Pamela Dittmer McKuen is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in homes, lifestyle, and travel. Read her work at AlltheWritePlaces.com
Passport at the Ready
Always adapting to market changes, Shari Chase built an international clientele for luxury homes.
September 18, 2013
I always knew my life would be an international adventure. In 1984, I moved from San Francisco to Zephyr Cove, Nev., near Lake Tahoe to help market a relative’s lakefront townhome community. That was before I got my license. I enjoyed learning about high-end sales, but I intended to travel. I came up with a plan to cultivate a handful of wealthy families and connect them with properties all over the world. Lake Tahoe would be my base, so I got licensed in Nevada and California.
Shari Chase, CIPS, CRS
President and CEO of Chase International, Lake Tahoe
A brief history: Shari Chase began selling luxury homes in the Lake Tahoe area in 1984 and opened her first brokerage in 1986. The company has grown to 10 offices serving an international clientele.
2012 gross sales: $722 million on 1,756 transaction sides
2013 estimated gross sales: $733 million on 2,000 transaction sides
Number of offices: 9 in Nevada and California, 1 in London
Number of sales associates: 235
My plan never took off. However, wherever I went, people asked me about the Lake Tahoe market. So I taught myself. I drove around and collected information about the best properties in the area, and then I started selling them. I did that for two years before opening our first office in 1986. We have been Chase International from the beginning. I didn’t dream of having a company with 10 offices and lots of agents. I just started by dealing only in very exclusive properties I liked; everything evolved from there.
Independence and daring are part of my being. When we sold mutual fund pioneer Jack Dreyfus’ 140-acre Thunderbird Lodge in Lake Tahoe in 1998 for $50 million, it was the highest price for a private residence at the time. The record held for eight years. Doing something that big shows others they can do it, too. Anything is possible.
A Culture of Personalized Service
We implemented what I call “kid-glove service,” which is high-quality, customized representation. That means really understanding what is important to clients to expand their happiness. Homes are just the medium. It’s not the square footage or the number of bedrooms that attracts them. It’s the story, and every property has one. The story might be why someone built there, who owned it in the past, or the history of the land. Our promotional materials are created to tell the story. We give every property a name, never a number.
We were serving Lake Tahoe buyers from all over the world, but we also wanted to connect American buyers to European properties. From the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, Tuscany and Spain were the hot spots. We built a network of international brokers through global networking groups, and we were able to maneuver our clients through the process.
In 1998, we opened the London office as our international hub. That was quite a learning process. In Europe and the United Kingdom, they don’t share listings for the most part. There is no MLS. So we worked primarily with buyers, not sellers. We did very well until 9/11. Then the American buyers disappeared, and I had to re-strategize. We joined forces with Mayfair International Realty so we could channel listings through them. We also started working with Arab and Russian buyers.
Getting Through the Downturn
Our agents have been given every tool and resource available, but when real estate here collapsed five or six years ago, they were paralyzed. We brought spirituality into our company in a big way by shifting our focus to helping people instead of doing real estate. We helped our agents develop new skill sets to deal with foreclosures and short sales. We also got counseling and mentoring for those who were stressed. And we sponsored seminars to tell people about their options for the future. We got through it all. Today, the market is robust. We have hired new agents, and we just opened our tenth office. It’s the cycle of abundance: If you do good for other people, it comes back to you.