Danley quietly closing the big deals

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