In the News

Super Bowl LI Boosts Luxury Market in Houston

Super Bowl Sunday was this past weekend, and that one event had a positive impact on the host city. With more than a million tourists who came to watch the Atlanta Falcons take on the New England Patriots, Houston’s growing luxury real estate market experienced a real boom.

Like any city hosting a large sporting event, Houston revitalized many of its areas as the city tried to accommodate more than one million tourists, as well as wealthy individuals and celebrities who tend to stay at exclusive and luxury areas. With that in mind, Houston already has a growing luxury housing market, and the Super Bowl has driven many changes to the area. For example, the George R. Brown Convention Center underwent a large renovation project, worth around $175 million.

According to Avishai Sivan, CEO of Tena Holdings, a Houston based real estate investment firm, “ The Super Bowl couldn't have come at a better time. It helped the city plow through the economy's oil dip in more ways than one. From road construction around NRG stadium to a number of other new developments and improvements to the city, preparations over the past few years for the big game, hopefully will have a lasting effect on the real estate market and property value in Houston.”

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How to Define Luxury Real Estate in Today's Market

Tips on identifying high-end properties in a world where the term "luxury" has become cliché.

by Devon Thorsby

This post is a condensed version of an article featured in U.S. News & World Report. Click here for the full version.

If you say a word enough times, it starts to lose its meaning. And in real estate, where the right description can draw buyers to a home on the market, using the right terms is crucial. So when half the homes on the market are suddenly marketed as “luxury,” the definition of the word starts to melt away.

How can you interpret how luxury is defined in your area, and how can you leverage that information to better express your expectations as a homebuyer? Whether or not you fall into the real estate definition of luxury living, knowing how your market defines high-end properties will allow you to better understand the qualities you need and want in a home.

The Institute for Luxury Home Marketing, which specializes in training real estate professionals in high-end home sales, defines luxury agents as those performing in the top 10 percent of their given market. “It’s a way to flatten the country” and make markets more comparable to each other, says Diane Hartley, general manager of the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing.

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BY THE NUMBER: THE 2016 FORBES LIST OF WORLD'S BILLIONAIRES

Over the past five years, the Forbes magazine list of The World’s Billionaires has revealed — and continues to reveal — many interesting things about the wealthiest individuals around the globe:

HOW MANY BILLIONAIRES ARE THERE?

  • In 2011, there were 1,210 billionaires (people with a net worth of $1 billion or more).
  • In 2015, that number rose to 1,826.
  • In 2016, the list actually shrank a bit to 1,810.

BIG NAMES

The top ten billionaires in 2016 (in order of wealth) are:

  1. Bill Gates
  2. Amancio Ortega
  3. Warren Buffett
  4. Carlos Slim Helu
  5. Jeff Bezos
  6. Mark Zuckerberg
  7. Larry Ellison
  8. Michael Bloomberg
  9. Charles Koch
  10. David Koch

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

A few interesting notes:

  • Five of the top seven billionaires from the 2011 list are still in the top seven: Gates (#2 in 2011), Ortega (#7), Buffett (#3), Helu (#1) and Ellison (#5).
  • We also see that the top three from 2011 (Helu, Gates, Buffett) are still in the top four.
  • Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg rose from #52 in 2011 all the way to #6 today.

WHERE THEY COME FROM

It should be no surprise that the tech sector continues to lead the way in creating billionaires. Also of note:

  • In 2011, about 1 in 3 billionaires (413, or 34%) were from the United States.
  • Today, 540 billionaires are from the U.S. — or 29.8% of the list.
  • Today, eight of the top 10 billionaires on the list are from the United States.
  • China has the second most at 251, and Germany is third with 120.
  • The Asia-Pacific region has 590 total — making it the region with the most billionaires.

 


Luxury Garages Become A Swanky Social Space

Along with clothes, watches, and wine, high-end and vintage cars are a favorite collector’s item for high-net-worth individuals. And—just as many luxury homes have custom wine cellars and walk-in closets—luxury homeowners with treasured car collections are likely to want a special space for their high-end vehicles.

