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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Christie’s president: ‘Luxury isn’t a price point — it’s a level of service’

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To read more from this interview, subscribe to Inman Intel for an extended conversation with Thad Wong and Chris Lim on Christie’s proprietary technology.

Christie’s International Real Estate held its annual Agents Conference on Monday and Tuesday at the 1 Hotel South Beach in Miami to an elite, sold-out crowd of 250 attendees.

During two days of panels and presentations, some of the industry’s top luxury talent discussed their tips and tricks for success in sales, social media, marketing, Web 3, luxury auctions and more.

The brokerage’s leadership team also gave brand updates on how far the company has come since its monumental acquisition by @properties at the end of 2021, including the addition of more than two dozen new affiliates across the U.S. and internationally that represent more than $35 billion in annual sales volume.

Amid the event’s excitement, co-CEO Thad Wong and President Chris Lim sat down with Inman to discuss some of the conference’s biggest takeaways, the emerging trends in luxury they’re seeing now and how @properties and Christie’s partnership has already made a huge difference for the brand’s agents. Here’s what they had to say, edited for brevity and clarity.

Inman: As you’ve continued to grow with new affiliates in the last several months, what luxury markets have you seen grow the most?

Lim: From my perspective, when we took over about 18 months ago, we kind of looked at all of the urban territories and realized we need to have an urban plan in looking at major, urban cities. And then we also looked at our lifestyle categories — yachting, boating, golf, ski, ranch, equestrian — to make sure we’re where there are opportunities, and that has really led our decision of looking at the different markets. Many times we’ve looked at multiple markets and are [asking]: What makes sense for the network, what makes sense for our growth and what also makes sense for Christie’s?

Wong: A lot of that direction also comes from the auction house … Sereno [a firm that affiliated with Christie’s in February 2022], outside of the city in Silicon Valley, that was important [for the auction house]. In New York, we pushed into Manhattan with an affiliate, and we’ll have a big announcement for the Hamptons coming up in the summer as well.

So those are very important to the auction houses where they have a high percentage of high-net-worth clients. And then having an affiliate partner with us there who can grow to a very high-level position, whether they’re a small company exclusively working in high-end real estate or they’re a larger company with a more dominant share — either one is fine, but our partnership with the auction house provides the opportunity to have a strong presence in a market with a significant number of auction house clients.

Lim: I’d also like to add that it’s been really rewarding seeing our existing affiliates grow and grow their territories and move into markets as their clients move. And as they’ve been able to go into higher price points, we’ve been able to expand their territories and grow with them.

That’s great. What sorts of trends are you seeing emerge out of this summer’s luxury market so far?

Lim: Something that cam up in the conference today is, it’s a really interesting time. We’ve seen inventory levels nationwide and obviously internationally are very, very low. But at the same time, we’ve seen really high interest rates and then what’s been really interesting is that we are not in a recession, but in many ways, things are unstable and unsure. I do think the spring market hit rather late, in May. The markets that we heard about today, we were hearing about multiple offers and cash buyers coming back into the market. Those are some of the trends that we’ve been hearing about on the ground at the conference.

Wong: Also, from the luxury side, the highest [priced] and most unique properties are still moving. In South Carolina, a Christie’s agent just sold the most expensive home that he ever listed in the state. You’re seeing very unique properties that are priced at a very high range seeing significant demand there. As long as [a property] is truly unique and one-of-a-kind, there are multiple buyers interested.

Lim: To dovetail on that, what’s been really fun for us is seeing, in the really uber high-end, we’re seeing these referrals within our network — we saw a $60 million referral into London, a $100 million referral into Aspen — and these homes are going into contract.

Fantastic. What do you think might be drawing buyers to these types of really unique properties right now?

Wong: In some cases, you know, everyone always says in inflationary markets … [move money] into hard assets, capital into hard assets, especially those that people can enjoy over a long period of time. People are feeling very strongly about the value of real estate and they’re not afraid of investing in it.

Lim: I would also say that the Christie’s client is pretty discerning and they’re seeing on our website, blog or social media, really, really interesting and unique and significant properties — private islands, homes in Aspen, penthouses — all of which can be lived in. And I think there’s a desire to own these really one-of-a-kind trophy properties.

I see. What do you think people should know about Christie’s and @properties as it continues to move forward in its partnership, 18 months after it was forged?

Wong: I think one of the moves we’ve seen is some of the large, mega teams that are in brokerages that have aspirations of growing the company and realize that if they’re starting something they want to be part of a larger network, and that’s super important. I think that some of those happen to decide that when they’re a part of Side or are their own independent, they’re not a part of a luxury network, and most of these mega teams are with luxury agents or aspire to be luxury and operate in that.

But I think the plug-and-play of being able to open in a market, have an internationally recognized luxury brand and immediately have other affiliates around the world is incredibly appealing to large teams or partnerships with large teams that are starting their own companies right now that will be the next generation large or mega brokerage.

Lim: From my side, I think a theme that we’ve been hearing at the conference has been that luxury isn’t a price point — it’s a level of service. There was a really interesting session we had today called ‘The Brand Playbook’ and it really outlined the depth and breadth of the Christie’s International Real Estate value proposition.

What we offer [is] obviously, the brand alone — there’s no brand like Christie’s — but when you dig beyond that, beyond the technology, beyond the magazine, beyond the blog, I think agents realize, our agent endorsement letter, our digital listing presentation, Christie’s social, the creative studio, I think agents are really realizing, ‘Wow, clearly this is a brand being run by people who understand the needs of a luxury real estate broker,’ but moreover, there’s ways for them to win. And we’re giving them the playbook to allow them to do that.

That was a session that was a highlight for me from Natalie Hamrick, who’s our executive vice president of the Americas.

Wong: Agents afterward really appreciate that, because oftentimes understanding how to sell the brand and use it as a resource is easy to overlook, even though it sounds pretty basic. Sometimes those things are most valuable at conferences.

Lim: I think a lot of the agents also recognize that that synergy between us and the relationship with the auction house is stronger now more than ever before. We have a dedicated liaison that’s hired by the auction house who interfaces with our team so they can help with any content referral [i.e. if a client wants to auction off a luxury watch or artwork], and in turn, property referrals. And I think that’s something that’s really resonating, how strong that relationship with Christie’s is. We have over 60 different departments at Christie’s, so it’s a really great way for our agents to differentiate their levels of service.

I think excitement is really high. We’ve added $36 billion in new affiliations, and I think something that’s really resonated with all the agents and broker owners — they feel the difference in the network. I think they’re excited about the direction, about the leadership, and so I think there’s a level of excitement coming out of this conference that’s palpable, and it’s really exciting for me to witness that.

Get Inman’s Luxury Lens Newsletter delivered right to your inbox. A weekly deep dive into the biggest news in the world of high-end real estate delivered every Friday. Click here to subscribe.

Email Lillian Dickerson

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