As COVID-19 continues to take lives and cripple the economy, luxury agents are cautiously stepping away from ostentatious marketing and opting instead for a more tasteful approach, according to multiple agents who spoke to Inman.
Gone are the days of sports cars conspicuously displayed in listing photos, the fetishization of $50,000 walk-in closets in marketing videos and agents posing poolside on social media, agents told Inman earlier this month as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States hurtled toward 1 million. Today, agents are putting a personal touch on high-dollar listings while emphasizing amenities like ocean views and ample space for family.
“Good real estate marketing should be aspirational while remaining tasteful,” said Diane Hartley, president of the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing, a consulting firm focused on the luxury market. “The best way is to describe what it would be like to live there and the lifestyle you would have there.”
Donna Olshan, a Realtor and founder of Olshan Realty in New York, believes the pandemic may push agents to reconsider some of the most over-the-top aspects of luxury marketing, and instead, come up with new ways to advertise high-end properties — if not out of empathy for those hardest hit by the pandemic than at least to avoid going viral on social media for all the wrong reasons.
“You just have to be empathetic,” Olshan said. “The over-the-top marketing, the partying and the champagne is not cool right now.”
“The tone and the tenor has to be very respectful and reserved, embracing the time that we’re living in now,” Olshan added. “If you don’t do that, it sends a message about you as a person and about the brand.”
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Mauricio Umansky, founder and CEO of the high-end brokerage The Agency, said that in March his company hit pause on all forms of marketing during the earliest phase of the outbreak. The homes may still be listed but The Agency stopped promoting them on social media or other platforms until two weeks ago.
“As people were losing jobs and unemployment was growing like crazy and there were furloughs, I just did not want to be marketing $100 million estates and $50 million estates,” Umansky said earlier this month in an interview with Brad Inman. “It was just something that did not feel very right.”
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As states slowly ease some of the more stringent coronavirus restrictions and reopen their economies, Umansky and his team of agents have also begun to promote several of the homes that clients want sold — albeit very methodically rather than immediately returning to pre-pandemic ways.
While agents were hardly unanimous on what they consider ostentatious in week six of state stay-at-home orders, most agree that the marketing, as always, needs to tell a story. Even in a $50 million estate, it’s best to focus not on the price tag and individual high-end features but rather the kinds of things the new owner will be able to do, whether it be looking over the ocean on a balcony or spending time with family on its large grounds.
In the South, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties released a new luxury campaign that promotes home as a sanctuary and an escape from the troubles of the world — the pictures and video show homeowners drinking tea, relaxing with pets in a verdant garden.
Marketing focused exclusively on wealth has been growing out of favor for a while now and even extremely affluent buyers may be more interested in electric cars and sustainable living than Lamborghinis and Veuve Clicquot, Compass executive Aaron Kirman told Inman.
“You would see big, flashy Rolls-Royces in front of all the houses and huge sports cars and all these cool, glitzy things,” said Kirman, who stars on CNBC’s Secret Lives of the Super Rich. “That sold houses 10 years ago but today both the billionaires and people who don’t have that much money want the electric cars because that’s better for the universe.”
Now Kirman expects the pandemic and subsequent economic crisis to speed up the arrival of a different kind of advertising, one more targeted toward individual buyers rather than large swaths of the population. What was once seen as fun and escapist TV could feel increasingly out-of-touch when large swaths of the population are losing their jobs, worrying about their family getting sick and seeing their businesses fail.
“A lot of people are tone-deaf while the tone needs to be very calibrated to where society is,” Kirman said. “Our society is evolving every day.”
Raj Qsar, the CEO of the Boutique Real Estate Group in Orange County, California, advised always focusing on the service and the best individual experience you provide your clients. This will naturally lead an agent away from marketing meant to astonish and toward each client’s unique needs, he said. At one point, Qsar’s team brought in a feng shui master to evaluate a property because that was what was important to their client.
“Luxury is not just a price point but a level of service,” Qsar told Inman. “You don’t have to tell someone who’s buying at this price point that the counters were flown in from the south of France. Take the time to get to know them and figure out what they need instead.”
Kris Anderson, an eXp Realty broker working with luxury properties in Arizona, also suggests using the current time to reach out to individual homebuyers rather than trying to reach a wide audience with flashy photos.
“We are reaching out to the states that have dense population and we are providing them an alternative location that is less crowded and offers more nature trails,” she told Inman.
Kirman said that, through his work showing high-end homes on TV, he has learned that buyers always want to hear the stories — easy enough to do with historical homes, but he says even a $40 million spec mansion has a story. Who were the developers? When and why did they decide to build the house? What kind of moments will the people who lived there before and those who will live there after experience?
“Aspiration will always be there because we want people to aspire to and have better things,” he said. “But there is a way to do it in which the house can be gorgeous without sending the wrong message.”