What does "luxury real estate" mean?

What is a “luxury real estate brand” that provides “luxury real estate services?”

And how might that ineffable something that registers as luxurious in our mindsbe manifested on a real estate company’s Website?

These are questions that are answered too quickly and too predictably in our industry. And they have been coming up a lot for us lately.

Here’s how we begin to answer them.

First and foremost, in the context of a website, luxury is utility.

By that I mean the website is an instrument for efficiently completing tasks you anticipate users will want to complete. That sounds rather un-luxurious at first, but when you remember that real estate is a service business, understanding the customer, anticipating their needs and meeting them swiftly is the epitome of luxury.

Just a pretty room

Think about how that works when you check-in to a luxury hotel. A bellboy spirits your bags away and hangs up your garments; the concierge is at hand to help you arrange dinner; an array of soaps and lotions sits ready to stand in for everything you couldn’t get through security.

The Pierre or the Clift would just be a bunch of pretty rooms without these things.

So while you may want to dial the luxury vibe up to 11 on your home page, loading it with Flash and hi-res photos of glorious properties, pretty won’t get you – or, more importantly, your visitor – very far.

It is also worth bearing in mind that while Prada may get away with featuring shots of the merch at the expense of clear navigation or readable copy, most real estate websites can’t – for a couple reasons. First – and this is something many companies in our industry seem to forget – the real estate brokerage does not actually own the inventory in the way, say, a Paul Smith shirt is owned by the Paul Smith brand. That means the luxury home or lifestyle imagery on a real estate site does often not function as a brand expression. More often it functions as a visual platitude.

Second, and to revisit the hotel analogy, the experience presented on most “luxury real estate” sites is not what is actually delivered – or, for that matter, desired. Where I live, this is a million-dollar home. If I’m throwing around eye candy like this on my Website I am alienating 95% of my “luxury” market. Aspirational branding works; impossible branding does not.

Design

I am not suggesting you can forget about visual appeal. Quite to the contrary, focusing on utility forces elegant visual design and creates the space within which visual impact can exist. Smashing Magazine produced a great list of minimalist designs this week that illustrates what this can look like. Bear in mind that most real estate sites are going to need to be more complex than what you see here because the volume of stakeholders within the typical brokerage is quite large. But these are fine examples of sites that manage to be beautiful but first clear.

You will also notice that most of these designs eschew the heavy gradients, shadowing and reflection effects in which many luxury real estate sites are costumed.

Sympathy for the user

I think the best marketers are sympathetic marketers – meaning they take the time to understand the needs, wants and sensibilities of the prospective customer. Imposing timeworn templates abstracted from any meaningful connection to the people with whom you are trying to establish a relationship is exactly the opposite of this. Cultivating that sympathy is difficult. But it’s worth it.

That’s our starting point for answering the questions I started with. What are your answers?

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