‘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.