His clients include Jennifer Lopez and Daniel Craig, and thanks to his star turn on a reality show, he reckons he's a pretty hot property himself. Now Fredrik Eklund's in the market to find a new home for a young couple called Meghan and Harry. Ben Hoyle meets him in Beverly Hills.
The film opens on an overhead shot of a white modern mansion with an immaculate garden, extensive outdoor seating and a pool. Then we see a pot plant and a lightsaber.
We cut to a sleek bedroom where a large man with dazzling blue eyes and rudimentary acting skills is waking up. Electric blinds lift to reveal floor-to-ceiling sliding doors. Pulling on a plush white dressing gown, he steps through onto a balcony flooded with Californian light and beams with satisfaction.
But what's this? Another man, smaller and wrapped in a hooded black cape, is staring back at him defiantly from another balcony.
The score, reminiscent of a certain popular space saga, intensifies. We next see our 6ft 4in hero luxuriating in an egg-shaped bath. Then he is outside by the pool, reclining on a lounger. Meanwhile, his glowering rival works out in a glass-walled gym. We see the mansion's kitchen, its central staircase and a giant chandelier before the protagonists converge in the huge indoor/outdoor living room, ignite their lightsabers and square off for a final duel.
Thus does Fredrik Eklund, 43, stake out his turf to become a serious player in the Los Angeles property market.
He is actually a Swedish estate agent. He might be the world's best-known property salesman. He would certainly like to be.
Eklund shares the video with his 1.3 million Instagram followers, touting the house as a "masterpiece" that buyers can find "in a galaxy not too far from Rodeo Drive". The asking price is US$32 million ($47.7 million), which means that under the entrepreneurial American system, where a real-estate broker pays the marketing expenses for a property in return for a chunky commission, selling the house would make Eklund more in a single transaction than most salaried British estate agents will earn in a year.
It won't begin to sate his ambitions for 2020 though. Before arriving in LA he was already the self-proclaimed No 1 New York real-estate agent of the century.
Eklund-Gomes, the team he cofounded, claims to be America's leading property brokerage. It operates under the umbrella of the giant Douglas Elliman agency and began expanding rapidly two years ago. Its celebrity-studded client list has included Jennifer Lopez, Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, Justin Timberlake, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, Justin and Hailey Bieber and Princess Madeleine of Sweden. Last year its 80 agents completed more than US$2 billion worth of transactions.
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He makes more in a single transaction than most British estate agents earn in a year.
Not coincidentally, Eklund is also arguably the biggest star of the long-running reality television franchise Million Dollar Listing. Its New York and Los Angeles strands both air in more than 100 countries and have turned a handful of brokers serving the luxury property markets there into global celebrities themselves. In the New York edition, running since 2012 (six years after the LA version started), Eklund celebrates every deal with his "signature move", a flicked high kick, which he accompanies with a strange high-pitched "weeeggh" noise and an arm-flapping gesture like an ostrich performing a mating dance.
It works for him.
Fans love his colourful suits, his over-the-top sales techniques and his emotional personality. In season two, he wept while walking his boyfriend, Derek Kaplan, down the aisle at their sunset beach wedding ceremony. Viewers shared his joy at learning that the couple were to become fathers and his devastation when a surrogate mother suffered a series of miscarriages. Then in the season six finale, Eklund and Kaplan announced that they were expecting again via a different surrogate. Three months later she gave birth to Fredrik Jr (Kaplan's biological son) and Milla (Eklund's biological daughter).
Last year Eklund and Kaplan, a Zimbabwean abstract artist, moved across the country with the twins to start a new life in Beverly Hills. Their large Tribeca apartment sold for US$5.655 million ($8.44 million), which was almost US$1 million below asking price, although Eklund says he predicted that the market would drop and insists he's happy with the price.
He has promised Bravo, the masters of the Million Dollar Listing universe, not to talk about the details, but it's a fair bet that he's about to become a regular member of the Los Angeles cast as well as the New York one (he's already a prominent guest).
