All posts by Camilla McLaughlin

The Transition

Cover photo ©istockphoto.com / Evgeny Zhigalov

Of all the changes brought on by the pandemic, what is here to stay?

From a drone’s eye perspective of 50 years, real estate might resemble a Mobius strip, a never-ending roller coaster of ups and downs with each boom-and-bust cycle sparking small changes and adaptations. But none have had an impact comparable to the pandemic, which ushered in an avalanche of innovation, new ways of doing business and a profound shift in consumer values. Some effects are a temporary response, while many reflect a significant transformation.

“The way that real estate as an industry operates has changed, and I believe it is a microcosm that can be applied to 90 percent of the economy out there. No one is going back, and that means the way we live, work and play changes forever,” observes Marci Rossell, former CNBC chief economist and chief economist for Leading RE. “COVID drop-kicked us into 2030.” 

Ask agents if any prior cycle compares to the experience of the last year and a half, and they will tell you the pandemic boom is unparalleled. “I don’t think any Realtor in the country has had the experience we’ve had this last year! Yes, there have been good upticks in certain years in certain places, but never anything like this!” shares Trinkie Watson with Chase International in Lake Tahoe.

“We’ve certainly seen periods where you had to pivot skill sets and be really aware of the market and things that would impact clients, but we’ve never seen anything like the last year and a half, (and) that’s been compounded by a lack of availability,” shares Tami Simms, with Coastal Properties Group in St. Petersburg, Florida, who is also trainer for the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing.

“I think that last year was the most significant year of change from a tech perspective,” says David Marine, chief marketing officer at Coldwell Banker Real Estate. The pandemic market accomplished what major brands had been working on for years. “In 90 days,” he says, “every single real estate agent figured out a way to move the transition online. Now it’s commonplace. It’s no longer an issue.”

“Agents basically skyrocketed 10 years into the future, and they did it in a two-month period,” says Rossell. Rather than an abrupt switch, industry experts see real estate’s seemingly overnight embrace of new technology as acceptance of tools already available. Think of it as “escalating trends that were already underway that would have happened, but they are going to happen almost a decade faster than anyone expected,” explains Rossell.

Will it be a virtual world?

Prior to what Simms dubs “the Zoom age,” she says, there wasn’t a widespread understanding or trust or proficiency with virtual apps. “Now,” she says, “we know how to use it. We’re reasonably proficient at it, and there’s a level of trust. So, we’re able to embrace this technology. You know I don’t ever want to go back to having to communicate with out-of-state buyers purely by telephone.”

Virtual Sales are touted as the main advancement sparked by the pandemic, but an even greater benefit has been an industry-wide recognition and adaptation of virtual apps to enhance and expedite the process from initial views of a property to consumer education. “FaceTime is an effective tool, but really more to give a prospect a better idea of the home, not to induce an offer … though it could,” says Watson. 

Looking ahead, agents don’t expect virtual sales to disappear, but they will continue to be a rarity. “I don’t think we’ll see many escrows where the buyer hasn’t physically seen the property. Yes, Zoom and similar will continue to be a part of our lives. Also, more defined photography for our listings … the importance of a comprehensive ‘walk through’ so prospects can get a good feeling for how the house flows,” says Watson.

Detailed virtual walk-throughs became more important than ever, with platforms such as Matterport leading the way. 

©istockphoto.com / fizkes

“In-person viewings have been very limited. No one wants to go to open houses. No one is walking about a house just for fun. People are looking online. They are viewing the pictures of a listing maybe 10 times before they see a house. So, a showing is more like a fourth showing, and agents need in-depth knowledge of a property,” says Joanne Nemerovski, with Compass in Chicago.

©istockphoto.com / joakimbkk

Dreaming of Home

The ability to work remotely is often cited as the main driver for the surge in sales, but even more fundamental are new consumer values regarding home and lifestyle. Citing millennials, who now comprise a substantial portion of buyers, Nemerovski says many were starting careers and literally were never home, so home basically was a shoebox they visited. “I think that sentiment has changed. Home is where the heart is. It has become the center of people’s lives. People are also more respectful of their homes.”

Everybody wants their dream home,” says Frank Aazami with Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty in Scottsdale, Arizona, “because they just cashed out of another home that maybe they inherited or maybe were there for 20, 30 or 40 years.”

Buyers’ expectations of quality are high and will continue to be so. “People understand the level of finishes better than ever before. We’ve gotten so much better with respecting architects, good architects’ work, good designers’ work,” he says.

“All of a sudden, consumers are finding that now it’s not all about a commute. It’s about ‘does the place that I live offer me the things that I want to do when I have a little extra time, both inside and outside.’ Outside spaces have always been a luxury item, but more so now than ever,” says Simms. Topping wish lists are beautiful recreational facilities, inside and out. Also becoming more desirable is access to nearby outdoor venues such as parks and trails. Before COVID-19, outdoor living was a growing trend; now a connection with nature has become almost an essential for homes, particularly new construction.

Skills Put to the Test

With properties selling days or hours after going on the market and multiple platforms broadcasting new listings, it would seem agents’ skills are not essential. However, the pandemic market has proved the opposite. “It’s been a really intense time for real estate professionals in terms of making sure that their communication skills are absolutely the most important thing that they have, setting expectations, both on the seller side and the buyer side,” says Simms.

“There’s more attention to vetting prospective buyers, making sure they are qualified to buy before showing them property,” adds Watson.

Price is only part of an offer’s appeal to sellers, and crafting a winning offer has been an important skill for agents and buyers in the current market. Even when multiple offers become less of the norm, this aspect of buying will continue to be important.

An intense market tempts buyers to forgo contingencies. “It has been definitely challenging to counsel people on strategies to be successful in acquiring properties, but also in making sure that they truly understand the ramifications of releasing contingencies and know the risks they are taking on,” shares Simms.

“A downside of the intensity has been buyer’s remorse, cancellations before closing, some attempted lawsuits … a result of no inspections, jumping too fast without thorough exploration, et cetera. This would be a small percentage of the purchasers, but certainly a reflection of ‘herd mentality’ going the wrong way!” says Watson, referring to the pressure buyers felt to make a decision.

Cooldown Ahead

With days on market hovering just over 14 in July, prices rising in 99 percent of all metro areas, and double-digit price increases in 94 percent of metros (according to NAR), the current pace might seem no less fevered. Still, indications of a transition are beginning to filter out from a number of locations. Days on market are increasing ever so slightly, and overblown prices are being reduced. Or, as Katie Treem at Keller Williams Realty in Portland, Maine, explains, it might be that a property receives 20 offers instead of 40. “We’re still seeing people moving from New York, Boston, Connecticut and D.C.,” she says.

Also, agents like Treem are just beginning to see a few who bought in 2020 reselling. Sometimes they improved the property, but in others, decided the lifestyle was not what they desire or the commute, even for occasional days in the office, was too difficult.

In Tahoe, Watson says, “I believe the intensity has certainly calmed down, and I suspect very few listing agents will accept an offer from a buyer who hasn’t physically viewed the property. That goes for waived inspections … I’d be surprised if many are doing that any longer.”

No Bubbles Here

Bubble talk has become almost a perennial for real estate, but experts such as Rossell do not subscribe to this characterization of the market. Rossell says, “It’s not a bubble. It’s simply real demand bumping up against severe supply constraints. But this doesn’t mean house prices continue to go up. But what it does mean is you’re very unlikely to see the bottom fall out of the market, the way that you did in 2007, 2008.

“September 11 forever changed the way that we thought about terrorism. And I think in the same way, the first round of COVID in March of 2020 forever changed the way that we thought about public health, and pandemics. I think we’re all going to be living with the reality that at any given time something like this could happen, just like terrorism.”

Days on market are increasing, and overblown prices are being reduced. It might be a property receives 20 offers instead of 40, says Katie Treem at Keller Williams Realty in Portland, Maine.
 

©istockphoto.com / sara_winter

This story originally appeared in Unique Homes Fall ’21. Click here to see the digital version.

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The Legends of Ultimate Homes

The Manor from Unique Homes 2017 Ultimate issue.

Photo courtesy Hilton & Hyland.

As we mark the 17th “Ultimate” edition of Unique Homes, we look back at the exceptional properties and agents who have been a part of the annual celebration of the most expensive real estate in the U.S.

Over the 50 years since the first issue of Unique Homes rolled off the presses, countless estates have graced our cover. Hundreds have captured a top position on Ultimate Homes’ list of the most expensive, but only a very few are real estate legends. Trackback through record-setting sales and property listings, and a handful of properties filter to the top, including an equally select cadre of real estate agents.

What destines a property for legendary status? Rarity, provenance, architecture, land and location all play a role. “We have represented and sold many properties that are above and beyond, but what makes them legendary is the architecture and the history of the property, including notable prior owners, location, and the property amenities that set the bar for other luxury properties,” explains Judy Zeder, a member of the Jills Zeder Group (along with Jill Eber and Jill Hertzberg) with Coldwell Banker Realty in Miami.

“What truly makes an incredible luxury property is that it’s something that someone else would never have. It’s not just another house with a different material feature,” shares Shari Chase, founder of Chase International Real Estate in the Lake Tahoe/Reno region. “Rarity is huge,” she says, as is “not being bumper to bumper with a lot of mega mansions that are exactly the same.”

The 2016 sale of the Playboy Mansion cracked the $100 million benchmark in L.A. 

Photo by Jim Bartsch.

Owlwood, Pickfair, Le Belvedere, Greenacres and Chartwell: the list of legendary properties that Joyce Rey, who heads Coldwell Banker Global Luxury’s division for Southern California, has sold is only surpassed by the number of accolades she has received over her more than 40-year career. Her sales have achieved price records multiple times, sometimes for the same property. In 1976, she sold the Sonny and Cher mansion for $1.2 million, a record at the time. Two years later, she sold it again for $4.2 million, which surpassed all other prices, setting a new high in the U.S. and worldwide. “It was a really big deal,” she says. “It changed the marketplace.”

The storied history of this property, which was renamed Owlwood to honor owls living in the estate’s towering trees, continues to the present day. The acquisition of neighboring properties and additional acreage over the years enhanced the value. Last offered for sale well above $100 million, it appeared on Unique Homes’ Ultimate list last year at $115 million. It sold in December in an off-market transaction for a reported $88 million.

