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Profile of:“You have to be there for people when they need you and make the improbable happen.”
– Mark Cohen
By John L. Seitz – Courier Managing Editor
Even in these days of mega-priced properties, originating $1 billion worth of home loans in a year’s time represents an impressive achievement for any mortgage company, regardless of its size. But when that total emanates from a single individual, the business world stands up and takes notice.
That’s certainly so with Mark H. Cohen, a 45-year old dynamo and native son of Beverly Hills, who has built Cohen Financial Group into a powerhouse in just over half a decade. Operating out of a high-rise office at Wilshire Blvd. and Camden Dr., Cohen possesses a spectacular 180-degree, panoramic view of the city and mountains. From this vantage one can virtually pinpoint many of the estates and houses for which he has arranged financing.
“Like most situations these days, the mortgage industry is highly competitive with little or no room for error,” said Cohen. “Besides building personal relationships and knowing which banking sources to go to for getting something done fast, the main things we have to sell are service, service, and more service.”
And service is what Mark Cohen delivers. For instance, late last December, the workaholic was able to take a few days off from the grind and fly his family for a week of skiing to the British Columbia’s Whistler Resort. While there, he takes a call from a mega-celebrity client sun basking on the lovely Caribbean island of Anguilla. The client needs to get his loan opened and closed by December 31.
Through Federal Express and door-to-door messengers on both ends, the necessary documents were shuffled back and forth between the island and the mountain. The loan indeed came through on time for New Year’s celebrations by all.
“You have to be there for people when they need you and make the improbable happen otherwise, there’s always somebody ready to try to take your spot,” explained Cohen. “This is certainly no place for the faint of heart.”
Cohen learned the basics of the business from his mother, Gloria Shulman, herself a pioneer mortgage broker and one of the largest in the city for the past quarter century.
After attending Hawthorne School and Beverly Hills High School, he went on to the University of Southern California, where he earned BS and MBA degrees. A proud alum, the rabid Trojans football fan has only missed three home games in 28 years.
Although he also obtained a JD degree at Loyola-Marymount University’s law school, Cohen stated: “I never really wanted to practice law on a full-time basis but it sure comes in handy in real estate transactions these days, since the legalities and paperwork seemingly never end.”
And speaking of paperwork, the Cohen office is a sea of files of every size and shape. Asked how he keeps track of every minute detail among some 150 current active or pending loan deals, he pointed out: “I write everything down and I mean everything. There are just too many contingencies that can crop up and you can’t leave loose ends or anything to chance.
“Our diverse economy and low interest rates, plus the recent influx of foreign money, especially from Asia, has kept home sales up here in Beverly Hills and on the Westside generally. Loan demand is still at a fever pitch though, frankly, not quite as much as in the recent spring and summer months,” he said.
As Westside home values rose sharply the last 24 months, so have those in the San Fernando and Conejo valleys, especially the zip codes running along the Santa Monica Mountains from Studio City to Thousand Oaks.
“More than 25 years ago Joyce Rey and Harleigh Sandler created Rodeo Realty as an umbrella under which to market and sell Westside homes valued at $1 million and upwards. Today, $1 million houses are commonplace in many LA areas—so common, in fact, that Coldwell Banker recently upped the low end of this specialty division to $2 million,” explained Cohen.
Some experts predict the 30-year fixed mortgage rate will hit 6 to 7 percent by the end of 2005. “But even at that, the mortgage market will still be active due to the high demand for housing in the Southland,” he continued.
According to Cohen, many factors will continue to influence LA County’s home values, which are currently among the nation’s highest and will remain so. Population density together with the dearth of available land on which to develop and build new single-family housing is a winning combination for sustaining property valuations.
“Much of this market’s economy is comprised of small entrepreneurial businesses, professionals and, of course, a booming entertainment industry. People to whom lifestyle is a priority and can afford to buy up and want to live in LA’s most desirable neighborhoods,” he said.
Cohen also reminds that in some areas, home values are often influenced by the excellence of public school districts where residents don’t have to spring for private education—Beverly Hills being a prime example of this.
“Older homeowners, age 55 and up, often take advantage of this hot market by scaling down and using their one-time tax incentive. For instance, if someone paid $750,000 for a primary residence a few years ago, sold it today for $2.5 million, and then purchased a smaller home within the same county for $1.5 million, the property tax on the latter would normally be $18,000,” stated Cohen.
“Under the exemption, the new property tax would be based on the $750,000 valuation of the original home, not the $1.5 million, resulting in an annual tax savings of $9,000. This makes selling a home much more attractive.”
Cohen’s first lucky business break came in the late 1980s from the entertainment division of a premier, regional bank. Through that relationship, he developed and has maintained ties with more than 50 prominent business managers. This, along with client word of mouth and a strong realtor referral base, have continued to help solidify Cohen Financial Group’s leadership in the industry.
His workday starts at 5 a.m. and ends some 13 hours or so later when he breaks for a daily workout across the street at Sports Club LA.
Cohen and his wife, Laurie, who were married in 1987, are active members of Sinai Temple, United Jewish Fund, and LA Philharmonic’s board of overseers. She is also a member of the Los Angeles County’s Museum of Arts Costume Council and on the parent board of Buckley School.
Along with their three children, (sons Seth, 16 and Evan, 14; and daughter Sophie, five), the family jointly participates in tennis, basketball, running, and annual travels. Recent destinations have included France, Italy and a safari in South Africa.
“To have a wonderful wife and kids, an exciting business and be able to help people realize their dreams of home ownership, I’m truly a very lucky man,” he exclaimed.
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