By: Roger Grody
With global competition and technology both accelerating at unprecedented rates, elite real estate agents utilize all resources.
The days when an individual real estate agent with an overstuffed Rolodex and silver tongue could rise to the top of his or her profession have long passed. Today, it takes an entire team of professionals — interior designers, videographers and publicists to name a few — and an arsenal of cutting-edge technologies to compete in the global luxury real estate market. The industry’s elite agents are adapting to a rapidly changing environment in which teamwork and technology play equally important roles.
If this article was written just a few years ago, the greatest emphasis on technology would have been the ability to master online listing platforms and effectively employ social media. Today, those skills are a given, and technological proficiency extends far beyond maintaining a Facebook or Twitter account. Unlike in some industries, where technology threatens to replace the human touch, the real estate agent is in no jeopardy of becoming obsolete. That said, agents who fail to embrace technology will be unable to compete.
The luxury real estate market has become so globalized that it is essential for clients to be able to effectively view a prospective investment without booking an international flight. Elite agents not only concern themselves with product inventory and financial markets, but welcome any technological advance that can give them better field position.
Arguably the most significant advance in presenting listings, beyond an attractive set of photographs or traditional video tour, was a persuasive three-dimensional tour of a property developed by Silicon Valley-based Matterport in 2014. The Luxury Home Marketing provides advanced training for luxury real estate agents and offers prestigious certifications such as Certified Luxury Home Marketing Specialist (CLHMS) and Million Dollar Guild, the latter recognizing members who have demonstrated sustained performance in the million dollar market.
Kevin Rochlitz, the Institute’s education and development director, explains, “We offer the tools to help elite agents better position themselves and get the results that luxury clients expect,” he states, citing both technology and teamwork. While the Institute’s sophisticated databases assist members in matching unique properties with suitable buyers, surrounding oneself with talented people is an essential part of effective marketing, acknowledges Rochlitz.
“We advise agents to look for top-level service vendors to offer all the specialties their clients might need,” referencing professionals such as interior designers for staging or drone technicians for exceptional videography. “It’s essential to have well-known architects, antique dealers and restoration specialists in your database,” says Rochlitz. “If you’re showing a client a property with a hand-carved ceiling, you need people in your portfolio that can tell you if it’s possible to restore and at what cost,” he illustrates.
Rochlitz believes agents must not only keep up with technology, but also know when and how to introduce it into the client relationship. A fan of Matterport presentations, virtual staging and elaborate mini-movies that showcase the lifestyle provided by an extraordinary property, Rochlitz insists demographics play a role. “Baby boomers and Gen Xers are technology-savvy but still like to browse through magazines, while millennials want to do everything online,” says the director.
The philosophy promoted by the Institute results in elite agents who not only process real estate transactions, but are capable of advising clients on a wide range of issues affecting their quality of life. Because international economics, architecture and design, entertaining, and art all come into play with luxury client interactions, an agent’s life outside the real estate office is definitely relevant.
“It’s all about where they’re seen,” says Rochlitz of the most successful agents. “In some markets the Junior League is a big deal, other places it’s the country club or polo club, but in all markets the best agents sit on boards of charitable organizations,” he reports. Charities provide an effective way for agents to expose themselves to luxury clients, explains Rochlitz, while in the process serving their communities.
New York interior designer Drew McGukin is part of the luxury real estate ecosystem and maintains strong symbiotic relationships with the city’s top professionals. “Brokers rely on me for expertise on lifestyle and design the way their clients rely on them for expertise on pricing and resale value,” says the designer, who explains, “They understand I provide an added layer of service.”
McGukin, who applies modern, but inviting aesthetics to some of Manhattan’s best addresses, observes that premier agents, who are exposed to hundreds of living spaces, are quite design-conscious. “To be a broker you’ve got to have a natural interest in architecture and design, and I’m always impressed with the ideas they bring to the table,” says McGukin. He is frequently consulted by agents about the cost and feasibility of design projects and accompanies clients to viewings or evaluates virtual tours they send him. Trusting his judgement, repeat clients typically ask McGukin questions such as, “Will this apartment suit my family’s lifestyle?” or “Will there be enough space for my art?”
McGukin utilizes various software applications in his practice, but the young designer still insists on some old school touches. “One negative of technology is its lack of warmth, so sometimes I’ll start with a computer-assisted image, then wrap it with sensibility and softness by hand-sketching over it, providing a sexy result,” says McGukin. He adds, “When you’re selling a dream, there’s got to be some pizazz,” a philosophy shared by many elite agents.
Home stagers are another essential part of the elite agent’s team of specialists, as effective staging can add a significant premium to the selling price of a luxury property. With a celebrity clientele and extensive experience as an interior designer, Los Angeles-based Meridith Baer is one of the most prominent stagers in the nation. “Selling real estate is about selling a lifestyle,” she contends.
Noting that the first introduction of a home often occurs online, Baer says, “Photos and videos of elegantly staged homes are more likely to capture buyers’ imaginations, igniting the passion to then visit the property.” She suggests the best staging not only dazzles, but conveys warmth and comfort, explaining, “The home that sells first is the one that speaks to the buyer’s heartstrings, makes them fall in love at first sight.”
Baer reports that elite agents understand the value of her expertise, and maintains staging can
increase the sales price by 20 percent and the speed of sale by 80 percent. “Expert staging demystifies how a room might lay out and be lived in, so affluent buyers can easily and effortlessly see themselves living there,” explains Baer.
Long before VR or AR were even vague concepts, effective photography was one of the greatest marketing tools available to luxury real estate agents, and skilled photographers continue to get homes sold. South Florida-based architectural photographer Dana Hoff, accustomed to shooting luxury residential properties, asserts that whether images are presented in a magazine or incorporated into a digital platform, the quality of photography is critical. “You have just a couple seconds to grab someone’s attention and get them to want to learn more about the property,” he says.
Hoff explains that real estate photography is a unique, highly technical specialty that a photographer skilled in shooting weddings or products cannot easily transition to, and believes sophisticated real estate agents recognize the value of his expertise. While working in Los Angeles, the photographer became a trusted collaborator with top-flight agents whose listings included $30 million estates in Beverly Hills and Bel-Air.
Reporting it was not unheard of to spend $10,000 for floral arrangements on the day of a shoot, Hoff maintains, “The elite agents understand the power of presentation.”
Photos courtesy of Matterport, RoOomy, and Meridith Baer