Luxury Garage

Top end luxury garages have little in common with the dusty cement rooms that immediately come to mind and they’re about much more than car storage. For individuals with prized vehicles—whether 1 or 100—the ideal luxury garage might be used for:

  • Entertaining. A high-end car enthusiast wants to be able to spend time socializing amidst their car collection, so luxury garages can boast an entertainment system, seating area, wet bar, and card table or billiard table to widen the space’s utility.
  • Showcasing. For car collectors, each vehicle is a work of art, and so a luxury garage acts as the gallery. Custom lighting and rotating turntable displays can enhance the presentation of a homeowner’s favorite vehicles.
  • Maintenance. Many car collectors like to get under the hood of their cars and a well-equipped maintenance bay is the perfect space to tinker.
  • Preservation. Finally, a collector will want their high-end vehicles to be cared for and protected from the elements, so climate control is a must in humid climates where weather can speed deterioration and encourage rusting.

If the luxury home is in an area without space restrictions, then an added garage can span thousands of square feet and accommodate dozens of vehicles without issue. For city dwellers, however, a car storage space can prove more elusive. One popular solution for wealthy collectors is a car elevator such as the PhantomPark, which starts at about $40,000, is custom built to fit the homeowner’s needs, and stores cars below ground. It is important to note, however, that while a lack of garage may diminish a home’s value and desirability, luxury garage renovations see a mere 52% return on investment in resale.


Global Wealth Forecast: New Money, Same Tastes

The next decade and beyond will see many changes in who holds the world’s wealth, how they acquire it, and what they do with it.

Old Money

Individuals who have inherited their wealth favor investing their money in luxury residential real estate. According to the recent Decades of Wealth report by Wealth-X, ultra-high-net-worth individuals with inherited wealth hold 17% of their wealth in high-end residential real estate. This figure is only 9% for self-made UHNWIs. This trend is likely to continue as Baby Boomers age and pass their wealth on to younger generations. In the next decade alone, global UHNW individuals will bequeath $4.1 trillion in wealth to the next generation. An estimated 30% of this projected wealth transfer will be in liquid assets.

The number and nationality of individuals with inherited wealth is shifting. In North America and Western Europe, for example, the past decade has seen a decline in the number of wealthy individuals with “old money.” The opposite trend can be observed in developing nations where most of the wealth is brand new: the first big wave of new wealth is being passed down to the next generation.

New Money

According to the World Wealth Report, the global HNWI population grew by 6.7% in 2014 and the group’s total wealth grew by 7.2%, resulting in an estimated HNWI population of 14.6 million.

  • The HNWI population in China grew by 17% in 2014. China continues to experience economic prosperity and a growing upper economic class, the older generation of which is now passing its wealth on to the next generation and investing in foreign economies.
  • Over the past year, the number of millionaires in India grew by 27% and their HNWI population grew by 26% in 2014. According to Wealth-X, “Aligned to this wealth growth is an equally substantial increase in luxury consumption.”
  • African nations. As entrepreneurial and tech-centric countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda continue to experience increased economic prosperity and innovation, they are catching the attention of foreign investors—particularly wealthy Chinese nationals. Wealth-X projects that Africa’s UHNW population will quadruple by 2040.

AprilBlog

Globalized Taste

In their Decades of Wealth report, Wealth-X wrote, “China is often cited as a market that has surprised observers with the speed of its move from conspicuous consumption to careful, tasteful purchasing.” With the globalization of media and entertainment—and, as a result, trends and lifestyles—the world’s new wealthy are expected to follow in China’s footsteps by becoming discerning consumers with refined tastes—including a taste for luxury residential real estate. Roughly 80% of the world’s UHNW population own 2 or more residences, and it is becoming increasingly popular for UHNW individuals to invest in unique and exotic luxury homes outside of their home country. The United States remains the most popular destination for wealthy individuals seeking a place to invest in real estate


Luxury Bathroom Trends: TOTO Washlet

Even in the most extravagant homes, in which no expense is spared to make the homeowner and their guests feel pampered, Americans have historically deprived themselves of the ultimate in household luxury: heated, remote-controlled toilet seats with a built-in bidet feature. While the concept may seem too bizarre (or too indelicate) to those with American sensibilities, it is estimated that roughly 76% of households in Japan have such a technologically advanced toilet seat. In fact, the Japanese government tracks the popularity of electronic bidet seats as an indicator of economic prosperity. This luxury bathroom accessory is also used widely throughout Asia and the Middle East, and is even disrupting the market for traditional bidets in Western Europe. Although their use in the United States has mostly been limited to luxury hotels and a small cult following, the electronic bidet seat seems to be taking root.

