How I sell in 'hidden gem' markets

See how top performers market lesser-known locations that are no less delightful for buyers

For many of today’s luxury buyers, the perfect vacation property may be closer than they think. As international travel remains restricted, buyers are taking note of the second-home markets that have always been in their backyards — world-class treasures hidden in plain sight.

For many of today’s luxury buyers, the perfect vacation property may be closer than they think. As international travel remains restricted, buyers are taking note of the second-home markets that have always been in their backyards — world-class treasures hidden in plain sight.

Perhaps your primary market is near a resort town, a seaside paradise, or a region of pristine natural splendor — or maybe you represent a second-home market and are seeing buyer interest increase. Now is the time to show your clients the value of a dream vacation home that’s within driving distance.

We connected with three luxury agents who have built their business selling exceptional real estate in lesser-known locales: here’s their advice.

1. Focus on the factors that make an unassuming market unique

Highlands Sotheby’s International Realty

Allison Richards

Allison Richards, Sales Associate with Scenic Sotheby’s International Realty, has grown her business in Northern Florida along the Emerald Coast, which boasts the incredible beauty of coastal dune lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. Richards notes that one of the main benefits of operating in what she calls a “boutique market” is that there’s such a range of real estate offerings. “We can show highrise condos, beachfront homes, and bayfront estates all in the same day,” she says. “This also provides a wide array of price points, allowing people to find the perfect property in our stretch of paradise.” Knowing her market is unique for its breadth of available listings, Richards focuses on showing her clients that a vacation market isn’t out of reach, no matter their starting price point.

Jody Lovell

Jody Lovell, Owner and Broker at Highlands Sotheby’s International Realty, discovered Highlands, North Carolina through her husband, and they pioneered the practice of enjoying weekend escapes from the big city. Lovell makes sure her clients know that her market not only features a charming town with five-star dining and shopping, arts and culture, and outdoor activities, but a remarkable landscape that boasts a simultaneously subtropical and temperate climate. “Our messaging includes the natural beauty of the area, emphasizing that the Cashiers-Highlands Plateau will never be overpopulated since 70 percent of the land is National Forest,” she says.

Kiley Flint

Kiley Flint, Broker Associate with LIV Sotheby’s International Realty, focuses her practice on the ski resort town of Crested Butte in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

“How do you begin to describe a town that has everything?” she says. “In winter, the best skiing and winter sports; in summer, unmatchable biking, hiking, and golf. Buyers are drawn to the relaxed, casual, friendly nature that Crested Butte offers. Dress is casual, and sunshine is plentiful. Basically, people live a no-frills, genuine way of life in the mountains.”

2. Establish your local expertise and community connections

When you’re selling outside a major center, it’s up to you to fill in the details of your market for your buyers. By being an authority and maintaining local connections, you demonstrate to your buyers the benefits of putting down roots.

“By definition, a smaller market allows a broker to become more informed and knowledgeable of each home for sale,” says Lovell. “The broker provides a more meaningful and valuable service to both buyer and seller.”

Richards agrees. “Being active in your community and embracing being a local ensures you are your buyer’s go-to professional when it comes to investing in property and planning the experiences they wish to have.”

While bigger cities can sell themselves, for agents in a niche market, enthusiasm is key. “The advice that I would give other agents operating in smaller second-home markets is that it is all about the love you have for the area you are in,” says Flint. “You are selling a lifestyle, and you have to be passionate about that.”

3. Cultivating meaningful relationships leads to stronger referrals

Scenic Sotheby’s International Realty

While Lovell notes that her team advertises in publications such as The Wall Street Journal and regularly posts on social media, her largest source of leads is through referrals from clients. Flint has noticed the same trend in her market. “Many buyers find their way to Crested Butte through word of mouth,” she says.

With second-home markets, it may be that your initial sales are to locals. “Clients become our friends, because they are our neighbors and we see them often,” says Lovell. “This relationship is unlike a one-time transaction in a bigger city where you may never see the client again.” Not only will clients come back to you for future business but they’ll promote you to others.

Lovell focuses on the “three Rs” — reputation, relationships, and referrals. “Encourage referrals by working hard and showing clients that you truly care about them and their family,” she says. “So many clients have said how we have really helped them by creating a new and exciting chapter in their lives.”

4. If you’re lucky, your market won’t stay hidden for long

Positioning yourself in an out-of-the-way second home market now may pay serious dividends down the road as these regions become increasingly popular.

“Our area is no longer a well-kept secret,” says Richards. “Walton County is the sixth-fastest-growing county in the nation. While our island may no longer be a hidden gem, our growth has been very organic and is heavily controlled by the available inventory, as less than a third of the properties in our market are inhabited by a full-time resident.”

Flint has seen a similar surge. “Vail Resorts purchased Crested Butte Mountain Resort recently and made it part of the Epic Pass, which has put Crested Butte on the map even more. People are discovering our area and falling in love when they visit.”

Overlooked second-home markets can hold boundless opportunities for agents if they’re willing to acquire the knowledge, build the reputation, and cultivate the relationships that matter most.

About Sotheby’s International Realty

Sotheby’s International Realty was founded in 1976 as a real estate service for discerning clients of Sotheby’s auction house. Today, the company’s global footprint spans 990 offices located in 72 countries and territories worldwide, including 43 company-owned brokerage offices in key metropolitan and resort markets. In February 2004, Realogy entered into a long-term strategic alliance with Sotheby’s, the operator of the auction house. The agreement provided for the licensing of the Sotheby’s International Realty name and the development of a franchise system. The franchise system is comprised of an affiliate network, where each office is independently owned and operated. Sotheby’s International Realty supports its affiliates and agents with a host of operational, marketing, recruiting, educational and business development resources. Affiliates and agents also benefit from an association with the venerable Sotheby’s auction house, established in 1744. For more information, visit

The affiliate network is operated by Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC, and the company owned brokerages are operated by Sotheby’s International Realty, Inc. Both entities are subsidiaries of Realogy Holdings Corp. (NYSE: RLGY) a global leader in real estate franchising and provider of real estate brokerage, relocation and settlement services. Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC and Sotheby’s International Realty Inc., both fully support the principles of the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Opportunity Act.