In LA, hidden armies of workers keep mega-mansions on the market

Jack Flemming, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

"We're always working around people: contractors, floor polishers, furniture movers, stagers, people installing appliances. There's lots of traffic," she said.

It's hard labor — so much so that Flores doesn't let her team work more than eight hours at a time. But at the top of the market, the cleaning contracts are lucrative.

Her crew is currently cleaning a 20,000-square-foot mansion in Bel-Air that hit the market two months ago. The agent has been scheduling showings every week and weekend, so Flores' team has been tidying up the place three times a week since it first listed for sale.

The current tab is $17,000 and climbing with each visit.

For the owner, those bills can add up quickly, especially when a property sits on the market for months or even years. Southern California is one of the few markets in the country that regularly sees listings of $100 million or more, and with properties of such caliber, there may be only a few dozen potential buyers in the world with the means. If one of those buyers doesn't come along, owners could spend millions just trying to keep the place in salable shape.

In April, former Disney chief Michael Eisner offered up his Malibu compound for $225 million but hasn't yet found a buyer. The Manor, a famous 123-room Holmby Hills mansion once owned by Aaron and Candy Spelling and featured rooms dedicated to gift wrapping and flower cutting, hit the market in February for $165 million. No takers. In Beverly Crest, a $100-million mansion has been listed since January 2021. Crickets.


To show off such luxurious estates, some sellers will hire marketing teams to throw wild parties at the homes with other agents and potential buyers on the guest list. These events require that caterers, cooks, entertainers and influencers are added to the staff — and like most jobs in the service industry, the work sometimes evolves beyond the original description.

One such event for a luxury condo complex in Pasadena featured a dozen young women in gold dresses to serve champagne. Toward the end of the night, the hosts brought everyone outside and handed out small envelopes filled with butterflies. When opened, they were supposed to fly away over a fountain, showcasing the beauty of the property and the potential for new life there.

A "butterfly release" is sometimes integrated into weddings and funerals, signifying hope for the future or the perpetuation of life. Only this time, most of the butterflies had died inside the envelopes by the time the guests opened them — and the few that survived ended up nosediving into the fountain.

For the next half hour, the women in gold dresses were tasked with opening the remaining envelopes in search of survivors and burying the rest by hand in shallow, makeshift graves in the garden outside the building. In a complex as luxurious as this, the soil was nicely coiffed, soft enough for even the most refined fingers. No brick-hard Southern California clay.


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