Once dubbed “the Crown Jewel of Beverly Hills,” Owlwood’s resume includes a number of other high-profile names and celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe.

Ultimate Manhattan? The Tommy Hilfiger penthouse at The Plaza in New York City graced the cover of Ultimate Homes in 2014.
Casa Casuarina, seen here on the Unique Homes Fall 2012 cover, was the home of Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace.

Having a much-loved celebrity often adds to the cachet of a property. “Americans love celebrities,” says Jill Eber. “When a celebrity is comfortable using their name in connection with a property, it really makes a difference. Every home comes with a story and a celebrity’s story just makes it more interesting. A lot of properties are sold by very successful business people and the properties are just gorgeous, but when a home is sold by a celebrity or athlete, buyers are curious and sometimes they are attracted to that cache.”

Few celebrity homes received as much buzz as the Miami Beach mansion owned by the late Gianni Versace. “Everything about the Versace property, known as Casa Casuarina, was fun and exciting,” says Jill Hertzberg, who, along with Eber, sold the property. “It was a totally iconic property known worldwide. Every room was different with the most extraordinary mosaic tile designs throughout. The property was built for fun and entertainment and the buyers who purchased it just loved it! They all jumped into the pool on the day they got it. Standing in front of the mansion with reporters from all over the world is something I will always remember.”

Among our Ultimates, few have generated as much interest as The Manor, dubbed The Spelling Manor when it came to market in 2009 at an unprecedented price of $150 million, eventually selling for a reported $85 million in 2011. The buyer, Petra Ecclestone, daughter of Formula One billionaire Bernie Ecclestone, embarked on an extensive remodel, eventually bringing the estate back on the market in 2016 at $200 million. The 2019 sale price, $119.7 million, set a new, but short-lived, record for Los Angeles. Only a few months later, another legendary property, Chartwell, sold for a reported $150 million, achieving a new benchmark. 

Designed by Sumner Spaulding in 1933, Chartwell, like several other legends, including the Manor, was inspired by French chateaus. Located on 10 acres in Bel Air and surrounded by pristine gardens, it ticks off all the attributes of a legendary estate. Although it is notable for the highest list price, $350 million, in 2017, few other mansions are as familiar to so many. Featured on the 1960s sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies, it was home to the Clampetts.

It’s worth noting the estate is actually in Bel Air. The Bel Air Hillbillies might not have been as catchy a title as the Beverly Hillbillies, says Gary Gold, with Hilton & Hyland, one of the agents listing the property. Using a home at one address, but identifying it as being in another location in films and television is not unusual, according to Gold. 

Chartwell was listed by a team of agents including Rey and Jade Mills with Coldwell Banker Realty, and Gold and Jeff Hyland with Hilton & Hyland. When prices breach $100 million, it’s not uncommon to have multiple brokerages marketing the property.

“These big sales have many layers of complexity. It can be a trust, a bankruptcy or a probate, and everyone at this level is well represented. And at $100 million, no one is flexible,” explains Gold. Often the team of agents and brokers will divide the tasks depending on their expertise. Gold says he is always 100-percent committed to getting the deal done.

Having brokered the sale of the Playboy Mansion, Gold jokingly refers to himself as the “Roger Bannister of luxury real estate.” Like Bannister’s one-minute mile, the Playboy Mansion smashed the $100 million ceiling in L.A. and opened the door to a number of legendary estates trading at or over $100 million, including Chartwell and The Manor.

“These types of mansions usually come on the market once in a blue moon, once a decade, but recently a number have traded in the last couple of years,” Gold shares.

When it came on the market, the Playboy Mansion received lots of media coverage. Still, when Jade Mills, who represented the buyer, initially saw the property, she wasn’t expecting to find a zoo. The property had “been talked about, but not really the zoo and the peacocks and everything that was there,” she says.

“When I first went there, there were all of the animals, monkeys, peacocks were all over the property — I just thought that it was so amazing that right in the middle of Holmby Hills, you had all those fabulous animals. So, it was just fun to see, and to see the grotto.”

Gold says the number of birds increased over time as local avians decided it was a great place to call home and joined the menagerie.

Another interesting tidbit was an abundance of pushbuttons in this home, sort of a smart home before the era of home tech. For example, push a button and the bed would turn around. The grotto had an array of buttons, all glowing red, and a phone from which you could dial up whatever music you wanted

Foundation of Value

But for legends, it is the amount of land or an impossible-to-replicate location that usually sets them apart. A majority occupy sizable parcels, whether it’s hundreds of acres like Tranquility in Tahoe, or a dozen or less in Bel Air or Holmby Hills. The exception are places such as Malibu, where a setting on the beach is more prized and rarer than acreage.

“Regardless of the condition — like new, falling down or anything in between — each owner puts their heart and soul into these homes,” shares Robert Kinlin, co-owner of Robert Paul Properties, who works with some of the most expensive in Boston and on the Cape. “But a lot of times, people are buying the land and the feeling it evokes when they’re outside walking the property, because you can’t change the land, but you can change the house.”

“The biggest thing you can have with a beautiful estate is Mother Nature,” adds Shari Chase.

When Chase founded her brokerage in 1986, the word “luxury” really wasn’t part of the vocabulary. Instead, she says, “we talked about estates and extraordinary estates, and her tagline was Exceptional Properties for Exceptional People. “I wasn’t going to bother with just any kind of real estate. I only wanted the best, and whether I had one or two or three sales a year, it didn’t matter. I mean, as long as they were fantastic. I think the very first sale was lakefront.” Early on, Chase was involved in what she describes as “the most extraordinary sale we ever had at Tahoe,” the Thunderbird Lodge at a record $50 million. “It held the price record in the entire nation for over 8 years.”

Not often are newly constructed homes destined to become legendary, but Le Belvedere, sited on over 2 acres in Bel Air overlooking the city with a romantic landscape that includes a swan pond, rose gardens and a 280-degree panorama of city lights, is the exception. Over-the-top features such as opulent materials, a ballroom seating 200, a media room seating 50, and a 500-bottle wine cellar, were exceptional when it came on the market in 2009, but the way every detail is executed, the stateliness of the architecture and the sense of harmony from all facets working in perfect sync pushes it from a “stellar property” to a legendary estate.

Le Belvedere, like Tranquility, is also exceptional for its amenities. At that time, shares Rey, “people weren’t building so many of those major theaters. Before that, only those in the industry had large screening rooms.

Rey was involved in the sale of Le Belvedere for $50 million — the highest in the U.S. in 2010 –— and again in 2018 for $56 million.

Amenity Wars

In recent years, there have been a number of newly built for-sale trophy homes, some with list prices stretching current benchmarks. What sets these properties apart is the number of over-the-top features, including curated art installations, stocked wine bars, car collections, an onsite staff and even a helipad. The objective — to include everything someone might want in a home — is aligned with the motives behind the inclusion of extensive amenities in classic estates.

Legendary Redos

No matter how exquisite a property, new owners have a penchant to put their own stamp on it. “I just think that it’s amusing that people must make even, you know, the most expensive, beautiful home — they must make it their own. So sometimes it’s just been remodeled, and then torn completely apart. And they start over,” shares Mills, who brokered the 2019 sale of The Manor. And this practice is not limited to prime estates. Instead, it reaches across the entire price spectrum, whether a house is $1 million or a $100 million.

Few other homes on our annual list have received as much attention as this estate. “The Manor was sort of like no other,” recalls Mills. With 123 rooms and more square footage than the White House, it is one of the largest in Los Angeles. Size and prices generated publicity, but it was the extensive amenities, including gift-wrapping rooms, vast closets, a barber shop, hair salon, bowling alley and nightclub that captured the public’s fancy. There aren’t as many closets as large as the one in the master,” Mills ventures, estimating it to be in the 2,500-square-foot range.”

This story originally appeared in Unique Homes Ultimate ’21. Click here to see the digital version.

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‘Here’s the Story…’ of Unique Homes at 50

By Camilla McLaughlin

The Brady Bunch was in its heyday and Walt Disney World was opening
when Unique Homes debuted 50 years ago.

 

Tracing the evolution of Unique Homes from small pamphlet to glossy magazine to global publication to multi-faceted luxury media outlet merging print, digital, online and social media — it’s not an overstatement to say it’s been a wild ride. While the intent to open the world of high-end real estate to readers continues, almost every other aspect of the magazine, from circulation and distribution to editorial content to ways to connect with our readership has evolved. What hasn’t changed is the commitment to producing a magazine that merits a luxury appellation and the focus on excellence. “It delivers the essence of quality,” observes Wayne McDonald, owner of Premier Island Properties in South Carolina.

The 25th anniversary tribute was penned almost on the cusp of the new millennium, a time of rising concerns over change and what the future would bring. The end of the decade even elicited a few gloomy predictions over potential snafus as digital clocks switched, or failed to switch, into uncharted territory. Even though time didn’t stop, and electronics never faltered, everything related to technology seemed to accelerate, eventually touching every aspect of life from health to reading to real estate.

In 2000, the Internet era seemed full on; in retrospect, it was still baby steps. An online presence was a given for media, but social media, blogs for magazines, Facebook and Twitter were still in the future. Digital versions of Unique Homes were available, but were rudimentary compared to today’s online presence.

Editorial Shifts

Initially, the focus for the magazine was simply beautiful homes. As the scope and readership expanded nationally, additional editorial was added to give readers a glimpse into varied geographic regions. Eventually, issues were organized around specific topics with a more thorough overview of homes, towns and communities considered meccas for specific interests from golf to waterfront to winter playlands.

Tracy Allen with Coldwell Banker Realty in Honolulu finds the editorial in Unique Homes does a good job of keying readers to other locations, which is especially worthwhile since searches usually begin online. In Hawaii, she says, many buy remotely, and she wants them to understand the emotion of the lifestyle of a specific place. “I like that readers are not only seeing the picture, but the editorial gives me a chance to highlight this area.”

“The magazine has been consistently improving the way it presents properties and the distribution, so it is fully current with the marketplace,” says Shari Chase, founder of Chase International in Lake Tahoe and a longtime advocate of the magazine. Beginning in 2001, around the time of the 30th anniversary, editorial was expanded, a shift to align the magazine with emerging consumer preferences and a desire for greater knowledge, not just about places but also about markets, trends and innovations in the industry. Along with articles about regional lifestyles and luxury pursuits, Unique Homes also began to take an in-depth look at changes in the industry, shifting consumer values, and the evolution of luxury. When Private Residence Clubs and Destination Clubs began to gain traction in the early 2000s, for example, consumers and agents found these new forms of resort ownership confusing. Most wondered if they were just a new twist on timeshare, or something entirely different? To answer this question, Unique Homes explored the topic in a year-long series, examining various models, including private residence clubs and destination clubs, highlighting the benefits and the drawbacks. All of this was long before most real estate media picked up the topic.