The move has not been easy. A few weeks ago, Eklund told his Instagram followers that at first he had felt "like a salty Swedish fish out of water" in LA. He had also "ruffled some feathers" among his fellow cast members on Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles, who you imagine all have some sort of season 12 contractual obligation to look at least a little put out by his arrival.
It's hard to imagine he won't take these challenges in his considerable stride. This is Fredrik Eklund, also the author of the 2016 New York Times bestseller The Sell: The Secrets of Selling Anything to Anyone. Surely he can sell himself to Los Angeles?
As anyone who's ever read a previous interview with Eklund soon discovers, this is not his first attempt to make it professionally in the city. Almost two decades ago, he starred in adult films that were shot in LA; he used the pseudonym Tag Eriksson. His experiences on the gay pornography scene led to his Swedish-language novel, Lord of the Fruit Flies. Given that Eklund grew up in a notable Swedish family with links to the great director Ingmar Bergman and several prime ministers, its success greatly delighted the country's tabloid press.
He thinks of himself as a New Yorker because it was the city that "kind of made me", he says, but Los Angeles has always been out there, waiting. "It's really the place to be once you truly make it."
After leaving Santa Monica Boulevard, the route climbs for ten minutes through winding lanes groaning with vegetation and flanked by grand cars and houses.
Eklund and Kaplan's place is at the top, largely invisible from the street. Head down the hedge-lined front path, squeeze between the silver convertible Bentley and the matching children's Bentley buggies parked in the covered driveway and you find yourself by the front door.
Eklund is standing there in a cream linen double-breasted suit, crisp white shirt, chunky gold watch and bare feet. He has a light tan, pristine hair that looks recently attended to, and a Desperate Dan jaw with no mask.
After a slightly awkward socially distanced greeting, I step inside. The living room has a sunken stone floor, low-slung Seventies furniture and curved roof beams rising like a whale's ribs towards floor-to-ceiling glass windows that look out over the small infinity pool and a panoramic view of Los Angeles.
The twins are asleep, so it makes sense to talk first and then do the photoshoot. Eklund wants to get his outfit right for the pictures though. He strokes a sky-blue suit that is draped over the dining table off to the side. "Too much?"
We wander outside and settle onto a pair of sofas next to the pool. Eklund tucks his long legs underneath him. Occasionally, far below us, a helicopter scuds past in the hazy middle distance. When Eklund and Kaplan moved into the rental home, they loved what they thought of as its retro "Tom Ford" glamour. "For us, for the first year, it was very sexy. We had friends over. Coming from New York, it looks like the perfect house. But now the kids are older, we want something else."
It's not so much that the wraparound mirror-glass walls by the dining table show tiny handprints very clearly (although they do). It's more the lack of space. Although all things are relative: you could fit my entire house into Eklund's living room.
It is "probably 5,500sq ft", he says. They used to have a New York penthouse that was 8,000sq ft. Now they're getting ready to move again, to an 11,500sq ft Nineties "French chateau mini-mansion kind of thing" set among two acres of land in Bel Air. It's beautiful, he says. It has tennis courts and it's also "very close to Jay-Z and Beyoncé".
Eklund adjusts his hair, craning his long right arm over the top of his head to stroke some stray tufts by his left temple. He looked at around 100 houses before he realised that, "What we really wanted was something we couldn't afford to buy."
The Bel Air property would cost around $23 million ($34 million), which is out of his reach, so they've agreed to rent it for at least three years. The kids will go to a local school. Public or private? I can't tell if his glance reveals surprise or pity. "Private."
How far away is Tyler Perry's pad, the one where Harry and Meghan are holed up with Archie, planning their own house purchase? "It's very close. Like two minutes away by car. I think you can see it [from the new house]." Perhaps he could interest them in a new development for which he and his team are the exclusive selling agents. His biggest LA listing, 8899 Beverly, is to be a "vertical living tower", as he likes to call it, that is currently rising in West Hollywood. Designed by architects Olson Kundig, who are also working on Bill Gates' new home, the massive, glass-fronted complex will contain 40 apartments, 8 mansions and a penthouse expected to be the largest in the world (rumoured asking price: $100 million). This is what brought Eklund to LA. He hopes that his experience of selling luxury high-rises in Manhattan will set him apart from local agents.
