It’s easier than ever to learn about a property from afar, with listings featuring more detail, high-resolution photographs, and three-dimensional floor plans, plus the advent of virtual reality tours.
But visiting in person is still the quickest way for buyers to get the full sensory experience of a home, as well as to imagine how they, their families, and their lifestyles might fit within its walls.
Thanks to the ease with which they can access information online about luxury properties, “buyers have become very educated about details: what kind of hardware has been placed in the home, fixtures, appliances, type of counters, finishes,” said Emil Hartoonian, a broker with The Agency in Los Angeles.
Given that education, savvy luxury buyers—and in some cases, their brokers acting on their behalf—are heading to open houses with very specific wants and expectations in mind. Beyond perennially in-demand features like a great location, expansive layout, and thoughtful, stylish design, buyers are focusing, too, on the subtler aspects of a property when they visit open houses, from the sound quality in a home theater to the type of marble used on a kitchen countertop.
Attention to Detail
Savvy buyers are taking more time to weigh the finer details of a larger number of homes. “Buyers are looking at more properties and becoming professionals at understanding and expecting luxury,” said Daniel Daggers, a partner at Knight Frank in London who focuses on the super-prime market. “They are looking at quality in design, finishes, and services.”
When he attends open houses on behalf of buyers, though, Mr. Hartoonian said it’s important to go beyond the little details, and have the big picture of what they want in mind.
“The problem is an agent can deliver their exact wish list and the buyer will say they don’t like [the home.] They can’t always put into words what they’re looking for,” he said. “Our job as agents is to go out and personify their style, and put it into a home that fits. It’s all about emotion, and tapping into that is critical.”
At an open house, buyers may be less interested in glitz, and more concerned with the practical aspects of a home, like the use of high-quality materials. Lauren Muss, an agent with Douglas Elliman in New York, cited, for instance, the type of tiles in bathrooms as an element buyers note when visiting a property.
“They’ll notice whether it goes from the floor to the ceiling or just halfway,” she said.
But as Mr. Hartoonian noted, there’s an emotional component to shopping for a home that can’t be captured in a list of desired materials and products. As a buyer’s broker, he said, he tries to also emphasize what isn’t there, but could be: “It’s about painting of picture of how the home you found can be great by tailoring it this way or that way. You have to know who the buyer and their family is.”
For buyers with homes around the world, “branding is very important,” said Mr. Daggers, “especially if they recognize a brand they already have exposure to in their own homes in New York, London, the south of France, any ultra-high-networth destination.”
“They’re looking for appliances from Wolf, Gaggenau, Miele,” said Joseph Pullen, a broker with Corcoran in New York.
The Importance of Lifestyle
No amount of name-brand products in a property will persuade buyers if they can’t picture themselves living there when they visit an open house. From the buyer’s broker’s perspective, having a checklist of a buyer’s needs and wants is not enough, Mr. Hartoonian said. More important is understanding their lifestyle, and finding the home that fits it.
Mr. Pullen said he has found that a home’s outdoor space plays an essential role in helping a buyer to visualize themselves there. “Does the outdoor space extend the living room so there’s a natural flow from indoors to out? If they have to walk through the bedroom to get to the terrace, or if it’s on another level and they have to climb stairs, that’s not as good for entertaining,” he pointed out. “These are things to look for when you visit.”
There also are personal factors to consider, like whether the property will be a primary or secondary residence, the size of the buyer’s family, and their needs for both work and play.
“The layout is important. Is there a good separation of the entertaining and living quarters? If the buyer has young kids, they won’t want them disturbed while doing homework and at bedtime,” Mr. Pullen said.
In South Florida, the developers behind the new Botaniko Weston, which hosted an open house in January for the project’s first model homes, designed their luxury single-family homes with a seamless indoor/outdoor lifestyle in mind.
Philip Freedman, managing director of Compass Development in South Florida, said a standout at the open house were summer kitchens that come with each unit and let buyers cook outside while their children are swimming. This helped buyers to picture themselves there: “Visually, it makes a difference,” he said. “Buyers feel that this is my home, something I can reside in.”
Amenities That Wow Buyers
Amenities go a long way toward providing that sense of comfort high-net worth buyers are expecting when they attend open houses.
With home theaters, for instance, “automation is important to creating that real theater experience,” Mr. Hartoonian said. “That means the finest equipment in projection quality and soundproofing, making sure music and audio levels are right. It’s about designing with every detail accounted for.”
Today’s buyers also have an eye for of-the-moment smart home technology.
“Smart is the new black,” Mr. Pullen said. “At the high end they often have art collections, so in addition to wall space they’ll also need to have right climate to control that.”
Buyers will also look for technology that enhances security, including alarm systems and cameras that can be monitored from a central point in the home, Mr. Hartoonian said.
Staging to Impress
Although a buyer will of course ultimately put their own stamp on a space, “When someone comes to an open house, you want them to feel like they can just move in and not need to change a lot,” Ms. Muss said.
“Modern and mid-century furnishing is the go-to these days, as is a neutral palette that’s clean and uncluttered,” Mr. Pullen said. “Remove or minimize the personal touch, like family photos, because people that come through need to project and visualize themselves there.”
That doesn’t mean buyers aren’t looking for show-stopping features. Mr. Hartoonian said that one client he worked with added to his home a partial subterranean garage, which contains both a wine cellar and a space to showcase his car collection.
Mr. Hartoonian said that “traditional modern” is a successful staging standpoint nowadays: “The type of staging I’ve seen most successful has been along those modern lines with accents of contemporary that tap into the emotion of the current-day family.”
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