- If you are trying to make it in the luxury market, become familiar with the etiquette.
- A good way to rub shoulders with high-net-worth clients is to be active in their philanthropic world.
- Always be extremely helpful to the client's staff and inner circle -- it will pay dividends.
As a luxury agent in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, there are clear dos and don’ts when it comes to liaising with your ultra-high-net-worth clients.
If you happen to bump into them at the local grocery store (and this would be rare), it should not be seen as an opportunity for a chatty conversation — a gesture that a normal agent might initiate.
In the upper echelons of this real estate world, it’s just not how things are done.
DND Associates partner Jill Johns explains the etiquette in her team’s niche South Florida market: “You would always say hello and talk briefly. If they are avoiding the public eye, you may make eye contact and smile. Discretion and privacy is everything to some clients.”
Her colleague Dale Atkins explained how this mindset is folded into real estate clients’ attraction to the city: “That’s why they love Fort Lauderdale — they can fly under the radar and enjoy it without being noticed and still maintain their lifestyle.
“In Miami, it is more glitzy and a place to be seen, but here, you can be incognito; people are not looking at you.”
Johns joined the founders of DND Associates this year, which includes Atkins along with Dennis Stevick, senior vice president/associate broker, who have worked together for 17 years. Johns previously was an individual agent with One Sotheby’s International Realty, an affiliate of DND Associates.
To date, DND holds the record for the most expensive residential real estate transaction in Florida’s Broward County, representing both the buyer and seller in a $27.5 million deal for a Harbor Beach estate and generating a sales volume last year of more than $80 million.
The team currently has two $32 million listings in Fort Lauderdale. Although the trio mainly deals with high-net-worth individuals (HNWI) for waterfront properties, the partners cover the full spectrum of real estate, at times stepping in to help a wealthy client’s house manager or relative buy a more modest home.
“Real estate is a very relationship-based business — at any price point,” said Johns.
Networking tips with high-end clients
So if the grocery store or local cafes are not a great place to further relationships, how do you schmooze effectively with these rarefied clients who can make or break your year with one listing?
Networking tends to be done at philanthropic events, said Stevick.
These are often held at people’s homes and timed around an event — such as the upcoming Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. These gatherings can involve sit-down dinners for 300 or a smart canopy tent for a charity such as the International SeaKeepers Society or the Make-A-Wish Foundation, in which Johns is very active.
Once you have an opportunity to converse with that HNWI, do it with grace, the team advised.
According to Stevick, who ranked 179 in this year’s Real Trends The Thousand (top real estate professionals) as advertised in The Wall Street Journal: “You have to know how to converse in a comfortable manner that is relaxed and articulate. Be direct and always tell the truth. Most of these (HNWIs) have great memories. And you always need to know when to stop talking.”
Usually the DND Associates agents can find plenty in common to make small talk about. “The only thing we can’t relate to with them is with the travel part; we are flying commercial while most of our clients are flying private,” Stevick said.
One of the team members once had an offer to fly in a private jet but declined. “It’s probably a line we don’t want to cross,” he added.
It is surprising how much these potential clients know about you at your first meeting, added Johns. In most cases, they will have done their “due diligence” on the agent through online research.
“And they know the answers they want to hear from you,” she said.
Don’t underestimate the luxury client’s staff
Another thing that comes with the luxury agent territory? A high level of interaction with the client’s team or staff.
Be prepared to make the house manager, attorney and all parties involved happy campers.
Oftentimes you will have to win the trust of these gatekeepers, said the agents. Many of the super-rich do not open the mail or take calls. Their “people” take care of those tasks, and they will be your contacts.
The client entourage of sorts can be very helpful, said Atkins: “While the team will meet the principal or seller at some point, we will often meet with their house manager or construction manager, who will know everything about the property.
“They will know the square footage of the home, when it was built, what’s inside the walls, what it takes to maintain the house on a monthly or quarterly basis. The actual seller may be reached over the phone as needed.”
Stevick’s advice is to treat the gatekeepers with respect and respond to them in a timely manner.
“Most have extremely busy and demanding schedules. Make their life easier and they will appreciate you,” said the broker.
A different style of marketing for high-end homes
As for marketing a luxury listing, a different tactic is necessary.
Once a listing is secured, the team actively markets each property through a variety of marketing methods. You name it — public relations, social media, professional newsletters mailed directly to high-income ZIP codes and special events are all on the to-do list.
The approach on social media is totally different for this team. They are not going to be shouting about listings from the rooftops of their Facebook page.
Again, it takes a more delicate touch.
“Our personal PR firm handles all our social media,” said Stevick. “So our approach is much more about us and what we are doing to make the market move and the social events we are attending.”
Open houses very rarely happen in this arena. (Imagine shepherding people through an 18,000-square-foot home.)
“You might invite a few brokers to come through the house,” said Atkins. “But most of the time, clients don’t want people coming through the home who are not known to be qualified or haven’t undergone a background check.”
“People are very private,” he added. “They want to know exactly who is coming through. They want to know details of the person looking at the house, what else they have viewed and when they started looking.”
Basically, the more information, the better.
The opposite of an emotional transaction
As for helping high-end clients find a property, because it is not an emotional purchase for them, nor is it their primary home in most cases in Fort Lauderdale, the team takes a different approach.
“Compared with the everyday homeowner, the luxury client can be very indifferent about the property, whether they are a seller or buyer because it’s more like another home for them to vacation, display their art, their cars, their wine collection or, from a business point of view, to establish their homestead,” said Johns, a global real estate portfolio adviser.
Clients may only be at their Fort Lauderdale home six to eight weeks a year before heading elsewhere, added Stevick:
“It’s a different world for ultra high-net-worth individuals. They can choose to live anywhere in the world. They typically enjoy many homes, but it’s less about emotional attachment; it’s more of a business decision.
“It could be anything from saving income taxes to moving into a phase of retirement or simply adding to a real estate portfolio.”
So how do you “sell” a home to them? Equip them with all the information they need beforehand.
“We may have provided previous property information to the potential buyer or their representative,” said Stevick. “So when they arrive, we immediately begin to view their selected properties. It is more about making a good investment.
“They don’t like to lose out when they have fixed on something.”
Fewer ups and downs in the luxury market
These experienced buyers will typically have a list of requirements.
Those who have come to Fort Lauderdale because they have a boating interest, for instance, will want a home that comes with water frontage large enough for the (super) yacht and additional open space for a great view.
Usually the wish list is around six to eight bedrooms, and a guest home is a regular requirement, too.
The good news? Ultra HNWIs are not usually affected by global market fluctuations or ebbs and flows of the nationwide property market.
“There’s been a bit of a slowdown, which may be down to the election. Prices are not dropping, but we are seeing a little bit less activity. I think there’s pent-up demand, though,” said Stevick.
Communication — a dream team effort
To ensure they are delivering the service required, the three agents have set themselves up to work on transactions together so they never drop the ball if one of them goes on vacation or becomes unavailable.
“Our clients know all three of us,” said Stevick. “We all work together to put a transaction together, whether it’s a listing or a sale. We all do different parts of it.”
Clients will choose who they want to work with as a main contact among the three of them, but ultimately the agents have each other’s backs.
And Johns enjoys the support and synergy of being on a team — three strong Realtors working together.
“Our clients are drawn to that bond and enjoy being part of the real estate experience with us,” she said. “Like attracts like, and we are fortunate to have found each other.”