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This story first appeared in the Oct. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Jade Mills was waiting for her car from the valet after a charity event in the late ‘90s when she saw one of the only people to have ever left her starstruck: Lionel Richie.
“I walked up to him and said, ‘I’ve loved you all of my life.’ And then his wife said, ‘So have I,’ ” laughs Mills, an agent at Coldwell Banker Previews International. Not long after, Mills found herself listing the Richies‘ home and helping them buy another. It was the first time Mills cold-contacted a celebrity, but not the last.
Read more Hollywood’s Top 25 Real Estate Agents
Today, Mills’ clientele list includes Britney Spears, Charlie Sheen and Jennifer Aniston, whose renovated home in Beverly Hills’ Trousdale Estates sold in 2011 for nearly $40 million, despite skepticism that the home could fetch such a high figure.
In her more-than-three-decade career, Mills has racked up more than $3 billion in sales, consistently ranking as one of the top producers in the country. She holds Connie Stevens‘ $18.5 million listing in Holmby Hills and a co-listing (with Hilton & Hyland’s Drew Fenton) of the $21.8 million Bob Hope estate in Toluca Lake, a compound with a 1939 English-style almost-15,000-square-foot house.
But you won’t hear her bragging about her proximity to fame. In fact, the only sign in her Beverly Hills office that she is one of Hollywood’s top millionaire realtors is a large framed photo of Gwen Stefani hanging nearly upside down from suspension wires on a wall. The image is a gift Mills received after selling the pop star her Beverly Hills home for $13.25 million in 2006. “When people ask me [whom I work with], I say, ‘If you go on Google, I don’t have to tell you.’ With Google, everything gets out,” says Mills, who regularly works 15-hour days. On one recent Friday night, Mills was at a $20 million listing in The Century condo tower with a photographer until 10 p.m.
Hilton & Hyland’s Branden Williams, one of Mills’ main competitors and also a close friend, says that she is among the most competitive brokers he’s encountered. “She’s hard-core. She can get people to trust her and she assures them that she can close this deal.” He remembers when Mills convinced a buyer who wanted to add an additional 90 days to escrow — a request that would kill many deals — to wire the seller an advance of $750,000 as a gesture of good faith. She closed the deal.
The daughter of a dairy farmer in a rural Northern California city named Alamo, Mills came to a career in real estate out of necessity. Her first husband, whom she married after dropping out of University of California, Berkeley, to tour the country with his rock band, left her alone in their San Fernando Valley home when their daughter turned 3 months old. She considered moving back in with her parents but learned she’d be subjected to the same rules she had as a teenager and they wouldn’t be eager babysitters. “I’m so glad my mother said that — it gave me the drive to be successful,” says Mills.
After being encouraged by the real estate agent she had hired to sell her Sherman Oaks home, she got her real estate license. Her first sale was a $42,000 home in Van Nuys. Today, she lives in an expansive hillside house in Trousdale Estates. It’s the same neighborhood where she sold a previous residence of hers to Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi for $8.5 million in 2008. Now married to her third husband, Adam Mills, who does advertising and marketing for her, she’s the mother of four children (two of whom work for her) and grandmother of five. Perhaps what’s most unusual about Mills is that in Los Angeles’ cutthroat luxury real estate industry, she maintains a kind reputation. “She always has a smile,” says Rayni Romito Williams of Hilton & Hyland. “You don’t get to where she is by not being tough, but she’s sweet at the same time. That’s what I’ve learned as a woman who’s modeled my business after her: to maintain a soft side in a hard, male business.”
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