Vol. 4, Iss. 8, Cover Story: Defining Luxury

by Chicago Agent

Selling a luxury home requires such sharpened skills as persistence, professionalism, communication and creativity. Your success depends on how you work with your clients and respond to their needs. And, while some Realtors seem to have mastered the “art of the sale,” still others may wonder what actually makes a home luxurious in this day and age. The meaning of “luxury” has certainly been adjusted over time, and agents have had to adjust with it.

By Michael J. Pallerino

There was a time when Jeff Samuels thought that the word “luxury” was just another way to define wasted space. Seven-foot wide hallways. Four to five bedrooms on a floor. Floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Closets larger than the average home. Indoor basketball courts with Plexiglas viewing areas. Soundproof home theaters. And hidden doorways leading to hidden hallways leading to wherever the imagination roams. At one point, Samuels, president of Samuels Homes LLC and affiliate of Red Seal Development, thought he’d seen it all.

Just when he did, his team was contracted to build a home for an elderly couple (think aged in mid-70s), in which the wife’s master bath was to feature mirrors on everything but the floor. Samuels admits that as “scary and amused” as he was with the request (you are encouraged to use your imagination here), he was relieved when the home closed without the client changing her mind on mirrored floors.

Truth be told, the luxurious stylings of homeowners who can truly afford whatever they want don’t surprise Samuels anymore. He no longer feels that luxury is wasted space. Building two 7,000-square-foot ranch homes for elderly couples who requested elevator service to the basement to avoid wasted space will do that to a builder.

Today, Samuels says luxury isn’t about being big and lavish, but what’s unique to the client, completely mirrored bathrooms and all. “Luxury is [simply] getting what you want,” he says. “Convenience comes in many different forms. Sometimes you’re just the builder; you just build the home. The homes that are the most fun are the ones where the homeowner seeks your advice. It makes the whole process much more creative. People tend to be more practical these days.”

In the unique, and sometimes maddening, world of building and selling luxury homes, it all comes down to people and how you interact with them. So, what are you prepared to do to get the job done?

Pat Borland once had clients who were being transferred and called with an unusual request. The gentleman had an early-morning meeting with his new boss, but the only suit he had was rumpled and wrinkled. To make matters worse, the hotel laundry was closed. So Borland, a sales associate for RE/MAX Suburban, did what any Realtor would do. She took the suit home, ironed it and returned it at the crack of dawn. She went on to sell the couple their dream home.

It boils down to remembering who you’re dealing with: people. Just because a client has more money to spend doesn’t make him any less sensitive to the home buying experience. “I probably would not use the term ‘finicky’ (to describe a luxury homebuyer),” Borland says. “I would say that buyers in this price range are very sure of what they like and dislike (as compared to less experienced buyers). I treat luxury sellers with the same respect and attention as other clients, with added special awareness of security and privacy. People are really pretty much the same and just like to feel that you care about them and their home.”

The dictionary defines luxury as “something conducive to pleasure and comfort.” That means Realtors must market homes accordingly, and not lean on the notion that luxury means price. When approaching the marketing and selling process, think style, elegance, quality and ambiance.

And, while some Realtors may debate the intricacies of selling a luxury home versus an average one, they all agree that you should set the rules at the beginning of the process.

“It’s all about customer service — 100 percent customer service,” says Mary Anne D’Ambrosio, a Realtor associate CRP with RE/MAX of Naperville. “But as committed as you are to the customer, they must be as committed and loyal to you. And they must be willing to buy.”

Constant communication is the key to maintaining a smooth relationship. That means keeping the seller and buyer informed of offers, counter offers, etc. It’s not as easy as it sounds. D’Ambrosio says that because there is such a large inventory of luxury homes, buyers have a tendency to get confused after looking at 10 to 15 homes a day. She believes real estate agents must ask themselves whether they really want the listing enough to commit to what it may take to sell it.

Selling a luxury home requires not only patience, but also the resources to properly market and showcase the home. D’Ambrosio advises an agent the second or third agent showing the property. “This way, you’ll get a feel for how the property has fared.”

Perhaps the simplest advice is to keep the home in tip-top shape. While some homes look breathtaking on the outside, they may need extreme makeovers on the inside. “A luxury home must [surpass] the expectations that the buyer has,” D’Ambrosio says. “These buyers have high expectations. The home must have a luxury feel to it.”

Borland says that when a home is properly presented, it sells itself. “The exposure and marketing of a luxury home requires professionalism and experience,” she says. “You don’t have to use the term ‘upscale’ [when it comes to luxury homes]; there needs to be a feeling of total quality.”

If you’re looking for a way to drive traffic to that luxury home of yours, you have to be creative. D’Ambrosio suggests what she calls the “extravagant Realtor tour.” And yes, that includes everything you think it does. Anything is fair game. Piano players. Fortune tellers. Massage therapists. Wine and cheese. If you market it, they will come.

D’Ambrosio recalls holding an open house for a $3.2 million home last year that was on and off the market. During July 4th weekend, she held an open house for 75 to 100 agents, clients and friends. The event was a huge success that helped rekindle interest in the home. “Everybody loves a party, especially a free one,” she says. “With more than 20 years in the business, I can tell that networking is everything.”

She also suggests hosting your party with an affiliate sponsor, such as a mortgage lender. Partnering with other relevant parties helps create cohesiveness and networking. Another key to helping market your home is what she calls the “30-day reorganizer.”

“You have to stay in constant communication with the seller,” she says. “Show phone calls and Web site inquires. Show what’s happening and what’s not happening. Review the available inventory in the area so that the client can see what else is out there.”

And there is a lot out there. “You have to reach buyers in the proper income level,” Borland says. “Your advertising, whether written ads, Internet listings, flyers, open houses, etc., must be extremely tasteful and professional. Your presentations must absolutely reflect the style and warmth of the home.”

Does all the hard, tireless work payoff? Borland shares a story about a loyal client who said he was interested in purchasing a large horse property, but felt that he should call the listing agent. “He didn’t want to spoil my weekend,” she says. “I told him to please spoil my weekend. We drove out and previewed the property and, later in that day, completed the contract for $2 million.”

Is there a difference between selling an average home and a luxury home? While D’Ambrosio muses that the commissions are larger, she says there really isn’t that big of a difference. “Whether your client is purchasing a $150,000 home or a $10 million home, they each have the same types of emotions and require the same satisfaction,” she says. “In the end, the sellers have to feel like they got the most for their homes, and the buyers have to feel like they got the best deal. It has to be a win-win situation. As the Realtor, you have to help both parties get beyond their level of expectations.” C.A.

Mary Anne D’Ambrosio
Realtor Associate CRP
RE/MAX of Naperville

Pat Borland
Sales Associate
RE/MAX Suburban
630.790.1776, ext. 204

Jeff Samuels
President – Samuels Homes LLC, an affiliate of Red Seal Development

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