Regional features in every issue spotlight properties and pursuits from New England to Hawaii.

In the last decade or so, Unique Homes has accumulated many awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors, including for best magazine in its category and in-depth reports such as this.

Then and now! Like many of our top ELITE agents, Casey Margenau finds Unique Homes’ international perspective allows him to highlight a specific property and also enhance his own global presence.

A Global Perspective

By 2011, another anniversary year, Unique Homes had a strong international presence and was already recognized as a premier real estate publication by individuals outside the U.S. Among the affluent, interest in owning properties beyond one’s home country was growing, and major brands were looking beyond the U.S., opening up shop in Europe and Asia. Among media, international real estate coverage centered on these two topics. But not a lot was being written about what was actually happening with residential property markets and luxury in other countries, expectations for the next few years or attitudes toward home ownership. At least, not until Unique Homes took up the mantle with a yearlong series focused on real estate in global regions. One article in this series received top news reporting honors in 2012 from the National Association of Real Estate Editors for Best Residential, Mortgage or Financial Real Estate Report in a Magazine. 

Asia: The Pivotal Puzzle Piece touched on everything from the number of billionaires to the effect of government regulations in the region and property opportunities in China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea. Judges noted that the piece “was a comprehensive and interesting look at something in the real estate area that most Americans probably know little about.”

Today, a global perspective informs our editorial. And the international reach especially to publicize individual properties is something long-time advertisers say they value. “The reason why I’ve been using Unique Homes for 30 years is because it’s the only true marketing that you can do that’s international. A lot of companies out there talk about being international, but the fact is they do not advertise an individual property internationally,” explains broker Casey Margenau, who works Washington, D.C.’s premier Virginia suburbs.

Following the mid-decade boom-and-bust, when all eyes were on real estate, we reevaluated the magazine’s annual outlook article and markets to watch. Although we had already reached out to experts, we looked to more market experts, for real estate overall and for luxury, for an assessment of the year. Eventually, the outlook feature morphed into the current format, which is a forum with economists and the leaders of luxury for major brands and affiliate groups.

Tech Trends

While technology has revised and remade so many aspects of real estate, homes themselves have been equally transformed. Innovative materials and technologies have sparked a revolution in home building and energy efficiency, continuously creating possibilities unthinkable only a few years prior. Simply the amount of wall space devoted to windows would baffle anyone making predictions in the energy-conscious early years of the 1980s, when visions of in-house fuel cells and mirrored satellites generating electricity in space filled the dreams of the future. In the last 10 years, net-zero homes have become a reality in some regions, and a potential for many more properties in the future.

Even though indoor air quality emerged as a concern as early as 2001, it wasn’t until the last decade that wellness became a hot button in housing. Now, it is becoming an important consideration, and wellness amenities are especially desired in upscale properties. Air quality is only part of this movement, which potentially will bring dramatic changes to interiors. On the leading edge today are systems that sense and correct air quality, lighting keyed to circadian rhythms and many more products to reduce touch points.

Over 50 years, transactions moved from pen, paper and film to digital, online and virtual. We’re always asking “What’s next?”

Why Unique Homes?

In a media landscape becoming ever more congested with newcomers to upscale real estate markets, luxury Unique Homes continues to stand out. Long-term advertisers tell us there’s nothing else quite like it in the marketplace. Tracy Allen discovered Unique Homes in a search for an advertising vehicle to get information about her properties in Hawaii “off the islands onto the continental U.S. and international markets. Unique Homes has always given me an amazing vehicle, really consistent quality, and I am proud to say my properties are in Unique Homes.”

“What is unique is the quality it delivers. It is not cluttered with things that take away from what you [an advertiser] want to convey. It delivers the essence of quality,” says McDonald.

“There are a lot of publications in the luxury end of the business, all the big brokerage houses and the little ones have their magazines, and they all do a nice job. But do they have a presence in the marketplace like Unique Homes? I think in my mind, Unique Homes stands alone, has a terrific presence and offers a wide range of products. When you can qualify to get your property on the cover, it means something,” shares Bob Kinlin, co-founder of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Robert Paul Properties.

For properties with a “wow” factor, a Unique Homes cover is most desired. “If the property is visually striking, the cover shot will lead a buyer almost certainly to the combined two interior pages with additional photos and description as well as the full-page editorial on the property,” says Bob Hurwitz of Hurwitz James Company. “I put on a major marketing campaign for all of the luxury listings I represent and will only use the cover on very specific properties that I feel would benefit. Sellers, of course, would all wish their property would be on the cover, however, it is not available at all times.”

This article is part of
Unique Homes’ special
50th anniversary coverage, and appears in our November/December issue.

 

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Wallpaper’s Wizardry

Arabella by Tempaper. Photo courtesy of Tempaper. 

Penchants usually gravitate to the latest and greatest, but one tried and true material continues to be a magical catalyst for lifestyle.

Subtle or bold, classic or contemporary, shiny or opaque, wallpaper has evolved to be design’s magic wand — able to add pizzazz, lend a mellow undertone or inject just the right touch of coziness to any room.

Uniquely versatile, it enables consumers to fashion an interior that captures their individuality. It allows for unlimited customization as well as the creation of personalized living spaces, even adapting for children and pets without compromising on aesthetics. And for every budget from DIY to bespoke, there is a product.

“People want to LOVE their home. They want comfort and convenience, but do not want to sacrifice chic,” says San Francisco designer Jay Jeffers.

“There is a strong desire among consumers for original, authentic design that goes along with their vision for their house,” explains Joyce Romanoff, CEO of Maya Romanoff, a manufacturer of luxury wall coverings.

Ask designers about wallpaper and they invariably chorus, “it’s not your grandmother’s wallpaper,” a truism heard so frequently that it’s almost become a cliché. What is truly amazing is how much wallpaper ends up in homes today, adding a visual depth impossible to achieve with paint. Murals are back. So are individual walls showcased with a stunning texture or print.

And walls are only the beginning of today’s wallpaper story. “Trends indicate that the consumer is looking to personalize space through the creative use of wallpapers beyond the walls. Backings for bookcases, shelves, customized furnishings and ceilings all enter the realms of possibility.

While full room wraps, murals and feature walls still dominate the world of captivating designer installations, these small impact pieces allow for strong style statements without huge pattern or space commitments,” explains Carol Miller, content marketing manager for York Wallcoverings, a manufacturer with 125 years of innovation.

If the mention of wallpaper conjures visions of the flat, one-dimensional rolls common little more than 10 years ago, it’s time to refresh that image. “For many years wallpaper was something many of our clients avoided, but today, it is being rediscovered as an exciting way to introduce the color and patterns many homeowners are now embracing. And there are more wallpaper options out there than ever, thanks to advances in technology,” shares Elissa Morgante, founding partner of Chicago architecture and design firm Morgante-Wilson. 

Dating back to decorated rice paper in China as early as  200 B.C., wallpaper has a long history that continues to evolve, with each century, each decade, adding innovations in materials, finishes, production methods and artistry. The most recent reinvention of wallpaper began more than a decade ago, but changes over the last few years have been especially remarkable. Old-school techniques such as block printing and silk screening continue, but the end result seems entirely new. Modern machinery creates precise designs, and new dyes impart richer vibrant hues. Diverse materials from wood and sand to crystals, shells, fibers, beads, even glass add depth. 

Left: Jewel Tones; Middle: Metallic; Right: Soft Organic

Wallpaper sample photos courtesy York Wallcoverings.

“Manufacturers can now digitally create the beautiful, luxurious look of expensive hand-painted or hand-blocked papers, or embed wallpapers with materials such as mica, glass beads, or even capiz shells to add interest and texture,” says Morgante. 

“Over the last decade, we have diversified our product mix by expanding the types of materials we use. We have focused on making our processes more efficient, cost-effective and sustainable, while maintaining our handcraft and luxury appeal,” explains David Berkowitz, EVP of product development at Maya Romanoff, the largest manufacturer of handcrafted wall coverings in the U.S. Their gallery includes wool, burlap, silk and other natural fibers as well as precious metals and wood. Designs are often intricate, requiring an artisan’s touch. For example, papers in the precious metals collection often employ a time-honored method in which metallic leaves are hand applied to a paper backing with chopsticks. An ultra-modern topcoat prevents tarnishing or oxidizing, allowing for easier maintenance.

Textural papers continue to be in demand. The effect can be rustic or refined. In addition to traditional hemp, jute, sea grass, bamboo and raffia, grass cloth might integrate a variety of other materials. Additionally, says K. Tyler, partner and designer at Morgante Wilson, there are woven papers that look like linen on the wall or a variation of silk.

Schemes inspired by traditional designs (dare we mention chintz) have returned, but today’s execution is nothing like the dingy muted tones of yesteryear. Colors are vibrant, often using multiple shades of the same hue. Botanicals have also blossomed into an important trend, inspired by a growing passion for nature and biophilia. Look for splashy leaves and fronds or impressionist-inspired trees and flowers in soft tones. “I am also seeing a change from the crisp, bold large-scale patterns into a more abstract brush-stroked look. But with some of these styles, you’ll need to be aware you won’t have a side match, and each panel is distinguished,” says Christopher Grubb, president of Arch-Interiors Design Group in Beverly Hills.

Top left: Precious metal inlaid; Top right: Hand-finished wood veneer, Ajiro Fanfare. Bottom: Tribal Print from Ronald Redding Handcrafted Naturals collection.

Photos of wallpaper production and sample by Maya Romanoff.

“There are so many things technology has allowed us to do today. We can do wall covering now that looks like the real material, but it’s made out of vinyl,” says Tony Sutton, owner of Est Est, Inc., an award-winning design firm in Scottsdale. Sutton illustrates with examples of wallpaper made from ultra-thin cork or micro-layers of slate. Additionally, he says, “I can take any photograph and then make a giant custom wallpaper out of it.”

Options today range from rugged vinyls to bespoke designs and hand-painted silks with prices that can exceed $1,000 a roll. “Vinyls are typically less expensive, but super durable. Many of them are rated for commercial use and sold in wider widths,” says Mondi.

