No Place Like Home

Sophie with her canine family

Oliver Wendell Holmes was once quoted as saying “Where we love is home; home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” Though not the first person to express this sentiment, I believe he said it best. Our homes are the center of our universe; it is where we find sustenance, shelter, rest, comfort, and if we’re very fortunate, love. Home is where we map out our daily lives, and find respite from the stress and rigors of the world outside our doors.

These days, finding a home for ourselves and our families isn’t as simple as it used to be. You want a realtor or agent you can trust to find you someplace suitable, without breaking the bank. You want someone who will understand your needs, who genuinely cares about where you choose to lay your head, raise your children, build your life. Sophie Zeiler is such an individual. Her capacity for meeting her clients at their needs, makes her the ideal realtor. Her affable personality, makes her a buyer's best friend.

You’re originally from England, and moved to the United States when you were very young. What prompted your family to make that move, and why Topanga?

My mom is from England and grew up there. She would go back to London each time she gave birth (three daughters) so that she could be with her mom and family. I grew up in Inglewood for the first 5 years of my life, although we spent every summer in London with my Granny. My mom drove through Topanga one day and fell in love with the town, and wanted to get us out of the city (we were there during the riots and she wanted out). My dad is a surfer and grew up in Beverly Hills and was familiar with Topanga. He's a big hippie so he fit right in, in the canyon.

Interior of 103 Lake Sherwood home

You have an extensive knowledge of your adopted city, and are obviously proud of its history and terrain. What started you on documenting the homes and vistas of western Los Angeles?

Topanga definitely feels like home to me, I've been here since 1995 (five years old). I am a huge fan of my town and the community and history. I went to elementary school here and love the tight knit community that I've grown up with. I love the history of Topanga because the history is so cool! So much has happened in this little canyon. It was inhabited by Native Americans and there are many sacred spots throughout the canyon, and the history from the 1900s, particularly the 60s, always fascinates me. Every amazing musician from that era has partied in Topanga at one point. It's a great place to hide out and get away from LA.

When I became a realtor, I had to figure out how to get my name out there and being a millennial, the obvious thing to do was make an Instagram page. It's been going really well, and I've gotten quite a bit of business from it. I really enjoy running the page and connecting with the community through it, and portraying Topanga in the way I see and love it. I'm a big dog lover and outdoor enthusiast and history nerd. I also love unique, funky homes and properties, and Topanga is full of them. No cookie cutter homes here. I'm not huge on mansions, but will fall in love with an old hunter's lodge or a wooden cottage. My dad built me my home from the bottom up, with almost all recycled materials, on my aunt's four acres in Topanga. I call it my faerie cottage. It's a special place in the canyon. It's actually very easy to make a nice Instagram page of Topanga area, because there is so much beauty in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Lake Sherwood

If someone were to visit for the first time, where would you suggest they see first, and what other attractions are there?

I'd say start the morning with a coffee and pastry (or breakfast burrito) at Topanga Living Cafe, and then head to Tuna Canyon to hike up to the labyrinth. This is a great hike, because you get the most incredible 360 degree views of all of LA and the pacific. Then I'd suggest walking around the center of town and checking out the local shops. You'll always meet some interesting characters in the center of town too. Hidden Treasures is a must see, the coolest vintage costume store ever. Topanga Homegrown is sweet, and there are other cool shops like the Topanga Candle store and Luv n Sunshine. If you're feeling fancy, you can get lunch at Inn of the Seventh Ray, or you could go to Topanga Table. Corazon is a music venue in the center of town that has lots of great musicians from around the world come and play. Topanga Beach if it's too hot a day.... everyone migrates down there during the hot summer days. And definitely try and make a trip up to the canyon on Memorial Day weekend for Topanga Days festival at the community house. It's a three day festival of music, food, and dancing barefoot with a bunch of hippies. We have a parade on Monday morning, and it is my favorite weekend of the year to be a Topangan, because the whole community comes out for one big party.

How long have you been a realtor?

