Above the Trees

The Rich Are Different

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Know your customer. that oft-touted advice is particularly im­portant when it comes to serving the wealthy, say real estate agents who make their money selling expensive homes.

Shari Chase founded her Lake Tahoe, Nev.-based real estate firm, Chase International, in 1986 and now employs 40 people in four nearby offices and one in London. She started out at a time when few agents were specializing in upper-bracket properties in Tahoe.

“I did my homework, and I realized I never wanted to be a generalist,” she explains. From day one, she began targeting wealthy clients through upscale magazines. It didn’t take long to learn that the more she knew about her clients, the more opportunities became available.

The Affluent Want Experts

Wealthy clients “want to work with people who are ex­perts, who are proactive and anticipate their requests,” Chase says. “We know if they have an 82-year-old mother they want to find property for, or if they’re thinking about a winter or summer home.” Laurie Moore-Moore, a Dallas-based real estate consultant, made her fortune selling high-end properties. Now she teaches others how to do it through her firm, the In­sti­tute for Luxury Home Marketing.

Moore-Moore advises agents to set aside the “I’m important” feel­ing so that the focus is on the customer. The best recommendation, she says, is when a client tells friends or colleagues, “Oh, you’ll never guess what my agent did for me today.”

Attracting high-revenue clients requires understanding of both buying power and lifestyle, she says. “Under­standing [this] helps real estate agents establish rapport and match clients with the right properties.” She uses the following demographic categories to analyze and target wealthy prospects:

• Ultra consumers. These are moderately big earners who are willing to take on debt and spend money as quick­ly as it comes in. These folks seek visibility, and agents have to play to their excitement.

• Million-dollar-asset households. These people usu­ally represent first-generation working wealth. Typically middle-aged or older, they have invested wisely and held on to what they have.

• Wealthy immigrants. These well-educated, first-generation immigrants need professionals who understand their culture, tastes and family needs.

• Atypical millionaires. Entrepreneurs and lottery winners fall into this category.

• Inheritors. As the World War II generation passes on, the average baby boomer stands to inherit roughly $190,000 in assets. The upper end of those inheritors represents considerable sudden wealth.

• The super rich. Moore-Moore estimates there are 70,000 households that have at least $30 million in assets, excluding equity in their primary residence. And the number is growing.

But the categories don’t end there. Moore-Moore says agents should look at clients’ existing residences to figure out how to make a personal connection and predict the kind of property they will like.

People she calls “romantics,” for example, see their homes as warm showplaces with lots of romantic touches. “Spartans” are wealthy minimalists in what they wear and the way they outfit their homes. “Flamboyants,” on the other hand, want to be noticed–in their clothing, their decor and their home.

Honore Frumentino, an agent who sells high-end properties for Koenig & Strey GMAC Real Es­tate in Deerfield, Ill., took Moore-Moore’s workshop and wasn’t dis­appointed. “There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all marketing,” she says. “You need to get out there and meet your customers and understand what makes them comfortable.”

Above the Trees looks at leaders and industries outside the law. It lets you draw analogies to how you run your business, how you deal with your clients and how you face your own challenges.

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