TOTO, the largest plumbing manufacturer in the world, has sold more than 40 million Washlets, its brand of electronic bidet seat, since launching the product in Japan in 1980. Although only a few thousand Washlets are sold each month in the United States, TOTO’s U.S. sales figures have increased by 20% in each of the last five years.

TOTO

Why A Washlet?

In a recent press release announcing their huge sales success, TOTO described the revolutionary accessory: “Washlets use pure, clean water – and myriad technological innovations – to make their users cleaner, happier, more refreshed than they have ever felt after a bathroom break by reinventing the humble toilet seat as a warm water personal cleansing system.” And Toto seems to have succeeded in making its users happier. People who have had the pleasure of sitting atop a Washlet typically respond with rave reviews. In “The Cult of the Toto Toilet,” for example, The Times interviewed the owner of a Manhattan plumbing showroom who said that going back to a regular toilet seat would be like “going back to the Stone Age. It feels very uncivilized.”

Depending on how advanced an individual wants their electronic bidet seat to be, a TOTO Washlet can cost anywhere from $1,000 to almost $10,000. In addition to the standard features—heated seat, bidet wand, remote control—more high-end models might include UV light technology that kills bacteria and other cleansing functions to keep the luxury bathroom clean and fresh.


Communities Share Hyper-local Content & Recommendations via Nextdoor

Neighborhood social app begins testing advertising

Perhaps as a result of our lives moving further into the digital realm, the tight-knit American neighborhoods of old have been replaced by communities of relatively disconnected individuals. According to a 2015 City Observatory report, one third of Americans today have never interacted with their neighbors, and a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center showed that nearly a third of Americans don’t know a single neighbor by name. Social platforms like Nextdoor are attempting to change all that by using the Internet to create hyper-local communities and reopen the lines of communication between neighbors. Similar hyper-local social platforms are available outside of North America, such as Singapore’s NearCircles and the UK’s Streetlife.

CellPhone

How Nextdoor Works

Perhaps the most significant advantage to using Nextdoor—as opposed to other popular means of group communication such as Yahoo Message Boards and Facebook groups—is that the platform makes it very difficult to join and limits membership to individuals who live within the physical boundaries of the relevant neighborhood.

  • To start a new Nextdoor community, a member of the neighborhood must fill out a lengthy application and convince 10 or more neighbors to sign up within the first 21 days.
  • If the community leader fails to meet the quota, then Nextdoor will not approve their group.
  • To verify that an individual truly lives within the relevant community, Nextdoor either checks credit card information, calls a home phone number, or sends a postcard and special registration code to the listed address.

The high threshold for membership secures neighbors’ privacy and ensures the relevance of the content they will find on the platform. Nextdoor is aiming to facilitate active, robust groups that are always brimming with relevant content—not groups that peter out after a few weeks. And they’re finding great success.

A Trusted Information & Recommendation Exchange

Now present in over 89,000 neighborhoods across the United States, Nextdoor acts as a kind of message board wherein neighbors can share information that is most relevant to members of their hyper-local community: the time and location of a garage sale, road and school closures, recommended dog walking services, crime reports, lost pet sightings, or referrals to a plumber. All conversations are archived and searchable, so members can look up a handyman’s contact information months after the recommendation was made.

The platform also presents an alternative means of discovering local events, restaurants, and news. Rather than trusting the restaurant recommendations of complete strangers on Yelp or Google, individuals can now get the trusted opinions of their peers. The same principle of trust applies to service providers and businesses. According to Nextdoor, 20% of the daily 5 million messages exchanged daily are service recommendations, and 80% of those posts are discussing local service providers and businesses.

How Real Estate Professionals Can Use Nextdoor

The most obvious way for high-end agents and brokers to get involved is to launch or join your own neighborhood’s Nextdoor group. People are much more likely to trust recommendations from others within their own community, and your participation could easily yield referrals. Opportunities for referrals and networking will multiply for agents and brokers who live within the markets that they serve professionally.