I got my license end of 2015, but didn't start actually working as a realtor until summer of 2016, so I'm coming up on two years. My mom is my broker and she has been a realtor in the canyon since I was in Topanga Elementary. I'm so lucky to have her because she walks me through every learning step of the way. I gain so much insight and experience from her, and she is my biggest supporter. She is also the best agent in town, so I get to learn from the best. I really love what I do because I get to stay local, work with interesting people, tour homes all day. It's the best career move I've ever made, and I am so happy to be doing it in such a beautiful town.

 Home at Lake Sherwood

Home at Lake Sherwood

Tell me about the architecture; is there a particular style that stands out from the rest of California?

The architecture in Topanga has a very broad range. You'll find some moderns and new construction around, but mostly you see older homes, ranging from the 70s to the early 20s. Topanga started to get built up a bit in the 20s, so all the cutest cottages with wonky floorboards and stone fireplaces are from that decade. They have lasted a long time and have the most charm. I love the architecturals built in the 60s and 70s too. My friend's family lives in a dome house built from a kit by a bunch of hippies in 1969. It is the coolest house ever. I love the super funky properties that have been around for decades, and get added to little by little with unique art pieces and small structures. There are a lot of artists in Topanga, so you never know what you will come across on an Open House tour.

Just a few days ago, Forbes published an article about the declining affordability of homes in the U.S. Yet, at the same time, a recent USA Today article proclaiming the contrary. What do you find is the truth between the two reports, as far as your business is concerned?

I would most definitely agree with the Forbes article about the declining affordability. I can't speak for the rest of the country, but I am definitely seeing it in L.A., not just as a realtor, but also a resident of the area. It's unfortunate because it changes neighborhoods, not necessarily for the better. A lot of people I grew up with in Topanga have to leave because they can't find any affordable rentals, let alone a home to buy. It's very unattainable for a lot of people I know, especially my generation of friends. Many people come to Topanga and want to live in the canyon because of it's hippie, care free, musician vibe. Sadly, a lot of the people that gave Topanga that reputation can no longer afford to live here. Great for real estate agents, but I am a Topangan first, and I prioritize my home and the nature around it, over making a commission off of mega mansions. A lot of locals blame realtors for this... which confuses me. But that's a whole other topic, one that is probably way bigger than I can understand.

I have been in the real estate world a couple years now, and, according to some of the seasoned agents that have been in the business for many market ups and downs, we seem to be coming to the peak of real estate prices in Topanga. We are starting to see a slump in sales of homes over $2,000,000. Those homes are sitting on the market for months. But homes under $1,500,000 are still in high demand. So who knows what will happen. All I can say is I hope I have enough money for a down payment the next time the market dips!

Patio in Santa Maria

You obviously enjoy what you do. From what I've learned, you're very personable when you conduct business with your clients. What's the most satisfaction you get from your business?

I do love working as a realtor, and I have never worked in a corporate setting (and my brokerage is anything but corporate). I never wear heals and my car is always a total mess. I don't buy into the whole "let me buy a fancy car to impress my clients so they think I'm a big agent" thing. I don't need to attract those kinds of clients. I'll attract the cool, down to earth clients. And that makes the job so much fun, working with cool people and helping them create a home for themselves. I think the most satisfaction I get is when I close an escrow. It is a great feeling of accomplishment, and I know I've done my job. I just want my clients top be happy, and I will definitely go above and beyond to make sure they are. That may sound cheesy... but it's true. Today I staged an entire home myself (with the help of my mom and friend). It cost me $2,000 and 2 days of schlepping furniture up 70 steps. But I loved doing it. And I always love buying gifts at the end of close. I love how everyday is different and I'm not sitting at a desk doing the same thing day in and day out. I can be my own boss, and push myself as hard as I want. The sky is the limit with real estate. It's terrifying all the time during the first few deals you do, but the more comfortable I get, the more I enjoy the challenge.

Photography by Erin Scabuzzo of Hello Pinecone Photography. Visit Sophie's website, and check out her amazing collection of images at Instagram.