Checking in with Cristal Clarke—Montecito’s Real Estate Star
It takes a very specific set of skills and a particular personality to become the top selling agent in your area—especially if that area is an affluent city like Montecito, California. Over the last several years, Cristal Clarke of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties has consistently held the position of one of the region’s top five agents and has been frequently awarded by industry organizations for her superior real estate efforts.
Having plied her trade in Santa Barbara County for the past three decades, Cristal’s reputation for offering discreet white glove service has made her the go-to agent for handling high-value sales and private sellers.
So when it comes to picking out a favorite property from the past few years, it’s no easy task. “There are so many beautiful properties here and a lot of them are very unique, beautifully built homes,” Cristal said. “One of my favorites is this extraordinary contemporary home that just sold recently. It was designed by top architects, and it was so beautiful that every time people would walk in the house they would just stand there, mesmerized.
“Not only was the architecture beautiful, but the view—it had 360-degree views of the mountains and the ocean, the islands, and into town. It had great privacy, beautiful landscaping, a gorgeous Infinity pool. It was just very special—the minute you arrived there it felt like you could just relax, unwind, destress, and just enjoy the beauty surrounding you.”
One of Cristal’s current listings is also more than worthy of highlighting. “I have this wonderful home at 4347 Marina Drive in Hope Ranch, Santa Barbara,” she said. “It's a Wallace Neff, who was one of the famous Los Angeles architects of the 40s, 50s and 60s and go-to architect for a lot of stars. Books have been written about him. This property is one of his later works—there are stunning ocean views, a pool, guest house, and gorgeous gardens—it's just a fabulous home.”
The magic of Montecito
Montecito may be best known for its opulent, expansive luxury estates resided in by the likes of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Oprah Winfrey, and Ariana Grande—but there’s a lot more to the city in terms of architectural styles.
“I love contemporary and mid-century architecture,” said Cristal. “I also love the great 1920s/30s Spanish revival homes that we have. We also have some great Cape Cod-style homes. There is a nice blend of architectural styles in the area—Santa Barbara is really known for its quintessential Spanish homes, with red tile roofs, the beautiful white wall, the gorgeous tile floors, and iron doors that open out to the gardens—that's a very popular style.”
Selling real estate in a city like Montecito certainly comes with its own challenges. But there are also some facets that can work in an agent’s favor. “Montecito is not that big, and that can be very beneficial,” Cristal explained.
“In times like this, it can also be a little harder—inventory is currently a big issue as there's only so many homes in Montecito, but generally speaking, I think being an agent here is wonderful because you really get to know the neighborhoods—you get to know the people.
“It's really a phenomenal community to be a part of and it's a pleasure working every day because you're working in beauty and seeing people that you know. It's very community based—I love being here, and I've been here most of my life. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't wake up and feel so fortunate to live in an area like this.”
The importance of discretion
Managing the real estate needs of Montecito’s monied clientele can be a demanding task. Whether on the buy or sell side, dealing with luxury residences has its own rule book.
“With a luxury listing, there are certain things that you need to do to market that property—and certain places where you need to concentrate your marketing efforts,” explained Cristal. “Then there are clients with high-end luxury listings that want their properties advertised not only locally, but nationally and globally. I am able to provide that outreach for my clients which has been very beneficial for me.”
For most high-profile clients, discretion is key in real estate transactions. Cristal could host a TED Talk on discretion, judging by her reputation—as well as our inability to tease out a single celebrity client’s name from her during the interview.
“A lot of my clients really value privacy and discretion,” she said. “It’s key, whether they are someone who's famous or someone from the financial world who just want their privacy kept intact.
“A lot of times I'm working with not only them, but their business managers or their attorney, so there are a lot of people involved. It's just about ensuring a smooth course of transaction to make it easy for everybody.”
“It's important to reinforce your strengths and not rely on reputation alone when speaking with new—or potential—clients,” Cristal added. “They want to be sure that you value their privacy. I think a key part of my success is that I've always been like that, and it's served me well over the years. I've been fortunate because I get referrals, and they know that I'll keep very private about the transaction.”
Another aspect of making more high-profile clients feel comfortable is—paradoxically—not treating them as such. “They just want to be treated like normal people,” Cristal mused. “Just ensuring I have great interactions with people, whether they're famous or not, is something I really strive to achieve for my clientele.”
Mingling with Montecito’s superstars
Living and working among the area’s celebs might become humdrum for some, but Cristal has retained her appreciation for the lifestyle. “There are some wonderful people here who are known nationally and beyond, and I love seeing them socially and bumping into them on the street, but of course, I keep that all very, very private.”
Even the most professional of professionals can be blindsided by a public figure. Cristal recalled an incident when she was asked to open up a house that she was in the process of selling to a client, as the client wanted to show the property to a friend of theirs.
“So I open the house up and my client’s friend walks up, I turned the corner and I'm facing this person and I'm like, ‘Well, hi!’,” Cristal said. “And that person was so nice and approachable during the whole experience. I was very impressed, but yes, you do get sometimes starstruck when you’re not expecting it. I'm sure they're used to it, you know, that deer-in-the-headlights look!”
Supporting the community
Montecito has been good to Cristal Clarke; this is something she’s very aware of and enjoys paying back at every opportunity. In 2021 she went a few steps further and donated $100,000 to The Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit set up by Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties which provides funds to local communities throughout the state.
“As I've lived here most of my life, I think it's so important to give back to the community,” she said. “This community has been great to me. As a community, we’ve had times where we've all gotten together to pitch in—if somebody needs help, we'll all help. And I just felt that the donation was something I wanted to do with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices so it would reach some wonderful nonprofits. We all pitch together, and I just feel like I'm just one part of the puzzle.”
“Locally, there are some great organizations to support,” Cristal continued. “There's the Food Bank in Santa Barbara, The Boys and Girls Club, the local schools. I get great letters back from kids who are so thankful, which is very touching and endearing.”
Alongside her many talents, Cristal cites her belonging to the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brand as fundamental to her successes. “It's huge for my business,” she said. “I've done some wonderful campaigns with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. The Wall Street Journal Behind The Listing was amazing. It was very beneficial for both the seller and the buyer—the buyer came from that campaign, and I introduced the buyer and seller. Together they got along fantastically, and both were very happy.
“Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices has been an incredible company to work for I am so honored to be a part of the brand.”