What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From The Couple Who Uses Storytelling Skills to Sell Dream Homes

Jaman Properties
Staff writer. Frequently covers franchise news and food trends.

When creative couple Janus Cercone, a former screenwriter, and Michael Manheim, an ex-producer, decided they had enough of the Hollywood-film world, they turned their attention to an unlikely market: real estate.

Opening California real-estate development company Jaman Properties in 2003, the pair  

buys forgotten homes -- usually in Malibu, Bel Air, Brentwood and Pacific Palisade -- and gives them a new life using the biography of a fictional character to lead the way. So, rather than creating for someone else or a big wig, it’s left purely to their own imaginations.

“These homes are our vision and so far we’ve been very lucky,” Cercone says.

For instance, an old beaten down house at the end of a dirt road may present itself to the possibility of becoming an escape for a successful woman in the media industry. The large dumpy house becomes a small cottage with blue walls, white furniture and large windows looking over the beach, as the “character” is looking for a place to escape, relax and enjoy nature. With more land than house, the property offers her a chance to wander in silence, contemplating her successes and planning her next project. The home ended up selling to Barbara Walters.

This sort of approach -- focusing more on the type of person and life a specific home is meant for -- has buyers flocking to them, typically matching their fictional profile with an iry amount of accuracy.

With a reputation for creating exclusive boutique homes from the studs to the furniture, high-end luxury real-estate agents and their high-profile clients are already on the look out for their next project.

Below Cercone shares her storytelling vision and offers up a few tips entrepreneurs can use to market their own product or service:

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1. Take risks.

The Revello Home

Location: Pacific Palisades

Selling price: $1,895,000 in 2012

Their storytelling vision: At the beginning of 2008, when the market started bottoming out, that’s when we wanted to start buying. But we could not attract investment partners to save our lives, because everyone was terrified.

So, we took our savings and went to auction properties.

We go to this auction with a set of expectations. By the time we were done, we had bid our max price. We won. We had just spent our last $920,000.

When we imagined the house, we took it down to the stud, tore out all the landscaping and discovered this incredible view of the ocean. It turned it into one of my favorite houses we ever done.

We created it for someone in the movie business. Someone who would spend the day in the studio and do their work at home and want to feel creatively inspired and look over the ocean and make it a party house. We ended up selling it to a woman who worked for Disney.

The take away:  Because Cercone and Manheim were willing to risk it all, they knew they wanted to go all in, no matter what the cost.  

“Ask yourself if you’d be happy pursuing your profession -- for no pay,” says Cercone. “Reaching your goal will likely take longer than you think, so you’d better enjoy the journey.”
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2. Own your choices.

The Tigertail Home

Location: Pacific Palisades

Selling price: $10,750,00 in 2008

Their storytelling vision: We knew the guy who buys this house would have a large personality and fill the room with who he is and who he wants to be. So, we designed a two-story living room for that character.

We were working along with the theory: you only grow as much as your environment allows. Most people want to keep evolving and growing as people and explore new aspects in their lives. We created a house to encourage that.

As we designing and framing it, people were telling us we were crazy. It would make more sense to have another level, more bedrooms and sell for more money. In walks Conan O'Brien with this world-class personality, and he’s thrilled with it. He said to Michael after he bought it that finally, “There’s a house I don’t feel like I’m going to hit my head on the ceiling all the time. It’s big enough for me.”

The take away: If you believe in something don’t let people talk you out of it. Own your choices. Entrepreneur Magazine is about people who are taking the risks themselves, so those are people who are taking the risks because they believe in themselves. They aren’t working for someone else’s belief system. If you’re taking that risk, you better believe in what you’re doing. Everyone tried to talk us out of our ideas but we believed in them. If you succeed, you succeed because you really believed in yourself. If you fail, you can at least own it. No one thrust it upon you.

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3. Stick to your narrative.

The Stone Home

Location: Malibu

Selling price: $9,985,000 in 2014

Their storytelling vision: In our mind, we knew who was going to buy it. We designed it for a woman who had accomplished a lot in her life and could come and have a retreat where she could reflect on her successes and imagine the next chapter in their life. So, we knew it was going to be for someone mature. Instead of a house with a lot of footage, we created it with a lot of transparency and a huge yard. For example, when taking a bath, you’re taking it in front of the beach with a view. It was made for someone to have a rebirth in that house, to open their life to the next chapter.

We made the house smaller so there could be more exterior space. If you go to ‘“developer university,” it’s like breaking every possible rule. But we knew this character was going to want that and need that outdoor space. Interestingly, there was bidding war between two mature women one of whom being Diana Ross. To our surprise…the house sold to a divorced grandmother in her 70’s!  We were shocked till she invited us over for drinks one night and we realized she was our bulls-eye buyer---still sexy, uninhibited and utterly childlike in her joy of the beach.

The take away: The universe will adjust to you. We created it for a young sexy couple and it ended up selling to a lady in her 70s and is still in the hunt. We thought a sexy buyer looked like one thing but it ended up being completely different even though our vision remained true and accurate. It sold to a lady who wakes up every morning and blows her hair out and is fine taking a bath in front of the pacific ocean. It’s the same character in a different guise.

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4. Maximize your hand.

The Riviera White House

Location: Pacific Palisades

Selling price: On the market for $33,000,000

Their storytelling vision: Owned by Ronald Reagan, the former president wanted a house where he felt like he lived outside, and we wanted to keep that intact.

When we bought it in 2013, we left it unchanged. We got to see this guy’s intentions: What was he thinking at the time? For example, the house was almost completely glass, because it gave you a sense of being outdoors. We tried to make the connection with his intentions throughout the house asking ourselves, “What did this do for him?”

In addition to that, we were creating the biography of the fictional character. We had this epiphany and could envision the moment when Reagan was standing and looking at this huge view that just goes on forever and thinking, “Wait a minute, there’s something bigger out there for me. Something more important that I should be doing.” It was in that house he decided to run for governor and then president.

Taking that moment, we tried to design a house that would offer that same kind of inspiration and motivation for the next group of people that lived there.

In the White House, Reagan had this ability to reach across the aisle. The whole idea is this should be a house about getting people together, not keeping people separate.

We knew the person who bought the home would be supremely confident. For the house, we  wanted to find the best of everything. The range in the kitchen is an $80,000 range. It was handmade in Florence, and it's the best range available in the world.

He knows he’s got the best. Which is also why we created a show garage. But it’s not about showing off, it’s about sharing your passion. It’s about bringing people together.

The take away: We really went one that’s all in with this one. If you’re playing cards, you gotta deal with what you’re dealt. But if you have a chance to build on kings or fours, you build on the king. With this house, because there is such a spectacular view, we felt we couldn’t build the conservative version of what it can be, were built the optimal version of what it can be, built it for a mover and shaker. We highlighted its best hand: what it had to offer.


What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From The Couple Who Uses Storytelling Skills to Sell Dream Homes

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