Change in name won’t impact focus on the customer

Wheeler Steffen, a staple name in Claremont’s real estate market for more than 50 years, will not exist as Claremont residents know it, at least in print. The longtime town real estate office recently announced its partnership with Sotheby’s International Realty, connecting Claremont with a new global niche.

But while the stone sign in front of the Foothill office might be boasting a new name, Wheeler Steffen Sotheby’s International Realty, owner and broker Paul Steffen says the Claremont community shouldn’t expect much change.

“It’s just better,” Mr. Steffen said simply. “Serving the client has always been the basis of our operation, but now we have opportunities beyond what we could have ever done before.”

The new partnership provides significant new perks, he notes. Sotheby’s International was established in 1976 as a luxury, global real estate brokerage. Today, the real estate brand boasts 650 offices in more than 45 countries. Mr. Steffen looks forward to tapping into those resources.

“You learn how business is done in other countries and it gives you lots of interesting ideas as to how to market property. It gives you a fresh view,” Mr. Steffen said, while noting that virtually all the Sotheby’s realtors he has met so far had the same general ideas as to how real estate should be done. “I hadn’t found that in a franchise anywhere else.”

The deal with Sotheby’s has been a year in the making as Mr. Steffen took his time interviewing with several franchises in search for the right fit. While several factors drew him to Sotheby’s—including their marketing and personalized service, despite the scope of the business—the decision came down to a book.

Sotheby’s encourages realtors to create an album with clients highlighting important aspects of the home accompanied by photos: the homeowners’ favorite nook, their favorite part about their yard, how they like to entertain in their home.

“There is value to a home well beyond the wood, stucco and drywall, and they appreciated that,” Mr. Steffen said. “I thought, There is someone who decided to stop and think about what they were selling and take it to the next level.’ It impressed me.”

Most important to Mr. Steffen was paying homage to his father’s legacy.

“My dad had a way of losing more money on a deal, but having a happy client,” Mr. Steffen reflected. “It always worked out because then he had a client for life. It’s about solid, firm, ongoing relationships and the ability to handle them in a competent manner while keeping the client’s interests paramount.”


Building a legacy

Art Steffen, Paul’s father, came to Claremont from Lakewood, California  in 1957. A UCLA business student, Mr. Steffen hoped the booming town would help him strike it rich, according to his son. He was working opening housing tracts for a company in Covina at the time.

“Someone said the hot new place is going to be Claremont,” Mr. Steffen said, adding that Claremont had just opened up the housing tracts near San Jose Avenue. “So my dad came out thinking he’d find his fortune.”

Naturally, it wasn’t so simple being a strange face in a sprawling city. In order to establish himself,  Art decided to get involved with any commission and organization he could get his hands on. He joined groups across the board, from the planning commission, to the school board, to the local Kiwanis.

And his search for “gold” wasn’t unfruitful. While volunteering, he met Roger Wheeler, a realtor also looking to build his brand. The pair joined forces to create Wheeler Steffen Real Estate in 1959.

“It was a great opportunity. The Wheelers were an established family. No one knew my dad,” Mr. Steffen said. “It was a great way to make a name in this town.”

With big goals in store, the pair rented a tiny office off Indian Hill Boulevard and got started: “I remember going in there…there was just 2 steel desks,” Mr. Steffen said. “Then they got a secretary somewhere along the way and slowly grew.”

Piece by piece, he duo made a name for themselves in residential real estate.

“Things were booming. They were building homes as fast as they could sell them,” Mr. Steffen said. “The city was growing, the colleges were growing, and people wanted to be in Claremont.”

Despite their successes, Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Steffen remained known for their strong sense of ethics.

“Real estate doesn’t have the greatest reputation, but they thought of themselves as true professionals,” he said. “Every transaction, they put their clients needs way before their own. Numerous times they lost money on deals just to help their clients.”

Now leading his father’s company, Mr. Steffen makes it his mission to maintain his father’s legacy. He believes his latest venture will continue in that pursuit.

“It’s really consistent with Roger and my dad’s approach to business, putting the customer before the commission,” he said. “That makes me sleep better at night.”

Wheeler Steffen Sotheby’s International Realty is located at 500 W. Foothill Blvd. For more on the Sotheby’s brand, visit

—Beth Hartnett


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