Joe Babajian joins Aaron Kirman’s agency in comeback bid
Joe Babajian — a superstar luxury broker from the 1990s and 2000s whose career derailed in scandal — has planned a comeback by affiliating with AKG Christie’s Real Estate.
Aaron Kirman, the co-founder whose initials represent the “AK” in the agency’s name, explained why he recruited Babajian to his firm.
“He was kind of a hero in the business — he was the first mega-broker,” Kirman said. “He was shuffling $400 million to $600 million a year in the 1990s. When I got in the business, I studied Joe. He was the first one to build the team structure and a co-list structure. He’s ready to get back to his mega-broker days. He has the Rolodex and the database to do it.”
In 2009, a federal jury convicted two of Babajian’s associates, Kyle Grasso and Lila Rizk, of conspiracy, bank fraud and loan fraud for obtaining inflated mortgage loans on luxury homes. Grasso and Rizk sent false documentation to banks, including fake purchase contracts and appraisals, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Before they were caught, banks paid vast sums for loans that were higher than homes actually value, leading to $40 million in bank losses. Grasso also was convicted of money laundering.
Babajian was acquitted on 13 criminal counts. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on other counts, and the judge declared a mistrial. Babajian said that one reason he fell into legal turmoil was bad advice from a lawyer working for his former agency, Prudential California Realty.
The acquittal was good news, but Babajian’s career declined.
During his high-flying days, he made headlines with megadeals, including the sale of a Beverly Hills home to soccer star David Beckham in 2007. After the trial, he didn’t work for about two years.
In February 2010, he affiliated with Rodeo Realty.
“I’ve had business,” Babajian said. “But it isn’t as much as I was doing and isn’t as much I should be doing.”
He stayed in real estate because he loved the business where he had worked since his college years, he said.
Kirman noted that post-acquittal, Babajian was active in the luxury sector. He reported sales of $69.3 million in 2022, according to Real Trends.
Babajian said he will focus on selling homes in luxe areas such as Bel-Air, Holmby Hills, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades. He also won’t ignore listings below the $5 million mark.
He comes to AKG after a 13-year stint with Rodeo Realty. Babajian said that AKG’s focus on social media and technology will help sharpen his skills. He has occasionally co-listed homes with Kirman in the past decade.
Babajian also said that he seeks to put the problems of the past behind him, adding that working with AKG Christie’s should place him in position to improve his luxury business.
“You need high-end listings to get high-end listings,” Babajian said. “If I get the appointment and meet the seller, I have a good chance of getting the listing.”