“I am a huge fan of using vinyl wall coverings,” says Grubb, who does commercial as well as residential projects. “The color palette is enormous. There are silk and grass cloth looks, wovens, textures and embossed patterns. It’s incredibly durable and easy to maintain.”

“On the other end of the spectrum, you would find hand-painted wall coverings. There are custom made, high-end and truly artisan products that typically replicate a faux finish or mural. In between is where most wallpapers reside. Digital printing is typically very affordable and can often be done on different background materials,” says Mondi.

Design is only part of what consumers want. Sustainability and ease of use are equally important. Upmarket to DIY consumers demand sustainability, which includes efforts to minimize the footprint of manufacturing, observes Miller. Beyond no VOCs, ozone-depleting chemicals or cadmium or mercury, York Wallcoverings also uses water-based inks and coatings and smokeless, non-polluting inks. Additionally, there is a push toward sustainable materials, including cork, natural grasses, leaves, wood veneer, even glass beads made from recycled windshield glass.

Ease of Use

“Now every level and type of wallpaper concerns itself with ease of application and removability,” says Miller. “Even nonwoven unpasted backings used most often by designers remove in full strips.”

A potential game-changer for the industry came with Tempaper, which has revolutionized the concept of peel and stick papers. There is nothing stodgy about these designs, which run the gamut from traditional classics such as chinoiserie to glam to bohemian. They also tap into creations by well-known designers such as Bobby Berk and Genevieve Gorder. The company also offers panels and murals as large as 8 feet by 10 feet. Some designs such as Arabella, part of the Zoe Bios collection, are inspired by artists such as Jean Michel Basquiat. 

Founded by twin sisters Jennifer Matthews and Julia Au, Tempaper is an ideal solution for someone renting, as designer Jewel Marlowe discovered. “Recently we rented a high-end beach home in Jamestown, Rhode Island, for 10 months. This was just long enough that I wanted to add some personality to some of the spaces in order for it to feel like home. However, I was very aware that whatever I used needed to be quickly removable. Luckily, I found some beautiful Tempaper designs to personalize and beautify some of our rooms,” she shares.

Birds are flocking to wallpaper this year. Graham & Brownexpresses this theme in Tori Teal.

Photos courtesy of Graham & Brown.

New additions to Tempaper’s line up include designs from Wright Kitchen and holographic decals from Bobby Berk. This year, the company also introduced a collection of vinyl floor rugs. 

Tempaper does seem to add a “now you see it, now you don’t” ability to wallpaper’s extensive resume, making it a truly magical material.

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Safe & Sound

When it comes to kitchens, the popularity of all things smart and sanitary is soaring, as consumers gravitate toward antimicrobial features.

Almost a sous chef, innovative, hands-free faucets such as U by Moen fill pots with exact amounts of hot or cold water or anything in between.

Seemingly overnight, touchless faucets, easy-open drawers and an ever-growing array of kitchen tech morphed from “nice-to-have” amenities to “must-haves” as the desire for cleanliness and safety eclipsed convenience.

Indoor air quality, purified water and clean surfaces rank high with consumers. Before the pandemic, interest in wellness at home was on the rise; now, amenities that bring a hygienic benefit, particularly in the kitchen, top wellness demands. A desire for simplification with easy-to-clean cabinets and counters along with healthy living are micro themes expected to steer product development and design in the future, according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

Even trusted materials such as wood, cork and brass are now considered for their capacity to shed germs or resist contamination. “All our faucets are solid brass construction and therefore, by the very nature of the metal, have additional antimicrobial properties,” points out Noah Taft, senior vice president of marketing and sales at California Faucets, noting the benefit of brass over less costly materials

Pure Water

As the desire for healthy homes builds, so does interest in water quality. Filtration has become an important focus, according to experts at Kohler, who say more than 75 percent of customers already take measures to filter their drinking water. In January, Kohler introduced a four-stage reverse osmosis purification system designed to fit in the cabinet under the kitchen sink. The system reduces contaminants, including lead, mercury, chlorine, bacteria, virus, arsenic, copper, fluoride and more. With a capacity of 27.5 gallons per day, it would replace approximately 200, 16.9 oz. bottles of water.

Water Appliance

Sinks used to be, well, just sinks, until Rohl and other manufacturers elevated the status to “water appliance.” According to estimates, the kitchen sink used to be frequented 10 to 30 times a day. Now, after weeks of sheltering at home and a hyper-focus on handwashing, the sink is getting more use than ever and receiving lots of scrutiny regarding design, ease of use and even appearance.

“Kitchen sinks and faucets are on the front lines of keeping a home clean and safe — used continuously for food preparation, hand and dishwashing,” says Edyta Drutis, director, brand and communications, at Blanco North America. Blanco’s Silgranit stone-like sink material is nonporous, resistant to stains, scratches, chips, acid and heat. Acting as a shield against dirt and contaminants, it reduces bacterial growth by 98 percent. The hydrophobic surface pushes away dirt and water, so it drains easily and cleans with soap and water or baking soda.

When it comes to sinks, bigger continues to be better. Even before the pandemic, experts at the National Kitchen and Bath Association noted increased demand for large sinks to accommodate tasks as diverse as washing fresh produce and jumbo pans, to babies and the
occasional pup.

More Power Per Drop

Look for faucets designed to do more than deliver water. Lenova introduced a model that takes washing produce or the dog’s bowl to the next level by integrating ozone into the flow. Recognized as a safe, non-toxic way to kill viruses, bacteria, mold, yeast and algae within seconds of contact, aqueous ozone has been extensively tested and clinically proven, according to Lenova. Not only does it sanitize surfaces, but it can be used to wash produce, and it even removes pesticides. 

Adding more cleaning power to each drop, particularly for sprays, is another objective for manufacturers. Kohler recently introduced options such as a faucet sprayer with nozzles aligned to create a forceful blade of water to sweep away stuck-on food. Another, a soft spray, preps berries without bruising. Moen optimized its sprays to deliver 50 percent more spray power while containing the splash — great for messy pots and messy hands.

Look Ma, No Hands!

Touch-free faucets have been around for a few years. In the first versions, sensors would activate the flow in response to a motion. Then, voice control was added. The most recent innovation enables homeowners to activate faucets via Alexa or Google Home. Turning the water on and off is only part of what U by Moen — a Best of KBIS 2020 winner — delivers. Instead, it can fill a baby bottle with just the right amount of water at the right temperature or load a pasta pot with precisely four quarts of hot water, freeing the cook for other tasks. Metered dispensing ranges from one tablespoon to 15 gallons, and temperature commands can be exact degrees or merely hot or cold. “Baby bottle” and other customizable presets simplify commands.

Hard As Glass

“Glass tiles are not porous and do not possess characteristics that allow or promote the growth or life of microbes, bacteria, or germs,” explains Jim Stevens, brand manager for Lunada Bay Tile. “Keep in mind that the grout between each tile is porous and does not have these same characteristics. However, grout is usually set down, below the top surface of the tiles, so direct contact is less likely. And grout could be sealed with an antimicrobial sealer to create a safe and sanitary surface.”

Glass tiles, which are nonporous, also mesmerize.

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Lifestyle and Longevity

The trends changing houses in 2020 and beyond.

By Camilla McLaughlin

New values, shifting demographics and technology are all transformative agents in 2020, and each will shape real estate and design well into the next decade. Some, such as outdoor living, are not new, while others, including the importance of ancillary spaces or a desire for slightly smaller but highly customized homes, are just getting underway. Farmhouse is out; contemporary, along with modern interpretations of traditional styles, is finding favor with architects and home buyers. Attitudes about what’s important in a home beyond an open floorplan, and even the open concept itself, are being reconsidered and revised. Color is back. Experts tell us the passion for grey and all-white kitchens is waning, although in practice designers also say neutrals still dominate.

Got all of that?

Even the term “move-up buyer” has a new meaning. “Move up doesn’t necessarily mean move into a bigger home as it did for previous generation,” explains Leigh Spicher, national director of design studios for Ashton Woods. “Today’s move up buyers expect quality and are willing to invest in special features in their home.” For upscale owners, preferences are likely to lean toward diversification in favor of several properties in different locations rather than a large estate home.

Each year, The Best in American Living program (BALA), an annual design competition held by the National Association of Home Builders, showcases award-winning design and architecture and pinpoints current and growing trends. Awards this year, based on homes built in 2019, showcased a range of styles from midcentury modern to transitional to contemporary expressions rooted in traditional styles or regional aesthetics.

Another change, according to Don Ruthro , principal at Dahlin Group Architecture Planning and this year’s judging chair, is more homes with the same style inside and out, which he says conveys a greater sense of authenticity.

Even in production homes architects are pushing for more character and uniqueness with thoughtful, well edited design elements. Well edited, according to BALA, means a genuine purpose of place and points of interest that draw the eye across the facade without all of the fussiness of past decades.

Curated design details are another design trend BALA judges highlight. “It’s clear that buyers want their home to feel personalized to their taste. From ceiling textures to shelving choices to mullion size. Every detail matters, and today’s educated buyers won’t settle for anything less,” they explain.

Other trends play into the desire for personalization. Anything that adds texture is on trend, especially wallpaper. Also enhancing personalization are unique applications of wood to highlight forms and also warm up interiors. Compared to prior years, the use of wood, often a dark hue with a matt fi nish, mixed with other surfaces, was very much in evidence in homes, new and remodeled, constructed to showcase current trends at the International Builders Show. Adding to the depth created by an overlay of textures in a home is the use of mixed metal finishes, with gold tones very much in evidence.

No facets of design are left to chance or convenience, even lighting. “Like other design details, just installing what’s on hand without added thought about placement just won’t fly with the 2020 buyer,” further advise BALA judges. Curated design details, personalized lighting design and texture were all highlighted as trends buyers can expect to see in homes over the next few years.

Even though kitchen, great room and dining — casual or formal — combined into a central living space continues to dominate, how that space is organized and expressed in an overall fl oorplan is slowly evolving. “Open space plans for the family room, kitchen, and dining area are still going strong. Our challenge in open plans is how to defi ne each space and give it some separation while still maintaining the overall open feel,” says Chicago designer Donna Mondi.