For all high-profile househunters – including the former royals – the security and privacy of property are key, he says. Without complete privacy, the biggest celebrities won't be interested. At one house Eklund showed recently, "Justin Bieber came a couple of times, with Hailey. For them it was all about who could see and not see."
Would Eklund even want the Sussexes' business?
His eyes widen. "Of course!" So how is he going about getting it?
"Being interviewed by you. They're going to read this. It's a cover, right?"
LLike another keen social media user with a grasp of New York real estate and reality television, Eklund seems endlessly intrigued by his own success. He takes every opportunity to highlight past achievements, frequently brings up his prior media coverage and struggles to resist taking digs at competitors when the chance arises.
For instance, when he mentions that Elon Musk just sold his own house right below where the family is moving to in Bel Air, he immediately adds: "I could have got him a much higher price. Elon, call me."
Unlike Donald Trump, however, Eklund is also disarmingly candid, comfortable with introspection and eager to show that he does business the right way.
His initial desperate hunger to be on television reflected both a desire for acclaim and his business acumen, he thinks.
"Some brokers have sex with clients. I haven't. Our job is complicated enough as it is."
"Of course there was some vanity in it. I was a bit of an attention-seeker always. But I thought the world was changing. Reality TV was really big and it felt like the only thing people were watching at the time. I thought, 'That's the best way to get to sellers. To become somebody in New York City.' "
He courted Bravo by pitching an imaginary show called The Billion Dollar Broker, set in New York and starring him, with a "really bad, very ambitious" US$9,000 ($13,400) pilot episode that he funded himself. When the network later decided to set a new Million Dollar Listing series in the city, it got back in touch. At the time, Eklund-Gomes was 37th on the New York property broker rankings. "A few years in, we were No 1," Eklund says.
Social media is vital. His Instagram feed is full of detailed listings for his most extravagant properties, interspersed with pictures of his handsome husband and gorgeous children and videos of him dancing as if he's the happiest person at the office party. "It's all about eyeballs. The world has changed so much. It used to be like, 'Oh, I'm going to advertise in so-and-so paper and I have a Rolodex.' Who has a Rolodex today? It's how many [social media] engagements you have and what kind of execution you can do. You've got to be like Apple – everywhere at all times, and have a really good track record of actually doing what you're supposed to, otherwise it kind of falls flat.
"I always say nobody wants to work with a boring broker," he adds, before quickly correcting himself. Of course, there are other top brokers who are not exactly boring but do operate "very under the radar. That's their thing, and I totally respect that." A smile flickers across his face. "I think that ship has sailed for me now."
His mother, Jennike, who worked in healthcare administration in Sweden, remains his biggest influence. She impressed upon him the importance of "being a good person", which he thinks has provided him with an edge in a profession not always noted for its compassionate embrace of lofty ethics and human decency.
"I've always taken the high road, always paid people, always been fair. I've never had a complaint with the state or some angry seller. I can be very sassy and bitchy and sometimes aggressive, but I always come from a good, loving place."
There are limits to what he is willing to do to further his career.
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He will (and once did) fly to Seoul for 24 hours to attend a wedding just to nail down a property deal with the groom.
On the other hand, he has never flirted or had sex with anyone to get their business. "Well, I have flirted," he says, correcting himself again. Are there brokers who go further than that? "Oh yeah. I always ask. A lot of them have. They are very open about it too. Almost proud of it. Listen, if you're single, more power to you. But no, I've never done that, not even in my single years. Our job is complicated as it is."
Coronavirus, which slowed the market and disrupted viewings, has obviously made it even more complicated. "The silver lining for me is that I've been home with the kids a lot."
