BY MARY SLOSSON
Luxury real estate agent Bill Fandel caught the attention of the world’s media in November when he listed Hollywood A-lister Tom Cruise’s Aldasoro Ranch estate for sale at a cool $59 million.News outlets from Architectural Digest and Variety to the Wall Street Journal fawned over the property, a gorgeous 300-acre estate tucked in an aspen grove with a spectacular view of formidable Mt. Wilson.
In an extended interview in his bespoke Colorado Avenue office, Fandel said he was bound by non-disclosure agreements on the Cruise property and couldn’t reveal if he has had any nibbles on the estate so far. But he was able to share stories from his youth, what makes him tick and how he finds daily inspiration.
Fandel was born into an Irish-Catholic family in Needham, a suburb of Boston. His first image of the American West came in the form of a National Geographic magazine spread on cowboys in Montana.
“As a little kid I read National Geographic religiously. And I remember seeing this picture of cowboys in Jackson Hole. It was green grass and white-capped peaks. It just stunned me. There was nothing like that in New England,” he said.When he was 19 years old, he spent a summer between school semesters adventuring with Outward Bound in North Carolina. He was deeply inspired by the nomadic lifestyle of the instructors, who bounced around from mountain towns to brilliant, beautiful national parks depending on what struck their fancy. He wanted to live that way, too.
“I realized that there was a different lifestyle than the blueprint I grew up with,” he said.
He spent every summer after that drinking in all that wild mountain towns of the great American West had to offer, driving a big, old Cadillac he bought from his roommate around from Yellowstone National Park — where he worked as a bellman — to Jackson Hole and beyond.
After studying history and geography at the University of Massachusetts, he made a beeline straight to Telluride.
“As soon as college ended, I moved right here,” he said. “I came to Telluride with $250 and a bicycle. I slept on couches and didn’t even have a car.”
While many Telluride residents may know him now as a prominent luxury real estate broker, the truth is Fandel lived the crazy housing situations that service workers here know all too well.
After upgrading from couch-surfing, Fandel lived in a house of seven people that shared a single bathroom. He also lived in a rent-controlled Shandoka loft with no bedroom door when the complex was first constructed.
“It was tough to find work, and it was tough to find housing,” Fandel said of the town in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. “Some of the issues with housing are cyclical… Here we’re back at a crunch now. That’s a battle for every generation that comes here.”
Fandel worked as a taxi driver and a doorman at the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon before finally landing a job that capitalized on his interests in history, architecture, art (he almost went to school to become an artist) and design.
His big break came when Nels Cary — now the owner of Telluride Sotheby’s International Realty — hired him as a real estate office receptionist tasked with answering the phones. From there he never looked back, rising to his current position as Vice President of Telluride Sotheby’s International Realty, working alongside Cary.
Finally living in a mountain town, the history buff dove into the rich stories and traditions in the area, becoming increasingly fascinated with the ranches and farms that had the best views of the towering San Juan Mountains perched on sweeping plains nearby.
“I’ve spent a lot of time reading up on the history of the West and the families that homesteaded these areas. It’s decidedly different,” he said. “I developed a real passion for ranches. The resort is exceptional, and yet I think that big, outlying properties, these big, rolling ranches, are quintessentially Western.”
That passion spurred him to create a trophy farms and ranches division of his real estate business, featuring choice properties that dot the rural landscape across Colorado. The buyers of those sprawling ranches and farms tend to have conservationist bents, he noted.
“I’m seeing a lot of stewardship come in from either individuals or families partnering with conservation-minded groups through conservation easements, preserving some of the character of the American West,” he said. “That’s an important thing, to see these large tracts of land remain intact, especially on those mesas. These are legacy properties that should be preserved. They are the rarest birds.”
The fact that his luxury real estate business has also had the side effect of saving some of the storied legacy of the American West seems to make Bill Fandel a happy man, successful both in business and as a long-lasting conservationist.
All the while, his business continues to grow. He is a founding member of an elite group of just over 30 Sotheby’s real estate brokers crisscrossing the globe, from Switzerland and Paris to Jackson Hole and Telluride, who share clients and knowledge about their special corners of the world.
“It’s allowed me the reasons and resources to travel all over,” Fandel said, “and to understand all these different people and places that are complimentary to here.”
Perhaps Fandel’s trajectory can provide inspiration for the current doormen and taxi drivers of Telluride, who may one day find themselves among the best real estate brokers in the world.
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