Power Players of San Francisco: Olivia Hsu Decker, Malin Giddings, Nina Hatvany and more

Haute Living talks with everyone who’s anyone in the red hot San Francisco marketplace.

By Stephanie Wilson
Photography by Sonya Revell

Olivia Hsu Decker (The Bon Vivant)


 I am a great cook and I teach cooking classes in my chateaux in my “Culinary Retreat” program.

Olivia Decker, through her company Decker Bullock Sotheby’s International Realty, exclusively markets homes in an elegant echelon. Only dealing with homes listed from $3 million to upwards of $20 million, she builds her base by tirelessly applying her proven marketing techniques. An expert in international real estate and trained at the University of Oxford, her own palatial homes in Belvedere, California, and Provence are a testament to her exquisite taste.

Haute Living Where are you from? What attracted you to San Francisco?
Olivia hsu Decker I was born in Shanghai, China. The natural beauty, diverse culture, rich history, performing arts, strong industries from Silicon Valley to wine country, and sophisticated lifestyle are the main attractions.

HL What attracted you to real estate?
OD When I moved here from Tokyo in 1975, the real estate market was extremely cheap compared to Tokyo. I started buying properties, remodeling and decorating them, and renting them out. Before I got my real estate license in 1979, I already owned seven properties.

HL Who was your first mentor, and how did he/she influence you?
OD My first big client was Arturo Keller, a successful industrialist from Mexico City. I was a new agent when I met Arturo in August 1979. He wanted to invest in the Bay Area where it is safe and appreciating in value each year. I sold him 21 pieces of properties over the years.

HL You’ll never be found without your…
OD BlackBerry! I am addicted to my BlackBerry for emails and text messaging as well as phone calls. When I lost my BlackBerry in Dubai last year, I felt I had lost my entire family.

HL What were your yearly sales for 2007? Forecast for 2008?
OD I had sales over $120 million in 2007. There was a slow start to 2008, but it started catching up. I hope to top 2007 by the end of 2008.

HL What is your most memorable deal?
OD I found Sharon Stone her San Francisco home in 1998. Shortly after the escrow opened, she invited me to the Cannes Film Festival. After it ended, she came to my château in Aix-en-Provence to relax and rest for a week. She loves to cook and we cooked some meals together, told jokes in her room, and sunbathed topless by the pool.

HL Where do you live?
OD I have been living in Belvedere, California, since 1980. It is an exclusive island enclave, so much so that the majority of San Franciscans don’t even know about it.

HL If money were no object, what property on the market would you recommend in the San Francisco area?
OD I would recommend buying a wonderful vineyard estate in the wine country, a waterfront villa with spectacular views in Belvedere, and a stately mansion in San Francisco.

HL What is your formula for keeping your high-end and/or high profile clients happy?
OD I answer phone calls and emails 24/7. I will show them properties patiently until we find what they want. I am Chinese; we have patience. I attend events that my clients chair or sponsor. I help them to get their kids into the right schools as well as get them into the yacht club as members.

HL Tell us one thing most people wouldn’t know about you.
OD I am a great cook and I teach cooking classes in my chateaux in my “Culinary Retreat” program. I can sing Broadway musicals and songs from the opera. I also love interior design. I can also tell hundreds of jokes. I am a fun person, but many have the impression that I am a tough real estate businesswoman or a “dragon lady.” My sales approach is never like a tough “dragon lady,” it is more of a soft “Chinese water torture.”

HL What is your proudest achievement?
OD I am very proud that I am one of the leaders in the luxury home industry in both the nation and the world. My parents and their five children used to live in a one-room apartment with no bathroom and no kitchen. Now, I own one of the most magnificent chateaux in France. I still don’t know how I did it!

HL Where would we find you on a Friday night?
OD Most likely in my office or on my BlackBerry in a restaurant in San Francisco or Napa Valley.

HL What are your favorite vacation destinations and/or leisure activities?
OD I love Italy! I was engaged to an Italian and dated a couple of other wonderful Italians over the years and spent a lot of time in Lake Como, Portofino, and Positano/Sorrento areas. When I was 19 years old, a Chinese blind man that told my fortune and said I was Italian in my last life. I think he was right.

HL Your forecast for the San Francisco real estate market for 2008?
OD The market is a little slow now but San Francisco will always be one of the top choices where people want to live. It is an extremely good time to buy now. Don’t wait for the market to shoot up to buy, it will be too late when the market goes back to normal. We have seen more international buyers buying in the Bay Area to take advantage of the weak dollar.

HL What are your personal goals for 2008?
OD I would just like to sell more properties than 2007 and enjoy what I do in the process. It will be nice if I can spend some time in my chateaux in France too.

HL In your opinion, what makes San Francisco so special?
OD San Francisco is a small city like a village, where everybody knows everybody (almost). It has diverse cultures, great opera, symphony, theaters, museums, shops, restaurants, two of the best schools in the world, and a very well educated and sophisticated population. It is mostly very safe, has clean air, and great weather all year round.