By Erica Christoffer, Multimedia Web Producer, REALTOR® Magazine
Stop believing it’s impossible to break into the high-end real estate market. If you’re going to go for it, now is best time, says real estate veteran Jack Cotton, CRS, CRB with Sotheby’s International Real Estate in Osterville, Mass. In his new book, Selling Luxury Homes (Tide-Mark Press, 2010), Cotton outlines a three-step process for success in a competitive luxury market: 1.) Become a market expert. 2.) Serve as a trusted advisor. 3.) Provide top-of-the-line services to clients. “I don’t see real estate as a career – it’s absolutely a calling for me,” says Cotton, who will be speaking at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo from 12:30-2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5 in New Orleans.
Here’s what Cotton has to say about his new book and his NARdiGras presentation.
Why is now a good time to get into luxury real estate?
COTTON: The great thing about this market is it’s a perfect time to improve your skills, expand your skills, and broaden your horizons. This is the third downturn I’ve been through since my career began in 1974, and this is the time to get out there and do better. Even if you decide not to become a luxury real estate specialist, all the tools you’ll learn in this book will help you treat every client like a million dollars, regardless of their price range.
What is one tip a real estate practitioner could put into action after reading your book?
COTTON: Luxury buyers and sellers are used to dealing with experts – whether they have a medical situation, a tax situation, or a real estate situation – they only want the best. Chapter four teaches you how to become an expert, and be perceived as an expert. The best way to do this is to become an expert on value in your marketplace. People with means are obsessed with the value of their property. Due to taxes, they want to know that the actual value of their property is correct compared with what municipalities are assessing it for. They need to know the value of their property so they can conduct their estate planning. Also, they have a real need to know the actual value of their property so they know where they stand financially.
The hardest thing about landing a high-end listing is getting through their gatekeepers, which come in the form of tax lawyers, tax accountants, and trust officers. If you become known as a person who has valuable information about market values in your area, you now provide something of value to the gatekeepers. If you provide this information on a yearly basis, this can open the door to a future luxury seller. This can be a long-term process. But also consider another characteristic of high net-worth individuals: Today could be Friday, and they have no thought of selling their property. But on Saturday they may wake up, look out a window, and wonder what the view of the lake, ocean, or bay is like from the other side. And just like that, they decide to sell their house and move to the other side.
Do you have any specific marketing tips to reach luxury buyers and sellers?
COTTON: The high-end still loves print. Online is becoming more and more important, but print certainly has not gone away. From magazines and periodicals, to color-rich, multi-page brochures, these print mediums are critical components of high-end marketing.
How did you break into the luxury market?
COTTON: I started my business in my dorm room in 1974. I never worked for anyone else. My first office was in the corner of a plumbing supply warehouse because I had free rent. I was 21 but I looked like I was 15, and I was competing with people who had been in the business a long time. I basically had to work way more than they did, so when people called me for a CMA (comparative market analysis), I would deliver a 25-page narrative appraisal. I measured every single room, did floor plans, took appraisal classes. I compensated for my youth by becoming and looking like an expert. As time went on, I was called on because of my work and expertise with real estate attorneys. I build up my reputation, and eventually, if someone really wanted to know value and they wanted to have faith in the numbers, they’d call me.
What do you love most about your job?
COTTON: I love houses. I’m one of the few people who didn’t come into real estate just for the career. I knew from an early age that I’d be in the housing business in one way, shape, or form. As a kid, I was building houses in the woods, in trees and under trees. In those houses all the childhood troubles would melt away. To this day, whether it’s a 2,000-square-foot house or a 10,000-square-foot mansion, I feel I’m bringing people that feeling of security, moving into an oasis from the storm of life. And in the second-home market as I’m in, you’re helping them purchase a home that will serve as a magnet to draw their family together.
Can you give us a sneak peek at what you’ll be speaking about during your session at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans?
COTTON: I’m doing a 90-minute talk on “Pricing the Luxury Home.” My session will give agents a step-by-step process for arriving at the right price for unique properties that can be difficult to price. I’ll also share tips on how to communicate to an owner that a particular price is the way to go.
Everything in real estate is a process – every move you make has to be the best. You have to show up on time, dress right, get people to know you, like you, trust you, hire you and pay you. That’s what I’m going to cover in New Orleans on Nov. 5.