Wondering what it takes to become a luxury real estate agent? Recently, seven top-producing luxury agents at Chase International gathered in Reno to answer this very question. They shared tips, tricks and trends gleaned from attending several top luxury conferences this fall.
Kerry Donovan moderated the presentation. Leading the Donovan Group in Incline Village, NV, Kerry has been a luxury agent at Chase for over 15 years. She and her team have sold numerous luxury properties, including 21 lakefront estates on Lake Tahoe, the vast majority in Incline Village-Crystal Bay.
“Attending these luxury conferences is incredibly valuable,” said Kerry. “Real estate is a relationship business. And the relationships aren’t just with your clients, they’re bigger than that. The opportunity to meet and network with other like-minded luxury agents from around the world is priceless.”
Kerry asked each panel member to share their top highlights from the conferences they attended.
Dressing to Work with Luxury Clients
Mary Kleingartner has been a luxury real estate agent with Chase for almost five years. She works in the Incline Village office and credits Kerry as being a great mentor.
She attended Inman Luxury Connect in Beverly Hills this past October. A breakout session with Nicole Pollard, a Hollywood stylist who dresses the Kardashians on down to just normal wealthy people in LA, really stood out to her.
“The number one thing is to keep it clean,” said Mary. “You don’t want your client to remember that crazy tie or that wild shirt you were wearing. You want them to remember how professional and knowledgeable you were and to remember, of course, the properties they saw.”
The stylist recommended a neutral color palette. If you want a splash of color, do it with something small, like a scarf or a handbag, not your clothes. She suggested luxury agents stick with black, white, gray and khaki for both men and women.
“The other thing Pollard emphasized,” said Mary, “is that most people have so many clothes, it’s ridiculous. You can’t find anything you’re looking for.
“So take all those fabulous clothes you’re going to wear on the weekend or out to the nightclub and completely separate them. Have a section of just your work clothes, and always be pressed, steamed and pulled together.”
Pollard recommended the following basic wardrobe:
- 3 pairs flat front pants (jeans okay if dark)
- 6 dress shirts (neutral colors)
- 2 perfectly tailored suits (not off the rack)
- 2 pairs of polished shoes (one black, one brown)
- 2 great handbags (high quality)
- 3 dresses or skirts (not too short or inappropriate)
- 3 pairs of current pants (replace every couple of years)
- 6 blouses (neutral colors)
- 4 pairs of shoes (ballet flat, loafer, black pump, nude pump)
Overcoming Fears by Embracing Them
Michelle Sturge has been a luxury agent at Chase for the past 11 years in the Reno office. She loves working in real estate because every deal is different, and your boss is always changing.
Michelle attended Who’s Who in Luxury Real Estate, held this year in Austin, TX.
“One of the general sessions,” said Michelle, “was with Michelle Poler. By the end of her speech, you wanted to jump off a cliff with her because she was such an enthusiastic speaker. But actually, she was a human being filled with fear.”
You need to dare to fail, Poler told the audience after doing a hundred days of something she feared. She let a tarantula crawl on her, she jumped out of an airplane, and she put it all on YouTube.
“Pretty soon,” said Michelle, “people were challenging her and giving her ideas for the next fear they wanted her to embrace. She said you have to embrace the unknown. Don’t be so afraid of it.
“Facing fear and seeking growth over safety, I think we all struggle with this. For example, when we go on a new listing appointment and know that we’re competing with two other agents, we’re fearful.”
“When you feel that fear,” said Michelle, “embrace the fear, rather than build it up worse in your mind. Instead of saying what’s the worst thing that can happen, say what’s the best thing that can happen?”
Of course, the best thing would be to get the listing. But if you don’t get it, you still get some good. You have more experience, you’ve met more people, and you know about this property coming on the market for your buyers.
“Keep fear in its place,” said Michelle. “Our need to fit in can hurt our authenticity. We need to be authentic to who we are and how we perform and behave in our business and personal lives. We can’t all be fearless, but we can be brave.”
