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How to Thrive in Luxury Real Estate

Lisa Richards
Find out how this professional positioned her company as the agency of choice for a multimillion-dollar residential community in Central Florida.

 When it comes to luxury real estate, it helps to have contacts in high places. Twenty years ago, a good friend of ours, professional golfer Arnold Palmer, heard that I was a newly licensed [sales associate] and asked me to come help sell homes at Isleworth, a gated golf course community in the small village of Windermere. I’ve since made a career out of selling homes there, where properties currently go for as much as $20 million.
 
Throughout the last two decades the community has grown significantly, as has Isleworth Realty, which handles the majority of the resale transactions, plus all the new sales.

I oversee the company’s operations and the activities of three full-time sales associates, two marketing coordinators, two full-time office administrators and a New York City–based public relations agency.

By getting in on the ground floor at Isleworth long before the community became the prestigious address it is today, I maximized a corner of the real estate market that tends to be largely immune to cyclical whims and economic shifts.

Here’s how I did it.

1. Make a Financial Commitment
You have to spend money to make money, particularly in the luxury market, where discerning buyers and sellers expect to see high-quality marketing materials. I usually allocate 1 percent of the sales price to professional photography [contracted to three different area photographers], a four-color brochure with floor plan, Christie’s Great Estates magazines, brochures and co-op advertising, and ad placement in Unique Homes, Architectural Digest and Town and Country. The key is to look at what sets the home apart and what makes it desirable, and to come up with highly personalized materials that tell the home’s story.

Our community Web site, www.isleworth.com, showcases our listings. We’re also the exclusive affiliate for Christie’s Great Estates in Central Florida, and our listings are available on their Web site. We pay a price for this affiliation (their fees are calculated according to company size). We also include information about the community and its many outstanding amenities.

To our marketing lineup we recently added a lifestyle presentation that’s loaded onto a USB flash drive and enclosed in a leather case whose cover includes our Web site address and logo. These materials cost about $15 each to produce (compared to $40 apiece for four-color brochures). We use e-mail extensively (to send floor plans and home photos, for example), and we’re in our third year of publishing Isleworth Living, a quarterly newsletter that features many of our current listings and is mailed to owners and prospects.

2. Get the Keys to the Gate
Many of Florida’s luxury communities are gated. Traditional farming strategies don’t apply, so real estate professionals must use more creative ways of “getting in the gate.”

You do this by immersing yourself in the community, learning everything you can about it, about the properties, the amenities and even the social events. You can show customers every aspect of the community, and create an image of exactly what their lives would be like if they lived there. If someone likes to play tennis, you can introduce him or her to the tennis pro. Ditto for golf, or paddle tennis, or whatever interests them. I develop personal relationships with the country club staff so that I can offer specifics that cater to potential buyers’ interests.

If I’m working with a family, I get the ages of the children and set up a luncheon with other moms and dads who have offspring of the same ages and/or interests.

3. Understand Ultraluxury
Selling million-dollar homes is one thing, but working in the ultraluxury real estate market—where home prices can exceed $20 million—takes on a whole different meaning. In other words, you can’t expect to spend two hours on a Sunday afternoon taking a buyer through a 20-room home and walk away with a written contract. These discerning buyers have been through the process before and want more than just a house. They want a luxury experience, and if they don’t think they’ll get it at your community, they’ll go somewhere else.

To work in this market successfully, you have to know your product, do your homework (by getting out and learning as much as you can about the community, its residents and amenities, for example) and create a reputation for yourself as the sales associate of choice for that neighborhood. Read the magazines your clients read, visit the cultural venues where they spend time (we haveassociated ourselves with the Orlando Philharmonic, for example), and build rapport with your buyers and sellers. Most of the time I work directly with buyers; the only time that isn’t the case, generally, is when it’s a sports figure who travels frequently. (In that case, the person’s agent handles much of the transaction.)

4. Build Relationships
Luxury home sales don’t conclude at the closing table. Much of our business comes from referrals from buyers and sellers to whom we’ve provided valuable services not only during the transaction, but also after the sale.

We’ve built long-standing relationships with many owners, and through those alliances have created strong networking affiliations that allow us to, say, introduce new buyers to existing owners who have similar interests.

We just worked with a couple who was moving here from England. Their daughter is a volleyball player, and she was upset about moving away from her team. We identified a few other students at Isleworth who play volleyball, and we were able to make introductions that resulted in a smoother transition for the family. It was a simple matter of listening, and fulfilling a customer need.

With Florida’s luxury real estate market going strong, I see much opportunity ahead for sales associates willing to go the extra mile to work with high-end buyers and sellers. There are more wealthy people in America than there were 10 or 15 years ago, and every year theirnumbers increase at a faster pace. These high-net-worth individuals are looking for luxury homes in unique communities that fit their individual needs, and we stand ready to serve them.


Lisa Richards is president and broker at Isleworth Realty Inc., in Windermere, with one office and three sales associates. She is involved with the Central Florida Women’s League, Florida Executive Women, Advisory Committee Member for House of Hope, Leadership Orlando Alumni and the Board of Health Central Foundation, among others.