Paulina Keszler is cooking up something for her mother, Michaela Keszler, this Mother’s Day, but this isn’t an obligatory holiday that they will spend time on. They are not only together frequently, but they work closely together in real estate.
The mother-daughter duo at Douglas Elliman began working together nearly three years ago when Paulina decided to try her hand at the career her mother began two decades earlier. Michaela has risen to become Douglas Elliman’s number one Hamptons agent, specializing in high-end sales and rentals, and her daughter is quickly making a name for herself, too. She received the title of Douglas Elliman’s Rookie of the Year in 2020.
“To work with somebody you can trust 100% I think that’s very important, especially in this business,” says Michaela. “It makes life so much easier.
The pair enjoy an easy rhythm as they look back on how they both discovered a passion for real estate. Michaela, a native of Germany, had been in the fashion business and was raising three children when she decided to go into real estate 20 years ago. She bought her first house in Southampton in 1990, but the Keszlers have lived on the South Fork on-and-off, first full-time from 1996 to 2000 and then permanently since 2005. Paulina was born here, spent her formative years in Germany and then attended middle and high school at the Ross School in East Hampton, from which she graduated in 2012.
The family rented out their home each summer — Paulina remembers the call coming in from the agent each year like clockwork — and she grew to understand the market.
“I was always interested in real estate and when we moved to America, we had lots of friends consulting us in the summer, and I noticed that giving them advice actually made other brokers money so I decided to get my license,” Michaela recalls.
Paulina says her mother starting a new career made an impression on her even as a child. “I remember being really intrigued by the fact that my mom was going back to school. I remember that really well for some reason.”
Perhaps that’s why it was easy for to set out on a new path of her own, in the hopes of a more steady income flow while pursuing her screenwriting aspirations. She went on to the Parsons School of Design in New York City to study fashion and worked as a fashion stylist, but then discovered a passion for writing movies. “My parents — I told them this and they supported me — they were super happy — and said as long as I can figure out how to pay my bills, I’m allowed to pursue whatever I want.”
In order to keep that end of the bargain, Paulina got her real estate license in 2019 and started working with her mother that October. The timing couldn’t have been better. Just a few months later, in March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic began and real estate on the East End was in record demand.
Selling real estate began as “an experiment” of sorts for her, she says. It was a way to make some money at first, but, “I fell in love with it.”
Paulina says she began by shadowing her mother. “There’s a lot of ins and outs you need to figure out, like the software and the emails and the back end of a lot of things . . . then there’s the lingo and how to interact with people on a professional basis,” she explains.
“Then COVID hit and we’re quarantining in two different houses and it just went crazy,” she says. ” I fell in love with the high stakes and the pressure and the fast pace. And I love how people live in their homes too, which is also super interesting. My phone was ringing nonstop and all of a sudden I had a career.”
The mother and daughter are frequent collaborators on major deals. Most recently, they sold the longtime Southampton Village home of Carole Guest and the late Fred Guest (among his family’s many interesting ties, his mother was the granddaughter of F.W. Woolworth, founder of the Woolworth stores, according to his obituary). “Folly Fields,” as the home at 359 Wickapogue Road was known, boasted exquisite gardens that recently hosted the Southampton Rose Society annual cocktail party and fundraiser.
The home was listed in early February and went into contract in under one week. Cindy Scholz of Compass brought the buyer. The last asking price was $11.49 million.
While they do a lot of transactions together, the two women are not officially a team. Michaela says she felt it was important her daughter have her own customers and be independent. “Paulina is a very good communicator and she connects very well with the clients. I get only very positive feedback. Even being young, she behaves and holds herself up — I hear it from other brokers and clients.”
Paulina enjoys sitting in on her mother’s phone calls and hearing how she handles them. “A lot of these are difficult conversations to have with people and there are millions of dollars we’re talking about and just the way she’s so poised and able to communicate that with people as well, has just been a big learning lesson for me because . . . 95% of it is how you communicate to people.”
Michaela says her daughter has a natural instinct for real estate. “She picks exactly the right house or something comes up and she says, ‘This is for this person.’ This just gives me the satisfaction she’s really made for this because she understands not to waste somebody’s time and pick the right houses for the right people.”
How are they able to work so well together? “Because we’re both so funny,” Paulina says with a laugh and her mom’s laughter follows. “We respect each other and especially in this business, it’s also nice, both speaking German. . . we have a secret language for us to be able to communicate freely, practically all the time with each other.”
And, perhaps most importantly, “I think we just trust each other and we like working together and that’s what makes it fun.”
This Mother’s Day, the real estate duo will spend it together with Michaela’s other daughter, Paulina’s sister Lulu, who has three children. “We have two moms in our family now,” she says. “So it will probably revolve around food.”