In California, designer Christine Markatos Lowe says the open plan is going strong, and perhaps the biggest change has been the addition of a second functional space to kitchens. For higherpriced homes, the presence of a back kitchen, whether a full-blown kitchen, a large walk in pantry or a butler’s pantry, has become a must have, central to keeping the main kitchen streamlined and clutter free.

Colorful kitchens? Maybe.

Examples at the national kitchen and bath industry show refl ected forecasts calling for color to punch up kitchens. Dark blues and earthy greens combined with wood finishes often clad lower cabinets and islands. Still, a number of designers express reservations regarding too much color. Wood cabinets continue to be on trend, mixed with other finishes.

“There has been a shift back into furniture-style cabinetry, exposed appliances (there’s always a place for LaCornue!), and especially statement marble countertops. European influences have made their way into the modern kitchen and I couldn’t be happier,” adds Mondi.

Another trend in renovations, Lowe says, is to open sightlines so rooms feel more connected to each other but still have their own language. “So it’s a combination of both things we’re seeing.”

“The main living spaces are getting bigger and more integrated with each other, but a good architect will design in such a way so they feel like individual spaces even though it’s part of one room,” says Bob Zuber, AIA, who is a partner at Morgante Wilson Architects in Evanston, Illinois.

Tricked Out Extras

Chances are what makes a house special for most buyers is not the number of bedrooms or even a great open plan but extras, what K. Tyler, also a partner and head of Interior Design at Morgante Wilson, dubs ancillary spaces. From tricked out mudrooms and laundry rooms to glass-enclosed wine rooms to pantries and second kitchens, what might be extras are essentials to buyers often shaping a unique living experience and often tilting them in favor of a certain house or floorplan. Offices, dens and studies will continue to be important additions to open plans. Nine times out of 10, homes with these features are going to be preferred over ones that just have big rooms, says Tyler.

Signature front entries are also gaining prominence. Expect to see continued emphasis on front entries. Foyers are designed to be functional but also to make a dazzling first impression.

Preferences for these features and quality over square footage extend to a range of price brackets. According to the National Association of Home Builders annual survey of buyer preferences, more buyers overall are likely to choose less square foot but higher quality homes with desirable features such as large walk-in master closets and energy efficient windows and lighting over large homes with fewer features.

Innovative materials continue to be important change agents. Consider outdoor living, one of the most transformative trends of the last decade. The modest pool and patio is now an array of open air venues and outdoor rooms. Pools and fire features are equally artful and functional. Rather than just an amenity tacked on to the house, outdoor connections are now the main orientation and organizing element for plans. Transitions between the two are hardly noticeable thanks to new materials and finishes, extending flooring beyond interiors. Master bedrooms morph into full blown retreats with their own outdoor spaces.

Innovative plans further bring green spaces deep into the home via interior courtyards. Expect to see more ways to bridge inside with outside as the decade progresses. Most recently, super large panes of glass and larger glass doors, further enhance visual connections and light-filled interiors. In most regions of the country, an indoor/outdoor sync is considered a “must have” for luxury, and there are no indications the penchant for outdoor connections will diminish. Among BALA trends, expansive largeformat windows along with sophisticated indoor/outdoor connections figured prominently.

Thinking Long Term

Beginning with the recovery, the tenure of homeownership increased. Instead of the 4.21-year average, typical from 2000 to 2007, ownership extended to 8 years or longer, hitting a record high in the end of 2018, with some cities — Boston, San Francisco and Hartford — charting tenures of 10 years or more. Whether or not this is a trend worth watching or simply a blip on the charts remains to be seen, but it is a solid indicator of changing attitudes toward home that spills over into design, interiors, even furnishings. Increasingly owners in almost all price brackets are thinking long term and lifestyle when it comes to their homes.

Resale seems to have moved to the back burner. Instead, consumers look for features and fi nishes that uniquely sync with and enhance their lifestyle. “I would say people are tailoring the house more specifically towards they way they want to live,” explains Zuber, noting sometimes those same features will also enhance resale.

According to Ashton Woods’ 2020 design trends survey, 86 percent of today’s buyers said home personalization is important.

Another indication of consumers anticipating longer ownership is growing interest in fl exible spaces and also in accommodating a range of ages. The term flexible spaces is taking on a new meaning. Instead of extra footage for a mancave or teen hangout, it’s viewed as versatile rooms that can change over time, explains Spicher. Perhaps a nursery today and a home o ce tomorrow. Or as many owners (55 percent in Ashton Woods Design survey) say, space that can transform into additional living space in the future for an aging family member or boomerang children.

More clients even in the 40s are looking to use the house when they are older and are planning to these accommodations with wider doors and space for an elevator shaft, say Tyler and Zuber.

Smart Home Challenges

In the next decade, smart home technology will change homes more than any other factor. Already new homes beyond a certain price point include a range of apps and devices, particularly in the kitchens, where manufacturers are already adding connections among appliances such as the hood with a range top. Also, voice control. Some brands also incorporate technology that enables some repairs to be made remotely. “What’s exciting is that every passing second, we get one step closer to a context-aware smart home. Manufacturers are pushing the boundaries. Developments in the areas of sensing technology and AI will result in appliances, fi xtures and systems that automatically respond and adapt to our home and environment changes,” says Kate Bailey, senior director of Category Management at Ferguson Enterprises.

“It’s not so much about new things as it is about things getting smaller, faster, lighter better integrated, so they get to the point where smart becomes livable and something you want to put in your homes,” says Melissa Morman, client experience officer at Builders Digital Experience.

Looking ahead, the key, the most transformative feature will be the development of an operating system that will integrate diverse function which will enhance integration and connection of devices and enable a home to further adapt to changing conditions.

Also on the horizon is a desire for homes to be a nurturing center for wellness, a capability that will be enhanced by new technology.

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Boston’s North Shore

Full of historic homes and luxury beaches, northern Boston is the up-and-coming region of New England.

Geographic rivalries are not uncommon. In Boston, it’s two stretches along the coast radiating from the city — North Shore vs. South Shore. At first glance they seem similar, a chain of cities and towns hugging the coastline, but the differences (and maybe the rivalries) go back centuries. The Pilgrims landed in Plymouth on the south, and the Puritans landed on the north in Salem, founding two different colonies with diverse underpinnings.

On the North Shore, it’s hard to escape reminders of the region’s storied past. Here it’s possible to find quintessential New England in villages such as Essex, which has the most antique shops per square mile in the country. In the city of Newburyport, just south of the New Hampshire border, vestiges of the Colonial era mix with the 21st century. Once an important port and center for shipbuilding, Newburyport has the largest collection of Federalist architecture in the country. Here and in nearby towns such as Newbury, one finds prime examples of early Colonial homes, some of which remain private residences.

©ISTOCKPHOTO.COM / DENISTANGNEYJR

Throughout the North Shore, there are dozens of historic homes and sites. The Peabody Essex Museum on East India Square in Salem highlights the history of the region, particularly the maritime connections, but it is also ranked one of the country’s top art museums.

The region includes more than 25 cities and towns extending along oceanfront, inlets and marshes north of Boston and into former farming villages farther inland. A number are considered enclaves for the affluent, but the diversity of housing and communities ranges from waterfront and marsh-view settings to urban condos, to residences on multi-acre sites a few miles inland in Boxford or Middletown.

Some of the best beaches in the state also dot this stretch of the coast and include Plum Island off of Newburyport, Crane’s Beach in Ipswich and Wingaersheek in Gloucester on Cape Ann.

Locals often refer to Cape Ann, a rocky spit of land reaching into the Atlantic, as “the other cape.” Admittedly, it is one of the prettiest stretches of coastline in the state (it’s been a setting for a number of movies), and one that still offers an authentic lifestyle that appeals to an eclectic group from fishermen to artists and writers. The seaside village of Rockport is an arts hub. On Cape Ann, one discovers Shingle-style homes often mixed among Contemporary-style residences built to capture ocean, marsh or pond views.

Not only does this area include gorgeous beaches, but also some of the region’s true estate settings in Manchester by the Sea and Annisquam. It is also home to America’s oldest fishing port, Gloucester, which is still a working fishing community.

Along with beaches, history, stunning homesites and towns that foster community, the region is noted for a cuisine inspired by the Italian and Portuguese heritage and the bounty of fresh seafood. In fact, instead of farm to table, Gloucester touts its “bait to plate” freshness. All this, only 30 miles from Logan Airport and Boston.

     

This editorial originally appeared in Unique Homes Winter 2020.

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Footloose Fortunes

©istockphoto.com / ClaudioVentrella

While the pace of wealth creation may be slowing, the story now is how it’s spreading around the globe.

“The increasingly footloose nature of wealth.” That’s how global consultancy Knight Frank characterizes today’s trend in affluence. When it comes to real estate, all it takes is a quick look at the worldwide activity of major brands to see a clear illustration of this concept.

The locations of new affiliates of Sotheby’s International Realty in recent months include Oklahoma City, Arkansas and Kansas, along with Cyprus, Slovakia and Qatar. Qatar is the second location in the Middle East for Sotheby’s. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices has extended its reach to global hubs, partnering with major firms in Europe and the Middle East. Now, they count Berlin, London, Milan, Madrid, Barcelona, Dubai and Frankfort in their network. Coldwell Banker has offices in 49 countries. Luxury Portfolio International, the luxury arm of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, has affiliates in more than 70 countries.

“The fact that the world is becoming smaller and smaller, the speed of information flow, and travel contribute to people’s interest in owning properties elsewhere, both for Americans and foreign nationals,” explains Joyce Rey, executive director, Coldwell Banker Global Luxury.

Markets may go through cycles and new partnerships emerge, but the foundation of global real estate hasn’t changed. “The luxury buyer understands that one of the best, if not the best, investments they can make is property,” explains Michael Jalbert, executive vice president, Global Field Operations for HSF Affiliates, the parent company of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.

Chatter regarding a potential recession might form a smokescreen, but wealth creation will continue to be a constant, according to Knight Frank’s annual Wealth Report, which forecasts a rise, over the next five years, of 22 percent in the number of individuals whose net worth exceeds $30 million, a group often classified as Ultra High Net Worth, UHNW. Over the next year, existing UHNW, especially in the U.S., expect their wealth to increase.

When Rey began her career in the 1970s, foreign buyers were a rarity, especially in Southern California. Today, she says, the percentage of foreign buyers purchasing ultra-luxury properties, those priced above $20 million, has remained pretty steady. “Usually it waffles between about 20 percent to 25 percent. And that hasn’t changed over the years.” For the first nine months of 2019, foreign buyers accounted for 31 percent of purchases of $20-million plus residences in Los Angeles’ tony west side.