Understanding Foreign Buyers Purchasing in the US
Sue Lowe, Corporate Broker and Vice President, joined Chase International back in 1990. She’s sold a plethora of luxury property since, including 70 Tahoe lakefronts.
Sue attended Who’s Who in Austin and found the session on foreign buying trends particularly interesting.
“Two years ago,” said Sue, “the number one source of foreign buyers for the United States was Canada. That’s now changed, and China is number one.”
Chinese buyers generally like gateway cities—San Francisco, LA, New York, Miami. They prefer to buy new because in their culture, with resale property, they feel they’re inheriting bad spirits.
“Residential property in China is on a 20- or 70-year lease,” said Sue. “You can’t own the land, so home ownership and actually owning the dirt is very important.
“Another important consideration is education. With a baby still in the womb, they’re looking at where their child is going to go to college. And they’ll buy a house in that jurisdiction, even if the child goes to school there 18 years later.”
Interestingly, the three biggest states for Chinese purchasers right now are Florida, Arizona and New Jersey.
In 2016, the average purchase price for a Chinese investor was $989,000. Now it’s down to $790,000 due to capital controls. Units, however, have doubled, so even though average prices are down, total volume is up.
“Ten years ago there were no billionaires in China,” said Sue, “and today they have 3X more than we do in the US. That blew my mind.”
These are the top countries purchasing in the United States right now:
“Working with foreign buyers,” said Sue, “it’s important to understand their cultures and how they prefer to buy. At Chase, if you can’t speak the language, there are people in our organization who do, so partner with them, hire a translator, do whatever it takes.”
Sharing Information That Clients Can’t Google
Debbie Hansen has been a luxury real estate agent with the Donovan Group at Chase in Incline Village for 15 years. She started when the office was new and been growing with it ever since.
Debbie attended Inman Luxury Connect in Beverly Hills.
“There were some incredible speakers,” said Debbie. “There was a football player. He’s retired now, but he used to play for the Cal Bears, went on to play for the Oakland Raiders, and became an actor after that. His name is Kofi Nartey. We were at a party one night, and to my surprise, Trinkie knew him… she’s like, oh hi, Kofi!”
Nartey said that when you’re working with your luxury buyer or seller, you need to know your market, know your client, and know your contracts.
“Clients want to know things they can’t Google,” said Debbie. “So always try and think of sharing something with luxury clientele that they can’t otherwise find.”
Debbie also participated in a roundtable session where luxury agents shared some of their more creative marketing practices. The most memorable participant was a young woman from Florida in a bright red dress with amazing energy.
“She buys the same car every year,” said Debbie, “I think it’s a red Mercedes. And she never changes the color, because she wants people to know when she drives up, that she’s outside the property.”
When this agent sells a house, she puts together a brochure with all the important numbers. The White House number and the Pentagon number are on that brochure, and those are the first numbers people try, just to see if they’re the right numbers.
“She and her team call themselves, the Snowbird Experts,” said Debbie, “because all the people from the north come down to Florida, so she gives everybody an ice scraper as a gift.”
Understanding the Key to Exemplary Client Service
Patty Williams has been a luxury agent at Chase International Tahoe City for five years. She has over 25 years experience working with high net worth clients at Lake Tahoe.
She attended Inman Luxury Connect in Beverly Hills.
“Understanding high net worth clients is important and very different from selling at the average price points,” said Patty. “Any agent can sell condos and single family homes till the cows come home. But with the luxury buyer and seller, you need to perform at a different level, with much more preparation and research.”
Luxury clients want to be understood at that highest level, so learn their behaviors and how they think. Wealth managers, attorneys, business managers, and CPAs are often the gatekeepers. Find a connection to those who help manage their businesses.
Relationship excellence was a common theme. Luxury real estate agents must cultivate relationships to succeed. Mastering new technology on existing platforms is critical, but until you master relationships, all the technology in the world won’t help you build your business.
