Ken DeLeon — Come for the real estate, stay for the slick dance moves

Birthplace: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Residence: Palo Alto Age: 42
Family: Married, four children
Education: Math and economics, U.C. Santa Barbara; U.C. Berkeley School of Law
Career trajectory: Wilson Sonsini, Coldwell Banker, Keller Williams, DeLeon Realty

If you’ve picked up a Palo Alto-area newspaper, chances are you know of Realtor Ken DeLeon. Two other places you might spot him: In the air, showing clients Silicon Valley from his company plane (a Cirrus five-seater); or on the streets of Palo Alto, touring buyers through town in his firm’s Mercedes bus. The founder and visionary behind DeLeon Realty, he’s among residential real estate’s most savvy marketers. And self assured: His website calls him a “real estate rock star.”

DeLeon started out as an attorney (he worked at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati) before he jumped into real estate. He founded DeLeon Realty in 2012. The company says it sold more than $550 million in real estate in 2014.

What’s your typical day?
I wake up at 7:15. I don’t have any blinds. The sun wakes me up. I do the usual things, exercise in the mornings. But I love working. I like intensity. I work from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 or 10 p.m. In April, one of the things I’m challenging myself to do is work 300 hours.

You’re already writing your memoirs, and you’re filming a documentary about yourself, but you’re barely over 40.
My 40 years have been like 80 for most people. I think the title will probably be, “Why do bad things happen to sexy people?” That’s the title of my speech. I say in the end, we have it reversed. It’s the bad things that make you sexy, and make you have greater self wisdom.

What was your first real estate deal?
I bought in Palo Alto in 2002 for $900,000. I sold 2½ years later for $1.2 million. That’s the exact amount that’s totally tax-exempt. I think real estate, when optimized, is going to be your primary source of tax-free wealth.

You don’t stay in one house very long, do you? Around here, people stay in their house too long. I’ve moved three times in the last 3½ years. In the last two sales, I’ve made $1.5 million (each time). People should view real estate as a wealth creation vehicle, but be tax-efficient with it.

Tell me your craziest Palo Alto story of late.
The number is not amazing, but the outcome is. We had a little bungalow, 920 square feet on a lot of 4,750 square feet, so it’s considered substandard. Priced it at $1.298 million and it jumped to $2.1 million, so almost $2,300 a square foot on a tiny lot.

You have a unique approach to marketing.
The mistake people make in marketing is you don’t want to offend anyone. But that means you won’t attract anyone. You’ll just be a smiling face where someone will flip the page.

You also own a plane that you use to show clients the area.
The idea came to me when my business partner, Michael, and I were coming over Carmel. I thought, this would be a great way to fall in love with the Bay Area. That’s when I wanted to buy the plane. We have a lot of estates, in Woodside we’re marketing, with acreage.

How much did the plane cost?
Under $600,000. Bought it cash.

How do you balance work and life?
Seventy-five percent of the time, I work; 20 percent, I see the kids. I’m very intense. So during the 20 percent, I don’t watch TV. I’m all in chasing them down, having Nerf gun wars or baking with my daughters. Ten percent of the time, I’m out dancing.

When you’re not working, you like to …
I love to dance. I’m always the first guy out there on the floor. I’ll take off my glasses and say to myself, no more Clark Kent, it’s time to be Superman.

Nathan Donato-Weinstein covers commercial real estate and transportation for the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

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