Kevin Thompson was named chief marketing officer at Sotheby’s International Realty earlier this year after a career in the fashion and luxury goods world—working for companies like Gucci and Barney’s— as well as commercial real estate.
We caught up with Mr. Thompson, 43, who’s originally from Canada but now resides in New York state, to discuss changing definitions of luxury, why millennials are shaping the high-end real estate business and more.
Mansion Global: Describe your dream property.
Kevin Thompson: I would have two properties. And one is the one that I have right now. I was really lucky to find my dream home— it’s a modern cedar home on a three-acre lot along the edge of the Hudson River. It’s rocky and hilly. It was the perfect merging of modern and rustic. I grew up on a farm in Ontario but have lived in New York City and been part of the luxury world, too. I was able to merge both of those worlds with this house.
My dream would also be to have a place on the beach to go to recharge.
MG: Do you have a real estate property that got away?
KT: There was a home like mine, but the architecture was a little more creative. It was a little further from the city than my house is, and I spent too much time worrying about that and lost it.
MG: What does luxury mean to you?
KT: It’s very personal. People used to think it was just acquisition of expensive stuff, that was the “Dallas” and “Dynasty” definition of luxury.
But to me it’s about having the things that allow you to put a personal spin on your lifestyle. For some, it’s living very simply. For other, it’s the acquisition of goods—an art collection, a wine cellar, etcetera.
MG: What area do you think is the next hub for luxury properties?
KT: Because luxury means so many things to different people, we see luxury properties popping all over. Luxury hubs are popping up in urban centers everywhere. We’re all so connected now and that’s part of it.
Traditional luxury markets will likely continue to do well, too. When you look at Manhattan and Beverly Hills, they’re not going away.
MG: What’s the biggest surprise in the luxury real estate market now?
KT: Newly affluent millennials have a surprising degree of influence. We’re trying to figure out how to retarget and approach these people. I saw it when I worked in retail and in commercial real estate, and we dug into the data. You’re seeing the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth. These people are going to be in control of everything.
MG: What’s your favorite part of your home?
KT: The facade. I get excited when I drive home every day.
MG: What best describes the theme to your home and why?
KT: It’s modern rustic, or modern country. I’ve spent three years renovating it and doing much of the work myself, trying to pull in modern finishes and influences from nature, too. I don’t have curtains on any windows, so the scenery changes everyday. I wanted to be able to bring the outside inside.
MG: What’s the most valuable thing in your home?
KT: I just inherited the Thompson family Bible, which goes back 10 generations.
MG: What’s the most valuable amenity to have in a home right now?
KT: If you’re planning on selling your home, you want to include some sort of smart feature and connectivity. Or Green certification. You want to make the purchaser feel like they’re buying something that’s modern, regardless of the aesthetics of the house.
MG: What’s your best piece of real estate advice?
KT: Buying my current home was my first time doing it. I tried really, really hard to look beyond the surface. If you can dig a little deeper, finishes are less important. Mid-’80s wallpaper or shag carpet can be removed.
MG: What’s going on in the news that will have the biggest impact on the luxury real estate market?
KT: It’s the impact of changes to the tax code. … Right behind that is the booming economy. With the growth of the stock market, there’s obviously confidence. But luxury retail is a little rocky. Consumers are uncertain of what’s to come in terms of politics, what’s going on in the world and natural disasters.
In times like that, people tend to put money into concrete things. Real estate is very concrete.
MG: If you had a choice of living in a new development or a prime resale property, which would you choose and why?
KT: I would choose a new development if I designed it, or a prime resale property if I knew I could renovate it. If I got to choose, I’d build my home.
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