Although he had longed for children, twins were still a shock to the system for him and Kaplan. "I wouldn't take it back for anything but there were a lot of diapers, a lot of poop and a lot of screaming. And having a nanny or two living in the house with us was also new." Now, though, he genuinely believes that he's "the best dad in the world".
Eklund's own childhood was "very adventurous", roaming free across a semi-rural Stockholm suburb. He idolised his brother, who was three years older. "I thought he was so handsome. He had so many friends and I always looked up to him." Eklund traces a lot of his competitive drive to his effort to keep up with Sigge, who is now a successful novelist and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. Their father, Klas, is one of Sweden's most celebrated economists and was seen as closely allied with two of the country's former prime ministers, Carl Bildt and Olof Palme. Klas's father, Bengt, was an actor who worked with Bergman.
Eklund's own brief film career and the explosive novel he wrote about it was perhaps "a way of stepping away from my family", he thinks. It was "hard" on his parents (he came out as gay to his father by sending him a draft of the book).
He did have a period, before he met Kaplan, when he worried that his foray into pornography would make it harder "to find love". Before that there was a time "that I was so proud of it, almost like, 'This is who I am: take it or leave it.' "
Somewhat inevitably, he adds, "I won all the awards." Eklund had already dropped out of the Stockholm School of Economics to start a tech company. He also helped manage a group of music producers and writers. "We had a No 1 in Japan. We had a No 1 in Germany." In 2003, he moved to New York.
"The truth is, when I left Sweden, I didn't really have a plan. I didn't have any real estate experience. I had no money. I had no Rolodex. I knew English, but not business English."
On the other hand, "I felt like I was a New Yorker because I'd watched Sex and the City. When Sarah Jessica Parker called me, years later, to sell her townhouse, I freaked out and called my brother. I was screaming and he was like, 'Now you've made it.' "
Eklund gets up at 6am each day to face 500 emails from New York, which he tackles while walking on the treadmill at home. If he's in LA, he has breakfast and dinner each day with the twins. Between those meals he works furiously and does more exercise. He needs eight hours' sleep a night and marks "sleep" in his calendar.
Is he a control freak? Does he ever let go? "You mean, get drunk? Oh yeah, I love getting drunk."
He particularly loves rosé, and there are several bottles of "High Kick Rosé by Fredrik Eklund" on a sideboard inside. "I've been doing it for a while," he says. "It was the No 1 new rosé in Sweden."
In New York, Eklund had an army of assistants. In Los Angeles it's often just him: showing houses, making pitches, even driving his Bentley himself. "I'm learning to drive really well," he says. "I wasn't good. I've had a driver for ten years. So I wrecked the car a few times. It's so big and kind of low. That's a problem when you're driving around the hills. I was so scared on the highway."
At first, Eklund found doing business in Los Angeles "very weird". Even the dress code was confusing. Eklund would turn up to meetings in three-piece suits and be laughed at. "They're like, 'What the f*** are you wearing? It's hot!' "
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Here we are, no filters, just us, two husbands celebrating 10 years together. Babe I think we did it? In fact we did the impossible. When I knocked on your shoulder summer of 2010 in Mykonos we were so young, you were an aspiring artist living in London with a car company, like an Uber before Uber, and I was an up-and-coming real estate agent in NY with what some might say too big dreams. During our first night together the very initial contract from Bravo came in via fax at the hotel and I tried to explain to you why I was excited about it. We married as soon as it became legal in the State of New York. But you could still not stay, because gay marriage wasn't legal on a federal level. We tried to be understanding of the change happening while giving respects to the previous generations fighting for this basic right. Every three weeks you had to leave back to the UK. I'll never forget when our marriage was accepted by everyone in the US, that June when people were dancing on the streets of New York, it was actually the same week as our wedding episode aired. And you could come home permanently. It might feel long ago today, but I look at our kids and I can see all the struggles back then in a good way. You had Kai who I instantly loved and I wanted kids of our own too and told you about the dreams of this little girl I called Milla as long as I could remember. But then when our surrogate Misty became pregnant with twins I started seeing visions of a little boy and girl holding hands in the distance - she was going to have a brother! 10 years later you are my Big D, my sex on legs, my best friend and my daddy angel. We traveled the world together, literally, and spiritually. Kids, dogs, nannies, our Monkey, big families, careers, Stockholm, London, New York and now Los Angeles. You are always so kind, so helpful, so generous, even when you are overwhelmed which is easy with me. You always take the time to listen and never, ever judge. I'm so incredibly thankful that you picked me - you could have had anyone. Love you #pridemonth
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But dressing sharply was at the core of his work identity. He advises people climbing the career ladder to spend a tenth of their income on their appearance, although he earns far too much to do that himself now.
