Joe Piazza: Real Estate Agent to “Top Tier” VCs

Joe Piazza has had a number of different careers, including working in the late ’90s as the VP of sales for (now bankrupt) used car dealer Global Motorsports and serving, in 2003, as the chief executive officer of Ducati North America.

Today, Piazza sells luxury homes to Silicon Valley millionaires, including about a dozen venture capital clients from top firms, including Jim Goetz of Sequoia Capital and Tom Dyal of Redpoint Ventures. (For the record, Piazza doesn’t casually disclose the names of his clients. Rather, I visited his Website, where Goetz and Dyal are among others who’ve let Piazza include them in his marketing materials.)

I just rang Piazza to ask how business is going.

What’s been happening this summer?

A number of transactions, particularly around homes that once sold in the $4 million to $6 million price range and that are now experiencing prices in the mid $3 million range. There’ve been pretty significant reductions — but values as well. It’s a return of prices to 2004 years, which is a major shift.

Have any of your VC clients been buying or selling?

Actually, a lot of my VC clients have been taking advantage of what’s proving a good time to buy.

You mean they’re buying second homes as investments?

No, they’re buying up primary residences. It’s just a tremendous buying opportunity right now. In the month of July alone, I had about $14 million in sales, and the average negotiated discount was in excess of $700,000.

That’s great, but then aren’t your clients taking a bath on the sale of their own homes?

A lot of my VC clients are bumping up in value; that’s a trend I’m seeing quite a bit. So the benefits outweigh what they might be losing.

It’s impossible to generalize I know, but I’ll ask you anyway: are your VC clients mostly hands-on or hands-off? Any 3 a.m. calls?

Oh, most of my VC clients are very hands on. They’re very meticulous about details. But they’re also very trusting, and they know that I do everything I can to keep their personal situations confidential from sellers.

Meaning you don’t want sellers to think they can ring a lot out of a rich VC?

Exactly. You never want [their occupation] to come up in the midst of a negotiation.

How loose are your VC clients with their cash? Seems like even the most successful VCs can be surprisingly thrifty, judging by how many of them ask my news organization for free things.

They’re extremely prudent businesspeople. And their performance expectations are high.

You’re very diplomatic. How is that you’ve assembled this coterie of investors. Referrals?

Sure, you do a good job for one person, and they tell their friends and colleagues. What’s nice is that I’m also starting to work with some of their portfolio people, when they’re having liquidity events.

How did you go from Ducati to selling high-end real estate?

Motorcycles and real estate have always been my passions. I’m still on the boards of several motorcycle-related companies, but now I can be at home with my wife and three kids instead of traveling 400,000 miles a year. It’s a lot nicer.