Left: Four-bedroom, six-bath 7,500-square-foot mansion with a 40-foot interior waterfall in Beverly Hills. Listed at $18 million.

"You've got to be 24-7 in this business," says Josh Altman, 34, a Beverly Hills-based broker who, depending on whom you ask, either vainly moonlights or savvily markets himself as a costar of Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles. With his 37-year-old brother, Matt, a former CAA agent, Altman has completed deals with Tyler Perry, Kim Kardashian, and Britney Spears. He consistently represents an inventory of properties with Hockney-blue pools, mansionesque guest houses, and panoramic city views that make Los Angeles look like a nightly planetarium show. "I'm working until two every morning," Altman says, "rubbing shoulders in the fanciest restaurants and clubs. Real estate is a total lifestyle commitment." The stakes are particularly high at Altman's level. The rush of the deal, hooking a buyer, landing an eight-figure listing, scoring the perfect piece of property—many brokers speak about it as if it were an addiction. Property envy is a powerful catalyst, and it comes as no surprise that brokers covet the very thing they're selling. "I've moved eight times in the last ten years," Altman says.

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Up and down five flights of floating oak stairs, Clayton Orrigo is showing off 80 Washington Place—a fully restored 19th-century Greenwich Village townhouse once owned by the composer John Philip Sousa. Wearing dark jeans, a light-green T-shirt, and black cowboy boots, Orrigo walks through its four separate kitchens and points out the five newly installed espresso machines hidden behind various panels throughout the property. He spent nearly two months staging it all, ensuring that potential buyers would be dazzled by the waterfall that hangs like a painting behind the basement stairwell and the million-dollar Crestron system that enables an iPad to control the lights, air-conditioning, and blackout blinds.

Clearly, he has a picture of whom he's selling to. "The buyer is international," Orrigo speculates. "He's a hedge-fund manager from London, but he thinks uptown is too stuffy. He has an art collection, needs big walls, tall ceilings. He likes vertical space, not horizontal space, which is a townhouse, not a penthouse. He's going to want a building of his own—a piece of the city, not a unit in a tower." The Alexanders, however, have another idea, and a couple of weeks later they will bring Orrigo a unique leasing opportunity: Their client, "one of the largest consumer-electronics companies in the world," Tal says, has agreed to rent the space for a private product launch in September. After that, it will go back on the market. "Oren, Tal, and I are becoming close these days," Orrigo tells me after agreeing to terms with the Alexander brothers on a three-month lease at six figures per month. He's confident he'll make more money on the property when he sells it, potentially in the fall, after the überwealthy return from summer sojourns in the Hamptons, Capri, and the French Riviera. "It was a pretty sweet deal," Tal agrees.

Walking past the townhouse's massage area, the sauna, the bathtub that's larger than most Manhattan studios, Orrigo finally emerges on the rooftop terrace where the supermodels Chrissy Teigen and Jessica Stam recently posed for a fashion shoot. He's suddenly bathed in unobstructed sunlight. "To get a $30 million listing in my first year is big," he says. He walks to the edge of the roof and surveys the tree-lined street below. "When I meet a client, it's the start of a lifetime relationship. You buy an apartment for $2 million, two years later you sell, then you buy a new place for $2.5 million. I'm up to $6.5 million off an initial $2 million deal. Then what happens? Two of your friends start to work with me. There's an exponential growth factor."

This calculus applies across the highest reaches of the real-estate market, where elite brokers' deep-pocketed clients can buy multiple eight-figure properties in short order, then upgrade them just as quickly. "If I do this right, the numbers will be staggering," Orrigo says, leaning over the railing and gazing across the white-hot buildings of lower Manhattan before stepping back with a grin on his face. "This business isn't about being short-term greedy. It's about being long-term greedy."