Rey was one of the first to reach outside U.S. borders to forge connections. After the increase of Japanese buyers in 1980s, she traveled to Japan to meet one-on-one with agents and potential buyers. “I feel if a quarter of your buying population is foreign, you should be reaching out to the foreign market,” she says.

Bob Hurwitz, founder and president of the Hurwitz James Company (HJC), was also on the leading edge of the global outreach. “In the early 90s, I recognized that the buyers for my highest-priced properties were more and more often originating from overseas. This was actually before the Internet was even a reality for marketing purposes. As a result, I started focusing a significant percentage of my marketing to exposing my listings here in the states to affluent foreign buyers.” He also created a network of HJC representatives to promote his listings overseas. Currently, Hurwitz represents nearly $3 billion in luxury properties and developments worldwide.

Even those who work in the global arena today are occasionally surprised by the geographic diversity of investors and buyers. “One stat that recently jumped out at me is Aruba is home to 90-plus nationalities and ethnic groups, which I thought was fascinating,” shares Stephanie Anton, president of Luxury Portfolio International. “One of our affiliates there also pointed out that many of their buyers are coming from India.”

And this isn’t an isolated instance. Indian buyers are cropping up in many other primary and second-home locations, including Portugal. Among foreign buyers in the U.S., India ranks third after China and Canada. India is expected to lead the five-year growth in Asia’s ultra-high net worth population with a 39 percent increase, followed by the Philippines (38 percent) and China (35 percent).

Increasingly, the ultra-wealthy are not necessarily tied to one country or one region. Approximately, 26 percent plan to emigrate in the next year. Already, more than a third hold a second passport and 22 percent plan to buy outside their country of residence, according to Knight Frank.

However, 2018 saw only a marginal increase (0.8 percent) in the size of the ultra-wealthy population, which Wealth X describes as a “marked slowdown” from the year earlier. The combined net worth of the ultra-wealthy declined 1.7 percent, the first annual fall in three years, according to Wealth X. However, it’s important to view these changes in context, because 2017 saw dynamic wealth creation with double-digit growth in the number of ultra-wealthy and impressive gains in asset markets.

The global outlook this year is nuanced. Rising interest rates and the end of quantitative easing means we are reaching the end of super-charged returns on everything from classic cars to art and property, according to Knight Frank. Government policies continue to transition as some countries seek to attract wealth, with a record number offering citizenship and residency through policies regarding investment, while others restrict outflows of capital. Others, including Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK will continue to make it more difficult for wealthy non-residents to purchase properties.

Looking ahead, expectations are for slower price growth in key markets. But, as with any correction, a shift in values is an opportunity to which buyers respond, something that is already happening in London, where agents see a potential turnaround, particularly for higher-priced properties, underway.

“London’s general property market has experienced a slowdown and fall in housing prices. That said, the luxury property market is certainly bottoming out and we are experiencing buyers returning to the market, which is demonstrated by our revenues being up 146 percent year on year,” says Martin Bikhit, managing director at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Kay & Co.

“Given all the uncertainty of Brexit, values in London have come down significantly. It’s a buyers’ market,” says Jalbert.

The exchange rate of the U.S. dollar to sterling makes the value equation even more appealing. “American buyers have been able to take advantage of savings up to 45 percent compared to the 2014 peak of the market. U.S. buyers believe that the market is going to spike post-Brexit and there is now an opportunity to buy competitively. Indeed, this is illustrated by the fact that American hedge funder Ken Griffin was the buyer behind two of London’s most expensive property transactions within the past year,” according to Bikhit, who calls this surge a “pre-Brexit boom.”

Hurwitz sees luxury penthouses in many traditional hot markets, including London, as good opportunities for buyers, since those prices have seen a big decline. Other recommendations in Europe include France as well as Tuscany, which, he says, has an appeal that transcends the strictly financial. “Finding something totally renovated in an authentic manner is key.”

A flat or pied-à-terre in Paris has become a rite of passage for Americans, says Anton, noting reports of particular interest coming from Silicon Valley. Paris is one of the bright spots in Europe, placing third on Knight Frank’s list of the

fastest-growing luxury markets.

“France and Italy are still two of our top locations and our offices are expanding in numbers and experiencing a very solid claim in the market,” says Craig Hogan, vice president, Coldwell Banker Global Luxury.

Berlin is Europe’s rising star. It has topped Urban Land Institute’s list of markets to watch in Europe for four years in a row, and currently ranks second after Madrid on rankings of the fastest-growing luxury real estate markets. Luxury residential here is a small but vibrant niche, with the number of privately owned apartments selling above 1 million euros growing by 17.5 percent from 2017 to 2018.

Stefan Schulze, COO, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Rubina Real Estate, says, “If Berlin succeeds in further expanding its potential in scientific and culture fields and remains one of the influential centers in Europe, it can be deemed certain that not only the number of premium new development projects but also the quality of luxury real estate will continue to grow sharply.”

Global Buyers in the U.S.

From the perspective of foreign buyers in the U.S., Hurwitz says, the market has changed multiple times over the last few years, fueled by factors as diverse as the attitude and oversight of a foreign buyer’s own government regarding money leaving their country, to crushing economic changes in their country of origin, to U.S. government restrictions on shell companies buying, to various others. Hurwitz says, “I still believe the U.S. is a safe bet and I am telling my clients to buy here.”

During the 12 months from April 2018 to March 2019, global purchases of U.S. properties fell sharply, with purchases declining by 36 percent. The dollar volume as well as the average price also declined. Rather than lack of interest from potential buyers, Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, cites what he calls “a confluence of factors — slower economic growth abroad, tighter capital controls in China, a stronger U.S. dollar and a low inventory of homes for sale.”

John Smaby, NAR president, adds, “There is still significant interest in U.S. properties across the globe, and the U.S. is still seen as a safe, secure place to invest.”

London

©istockphoto.com / _ultraforma_

Tuscany

©istockphoto.com / mammuth

Paris

©istockphoto.com / Givaga

Madrid

©istockphoto.com / SeanPavonePhoto

Global Bright Spots

Along with real estate professionals from over 27 countries, Stephanie Anton recently returned from her company’s international conference in Athens. “It was thrilling to hear and see firsthand about so many bright spots in the market,” she says, including places where property markets were hard hit by political and financial turmoil during the recession. “One that was particularly obvious was our host city itself. The optimism of the Greek people was palpable.”

Both Spain and Portugal are seeing an influx of buyers and a surge in sales. Both suffered during the recession and are experiencing a strong turnaround.

“I think there is a sentiment of Europeans kind of holding their breath and waiting to see what happens with Brexit. But yet, there are also bright spots and the bright spots are more of those second-home markets because they’re lifestyle purchases. And so people are less concerned about the economic impact of Brexit because of making decisions on purchasing second or third homes,” Anton observes.

Some of the strongest luxury markets this year have been in resort locales. San Miguel de Allende continues to rank at the top of best cities and second-home destinations. “Our typical luxury buyers are investors looking for properties to take advantage of the lucrative vacation rental market, or shopping for their second or third vacation homes,” says Nancy Howze, with CDR San Miguel.

“Upscale consumers tend to have a broad world view,” says Jalbert. “They understand markets and are attracted to a range of places. Buyers in different parts of Europe are looking for a weather change, so it’s no surprise to see the resurgences of locations along Costa Del Sol and Portugal.” Jalbert adds that almost 100 percent of the luxury transactions in their eight offices in Portugal are from buyers outside the country. “It’s just an incredibly enchanted place where they have beautiful properties, but where there has also been significant investment in infrastructure,” he says.

One thing that has remained constant across the globe is the attitude of the elite regarding buying. Some of the highest sales in the last year can be tracked to global buyers, according to Hogan. “They will spend the money but need to know it’s a wise decision.”

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE GLOBAL 2019 ISSUE OF UNIQUE HOMES. TO SEE THE DIGITAL VERSION OF THIS STORY, CLICK HERE.

The Transition

Of all the changes brought on by the pandemic, what is here to stay?

The Legends of Ultimate Homes

As we take a look at this year's Ultimate Homes magazine, we also look back at the exceptional properties and agents who have been a part of the annual celebration of the most expensive real estate in the U.S.

Elite Agent: W. Terry Potts

Agent Terry Potts of Country Club Properties offers wonderful, luxury real estate in the Highlands area, whether you're buying or selling.

Elite Agent: Mariann Cordova

Mariann is a multi-award-winning Realtor and marketing expert with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties.

Elite Agent: Yvonne Summerfield

As Kauai’s top selling Realtor (most sold transactions), Yvonne is am uniquely qualified to help client with their real estate needs on one of the most beautiful islands in the world.

Elite Agent: Candy Swick

Featured by Elite agent Candy Swick, this spacious downtown residence was showcased on HGTV. A completely renovated open plan overlooking 11th-floor bay views.

Elite Agent: James Lucarelli

With over 30 years of experience in Telluride real estate, James Lucarelli is the only 3-time Telluride Association of Realtor’s Realtor of the Year and has a vast array of market knowledge.

Elite Agent: Lily Liang

Lily Liang is Co-founder and Executive Vice President of Strand Hill Properties, Christie’s International Real Estate. She has represented both buyers and sellers from around the world in transactions worth over $1 billion.

Elite Agent: Trudy Stambook

Renowned for discreet, individualized client service, Trudy Stambook is a key resource for real estate clients and those actively engaged in the business, development and cultural community in San Diego.

Elite Agent: Tracy Allen

As an industry leader with 32 years of dedication, Tracy is honored to be the #1 Individual Sales Agent in Hawaii and #6 Individual Sales Agent in North America for Coldwell Banker Realty.

The Beauty of Victoria

Privately nestled at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, this rare discovery awaits in Victoria, British Columbia’s Capital City on Beautiful Vancouver Island.

Elite Agent: W. Terry Potts

Agent Terry Potts of Country Club Properties offers wonderful, luxury real estate in the Highlands area, whether you're buying or selling.

Elite Agent: Tracy Allen

As an industry leader with 32 years of dedication, Tracy is honored to be the #1 Individual Sales Agent in Hawaii and #6 Individual Sales Agent in North America for Coldwell Banker Realty.