"Here it's almost the opposite to New York. You're showing weakness if you're dressing up too much, like you're defensive. You have to look cool. That's why I'm trying to wear things like this now [he indicates the linen suit] and be somewhere in between."
The LA approach to dealmaking is "very laid-back, to the point where if you show any kind of aggressiveness it's very off-putting. Whereas in New York that's what they want."
He learnt the hard way by losing pitches. "It hurt my ego a lot. I just used to go in and win everything, and here, it hasn't been like that."
There are obvious compensations.
"I can be sassy and bitchy and sometimes aggressive, but I always come from a good, loving place."
Back in Manhattan, he would eat lunch and do nearly all his meetings and negotiations from the back seat of a car: "ten years going around New York in traffic for twelve hours every day". Outside the vehicle it was just as stressful.
"Everything is a fight: the driver is angry; then it rains; the elevator doesn't work. I have to run up the stairs. Aaargh. Even getting a salad is impossible there. But here everything is so easy."
The car feels serene. The roads are beautiful. The music sounds great and when he checks himself out in the rear-view mirror, wearing sunglasses, "That is the best." Sometimes, driving between listings, tears of happiness well in Eklund's eyes.
The houses themselves are more varied and interesting too – even the US$90 million ($135 million) New York apartment he was on the phone about in the morning "is still an apartment, you know? No outdoor space. No pool."
One of Eklund's favourite recent LA sales was an enormous hilltop edifice in Brentwood with yacht-like curves, parking for dozens of vehicles, a black marble kitchen, a large infinity pool with its own cabana and "some of the best views ever".
For the right buyer, he knew the place would sell itself. "It's very modern, almost brutalist, how it hangs off that cliff. It's very LA. I don't think that product would work anywhere else, but here we are. There are big sports stars and rappers in LA and they're looking for that stuff."
In June, it was widely reported to have been sold to the rapper Travis Scott for $23.5 million ($35.15 million) after sitting on the market at a higher price for almost a year with another agent. Eklund's contributions when he came on board included tweaking the presentation of the house so that it might appeal to families as well as playboy bachelors.
That was also the idea behind the Star Wars video. Eklund made it with an established LA luxury property specialist, Ben Bacal, who played his adversary and shared the listing. The Beverly Hills home had previously been marketed with a nightclub theme and had failed to sell for four years.
"In New York those things wouldn't work," Eklund says of the video, which went live in March. The Manhattan brokerage community thinks itself a little too "highbrow".
Not so in Los Angeles. "It worked amazingly. People loved it. I haven't heard one negative comment."
Did the house sell?
"No," he says. "We haven't sold it yet. But we have someone."
His own dream home, which he expects to retire to, looks nothing like it. He wants to grow old with Kaplan in a big farmhouse in the Italian countryside. "From the 17th century or something. Grand but simple. With apple and orange trees."
But it wouldn't matter if it never pans out like that.
"I think what saved me through all these years is Derek, because he doesn't care for any of this. He always says, 'I could live in a tent with you.' " Eklund believes him. "He grew up in Africa, and we always have this fight about how much money I spend in hotels and stuff."
So could Eklund also cope in a tent then?
His looks appalled. "Never."
Written by: Ben Hoyle
© The Times of London