Statewide: Brokers cast their bids

 In 2014-10

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by Carrie Causey

The 12,000-square-foot Lake Norman house, priced at $4.95 million, has been on the market for a year. That doesn’t faze Cornelius real-estate agency owner Reed Jackson, who’s hosting several dozen people at an open house on a sultry summer night. One might expect the place, owned by a Queen City insurance executive, to sell itself to the right multimillionaire looking for five bedrooms, seven fireplaces, a columned master bathtub encased in stone, an eight-seat entertainment theater with a 75-inch screen, a basement bar with a cellar for more than 150 bottles of wine, a resort-caliber pool and a gorgeous view of the state’s biggest man-made lake. But Cornelius isn’t Malibu. Jackson and his wife, Lori Ivester Jackson, brought in Rick Moeser, the Palm Beach-based Southeast regional manager of Christie’s International Real Estate, to make the case for owning luxury property. Among Lake Norman’s major brokers since it was formed in 1998, Ivester Jackson Distinctive Properties became an affiliate of Christie’s Inc.’s real-estate arm in January. Though the New York-based auction house is better known for selling Rembrandts than real estate, combining its cachet with the local market knowledge of Ivester Jackson’s 35 agents is accelerating growth, reflected in website viewings doubling this year, Jackson says. His agency remains independent but pays a fee to be associated with a brand that makes the phone ring — especially with buyers from outside the state making up 40% of North Carolina’s luxury-home sales.

Hooking up with a glamorous name is among the latest strategies real-estate brokerages are using to set themselves apart. Christie’s main competitor, New York-based Sotheby’s Inc.’s realty division, has 750 offices in 52 countries, including Raleigh-based Hodge & Kittrell Inc. and about 10 other North Carolina affiliates. Naples, Fla.-based Premier Sotheby’s International Realty LLC added two offices in the Charlotte region this year after studies showed an increasing number of wealthy families want to own homes in both Florida and North Carolina, spokeswoman Jama Dock says. Another specialist trading fancy homes, Chicago-based Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, has a luxury-property network of 200 affiliates in 30 countries, including about a dozen in North Carolina. Christie’s — which entered residential real estate in 1995, about 20 years after Sotheby’s — had an agreement with Charlotte-based Cottingham-Chalk & Associates Inc. that lasted about a decade but ended in 2010 because the expense exceeded benefits, co-owner Dan Cottingham says. With luxury home sales picking up, Christie’s plans to add brokerages in the Triangle and along the coast over the next few years, growing a network of 135 affiliates in 45 nations, Moeser says. “The Jacksons are very sophisticated business people, they’ve got a good idea, and they are expanding at the right time,” Cottingham says.

Hustling the most expensive listings is becoming more attractive as the wealthy plow more of their riches into real estate. The auction houses extend their brands and gather fees while developing closer ties with existing clients who have used Christie’s or Sotheby’s to sell art, wine or antiques. Luxury homes in North Carolina have traditionally been traded by corporate executives and pro sports athletes, but the state is drawing more rich retirees and second-home owners, Moeser says. North Carolina isn’t a magnet for international buyers — they mostly stick to Florida, Texas or the biggest U.S. cities — but lots of money changes hands at the top end of the market. In the Charlotte metro, for example, more than 310 homes sold for $1 million or more in 2013, up 39% from the previous year. That compares with a 25% increase in existing-home sales in the state last year, according to Greensboro-based North Carolina Association of Realtors Inc.
It helps that the demand for luxury brands is accelerating, Moeser says. But selling such a home requires local experts who themselves live in luxury homes and understand clients’ desires, he says. Christie’s vetted five local companies — interviewing key managers and informally auditing financial reports — before signing Ivester Jackson. “Reed and Lori have the energy and the drive and the knowledge,” Moeser says. They also have patience, since expensive homes can take months and cost $20,000 or more to market. During the recession, some brokerages stopped listing million-dollar homes rather than bear those costs, Jackson says. By not turning them down, his company’s market share of Lake Norman sales more than doubled since 2007. Now, if it can just find someone to sign that $5 million contract.

Carrie Causey is a Huntersville-based writer.

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