As Nextdoor begins to test different avenues of monetizing their hyper-local social platform, networking and marketing opportunities will become more direct. In a blog post published on January 20th of this year, Nextdoor co-founder and CEO Nirav Tolia wrote, “Starting this week, we will begin testing sponsored posts from a select group of businesses who have relevant content to share . . . Sponsored posts will initially appear in the neighborhood news-feed and daily email digest, but we will continue to experiment and take the time to get this right.”


Enormous Basements Add Space & Value To Urban Luxury Homes

Londoners with limited space are digging deep

Over the past decade, many of London’s most famed and wealthy residents have been expanding their homes’ square footage by adding enormous basements below their gardens. The controversial trend came about when wealthy Brits wanted more space, but were bound by plot constraints and property laws that prevented them from expanding up or outward. The result: so-called “iceberg” mansions all over London, where what you see from the street is only a sliver of the home’s actual space. These basements can go many floors deep and often house the homeowners’ wildest dreams, from pools to ballrooms to 15 additional bedrooms.

Blockbuster British Basements

In the cramped and centuries-old streets of London, hundreds of mega-basements have been dug for the UK’s most rich and famous residents, including Prime Minister David Cameron, Foxtons founder Jon Hunt, and Indian steel tycoon Lakshmi N Mittal. The basements belonging to these ultra-high-net-worth individuals are home to ballrooms, lap pools, vintage car garages with lifts and turntables, gun rooms, wine cellars, saunas, industrial-sized kitchens, movie theaters, dozens of spare bedrooms and bathrooms, and—in the case of British recording artist Damien Hirst—an art gallery.

Floorplan-basement

Hirst recently won a planning battle to add an enormous 150-foot-long backyard basement to his £39.5 million, 19-bedroom home in Westminster. The property, bought by Hirst in 2014, is considered unique for its half-acre yard and large garden, although his renovation proposal was contested based on the number of trees that would have to be cut down to carry out the plans. Despite protests, Hirst and his legal team prevailed in November 2015. Beyond simply adding more square footage to his home, the enormous bunker is destined to hold Hirst’s storied multi-million-dollar art collection, which includes works by masters like Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. The subterranean art gallery renovation boasts double-height ceilings and an elevator that can lift art weighing up to ten tons.

Buried in Controversy

Although politicians, actors, and athletes seem thrilled to have the mega-basements of their dreams, the blowback has been widespread and multi-faceted. Neighbors resent finding themselves living beside noisy construction sites, and often fear what the fast-and-deep digging might do to their own homes. And their fears are not unfounded: Goldman Sachs’ Christoph Stanger undertook a basement renovation that caused his neighbors’ homes to slide toward the excavation site, causing their door frames to shift and trapping them in their own homes. Billionaires’ basements have proven dangerous for construction crews, too, as the UK’s Health and Safety Executive has reported 17 deaths and 27 injuries in the last decade. In a rush to respond to the wave of problematic and over-the-top mega-basrments, London boroughs are now tightening their regulations on subterranean renovation. In Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea, for example, homeowners can now dig basements no more than one story deep and these additions cannot take up more than 50% of their garden.

Your Client’s Mega-Basement

 There are several important design elements to bear in mind for the luxury homeowner who is considering a major basement renovation or addition.

  • Open floor plans help to prevent the space from feeling too dark and cramped.
  • Natural light is vital for a luxury basement, so designers should opt for light wells rather than light switches. See-through glass stairs also provide an opportunity for light to filter down from above.
  • Light colors will help the space feel airy. Think white or beige walls, light-wood flooring, and neutral fabrics.
  • Egress to green space. Consider installing a door with a stairway up into the backyard garden, or even digging a lowered private garden at the basement level.
  • Great space for kids, storage, and quiet entertaining. When considering what to do with a big basement renovation, think first of playrooms, cinemas, laundry rooms, wine cellars, and gyms. Let more social spaces remain upstairs in the light of day.
  • Think twice about pools. While storage space, gyms, and playrooms often add resale value, this is not always true with pools.
  • Permits and insurance. Be aware of the laws and regulations that govern basement renovations and additions in your area, as well as the insurance options for during and after construction.

