Luxury real estate execs share insights on unique clientele
Wealthy buyers, sellers demand quality service, straight answers
By Glenn Roberts Jr.
NEW YORK -- Quality service may be king for buyers of high-priced homes, but these buyers are often less finicky and more educated about the market than first-time buyers, said a panel of luxury real estate executives who spoke Thursday during the Real Estate Connect conference.
"While we do need to forge special relationships with the luxury buyer, the luxury buyer in many respects is actually an easier buyer than the buyer at the lower end of the marketplace," said Frederick Peters, president of Warburg Realty, a 130-agent Manhattan real estate firm that specializes in properties priced at $3 million and up.
That may be due to the fact that the luxury home's price "generally represents a smaller portion of (the buyer's) net worth than when selling to a first-time buyer."
He added, "The rich guy generally is a lot easier to sell to. He's focused, he's concerned, but the level of anxiety is way lower."
And luxury buyers are dialed into the market. Peters said the joke in his office is "that every one of our customers is on StreetEasy at 1 a.m., mailing us listings." StreetEasy.com is an online real estate search site.
Mauricio Umansky, co-founder and CEO, The Agency, a luxury firm that he launched four months ago in Beverly Hills, Calif., also noted that luxury buyers tend to be very educated about the market.
"Clients are telling me stuff that's coming on the market before it's on the market," he said, which puts pressure on agents and brokers serving them to be more knowledgeable.
Diane Ramirez, president of Halstead Property -- a firm with 21 offices and about 950 agents that operates in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey -- said luxury buyers are approaching the firm with properties they already have in mind.
"They are coming having been on their iPad, and they say, 'I want to see this,' " Ramirez said. "And sometimes they buy what they've already found. They're not starting off saying, 'What do you have?' "
And it's not typically by accident that luxury buyers stumble upon a company and agent they choose to sell or buy with -- luxury real estate firms are aggressive marketers, panelists noted.
"I have a lot of different global ... relationships," Umansky said. "I'm finding global to be extremely important," and he's traveled and made connections in places as far-reaching as Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore.
"Global is the new local," he said.
There is also a big focus on the company's Web and social media presence, Umansky said. "We are trying to get in front of as many wealthy people as we can," and the company engages in event marketing and has a group of 12 "ambassadors" who use their spheres of influence to extend the company's reach among high-net-worth individuals.
Umansky said he pushes agents to utilize their contacts, and to have confidence when reaching out to them.
"You have to ... make the call. Don't be scared to make this call," he said. "There are not a lot of $10 million deals going on on a yearly basis (in my market), so you need to catch them."
He also said that privacy is important to many clients, and they want to keep their real estate deals out of the limelight.
Peters noted that the operative communications medium in some cases is the phone -- not a text or email message.
It's also important to be direct when it comes to communications with luxury clients, Peters said. "Talk straight. You never can get from A to B if you don't tell them the truth," he said. "Deliver the news." If you can't do that, it's like shooting yourself in the foot, he said.
Peters said a lot of his time is devoted to working with the company's marketing department, and figuring out how to extend the existing relationships the company's agents have with luxury clients.
Ramirez said that her firm has grown its visibility and reach by participating in numerous alliances -- the firm is a member of broker consortium Leading Real Estate Companies of the World and a member of Luxury Portfolio, and both entities help boost the firm's online presence and promote its properties to an international clientele.
The company also has launched a "tri-state alliance" with other brokerage firms that will allow the firms to refer business back and forth when it's outside of their core geographic areas that they serve.