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What to Expect From Luxury Real Estate Agents

Robert Altshuler Luxury Real Estate Specialist

As a former commercial real estate attorney and founder of a registered investment advisory firm that represented high net worth clients, my diverse experience has informed my career transition to luxury real estate. Now, I’ve decided to build a new firm focused on servicing luxury buyers and sellers. Welcome to Valley Luxury Partners.

Real estate has been a part of my DNA for over 30 years. After college, I worked in a commercial bank in the real estate lending department. A few years later, I learned the real estate development business in La Jolla, California working on tear down projects with ocean views. This was before “flipping” and speculative development was a common term in the industry. Certainly, it was well before reality TV was conceived, which portrays million dollar properties trading hands at (what seems to be) an ever increasing pace.

My career has been long enough to experience several significant real estate market downturns including the Savings and Loan crisis in the 1980s and more recently, the Great Recession in the early 2000s. It was during this time that my investment group for a multi-million dollar residential speculative project in North Scottsdale was notified that the bank financing the project had gone out of business and would be taken over by the FDIC. Thankfully, I was working as a commercial real estate attorney at the time and had the experience and connections to work out the financing issues. Eventually, I was able to get our project the funds it needed to sell many years later. This experience refined my understanding of the cyclical nature of real estate and how to properly manage risk and value of a property in up or down markets.

After I left the practice of law to start a wealth management firm, I honed my skills working with very demanding high net worth clients. Our business model used holistic financial planning and I was often asked by clients to advise on real estate in the context of their overall financial holdings. I made referrals to other professionals on behalf of clients, including CPAs, lawyers and real estate agents. By working across from these professionals, I was able to observe best practices and see how successful advisors service their clients and continually win new business.

I turned back to real estate when I sold my wealth management firm and launched Valley Luxury Partners. Here, I’ve cultivated a real estate team that can bring the ultimate service and professionalism from my collective background and skills in law and wealth management. What sets Valley Luxury Partners apart from other firms is our diverse expertise in sales, marketing, law and construction. We leverage our skill set combined with value-added services to enhance the entire process of buying and selling luxury properties. This can mean treating our clients to a gourmet dinner if we need them to leave their house for a private showing, or providing secured transportation for high profile celebrities or athletes in need of discretion when searching for luxury properties.

The mission of Valley Luxury Partners is to make the buying and selling process as streamlined and enjoyable as possible. We are selective in the markets and clients we choose to represent, because we live by the saying “quality over quantity.” We understand that every client has different needs, but there are universal takeaways that can help you decide what firm to work with for your luxury property transactions. Here are some key points from my personal experience:

 

Expect a high level of marketing and branding that is consistent with the luxury markets being served, and a willingness for an agent to put their “money where their mouth is” when it comes to marketing a luxury property.

Although I didn’t have a “product” to market as a wealth manager, our firm made significant purchases of best-in-class resources (with top-notch marketing and collateral materials) to support our investment decisions. Our clients expected and could count on this level of financial commitment. By the same token, Valley Luxury Partners has also invested considerably into building brand presence through website, business cards and advertising developments; a demonstration of savvy in marketing luxury properties.

As the saying goes: You only get one chance to make a great first impression. An agent’s website and social media presence are some of the best indicators of how they will market your luxury property.

 

Knowledge of the market and ability to find best in class resources is invaluable.

As a commercial real estate attorney, my clients were highly educated professionals working in specialized fields; they expected me to have a thirty-thousand foot view of the legal ramifications of any deal they were involved with. Similarly, you should expect your agent to have a broad knowledge of the local market as well as a strong and diverse network of colleagues who are specialists in particular areas or property types. You want a firm that is well connected.

Research is a fundamental skill for a wealth manager who is tasked with selecting the best possible investments for a client portfolio. Sometimes, publicly traded stocks are the best option. Other situations require alternative investments that can be hard to find and must be vetted carefully for suitability. Similarly, a great luxury real estate agent needs to be able to research all available properties and narrow down options quickly based on clients needs. These properties may be on the multiple listing service or private off market “pocket-listings.” Luxury agents need to have extensive relationships with each other to find these off-market listings.

 

It’s critical to have someone who understands that listening is more important than talking.

Unfortunately, we all know the pushy and over-salesy agents who are more interested in convincing you how impressive they are instead of trying to understand your particular needs and wants. My legal and wealth management clients came to me with varied backgrounds and personality types, but there was one commonality between all of them: they don’t want to waste their time. You shouldn’t engage an agent who doesn’t respect your time and schedule or how you want to interact with them.

 

Find an agent who isn’t afraid to turn down clients and will give you an opinion.

If you are interviewing an agent who claims to work in the luxury market, they should be selective in accepting clients. Meanwhile, you should be willing to make yourself a good potential client to work with. In my wealth management firm, our due diligence process in accepting new clients was intensive as we expected multi-generational relationships over many years. If we realized a mismatch in personality or couldn’t come to a mutual understanding of our investment goals, it was always better to part ways and make a referral to another professional. Likewise, if your agent is afraid to recommend a pricing strategy for fear of losing your business or is showing you properties that their broker wants to sell but doesn’t work for your family, it’s better to move on to someone else.

 

Consider if the agent has your best interests in mind.

During my legal practice, I billed clients on an hourly basis and if they didn’t take my advice, it was costly for them and didn’t make sense in the long run to continue working together. If you feel the need to second-guess your agent, then it might be time to find someone else. There are great agents that work for big brands and some that have no clue what they’re doing. I saw the same dynamic with wealth management where clients were attracted to big name brokerage firms. These firms charged commissions for trading even though most of the industry had moved to a fixed fee for assets under management.

Assess your potential agent’s priorities. There will always be hidden agendas (that are not unethical per se but may not be in your best interest) in every business. For example, in residential real estate, agents will convince buyers that they need to do public open houses (which may on occasion lead to a prospect), but the real agenda for the agent is to use your house as a tool to find buyers who may be interested in other properties.

Valuable agents prioritize your needs and understand your concerns. My previous high net worth and celebrity clients prized privacy and discretion—considerations that I’ve taken and integrated into our concierge services for a seamless experience. As a luxury home seller, you should have a frank discussion with your agent about particulars such as: private showings, the need to place a real estate sign on the property (which only convert 7% of buyers according to a recent National Association of Realtors Survey) and non-disclosure agreements.

 

In conclusion, the luxury home market requires a particular agent with the right skill set and a firm with significant financial resources to effectively market and sell a high priced property.

For Valley Luxury Partners, borrowing best practices from other service industries such as wealth management and law creates an environment of trust and effective representation. Clients who work with us experience a high level of sophisticated representation. Our concierge services combined with our commitment to invest in the highest quality marketing for our brand and client properties is enhanced by a deep understanding of the local luxury markets. The decision to hire an agent and a firm to represent you whether buying or selling luxury real estate can be stressful, but if you choose a firm that adheres to the principles noted above, you will have a greater likelihood of achieving a seamless transaction.

By Robert Altshuler, Esq. Founder | Managing Partner | Realtor®