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High-end real estate requires marketing touch
By Jean Murphy | Daily Herald Correspondent

Carol Best, a certified luxury home marketing specialist, has listed this North Barrington home for $1.15 million. It overlooks a pond.

 

Courtesy of Keller Williams Success Realty

This small Squaw Island in Door County, Wisconsin, can be yours for $3 million.

 

Courtesy of Century 21 Roberts & Andrews

Crystal Lake Realtor Valerie Zelinski has listed Squaw Island, which overlooks the bay in Door County, Wisconsin.

 

Courtesy of Century 21 Roberts & Andrews

Valerie Zelinski of Century 21 Roberts & Andrews in Crystal Lake is selling this $3.75 million mansion in Sheboygan, Wis.

 

Courtesy of Century 21 Roberts & Andrews

The grand staircase is a highlight in a historic, 21-room lakefront mansion now for sale in Sheboygan, Wis.

 

Courtesy of Century 21 Roberts & Andrews

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Published: 11/1/2008 12:10 AM

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In today's market, it is actually easier to sell a $3 million home than to sell a $1 million home, according to two local luxury home experts.

"Sales in that top bracket are actually much more stable than those in the $1 million to $1.5 million category," said Carol Best of Keller Williams Success Realty in Barrington.

"In fact, until just recently, sales in the luxury market were quite strong, and going forward we hope that these buyers will go back to investing in real estate since the stock market has become so unstable," added Valerie Zelinski of Century 21 Roberts & Andrews in Crystal Lake.

According to Best and Zelinski, when you are selling a luxury home to top-tier clients, you are selling a lifestyle more than you are selling a home.

"Instead of looking at a house and asking yourself as an agent, 'What does this house have to offer,' you have to figure out who the buyer of this property will probably be, and target them in your marketing," Zelinski said.

Best and Zelinski are part of a rare breed in the Chicago area market. They are members of the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing, and while Best has earned the organization's coveted certified luxury home marketing specialist designation, Zelinski is still working on hers.

The institute is an independent organization that is not tied to any specific real estate brand, so membership is open to agents from all firms.

"Today's affluent are citizens of the world and the successful luxury agent must know how to reach them and what lifestyles they are seeking," said Laurie Moore-Moore, founder of the institute and author of "Rich Buyer, Rich Seller: The Real Estate Agents' Guide to Marketing Luxury Homes."

Among our affluent citizens, Best and Zelinski said, there are various distinct lifestyles and personality types that institute members are taught to recognize.

"There are the unmistakably affluent people like Donald Trump and Paris Hilton," Best said. "They have an annual income anywhere from $300,000 to $6 million per year and they are the ones who will want their home to have an exclusive design that suits their personality. They want to know what the home says about them."

Then, Best said, there are people who, like Oprah Winfrey, are called the "dependably affluent" people. They want their home to reflect true craftsmanship and want everything in the home to be functional and have a direct benefit.

Another category is the "economically affluent" people like Alan Greenspan and Suze Orman. According to Best, this type of client wants their home to have great value, but they want to be quiet about it.

Other affluent people want to be totally anonymous in their wealth - like Katharine Hepburn. She wanted a home that made her happy, but didn't want anyone else to know about it.

Wealthy people like Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren crave a home that is unique and makes them feel good, but they don't want it to scream affluence. They want it to be tasteful, above all, Best said.

Finally, there are the Warren Buffets of the world who want a quality home that suits his needs but is understated.

"Warren Buffett has lived in the same house for 40 years and is perfectly happy," Best said. "That is something that people who spend hundreds of dollars at Starbucks every year can't begin to understand."

"When I take a listing, I have to profile the type of buyer who I think will buy the property," Best explained.

The more seasoned agent of the two, Best has been in the local real estate business since 1992 when she left Federated Department Stores' commercial real estate department after helping to purchase the land and build countless Main Street stores that are now Kohl's.

She heard about the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing at a National Association of Realtors convention and took the training in Dallas with other top agents from around the world in early 2006.

Zelinski, on the other hand, got into real estate 2 years ago and immediately decided to specialize in luxury homes. She read about the institute on the Internet and took the training in Tampa, Fla., this past summer.

"With your marketing you have to go out and grab a buyer and bring him or her to that property," Zelinski said. "You cannot just list this kind of property on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) and expect someone to buy it."

Members of the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing know they need to invest in expensive Internet and other forms of advertising that will allow word about their listing to reach a national and even international audience.

They are also taught how to assess the actual number of potential buyers in a given market and how to price a property to maximize the buyer pool, Best, a certified residential specialist, said.

"Agents and sellers out there are just randomly picking listing prices. But there is a science to it, depending on your time frame," she continued. "I have done a major study of MLS listings and it taught me a lot about this market."

That has also given her the confidence to be frank with potential sellers about what they need to do to sell their property and refuse the listing if they do not seem willing to follow her advice.

"I have learned to let other agents spend their time and money on it," she said.

Best and Zelinski make sure they network with other luxury home specialists around the world and refer buyers and property back and forth.

"It definitely helps to reach out to other luxury home experts because you never know when they might have a buyer for one of your properties," Zelinski said.

"There is definitely a higher risk with spending the money to market these properties, but there is also a higher payout at the end," she continued.

Zelinski currently has listings in Wisconsin for a historic 21-room lakefront mansion in Sheboygan and for an island in Door County. The Sheboygan home is listed for $3.75 million and the island is priced at $3 million.

"They sought me out after seeing my marketing because they assume that their buyer will come from the Chicago area," Zelinski said.

Best has a listing for a luxurious home at 250 Hidden Pond Lane in North Barrington that is on the market for $1.15 million. The 6,700-square-foot home overlooks a pond.

Zelinski can be reached at (224) 388-9320 or at Valerie.zelinski@century21.com. Best can be reached at (773) 799-5939 or at Carol@carolbest.net.