“One of the greatest joys of being a Realtor is the people I’ve come to know,” said Patty. “Not only buyers and sellers, but the other agents as well. Because when you have good relationships with the agents, it makes the next deal run more smoothly.“
Every keynote speaker said that you have to have a why.
“My why is for the people I’m helping whose lives are changing,” said Patty. “You’re involved at very significant moments in people’s lives. The kids aren’t coming to the house anymore, and they need to sell. Tahoe is a beautiful place, but their kids live in NJ with jobs and kids of their own. That’s a big deal, especially at the luxury level.”
Developing Stories That Create a Lifestyle
Trinkie Watson has been a luxury real estate agent at Chase International since 1989. A legend in the industry, she’s sold 80 Tahoe lakefronts during her long and illustrious career, often during periods lakefront sales were few and far between.
She attended Who’s Who, Inman Luxury Connect and Leaders in Luxury.
“Technology is wonderful, and we have a great opportunity if we use it judiciously,” said Trinkie. “But the bottom line is the relationships we build with our customers and clients. Because technology is not going to do that for us.”
She noticed a common theme through all three conferences was that the enemy of success is comfort. Agents either step forward into growth or back into comfort. Luxury agents need to extend themselves and not be afraid to try something new.
“Become a consultant, not just a sales person,” said Trinkie. “Converse about life, not just real estate. Be aware of other high profile properties in the market and the country. It’s always fun to be able to say, ‘you know there’s a $250 million spec home in LA and a $500 million one coming to the market soon.’”
The seven priorities for the wealthy are family, philanthropy, work, home, leisure, lifestyle, and legacy. In this vein, luxury agents need to get more personal, learning about their customers and clients and honoring their interests.
“When it comes to marketing property,” said Trinkie, “storytelling is the approach. Develop a story around the property that creates lifestyle. Video is a great way to tell the story, but it needs to be a lifestyle video, not your average tour video.”
“We did a video for The Pines, our $35 million listing on the East Shore. It’s very short, and it shows the lifestyle for a day on that property. It came out well. A video like this is engaging, especially if you have an estate. When you tell the story in a visceral way, it makes a huge difference. And, everybody isn’t doing it.”
The Learning Never Stops for Leaders in Luxury
Each participant agreed that luxury conferences are well worth attending for those serious about a career as a luxury real estate agent.
“You may think these luxury conferences are expensive,” said Sue, “but your network of like-minded luxury agents will certainly grow. You’ll get advice, education, and you’ll expand your paradigm. You might even get referrals.
“At Chase, we’ve always been huge proponents of learning, staying current, and getting outside your box. It’s easy to live in Reno or Tahoe and not go anywhere else. But when you get out and talk to someone in New York City about their experience, you’re just like, whoa. I had no idea.”
“I met people from all over the country and the world,” said Michelle. “It was amazing how open every agent there was to meeting you and being interested in how you do business. I left with business cards to sell my mother’s house in New York and my aunt’s house in the Dominican Republic.
“To me, the most valuable part was meeting agents that are just like us. That was a huge lesson. We watch Million Dollar Listing and go to LA and see these Beverly Hills agents, and we think they know more or have more luxury experience that we do, but they don’t. They are just as interested in hearing everything about the way we work, our market and what we do, as we are in them.”
“Until you get into this setting,” said Patty, “you don’t know how you’re going to handle luxury buyers and sellers, or luxury agents on the other side. One of the most valuable things about going to these events is to get to that comfort level and face those fears if you have them. It’s an opportunity for growth.”
“My biggest takeaway,” said Mary, “was that in luxury, we’re not salespeople. We’re in the business of building relationships and making people’s dreams come true.
“Recently, I was showing property as the listing agent,” Mary continued, “and the other agent was actually trying to sell the people. It felt awkward, but it brought me back to what we do best. Listening to our clients. We want them to know we’re knowledgeable, but what matters is the authenticity and integrity of our relationships—always putting our client’s needs first.”
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