Stand in the foyer of any luxury hotel, and you’ll feel it: the assurance that while you may not be at home, you’ve certainly arrived. The best hotels are a place to rest and to indulge, to be surprised and delighted. The same experience is available to the luxury real estate buyer who arrives at a new property for the first time. It’s not their home — at least not yet — but it could be, and so they reasonably expect to feel a connection with its character and comforts.
The agent’s job is to facilitate this connection. So the question is: what can real estate professionals learn from the luxury hotel industry to truly elevate the homebuying journey? Three leading agents with extensive experience in the luxury hospitality space share their insights.
1. Stay a step ahead
“I’ve had memorable hotel experiences that are both positive and negative, having traveled personally and professionally to 64 countries,” says Crissy Poorman, who served as Director of PR/Marketing for the Ritz-Carlton’s five-star, five-diamond resort in Palm Beach prior to becoming a Global Real Estate Advisor with Sotheby’s International Realty. “What makes these stays memorable is how the ladies and gentlemen of the hotel or resort made an impact. As with real estate, professionalism, discretion, and genuine care and concern leave a lasting impression.”
Small gestures go a long way — like when Poorman’s housekeeper noted which brand of water she preferred, and stocked her bar with it. Keen knowledge and observation are also key. “While at a resort in Asia, the doorman addressed me by name and suggested I accept his umbrella on a beautifully sunny day. I thought it strange, but not 90 minutes later there was a deluge! He made a lasting impression by taking initiative to secure my comfort and anticipate my needs.”
Agents who anticipate their clients’ needs and provide solutions before they’re needed stand to make a similarly lasting impact. For Garett Reuss, a Partner at Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty, the art of anticipation is linked to cultivating focus on one client at a time.
“One of my first professional jobs was with the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company,” recalls Reuss. “Their motto then (and today) is ‘We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.’ That credo sums up both the luxury hotel market and the luxury real estate sales market. Clients should feel like the only clients in the world to you while you are working with them. If they don’t get that sense from you — and you can’t fake that — then you will never be the best.”
2. Take responsibility
In the real world, these moments of customer service magic will be punctuated by mishaps — some worse than others. “I had a negative experience where there was a key erroneously issued to my room for another guest,” recalls Poorman. “The hotel not only personally apologized, but also wrote me a note of apology, invited me back, and told me how they were correcting the issue — thus maintaining my confidence in their abilities and showing integrity by owning the error.”
Indeed, taking ownership for missteps, major or minor, is imperative. “In the luxury hotel business, just like the real estate business, rarely does an experience go perfectly from start to finish,” says Reuss. “Any issue that your client has is an opportunity for you to clean it up fast and effectively. In fact, extremely loyal customer relationships in the luxury hotel and real estate space come to pass only after your client has had a tough issue and you’ve stepped in to correct it quickly and to their satisfaction. This process gets you and your client right back on track.”
Look for the opportunity in mistakes, and use them to move your client relationships forward onto steadier ground.
3. Think holistically
While it’s critical to take note of the tiny details that delight a client, don’t lose sight of the big picture. Luxury real estate, like luxury hospitality, creates a complete experience. “My expectations when it comes to luxury hotels are location, design, architecture, atmosphere, employees, food, restaurants, lounges, and details,” says Cyrille Girard, B.A., M.S.C., who co-founded Luxembourg Sotheby’s International Realty and is currently the exclusive representative for the Four Seasons Private Residences in Montréal.
“After experiencing five-star hotel services, it’s difficult to compromise afterwards,” he explains. “Every time you cross the door of the Four Seasons Montréal ecosystem — comprising the hotel, residences, and Ogilvy Holt Renfrew retail — you feel the luxurious environment wherever you are. It’s a question of quality, discretion, and being surrounded by beauty, art, peacefulness, atmosphere, and the world-class branding of the five-star hotel.”
Agents need to think through this big-picture experience — and they need to share it effectively with their prospects. “The welcome experience is so important: before you know it, your bags are taken, you have a drink in hand, and are escorted by a knowledgeable staff person who explains all the great amenities of the hotel and surrounding area,” says Reuss. “If the finest hotel training regimen was instituted for real estate agents, I think we’d see dramatic value added for our clients and our industry.”
4. Personalize the experience
It’s one thing to provide personal touches for your clients — like the housekeeper with the water, or the doorman with the umbrella — but it’s even better to understand your client thoroughly so that you can tell them exactly what they want to know, and show them what they want to see. You can track correspondence in your CRM system to keep an up-to-date record of your customer’s interests and requests. Though for Poorman, simply listening makes the biggest difference.
“Once I understand what motivates my clients, I can better understand which properties they’d be most likely to choose as a home — and of course, success comes with providing them with the honest information they most want,” she says. “Some might be focused on schools, others proximity to airports, while still others want to know the relative value of a home. Having the answers to these questions keeps me a step ahead, often providing this knowledge before even being asked.”
Following the client’s lead and paying close attention to their preferences is crucial. “Let the client explore the home for themselves — you can suggest a place to start, but they should lead the viewing,” advises Reuss. “Let them spend as much time as they like in every part of the home that speaks to them. Oftentimes, we want to show them what a great chef’s kitchen the house has, only to find they haven’t made a meal in a month. If they want to take in the view and envision living there, pull out a chair for them and let them soak in what matters most.”
5. Leverage your brand
Bear in mind that the name and reputation behind your business enhances the luxury experience, and is significant in the eyes of your clients. “Being a seasoned traveler, my benchmark for hotels is quite high — and buyers and sellers in luxury real estate also have a high benchmark,” explains Poorman. “Advanced technology, local knowledge, respect, and surprises are what I want in a luxury hotel, and I find my luxury real estate clients want the same.”
For her, the Sotheby’s International Realty brand carries weight for being a leader not only in real estate, but in luxury lifestyle and digital marketing. Girard acknowledges this as well, and benefits simultaneously from the clout of the Four Seasons brand. “The Four Seasons and Sotheby’s International Realty brands are connected because they are dealing with the same niche of clients and purchasers,” he says. “My connection with clients is based on trust, knowledge, and being capable of understanding their world.”
In the end, the client is always at the center — for luxury hotels and luxury real estate. Poorman says it best: “I’m fortunate to represent some of the most notable and interesting people in the world, so I love seeing the look on their faces when they decide on the home that they’re going to make memories in. It’s an honor and privilege to be a part of that. A great hotelier feels the same way about a hotel experience. The key is being a knowledgeable professional who genuinely cares about clients and their wellbeing, and has the integrity and intelligence to back it up.”
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 www.sothebysrealty.com.
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.