Media Blitz Draws National Interest

A historic estate is one big notch on the belt of a $30 million luxury-home specialist from Greensboro, N.C.

October 1, 2006

In this REALTOR® Magazine Online exclusive series, Colorado broker Jeff Ordonez talks with practitioners who sold the highest-priced property in their MLS in a given month. This month, Katie Redhead, CRS®, GRI, a salesperson with Yost & Little Realty Inc. in Greensboro, N.C., talks about a lavish listing that came to her way, thanks to a reputation she’s built up through years of networking.

You sold a $4.1 million dollar listing in August. That was almost twice as much as the second highest sale. How did you get the listing?

REDHEAD: Well, I actually sold the second highest for $1.750 million, as well as the highest for $4.129 million. The property was owned by the state of North Carolina, which originally had listed it with a large national competitor. Over the course of a few months, I showed the listing several times and kept a watchful eye on it. Then one day, I got a call from someone at the state who’d canceled the previous listing and gotten my name from the showing records. I was very flattered that the person had found out about my status as a luxury-home specialist.

Were there any special challenges with this listing?

REDHEAD: I’ve never taken a listing as unusual this before, and it’ll probably never happen again. For starters, the home was a museum filled with an amazing collection of furnishings. Next, it was 35 miles from my office, although that wasn’t so bad. However, dealing with a state government has its own set of challenges.

Tell us about the property.

REDHEAD: It’s 31,000 square feet with 6 bedrooms and 7 baths. It was built in 1923 and is known as the Chinqua-Penn Estate. It has 23 acres and used to be owned by an ultra-rich couple who never had any children, so the property was gifted to the state, and the state turned it into a museum. After the home was gifted, the state didn’t maintain the furnishings too well, so time took a toll on the collection. That brought the value of the furnishings down from their original $2 million to just over $1.1 million, which was included in the contract price. We negotiated the entire thing upfront; both the buyer and the state wanted it that way.

How did you promote the sale?

REDHEAD: The moment I got the listing, I began an aggressive media campaign. I called local TV stations and newspapers and made a splash with the local press. Then I contacted Christie’s Great Estates magazine, which ran a story. Next the Robb Report ran an article. By that time, the story had taken on a life of its own. I had people from all over the country interested in buying. In addition to the eventual buyer, the backup offers I remember were from Atlanta, Mississippi, Florida, New York, New Jersey, and California. I took the listing right before Christmas, and by March we had it under contract.

Were these written offers?

REDHEAD: No, most of them were verbal, which was OK because I simply added them to my contact database. The only official written backup was from the people in California.

With so much interest, how many times did you show the property?

REDHEAD: I had so many showings, I lost track. I had to be really careful with the furnishings, so I made it a rule that I always had to be present for showings. The showings were probably the most time-consuming aspect of the transaction. Each showing took about two hours; add to that driving time and a meal, and, presto, your whole day is gone!

Sometimes, we hear of fraudulent offers for high-profile listings. Did you get any of those?

REDHEAD: That’s to be expected. Anytime you list a home of more than 10,000 square feet, you run the risk of potential fraud. Before any showing, I ask for some kind of verifiable ability to purchase. Some prospects pan out; others are bogus. You have to be really careful. Luckily, we live in a country where we can easily verify information.

What kind of verification do you typically ask for?

REDHEAD: The buyer of this property produced a verifiable pre-qualification letter from a bank. In other cases, I can’t ask for bank account numbers, but I can ask for the name of a stock broker or a bank reference, someone I can call and talk to about the prospect’s financial situation. If I talk to a bank president who tells me the prospect can buy a $4 million house, then I?ll show the house.

How did you find the buyer?

REDHEAD: His secretary called the office one day asking for more information. It’s an interesting story. The buyer had hired an architect to design a home just like the Chinqua-Penn Estate. The architect told him: ‘Instead of building a replica, why not buy the real thing?’ It turned out that the architect had read the article about the sale in the Greensboro News and Record.

How’s the buyer going to use the home?

REDHEAD: For the time being, he’s using it as private museum, lodging, and meeting place. He’s still wrapping his mind around the enormity of the project. I mean, the guy now has to install a new A/C system, work on the electrical, update the plumbing, and so on. That’s a big task for a property like that.

Was there a buyer’s agent involved?

REDHEAD: Yes, we worked together and made a smooth deal out a complex deal. This was not a normal transaction; the size and scope were much broader than normal. For instance, the due diligence took longer. Even though the buyer was buying an as-is property, the contract was still contingent on inspections. And because there were so many aspects — including antique furnishings, book collections, landscaping, plumbing, heating systems, exterior furnishings, and personal property — the buyer had to hire experts in many fields to be completely satisfied. The due diligence period was about two or three months.

Another special complexity was state bureaucracy. States have their own methods of disposing of property. Here, once the required documentation is complete, a transaction has to pass final approval with the governor and the Council of State.

Besides your media blitz, what other marketing did you do?

REDHEAD: I used the MLS, my Web site, and a high-quality brochure. Actually, it was a more of an information packet than a brochure. The packets cost me $60 to $70 each, and I sent out hundreds of them. Each one included a CD and a 60-page book with a history of the planation, floor plans for each section of the house, and lots of beautiful photos.

What’s your view of Web marketing?

REDHEAD: I really don’t use the Web much. If I get word out to the media, I run a pretty good chance of getting attention. I’m noticing that my younger client are more Web savvy and tend to visit my site for information. Don’t get me wrong, I know how to turn on a computer and get my e-mail, but I still rely heavily on personal contact.

How did you get started in real estate?

REDHEAD: I was licensed in 1985. My husband was a commercial broker and knew a lot of business owners. He convinced me to get my license. Anyway, I began to network with his contacts. I called every business owner my husband knew. Then I called my friends. It was amazing to see how my friends reacted. It was my friends who really helped build my business.

So how were you able to penetrate the luxury home market?

REDHEAD: I was fortunate. Over they years, friends’ businesses have grown and so have their real estate needs. The philosophy I rely on is close personal contact. I also send ‘just listed’ postcards and ‘neighbor introduction’ postcards to keep my name in front of people. But nothing replaces a call.

What volume did you close last year?

REDHEAD: $30 million in sales. I’m in the 20s now, so I should be able to reach or beat last year’s numbers.

When you were getting started, what was your budget?

REDHEAD: You’re going to laugh; I only had a few hundred dollars. I remember having less than a thousand dollars. What really gave me momentum were the calls to my friends. I’m so grateful to them. You know, to this day, not only do I serve them but I serve their children, grandchildren, and even their great-grandchildren. That’s networking!

You have a very unusual last name. Has that played a role in your business?

REDHEAD: Actually it has. My father-in-law was a Presbyterian minister, Dr. Redhead. He was well known throughout the mid-Atlantic. A few years ago he passed away at 91, and some people do recognize the name.

Do you have any advice for your fellow practitioners?

REDHEAD: Yes. Don’t give up. A real estate business can be very demanding, but it’s a great business with tremendous potential. Educate yourself as much as you can about real estate, because you need to know what you’re selling. Fortunately, we live in a country where opportunity is unlimited, but you have to work at it. You can’t have a part-time business and expect great results; you have to go in with a full-time mentality. Finally, give the best service you can. If you apply the golden rule to your life and business, it’ll yield valuable returns.