Elite Agent: Pamela Kutoroff

Elite 2021 Agent, Pamela Kutoroff, believes her clients come first. And with decades of experience under her belt, Pamela is the one to call when finding a home in Northern New Jersey.

Elite Agent: Jeff Leonard

Meet our Elite 2021 Agent from Michigan! Jeff Leonard is featuring a private, gated property in Southwest Michigan that boasts a private lake.

Elite Company: Churchill Properties

Churchill Properties is a full service residential real estate firm with a unique marketing and sales program that utilizes multiple media channels and promotional activities.

Contemporary Versatile Luxury in Massachusetts

This 2012 architect-designed, contemporary-style Colonial home is on coveted Farm Street in Dover, Massachusetts.

Custom Gulf-front Home in Casey Key, Florida up for Auction

With 123 feet of private beachfront away from the crowds in Casey Key, Florida, this home offers a place to get away from it all.

Stunning Villa La Plage in St. Barth

With powder-white sand and turquoise waters that offer tranquil swimming and world-class surfing, this gated seven-bedroom property — set on beautiful Lorient Beach — is one of St. Barth’s most luxurious beachfront estates.

Dream Home in Illinois

This warm and inviting 1918, Georgian-style home will great you with modern elegance. Architectural detail and classic style await the future homeowner.

Fall is The Perfect Time to Take a Soak

Take the Chill Out With the first signs of Fall come the first slight chill in the air; many people love it but there is always that thought in the back of everyone’s mind that its just going to get colder. Bath designers have weighed in on trends in bathroom...

No Reserve Auction September — Exclusive Dallas Estate

Located in the sought-after rural city of Anna, Texas, Bodark Acres offers a wonderful relaxed quality of life.

Rise to the Top

Subscribed to REAL TRENDS 500? This year, Who’s Who in Luxury Real Estate members were recognized more than 150 times in the REAL Trends 500. Find out more about these top agents!

Who’s Who Luxury Real Estate Retreat Announces World Record Holder As Keynote Speaker for Spring Retreat

Want to learn how to become the real estate industry's go-to professional? Ryan Avery is the expert you've been looking for.

Tamarack Resort is More than Just a Destination

The Village at Tamarack is the latest ski-in/ski-out residential addition to the renowned Tamarack Resort in Idaho’s scenic Valley County.

New Luxury Residence Begins Sales

Pendry Residences West Hollywood features stunning interiors and high-end amenities.

Stacy Gottula joins Celebrity Team Eklund-Gomes

Stacy Gottula, one of the premier luxury real estate brokers with the Agency, has officially redirected her career toward working with Eklund and Gomes.

Engel and Völkers Snell Announces New Partnership

Luxury real estate company, Engel & Völkers Snell Real Estate, recently announced its newest partnership with Lifestyle Asset Group, an exclusive vacation home company.

New report affirms the allure of a second home

Luxury Portfolio International's newest report discusses "The Allure of the Second Home" and how affluent buyers are showing interest in resort markets.

Chinowth and Cohen Realtors to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award

With more than 65 years’ experience between them, Sheryl Chinowth and Lee Cohen, co-founders of Chinowth and Cohen Realtors, have proven to be leaders in the luxury real estate industry.
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Biophilic Design

On tablescapes, in kitchens and baths, garden and great rooms, green seems to be having a moment.

Photo courtesy of marvin Windows and Doors

Extensive windows and doors link to greenery outside and bring nature inside.

©istockphoto.com / martinwimmer

Photo JORDAN STEAD / Amazon

Not too long ago, it was difficult to spy even a vestige of green in a room. Today, it’s almost impossible to find new interior scheme without a spark of green. “We’re seeing emerald green used on everything from walls to cabinetry to tile and even lighting,” observes Sue Wadden, director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams.

Green hues, especially deep vibrant shades, seem to be everywhere along with living greenery and plants. But rather than a fleeting color preference, the passion for green might also be the first sprouts, indications of a more transformative movement — biophilic design — edging into residential design and architecture.

Biophilia, according to consultants Terrapin Bright Green, refers to humankind’s innate biological connection with nature. Although social psychologist Eric Fromm first coined the phrase “biophilia,” the concept wasn’t popularized until the 1980s when biologist Edward O. Wilson took up the mantle. Biophilic design introduces natural elements, organic forms, light and water into the built environment. Research shows integrating natural elements increases productivity, enhances creativity and improves mental health. “We’re getting evidence-based design, especially in the healthcare industry, that just by having a view of the outside a patient recovers quicker and requires less medication and attention after surgery,” observes Miami designer B. Pila.

“The use of green in home interiors is picking up steam,” explains Stephanie Pierce, director of design for MasterBrand Cabinets. “There are a variety of shades cropping up today, particularly in the kitchen and bath from deep emeralds to soft sages and dark ivies. Deep, moody hues are making a bold impact on these spaces. The effect is as cozy as a warm blanket.”

“Touches of rich, verdant green can make it feel as though you’ve escaped to the outdoors and are soaking up the invigorating effects of nature — without even leaving your home,” shares Wadden.

“With the growing interest in wellbeing in all aspects of our lives, including the home, people are using nature-inspired lush greens to bring comfort into spaces,” explains Christine Marvin, director of corporate strategy and design at Marvin Windows and Doors. “Emerald green is a bold color that perfectly balances glamour with calmness, evoking a sense of relaxation and inspiration.”


Three spherical conservatories forested with more than 40,000 plants and trees allow Amazon employees to work while surrounded by nature.

Photo courtesy of sherwin-williams

Green, whether an accent or main course, is a mainstay on design menus.

Until recently, biophilic principles were utilized primarily in commercial structures, and the inclusion of nature — living plants, park-like oases, organic forms, natural materials including wood and stone, water and light — is revamping corporate settings including Amazon, Apple and Google. Last year, Amazon’s long-awaited biophilic project, The Spheres, opened on the site of its original headquarters. The three glass and steel domes are forested with more than 40,000 plants. Along with plants and a four-story-tall green wall, there are waterfalls, a river, walkways and meeting spaces. Hotels and other commercial spaces are implementing biophilic design practices but with more modest expressions.

For residential buildings, the addition of natural elements and connections with the outside has been an ongoing evolution, partially in response to consumer attitudes rather than a dedication to biophilia. Designers are just catching on. “Consumers are more educated in wanting healthier lifestyle choices,” says Angela Harris, creative director and principal of TRIO, an award-winning interior design firm in Denver.

Current residential design merges indoors and out, organic and humanmade, using visual and real connections. The integration of outdoor spaces is a response to consumer lifestyle demands, but the end result potentially delivers the cognitive, psychological and physiological benefits biophilia advocates tout.

“We’ve noticed an increase in demand for bigger windows over the past five years, as more people want to feel connected to the world around us while we’re indoors,” comments Marvin. “In a world that’s become fast paced and where our living and workspaces are merging, letting light in allows us to feel alive and connected to space outside our homes. Incorporating large windows into the home plays a significant role in achieving this ‘outdoors in’ feel and connecting to nature. We’re also seeing a pull towards large window walls, or many windows that are mulled together to create a wall of light that heightens the experience of light in a home.”

It may seem biophilia is just another quick moving fad, but more than one organization is promoting the concept and actively formulating certifications for buildings under the auspices of groups such as the International Living Future Institute, a Seattle-based nonprofit that encourages sustainable practices and wellness. In 2016, a cadre of architects, builders and researchers formed the Biophilic Design Initiative to further the movement. Biophilia is also part of the U.S. Green Building Council’s WELL Building Standard.

Whether or not biophilia will exert a long-term influence on design remains to be seen, but there is a good chance wellness and nature will be an important aspect of design’s new normal.

Q&A with Chris Goddard of HGTV’s Design Star

Chris Goddard credits his appearance on HGTV’s Design Star for reigniting his passion.

Glass Ceilings: Designed to be Broken

In the male-dominated field of architecture, the prominence of iconic women architects has inspired a new generation of pioneer females, but that path is still laden with roadblocks.

‘Keep Things Sophisticated’

We spoke with interior designer Marissa Stokes about her experiences in the industry and how her love of interior design has transformed her career so far.

ASPIRE House Princeton — Boy’s Bedroom

Designer Diane Durocher quoted “Adventure, curiosity and exploration are what opens young minds to infinite possibilities” as the inspiration for the boy’s bedroom in the home.

ASPIRE House Princeton — The Dining Room

The ASPIRE House Princeton series continues with the paradise-themed dining room! The room sweeps people off their feet to a tropical getaway.

ASPIRE House Princeton — The Master Suite

This zen master suite is the perfect space to unwind or start the day, with an impressive master bath, spacious walk-in closet, and distinguished furnishings.

ASPIRE House Princeton – The Great Room

A glowing fireplace will draw anyone into this modernly designed gathering space.

ASPIRE House: Princeton Designer Show House

The Aspire Princeton Designer Show House showcased elegant and creative designs by interior designers, all with their own design aesthetic.

Wallpaper’s Wizardry

Subtle or bold, classic or contemporary, shiny or opaque, wallpaper has evolved to be design’s magic wand to fashion an interior that captures creativity.

The Audacious Artisan

Katrien Van Der Schueren is the founder and creative visionary behind Voila! Creative Studio, a visual laboratory where she envisions, creates and fabricates a full range of bespoke fine art, objects, furnishings, lighting, event and stage sets, and accessories.

Sweet Sustainability

Some of the world’s finest hotels have accepted hundreds of thousands of new guests: honeybees that reflect a commitment to sustainability.

Dining Responsibly

Seafood challenges chefs and delights diners, but a world of rapidly depleting resources requires conscientious choices.

A Guide to the Michelin Guide

Bvlgari Hotels & Resorts is proud to announce that both the hotel’s signature restaurants, the Italian Il Ristorante — Niko Romito and the Chinese Bao Li Xuan, have been awarded Michelin stars during the Michelin Guide Shanghai 2020 presentation ceremony.

Sustainability Without Sacrifice

Hoping to be more sustainable in 2022? Introducing luxury handbags that leave their mark on the fashion industry without damaging the environment.

Mindful Drinking

A movement started across the pond is reshaping the relationship people have with alcohol, and starting new conversations about the topic.

Dazzling Diamonds

Vanleles Diamonds offers a variety of jewelry styles, including rings, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, each crafted by skilled jewelry makers.

A Cut Above The Rest

Sustainable jewelry companies weigh the impact of their creations, in more ways than one.

