Marketing Top-Line Features for Luxury Buyers

Despite the economic downturn, luxury amenities are still in demand. What's the best way to market pricey extras?

January 1, 2011

In a struggling economy, one of the hardest sells is a home that includes big-ticket luxury items — mainly because amenities command a higher asking price. Knowing where and how to market these dazzling incentives in a home can bring you closer to matching the property with a new owner.

One example is a custom wine cellar, which not many homes — even in Napa — have. Price is one reason for that: Wine cellars can easily cost as much as $20,000 to install, says Tony Wilke, vice president of operations at Wine Cellar Innovations, a leading firm in creating wine-storage solutions for private residences. “It really depends on the budget and look and the stain options for the wood.”

Within the last eight months, he has noticed an increase in orders, proof that this age-old luxury item — sometimes rivaling the size of a master bedroom — continues to be an attraction for some real estate shoppers. But what’s the most appropriate way to promote these high-end creature comforts?

Camera Magic

Tracy McLaughlin sells multimillion dollar homes in Marin County, Calif., where she is an agent with Pacific Union International Inc. & Christie’s Great Estates. On average, she says, her listings run between $1 million and $2 million. But for a current listing that’s going for $9 million in Ross, Calif., she’s had to up the ante to attract the right buyer. Located on 5 acres, the 8,000-square-foot grand estate includes a cabana and is, overall, a “very yoga-Zen retreat.

“When you get into this price point, it’s imperative to promote the pool, cabana, an outdoor fireplace, and a wine cellar,” McLaughlin explains. “Buyers really expect to have that checklist. Those things need to be described in the listing.” To achieve this, she arranged to have aerial photographs taken from a helicopter, with a goal of capturing the intensity of these little luxuries against a larger backdrop. Also, the easiest way to visualize a grand estate before that first walkthrough is to see it — rather than reading about it.

Recently McLaughlin produced videos about some of the listings and published them on YouTube as well as her own Web site. She estimates that her first video, for a $14 million home, cost $5,000. One advantage is that the listing can go viral much faster than a text-based description of the property, she says.

Comprehensive Descriptions

Stephann Cotton, CEO of Cotton & Co., a sales and marketing firm that specializes in international luxury real estate, had to think outside of the box when promoting One Thousand Ocean, a brand-new condominium property along South Ocean Boulevard in Boca Raton, Fla. Each unit carries a price tag of between $13 million and $15 million. The balcony on each averages about 4,000 square feet. Two of the penthouses have an amenity that is extremely rare: an attached glass cube that can be used for an office, workout room, or orchid garden, for example. In the listing, he outlined the potential uses for this extra room with an ocean view.

To market the property and this unique amenity, Cotton ramped up the online portal so brokers could print out information on a property and quickly send it to their clients. This includes answers to just about any question a potential buyer would have about the property.

“It’s an aggressive way to make sure our brokers have the most up-to-date info and can send it along,” Cotton says. “We’re seeing a more sophisticated buyer than we’ve ever seen. These people (as occupants) can have everything from massages to catered kitchens to a wine sommelier coming in and giving a presentation.”

Cotton says he was surprised by the level of interest in buying fully furnished units. The first unit, which he showed as a furnished model, sold within 30 days. It was such a rapid-fire success that he immediately got to work on furnishing another unit. “People like to pull the trigger, sign a check, and move right in,” he says.

Beyond the tried-and-true techniques in clinching a sale, from beefing up a listing to having extremely detailed photos ready to go, real estate pros in the luxury space have found success in reaching out to a particular demographic. McLaughlin advertises some of her priciest listings in regional magazines that cater to a higher-end audience than the city magazines and daily newspapers might. “We usually use very high-end publications like The Nob Hill Gazette and Haute Living,” she says.

Special Events

For Vanderbilt Residences, a year-old residential waterfront development in Newport, R.I., figuring out the defining luxuries inside each of the 16 furnished units was an important first step. There are a lot of vacation homes in the area, and an equally high number of listings along the water.

It turned out to be the region’s first “land yachts” (residences on a private marina with priority dockage). Developed by British yachtsman and entrepreneur Peter J. de Savary in partnership with Joseph R. Paolino Jr., the development gives owners the opportunity to install a “yacht cabin” (a bedroom styled to look like a bedroom on a yacht) inside their home.

To attract interest in the remaining five units, which start at $2.5 million each, broker Stacie Mills organized an event for lovers of yachts and luxury — with Vanderbilt Residences as one of the vendors. Other vendors at the “Yacht Hop” included Allied Marine (the exclusive U.S. dealer for eight yacht makers), Vicem Yachts (a builder of classic luxury motor yachts), and a local luxury-car dealer that invited its top clients. The event has been held twice so far, with a third one planned for June. “Two of our residences were sold during the ‘Yacht Hop,’” says Mills.

“The cross-marketing strengthened the event. We’re marketing a lifestyle,” says Jennifer Paolino, who handles public relations and marketing for Vanderbilt Residences. “Newport is the sailing capital of the world. There’s a really strong maritime history here.”

Next, Mills plans to talk up the properties at the Miami Boat Show — where she’ll share a booth with Allied Marine, Vicem Yachts, and Christensen Yachts — and the Palm Beach Boat Show, courting attendees who enjoy yachting and would probably want to live in a place like Vanderbilt Residences. “Most of our buyers tend to be in the Northeast, but I do have some interest from Texas, California, and Ireland,” says Mills.


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