Denver Realtor and Institute Member Gives Back to Community in a BIG way

In 2006, Denver Realtor and Institute Member, Joan Rogliano, started a support group for her transitioning clients of divorce and widowhood. The Wildflower Group that was once a support group quickly became an opportunity to educate clients about options regarding their martial home. Subsequently, Joan began to offer educational workshops titled, Divorce and Your Home. Soon after delivering a few of these workshops, she realized there was a greater need for an expanded social community that provided support and trusted professional resources. After implementing, the workshops expanded and the schedule of events increased.

Recognizing there was also urgency for financial aid for this transitioning demographic, Joan created the Wildflower Women's Organization in 2010. WWO is a 501c3 nonprofit which provides educational, financial, and legal advocacy. Supporters include the Anschutz Family Foundation, Coors Foundation, and Jackson National Life Insurance.

Word spread quickly about Wildflower Group throughout the Denver metro area and it also garnered national attention. Recently, Joan was featured on the TODAY Show, her segment was focused on how Wildflower Group supports divorced and widowed women across the United States.

TODAY-Wildflower

Click the image above to view the TODAY Show segment

Wildflower Group is now operating in ten states as a national network of trusted divorce professionals providing education and community support. Current statistics show that women make 85% of consumer purchases in the United States and influence 85% of consumer decisions. Wildflower Group’s Marketing System offers potential Garnders a turnkey system that shows real estate professionals how to begin marketing to this niche market of consumers.

You can learn more about becoming a Gardner for the Wildflower Group by visiting their website.

 Website www.wildflowergroup.net


U.S. Will Unmask Secret Buyers of Luxury Real Estate

Beginning in March of this year, the Treasury Department will take steps to increase transparency in luxury real estate transactions. The new initiative will target all-cash real estate purchases made by shell companies, LLCs, partnerships, and other entities that conceal the homebuyer’s identity. The use of shell companies in real estate purchases is legal, and this will be the first time that high-end buyers—often private by nature and necessity—will be required to reveal their identities. While an individual might utilize a shell company or LLC to protect their privacy and protect themselves from liability, the Treasury and the FBI are aiming to crack down on the international buyers who use these transactions to hide illicit funds and illegal activity.

Cityscape

Money Laundering & Luxury Real Estate

In “Towers of Secrecy,” a series of investigative articles published in 2015, The New York Times pulled back the curtain on all-cash, multi-million-dollar real estate purchases made by mysterious shell companies in Manhattan. This investigation revealed that many of these real estate transactions were being used to shield the significant wealth of foreign politicians and business people who had been accused of or tied to criminal activity. The Times reported: “Many of the owners represent a cross-section of American wealth: chief executives and celebrities, doctors and lawyers, technology entrepreneurs and Wall Street traders. But The Times also found a growing proportion of wealthy foreigners, at least 16 of whom have been the subject of government inquiries around the world, either personally or as heads of companies. The cases range from housing and environmental violations to financial fraud.” This investigation revealed that, of all the homes worth $5 million or more in the United States, nearly half are purchased using shell companies. It also suggested that, in many instances, luxury real estate professionals do not know the true identities of their clients.

Unmasking Secret Buyers

Partly in response to The Times’ findings, the U.S. Treasury is launching their initiative to unmask mysterious buyers of high-end homes. The initiative will start in Manhattan and Miami-Dade County, running from March through August, and apply only to all-cash purchases made through shell companies. When a shell company pays cash for a Manhattan property worth at least $3 million or a Miami property with at least $1 million, the title insurance company will be required to identify the “natural persons” behind the transactions—“each individual who, directly or indirectly, owns 25 percent or more of the equity interests” of the entity that purchased the property. The title insurance company will then copy the license or passport of each individual and report their findings to the Treasury. The government will compile this information in a database for federal law enforcement, who will investigate the buyers and the origins of their cash.

If many sales involve suspicious money, the Treasury will instate permanent reporting requirements across the entire country. The Treasury also noted that, as part of a broader push to crack down on money laundering in real estate, future investigations would focus on the professionals who assist in these suspicious transactions, such as lawyers, bankers, and real estate agents.