Big Gardens for Small Spaces

By focusing on a desire to nurture carefully grown fauna, this company has rethought the living wall by making gardening easy for small spaces.

How To Make Your Home Sports-Friendly

Whether you’re looking to add a basketball or tennis court, or something more adventurous like a putting green, home golf simulator or bocce ball court, having the ability to play these sports while at home can provide countless hours of enjoyment.

The Art of Writing

Exclusive writing instruments elevate the tradition of putting pen to paper — a ritual technology cannot erase — into fine art

Bedding for a Cause

The Good Sheet, a luxury bedding brand based in Tasmania, Australia partnered with non-profit organization, One Tree Planted, is planting five trees in its home state of Tasmania with every bedding set sold.

Modern Midwestern Makes

These two Midwestern brands, both with a reputation for timeless design, craftsmanship, and innovation, will debut a new collection in January 2020.

Concrete-Inspired Gift Guide

Looking for inspiration this holiday season? Check out this gift guide with an edge. These concrete-inspired items are perfect for your home or office and will stand the test of time to celebrate for years to come.
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Gazing into Real Estate’s Crystal Ball

©istockphoto.com / Jirsak

The luxury real estate outlook for the coming decade includes understanding millennials and dealing with low inventories.

A new year and a new decade prompts pundits to dust off crystal balls and prognosticate on what’s ahead. But experience teaches us that vision is not always in focus.

To illustrate her perception of luxury in 2020, Stephanie Anton, president of Luxury Portfolio International, points to Pantone’s color of the year, a classic blue symbolizing protection, sustainability, peace and confidence. “That’s exactly how I feel about the market. It’s going to be a peaceful year, solid, with nothing dramatic happening.” 

Others might agree with Julie Leonhardt LaTorre, COO for Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates, who says, “The U.S. luxury property market has never been as exciting as it is today. While certain real estate markets are currently experiencing some softening, others are seeing an uptick in sales.”

“It’s a time of change,” says Craig Hogan, vice president, Coldwell Banker Global Luxury. In hindsight, there is a good chance 2020 will be viewed not as a year of spectacular sales or an unusually strong market, but rather as pivotal — the year in which millennials became real estate influencers, sparking a transformation more significant and substantive than simply sales or the number of transactions. The turnover from baby boomers to millennials will take more than a decade to complete and will impact all facets of real estate from design to communication to how transactions are conducted.

Looking Back

When the last decade began, there was only one certainty for real estate: we were in a recession, perhaps the worst crisis since the Great Depression. Tentative hints of a recovery arrived with the new year, but as the decade unfolded, it was clear the worst was not over. “Bumping along the bottom” became a catch phrase to characterize the long, slow recovery. By decade’s end, almost all markets were back to or had surpassed pre-recession values. A few became hot markets with a surge of new residential property and skyrocketing values followed by another period of adjustment. Many others bounced by and remained hot markets through the end of the decade. By early 2019, the possibility of another downturn loomed as some economists and housing experts bet a recession was waiting in the wings.

Today, a few clouds hover over some forecasts, but expectations are the economic expansion, the longest in history, will continue. Jobs, the economy and continued low interest rates continue as positives. For real estate, the year ended on an upbeat as markets revived in the second half. Still, a lack of inventory continued to hamstring sales with only a 3.9-month supply of homes on the market at the end of October, down from 4.3 months recording October 2018. Noting that residential construction is still under-building to meet demand, Rover Dietz, NAHB chief economist, points to higher development costs, which, he says, “are hurting affordability and dampening more robust construction growth.”

The median existing-home price for all housing types in October was $270,900, up 6.2 percent from October 2018. October’s price increase marks almost eight years, 92 straight months, of year-over-year gains.

The probability of a recession in 2020 is 29 percent, according to 14 housing economists and experts gathered by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) in December for a forecast summit. They project a 2.0 percent increase in GDP in 2020 and 1.9 in 2021. Annual median home prices are expected to increase by 3.6 percent in 2020 and 3.5 percent in 2021.

“Real estate is on firm ground with little chance of price declines,” said NAR’s Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. However, Yun cautioned that lack of inventory, not enough for sale homes to meet demand, was still a detriment. “In order for the market to be healthier, more supply is needed to assume home prices as well as rents do not consistently outgrow income gains,” he explained.

Year-end bought more positives with an increase in builder confidence for single-family construction, the highest point since June 1999, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market index. “Builders are continuing to see the housing rebound that began in the spring, supported by a low supply of existing homes, low mortgage rates and a strong labor market,” said NAHB Chairman Greg Ugalde, a home builder and developer from Torrington, Connecticut.

New Markets to Watch

In recent years, a big change has been the migration of luxury to secondary markets such as Denver and Houston. This year, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Nashville, Cincinnati, Boise, and Kansas City were added to the luxury orbit, according to the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing.

Looking ahead, John Brian Losh, chairman and publisher of LuxuryRealEstate.com, believes that all of the fundamentals for a positive year for real estate are in place. “I think nationally it couldn’t be better. The economy is booming. It’s an election year, and people don’t want to raise taxes during an election year. It’s rare to have a slowdown during an election year. The luxury market is all about consumer confidence. If confidence is high, the market will stay strong.”

Still, some media reports portray luxury sales in freefall, particularly from Manhattan, which is finding new ground after a mid-decade surge in prices, or L.A.’s tony Westside enclaves, where a spate of speculative development pushed prices to unjustified levels. Yet, Manhattan and Beverly Hills both posted sales that set record prices in 2019. 

I think nationally it couldn’t be better. The economy is booming. It’s an election year, and people don’t want to raise taxes during an election year. It’s rare to have a slowdown during an election year. The luxury market is all about consumer confidence. If confidence is high, the market will stay strong.

John Brian Losh

Chairman & Publisher , LuxuryRealEstate.com

“What’s interesting is what we’re hearing and feeling is not as bad as we hear in the media,” shares Anton, following a recent two-day summit with 15 leading brokers.

Something Meghan Barry, president at LuxuryRealEstate.com, has heard this year from more than a few agents is they are having their best year ever.

While Anton agrees “there is definitely a softening in luxury generally,” she also points out, “There are bright spots. It’s not a horror story. Things are flat year over year, and as we look to the coming year, we think it’s going to be the same.”

Lesli Akers, president, Keller Williams Luxury International, sees the growth of inventory as a positive. “We’re starting to see more supply and we need to. It’s not moving into a buyer’s market. It’s moving more into an adjusted market. I think the luxury market is strong now.”

Heading into 2020, there are also a number of encouraging indicators for luxury from a continued vibrant global market to a surge of demand for second-home and resort properties. “With the creation of new wealth around the world, cities like New York City, London and Dubai, just to name a few, will continue to thrive in the luxury arena,” says Johnson.

London

©istockphoto.com / sborisov

Tokyo

©istockphoto.com / tawatchaiprakobkit

“We have been seeing a strong increase in demand in Dubai’s super-prime segment, with transaction volumes increasing by 81 percent year-to-date in the second quarter, compared to the same period last year. The mainstream market over the same period saw a 2.2-percent decline, although since then the wider market has seen increased transaction volumes, increasing 11.1 percent year-to-date in August over the same period last year,” says Dounia Fadi, chief operating officer, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Gulf Properties.

“Some of the hot markets that are emerging globally are Canada, Japan, Portugal and New Zealand,” says LaTorre. “Canada continues to generate strong interest. Specifically, Vancouver, which is steadily regaining momentum, experiencing the greatest gains in year-over-year employment growth among Canada’s three largest census metropolitan areas, so confidence in the city’s fundamentals remains high. There is a strong focus on Tokyo, especially with the Olympic games in 2020. It’s currently on a world spotlight.”

In London, prices are down, and the general property market has slowed. But the luxury market, which Martin Bikhit, managing director at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Kay & Co. describes as “certainly bottomed out,” is reviving with buyers returning to the market. It’s still a buyers’ market, which creates new opportunities for investors and foreign buyers. Bikhit sees Americans and others from countries with currencies pegged to the U.S. dollar taking advantage of prices and exchange rates offering savings of 45 percent compared to the 2014 market peak.

“International buyers are using the currency play to their advantage and timing their investments accordingly. Therefore, we are seeing a number of international buyers looking to buy in the UK,” says LaTorre. And, she adds, “we’re still seeing foreign interest in the U.S. luxury market.”

Hot luxury locales this year were resort markets, and the passion for get-away properties or the new family gathering spot is not expected to change soon. “The preferences of the consumer have changed dramatically. We’re seeing wealthy millennials are particularly interested in purchasing second homes,” says Anton.

Tax policies also came into play this year in a big way and expectations are they will continue to shape demand and bring more interest to low tax states such as Texas and Florida. Expectations are taxes and government policies will remain motivations for buyers. “The weather, the climate and taxation have a lot to do with where people move, especially in this economy,” says Losh.

Not only are more consumers migrating to lower tax states, but Hogan says an increasing number of agents are licensed in two states such as Illinois and Arizona or New York and Florida. “We have always had people with dual licenses. Now we have agents who have established a presence and market themselves as having offices in two locations.”

Many are also revising their acquisitions too. “People are looking for multiple small properties instead of one large property,” adds Anton.

In the last year and a half, both Coldwell Banker Global Luxury and Luxury Portfolio International conducted research into millennial attitudes and the potential influence of this cohort on luxury market. “The buyer pool has changed. In the luxury space, we’re now faced with people with different expectations, different styles of communication and different experiences,” Hogan says.

Already evidence of the transition from boomers and Gen X to millennials can be seen. By spring 2020, millennials will account for more than 50 percent of all mortgage originations, according to George Raitu, senior economist at Realtor.com. By 2030, Wealth Engine and Coldwell Banker Global Luxury estimate millennials will hold five times as much wealth as they do today.

Currently, the number of wealthy millennials in the luxury market may be small, but they are extremely influential. For one thing, Hogan says, they are buying more real estate than their parents. “They own an average of three homes, while their parents own an average of 1.4, and they’re spending more money.”

Overall, millennials are defying earlier predictions by starting families, moving out of urban neighborhoods and owning cars. What’s ahead is uncertain, but agents and brands are preparing for dramatic changes in the industry overall. 

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE WINTER 2020 ISSUE OF UNIQUE HOMES. TO SEE THE DIGITAL VERSION OF THIS STORY, CLICK HERE.

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