You're going to hate Stan Herman. Even when he loses, it's because business is so good. You want to know how he was affected by last October's stock market crash?

"We lost a couple of sales actually," Herman admits. "There was a house that we sold for $7 million-plus in Bel Air that the buyers couldn't follow through on." For approximately one second Stan Herman, real estate superagent to the stars, looks abashed. Then that gleam returns. "The next day," he says, "that house went for the same figure to someone who was standing by hoping something like that would happen."

Herman is amused by this story even though he didn't make a cent on the deal. (Another broker had the listing.) It just gives him yet another opportunity to make his favorite point: Real estate in L.A.'s "Golden Triangle"—Beverly Hills, Bel Air and Brentwood—retains its value, come hell (earthquakes), high water (mud slides) or even Black Mondays.

At 53, Herman may be L.A.'s most stratospherically upscale landlord. Over the years he has owned hundreds of houses, renting them for as much as $30,000 a month, more than covering his costs. If the profit looks fat enough, he sells. To illustrate his philosophy, Herman tells what happened when Polly Bergen called him about 10 years ago. "She was moving back to town," relates Herman, "and wanted me to rent her a place for about $4,000 to $5,000 a month. I said, 'Polly, let me show you how to make $25,000 to $30,000.' " He and Bergen became partners, buying a house together in Beverly Hills for $327,000. Four years later they sold the house for $1.1 million. "Meanwhile," Herman says, beaming, "she lived there and enjoyed it."

Like Penn & Teller on Broadway, Herman tells you how he does it, and it still seems like magic. His firm, Stan Herman and Associates, with 20 employees, brings in more than $100 million a year in gross sales. But what makes Herman unique is that he is constantly buying and renovating houses, furnishing them from his own extensive collection of valuable art and antiques, and renting them to people like Joan Collins, Burt Reynolds and Kenny Rogers.

Herman often lives in these homes while in the process of fixing them up, which means that he rarely has stayed long in one place. Linda Evans, the second of his three wives, says that when they were married, they changed dwellings so often that one night they came home from a party and went to the wrong house.

Herman's current residence, an English country house in Bel Air, was formerly owned by Dick Powell and June Allyson, then by Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, then by Telly Savalas. Herman bought it two years ago at a price he won't divulge. Having spent $1 million to refurbish the place, he has put it on the market for $5.9 million. "That may be a little high," he admits, "but I'm selling 'Ooh! Aah!' " And that, he insists, is his secret. "I only buy from my heart, and it has proven to be an absolutely accurate guide."

Herman displayed his knack for moneymaking early. A butcher's son who grew up in Los Angeles, Stan bought a '36 Ford coupé for $250 at the age of 13. He fixed it up, sold it for $600 and bought a '41 Mercury, which he overhauled and sold at an even heftier profit. Obviously he knew he was on to something. "It was just a natural evolution," he says. "I reasoned that if I could sell used cars, I could sell real estate." He and a partner bought his first house, a three-bedroom place in Beverly Hills, at 9 o'clock one morning in 1960. They sold it at 3 p.m. and made $7,500 on the deal. "I was the happiest person alive," says Herman.

There is, however, one area in which turnover cannot be considered success, and Herman knows it only too well. "I guess I haven't done great with the marriages," he says. He married at 23 for three months. In 1976 he married Evans; they were divorced after three years. His third marriage, to Canadian ex-model Denise Vandenberg, ended in 1986 but produced a son, Ryan, now 6. "If I ever did anything right in my life, this is it," says Herman of fatherhood. "After dinner Ryan takes a bath, I read him a story, and we're both in bed, often by eight."

Herman and Vandenberg share custody of Ryan. Denise, who comes from Chomady, a town outside Montreal, recently got her real estate license. "She saw how well I was doing," says Herman, laughing. "We gave her a desk in the office." But Vandenberg isn't likely to impinge on Herman's turf any time soon. "Unfortunately," he says, "they don't have the killer instinct in Chomady that guys in California develop."

—Written by Eric Levin, reported by Eleanor Hoover

  • Contributors:
  • Eleanor Hoover.