Today’s luxury home market represents more than exclusive addresses and fancy swimming pools. It’s a highly specialized field requiring über-agents wholly available to their clients. Luxury homebuyers are often busy, no-nonsense, demanding individuals requiring a special touch.
By K.K. Snyder
Operating at this level can be quite rewarding, both in terms of personal satisfaction and income. And the money is ripe for the picking for those agents up to the challenge, says Daniel Fitzgerald, PA, ABR, SRES, e-Pro, a principal of SoBeLuxuryHomes.com, the elite luxury homes division within Douglas Elliman Florida.
“[Miami] has enjoyed a meteoric rise in property prices over the years as European and South American money poured into the affluent property sector,” says Fitzgerald. “And with the Florida populace increasing at an ever-dramatic rate, and Miami constantly evolving into a somewhat ‘world-class city,’
I think the luxury homes sector is well underpinned for the future.”
Fitzgerald adds that luxury-home-market clients can be worlds apart from the average homebuyer and require specialized service.
“One of the major differences when selling homes to the affluent is that they are almost always extremely knowledgeable and intelligent individuals who always demand the fullest of service,” he says. “I always try to ‘over service’ my customers to make sure I am on their mind when the words ‘real estate’ are even mentioned.”
A relative newcomer to the real estate industry, having come to Miami just four years ago from an investment banking career in Milan and Hong Kong, Fitzgerald is quick to identify the difference in marketing strategies based on his clients.“Obviously, the kind of home that I would market to a rap star or a basketball player would almost certainly differ to the kind of property I would source for a European investment banker,” says Fitzgerald. “The majority of my clientele is under 50 years old, and, therefore, there is no shortage of property choices for the hip and trendy.”Fitzgerald says the luxury home market in Miami is unique for a number of reasons.
“The cultural melting pot that is Miami has paved the way for a vast array of different styles and finishes as compared to the luxury homes markets in other states,” he says. “One could just as easily find a New York-style loft space or a contemporary waterfront villa as you could an elegant town home or a two-story penthouse right on the ocean.”
Inside these homes, the list of luxuries is vast: elevators, wine cellars, media rooms, custom lighting and flat screens in nearly every room and furniture-grade custom cabinetry. Kitchen standards include multiple commercial kitchen appliances, such as two or even three dishwashers, built-in cappuccino makers, Sub-Zero refrigerators, double ovens, wine chillers and separate freezers, all from top-of-the-line manufacturers including Viking, Thermador, Five Star, Bosch and Wolf.
Likewise, luxury home buyers expect the finest finishes, exotic woods, marble and granite, custom woodwork, wide-plank flooring, custom solid eight- or nine-foot doors and high-end hardware, such as pewter and satin nickel. Exterior finishes are every bit as important as interior.
The Florida coastline remains among the hottest markets for luxury homes, says Anthony Armstrong, marketing director for The Institute for Luxury Home Marketing. “Condos are still largely popular, especially on waterfronts. And among the hottest places are resort areas where luxurious services are readily available, such as personal chefs and domestic staff.”Daniel Ickowicz, sales manager with Elite International Realty, notes that South Florida has for several decades been home to the world’s most luxurious estates. From oceanfront luxury estates in Fisher Island to Bal Harbour’s newest ultra-luxury development, WCI’s One Bal Harbour, the market is evolving according to the most discriminating desires of today’s clientele, says Ickowicz.
“Ultra-luxury, as it is called by some industry experts, is the new standard of what a sumptuous residence should be like,” says Ickowicz. “From highly customized floor plans with top-of-the-line appointments, to high-tech ‘smart’ homes, no expense may be spared to pamper every comfort imagined.”
Real estate professional Alicia Cervera LaMadrid, president of Related Cervera Realty Services, has spent the last 27 years in the industry. Specializing in retailing high-end, predominantly waterfront properties, including Icon Las Olas and the St. Regis Bal Harbour, for developers like Jorge Perez and The Related Group, she begins every luxury home sale by identifying the personality of the building and the environment in which it is located.
“Buildings are like people, so I try to establish its character: Is it a young building? Do young people live here? Would older people enjoy living here? What is the area like?” LaMadrid asks. “Once those things are identified, it’s synergistic, because sometimes the neighborhood determines the personality of the building.” She considers all of those elements when determining her target market and her advertising messaging. When complete, her property ads might feature an outdoors shot to appeal to buyers interested in nature and the outdoors, or a sleek, minimalist ad with one lone word, like “magnificent,” front-and-center on a stark background.
LaMadrid notes that the architecture in the Miami luxury market has become more world-renowned, and the amenities reach way outside the box these days. “Developers send their teams to European factories to see the closets and cabinets and to bring those ideas home with them,” she says. “Developers truly seek to raise the bar to new standards.”
Though they are anything but typical, most luxury home clients want a home in the 7,000- to 11,000-square foot range, designed and constructed with attention to detail, something that goes over and above the norm. They routinely request grandiose rooms, custom fireplaces, master bedrooms with large walk-in dressing rooms, huge master baths, touch pad sensors to control the home’s extensive electronic features through the computer, four to six separate cooling zones and high-tech security systems with cameras.
“In Florida, people are looking for great windows,” says LaMadrid. “So much of Florida is about the water, the sky, the light, the sun. Floor-to-ceiling windows, terrace space and summer kitchens are in high demand. People are also looking for innovations in bathrooms. They want to sink into an environment that’s soothing.” She adds that many of her buyers are second-home residents.
Most luxury homes take a great deal of time to market just by virtue of their pricing. Unlike lower end properties in which a lock box allows other agents to show the home, listing a luxury home takes a major commitment. Chair of the Miami Master Brokers Forum, LaMadrid recognizes the impact of personal service, and rather than e-blasting her latest offering, she’ll make personal telephone calls first. She also prefers her sales centers to feel like homes and doesn’t want potential buyers to be greeted by a receptionist seated behind a counter, hidden from the neck down.
“I want them to see flowers and smiling faces, a couch you can sink into and a table to sit around with the home plans and coffee or wine while we discuss what their new home will be like,” she says. “You have to appeal to the more subtle side to sell people something they want but don’t necessarily need.”
The listing agent must learn the house and everything about it and be present at each and every showing to provide information, even if another agent is showing it. Another major difference in the luxury home market is that appointments must be made to show the home, something demanded by both the seller and the buyer.
“I think that people fail at this or anything in life when they think it’s easy,” concludes LaMadrid. “Selling luxury becomes a little more challenging, because it’s not a necessity. This isn’t like selling water; it’s like selling champagne.”