How do you sell luxury homes, when every house in the market is claiming that tag?
All you need to know about how luxury real estate brands are making a mark, what they offer, how they sell and who they sell to
Back in a simpler time, living in the lap of luxury was easily defined. It was about having a house in a tony part of the city: the fact that the building’s creaky elevator moved with a glacial slowness and there were strange smells in the stairwell sometimes, mattered less than the bare fact that you lived where you did. Later, it became about ‘amenities’: a full swimming pool in a water-scarce city, a gym, a clubhouse.
But luxury is nothing if it isn’t a moving target. Modestly priced properties in freshly minted suburbs have made many of these former luxuries part of the bare minimum offering, and even swimming pools are a dime a dozen. Almost every piece of real estate on offer in an Indian metro hollers about being exclusive and elite. So, what does luxury real estate mean today? And how does one market real luxury amid a host of me-toos?
As expected, price is where it starts. Ex adman Colvyn Harris, founder of consultancy Harris-mint, and an investor in a CRM-based real estate marketing service Dwellar says, “I think to qualify as luxury, the budgets are `20 crore plus. The old paradigm of luxury based on location no longer applies since the land is unavailable, opportunities don’t exist and the structures we created there in the past are our current eyesores.”
The focus in the category is shifting to things money — a lot of money — can buy, like fittings and craftsmanship, a famous name as designer on the project, and as yet, non-standard features like a tennis or squash court and centralised air conditioning. And things that money cannot buy, the discretion involved in the invitation process, location if possible. Or the social set that comes with the building. To the point where some developers flog the names of celebrities who’ve bought a house in the property. As Harris puts it sardonically, “The belief is if you buy there, you will bump into Dipika or Katrina in the lift frequently.”
There tend to be two sorts of customers, according to Viral Oza, chief marketing officer for the Lodha Group. The first is entrepreneurs and people for whom a house in the property is a signifier of success. The other buyers are HNIs looking for a second or third house, maybe as an investment. The real estate scene is dominated by latter category if industry sources are to be believed. But according to Oza, “It does not matter if it’s an investment or not. The feeling that ‘If I own a property, it has to be of a certain nature, takes over.’ We are seeing a personal expression of what luxury means.”
All of which calls for a different approach to marketing. The customer is typically hard-pressed for time and looking for uniqueness. Plus given the selling starts when the project is still a few years from completion, Oza believes the role quickly acquires the contours of a service brand: “From how we approach them, to the selling process, through to the kind of customer relationship you build, all the way to delivery needs to be crafted to who the person is, their likes and dislikes.”
The long product cycle typically starts with ads in print and premium magazines. Says Alok Nanda, founder and CEO, Alok Nanda & Company, “This business is as much about design as it is about advertising. Conferring an address with prestige and iconicness starts with the right branding and identity. The collateral must be superlatively designed and written. You are effectively mirroring the quality and perfection a customer seeks.”
As the project progresses, the messaging moves from broadcast to narrowcast: direct mailers and digital, targeting likeminded audiences. Apart from the standards like show apartments and galleries, Lodha created an audio visual experience a few years ago to give prospective buyers a view of the property. Oza says, “People have only just started talking about AR and VR; we did it six years ago.” The other aspect involves partnering with premium brands for instance Maserati which unveiled a car at World Towers.
However there’s still a fair amount of traditional marketing including cold-calling, which is a huge source of annoyance (or should that be harrismint?) for Harris. He believes his CRM driven model will increasingly be used to convert prospects, and more importantly, prevent time and resources being thrown after non-prospects.
Finally, selling luxury involves breaking down the boundaries of what marketing is all about. It involves aspects like how the property participates with its customer’s architects and the ability to accommodate strange requests: for instance, a high speed elevator that covers just the four vertical floors a family has bought, or a unique staircase between flats on two floors to optimise space, or an infinity pool in a private terrace garden, complete with ocean view. Because, as those in the business are fond of saying, beyond a point, it’s more about the experience and less about the money.