American Marketer


World gets smaller for luxury real estate marketing

May 8, 2012

Karen Hanson is principal managing broker at By the Sea Sotheby's International Realty


By Karen Hanson

We are all witnessing an exciting time. The global use of Web sites and social media applications are making our world smaller. The power of these tools has led to incredible revolutions in governance, personal relationships and retail behavior.

You may have even recently purchased an item that was shipped directly to you from a consumer in another country. The word "peer" means something quite different than it did just a few years ago as we bridge gaps between cultures.

The luxury real estate industry is no different.

We have experienced a revolution in our marketing methods and buyer behavior due to a confluence of several key factors. Each of these factors affects the others in a way that drives consistent innovation and change to occur at a record pace.

World economy. The world's most powerful nations are connected like never before and our economies have become inextricably linked.

In the United States, we have seen a dramatic upward shift in the number of transactions involving international buyers.

Of the approximately $1.07 trillion in existing-home sales between March 2010 and March 2011, approximate $41 billion-worth were purchased by foreign buyers (source: NAR). This statistic does not even take into consideration the effect of the growing number recently immigrated buyers and sellers.

Power of photography and video. As the speed of file transfers and downloads have increased, photos and videos have become tools of engagement online.

In fact, Web sites with video see three times the level of user engagement.

The National Association of Realtors studied the effect of the number of photos on the marketing time for a home. The more photos that were used, the quicker the home sold (source: NAR).

Photos are also a bridge over language barriers, hence the incredible rise of Pinterest, a photo-based social media platform. Users can share images on their board that generate a newsfeed to followers. Even media industry experts are shocked by Pinterest's success.

Technological advancements in communications. Most of us carry iPhones, iPads or other mobile devices around at all times. These are all powerful access points for customers to communicate with friends or search for information and retail goods.

The GPS functionality has also allowed home seekers to see homes available around them at any given point. Portability has also allowed agents to prepare property tours efficiently, as buyers can "pre-tour" from their iPad or the agent's.

Paradigm shift in access to information. Real estate agencies are no longer the gatekeepers of information. Now consumers can research available inventory, past sales statistics, community demographics and many points of interest.

The listing agent shares listing information with the rest of the world in only a few clicks. A shift in access to information is a shift in control. Consumers are now much more in control than ever before.

These important facts mean that, as real estate agencies, we need to think and act differently to benefit our clients. As times change, it is incumbent upon us as service people to be current in our knowledge and creative in our approach.

First, an agent's intimate knowledge of the local town or city is still critically important in crafting the message for each home.

After all, amenities and characteristics are very different from town to town, whether you are talking about school systems, country clubs, restaurants, access to marinas, or any of the other amenities that contribute to the lifestyle of the residents. Our carefully written text needs to illustrate the feel of the town, as well as the home.

Professional photography is the next step.

A luxurious, antique or otherwise extraordinary home should have well-lit, quality photography that gives the viewer a sense of the space, as well as the life lived within.

Long gone are the days when agents could take a few snapshots of the exterior to try to entice the viewer to call or walk inside their boutique office location for more information.

We know that prospective buyers may be thousands of miles from the home and we want them to feel as intimately connected as is possible.

In fact, my agency and our affiliates have had several international folks purchase property that they have never seen in person. There is an inherent level of trust in photographs.

Videography is the logical next step.

If potential buyers can feel secure from photographs, imagine how we can enhance their confidence in the "unseen" home with quality video.

In particular, luxury homes often have sprawling floor plans with sweeping views. Video provides viewers with a "walk-through" experience from the convenience of their own living rooms, providing an experience that is only surpassed by actually being there.

The last step is targeted worldwide exposure.

It may seem as though the word "targeted" is then betrayed by "worldwide." Well, in this case, it is not.

New media forms of advertising allow us to target our message, through not only the careful selection of suitable venues, but many online sites also allow you to further target the viewers of their site by geographic region, age, and other demographic qualities.

There is also behavioral marketing that allows us to, for instance, gear our message toward viewers who read particular types of articles on a news site.

With all of these tools, it is not enough to just reach for the highest number of "impressions" – we must reach those that are likely to buy our luxury properties and we must participate in the portability of home searches by providing mobile apps for our clients, allowing them to access information wherever they are.

In the luxury market, once we have captured a buyer or are working with a seller, we also need to offer concierge level service to provide a smooth transition in moving from one home to the next. This is particularly the case with clients who are moving across country or to another part of the world.

The challenges that can arise during an international move can often be avoided by working with a provider which is experienced. It will offer a higher level of insurance, prepare customs declarations and guide the client through the entire process. There must be a consistent level of service throughout the entire process.

Though the world has changed, and continues to do so, we know that we must still focus on fostering a relationship with our clients and providing a level of white-glove service that puts them at ease.

Karen Hanson is principal managing broker at By the Sea Sotheby's International Realty, Beverly, MA. Reach her at