Bernie Uechtritz is a Texan cowboy with an Australian accent who cut his real estate teeth in the wilds of colonial Papua, New Guinea. Which would end up being very, very helpful in his future real estate career. Way before he sold the Waggoner Ranch, Uechtritz listed and sold the Calabasas estate belonging to the Menendez family, landing him the reputation of a real estate agent who can make even the most impossible deals work.
The Waggoner deal may have netted him a commission of $7.25 to 10 million. He told an Australian reporter he “cut a deal that was a little less than his usual 10 per cent, but was still pretty good.”
He loves polo and claims a ‘colourful background’, and like most successful agents I have known, when Bernard Uechtritz was in school, his teachers didn’t quite know what to do with him.
Bernie (what his friends call him) grew up in Queensland, Australia, and at age 17 he was managing a Papua New Guinea palm oil and coconut plantation.
Today, of course, he is the Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty star agent who sold the most expensive ranch in the U.S. to one of the wealthiest families in the U.S: Stan Kroenke and his wife, billionaire Ann Walton Kroenke, a niece of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and heir to the Walton family fortune.
Bernie, as everyone calls him, was quick to spread the honor among the buyer’s agents and the other “robust marketing layers” who all helped get this deal done when I spoke with him last week.
Bernie offices out of Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s McKinney Avenue office (when he’s not in Vernon, Texas, in the Waggoner Ranch “War Room”). But his stature and experience in the real estate business rises far over Uptown. He has rubbed shoulders with Hollywood celebs, spends holidays in Aspen, and his face has even been perched on a digital billboard at New York City’s Times Square.
According to an interview with the Daily Telegraph Australia, Bernie spent regular stints in school detention and thus graduated early from the place, ostensibly just to get out. He was also born into a very large family: Bernie was the eighth of 11 children born to Alfred and Mary Lou Uechtritz, one of Papua New Guinea’s great pioneering families:
So how did a larrikin who “graduated early” from high school, and spent regular stints in school detention, become one of the most successful real estate brokers on the planet?
“Growing up, if you didn’t get in quick at the food table you didn’t get anything. My brothers and sisters and I had to carve our own way in the world and we’re all infused with a little entrepreneur DNA.”
I visited the house on Elm Drive. It is deceptive in size, far larger than one would imagine from the outside. You enter a spacious hallway with a white marble floor and a skylight above. Ahead, to the right, is a stairway carpeted in pale green. Off the hallway on one side is an immense drawing room, forty feet in length. The lone piece of music on the grand piano was “American Pie,” by Don McLean. On the other side are a small paneled sitting room and a large dining room. At the far end of the hallway, in full view of the front door, is the television room, where Kitty and Jose spent their last evening together. On the back wall is a floor-to-ceiling bookcase, filled with books, many of them paperbacks, including all the American-history novels of Gore Vidal, Jose’s favorite author. On the top shelf of the bookcase were sixty tennis trophies—all first-place—that had been won over the years by Lyle and Erik.
He developed a reputation for doing anything to get a deal done. One example from when he was trying to sell the HTC Ranch in Texas: the buyer wanted to come to the ranch for a final look, the seller wouldn’t allow it. So Bernie leased a seven-seat helicopter to give his clients an aerial inspection of the property, then took them to the Club for lunch.
In 2004, Bernie’s wife, Annie, brought him back to Texas from Los Angeles with their four children. In Texas, he says, they had “better handshakes”.
Get this: the magazine’s cover feature a photograph of Uechtritz wearing his trademark cowboy hat, in an ATV, was on a billboard in Times Square.
It took fierce negotiation, which he credited with his birthplace. If you come from New Guinea, everything is fiercely negotiated, he says.
“The price of a bride, compensation for stolen pigs, trespassing, you name it. Negotiating is negotiating, and that’s some of the toughest I’ve done.”
So when the deal of the century came his way, Uechtritz was not fazed by the years of family drama and litigation. He wasn’t even fazed by the $725 million price, which everyone said was crazy.
In the end, Bernie told news.com.au, everyone walked away happy.
About the first photo: Robbie Briggs, President and CEO of Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty, with Bernie Uechtritz in front of a mural by Fort Worth artist Adria Martinez, hanging in the Waggoner room at the Red River Valley Museum in Vernon. The mural is of the family: W.T. Waggoner, and Electra (2) his grand daughter, a renowned sculptress who did busts of multitudes of celebrities and dignitaries, many of whom were guests on the ranch including Bob Hope, Dwight Eisenhower, Will Rogers, Amon Carter, and even Teddy Roosevelt.