Sales of Omaha-area homes priced over $1 million have bounced back since the housing slowdown, but that doesn't mean real estate agents don't still go the distance to lure in the Daddy Warbucks types.
A creative touch is especially helpful, perhaps a must, when it comes to marketing older mansions that today compete with a growing swarm of brand new suburban subdivisions where consumers can build their dream home from scratch.
Ask Teresa Elliott, who staged an open house this week at a 1935-era Fairacres home listed for $2.39 million. In addition to catered wine and cheese, she partnered with a luxury auto dealership that brought new Jaguar and BMW models as a sneak peek bonus to those attending the event — an exclusive, invitation-only experience.
While Markel Automotive Group typically lines up luxury car shows for charity events, Vice President Tony Caputo said this was the first at an open house.
Said Elliott: “It's exposure. It's promotion. It's not just come and see the house — see the cars. It makes it a little more interesting.”
Both Markel and Team Elliott of Prudential Ambassador Real Estate invited loyal customers and business associates to 506 N. Elmwood Road. Their thought was that even if attending guests didn't leave with a home contract or a Jag, they would spread the word about the elite home and vehicles to their circles.
The target marketing strategy comes as building permits for single-family homes in largely suburban areas of Douglas and Sarpy Counties are up about 32 percent in the first eight months of this year compared with the same period last year.
While in an exclusive and popular neighborhood, the gated Fairacres home — with six bedrooms, seven fireplaces, a five-car garage, a saltwater pool and an outdoor kitchen — competes with buildable lots being carved out in newer west Omaha and Sarpy County neighborhoods, Elliott said.
The good news for sellers of luxury homes is that sales activity has rebounded in the $1 million and higher category.
So far this year, 17 homes in that range have either sold or are in the process, a count that already matches the year-end counts of each of the past two years, according to the Omaha Area Board of Realtors. There were eight closed sales in that price range in 2010.
(Realtors say the OABR statistics, which are based on the Multiple Listings Service transactions, don't include every newly constructed home sale.)
To be sure, the 48 Omaha area for-sale homes priced at $1 million or more are just a tiny slice (about 1 percent) of all homes on the market today.
Realtors say that regardless of the range, appropriate pricing and move-in condition are factors that most quickly push homes into the sold category.
Andrea Cavanaugh of NP Dodge Real Estate for years sold only newly constructed residences, so she understands the attraction buyers have to cleanliness, neutral coloring and the overall “wow factor.”
“Buyers fall in love with the models,” she said. “It gives them the idea of how they could live and how we all want to live in a clutter-free, organized environment.”
Cavanaugh now transfers that wow factor to previously lived-in homes she lists, typically staging them with decorative accessories and mirrors. Decluttering. Taking down personal photos or mementos that can distract.
She recalled one Husker fan being turned off by a house decorated in Hawkeye gear.
Still, Cavanaugh and others said, a unique open house — much like curb appeal — can help draw in agents and potential buyers.
Signage and balloons are among more common lures. But local Realtors have pulled in fellow agents with prize drawings and delicacy foods. And industry publications talk about offering carwashes, pool parties or even a tailgate hot dog handout during football season.
Jen Alloway of Omaha's Deeb Realty once brought a live band to go with appetizers and cocktails served around a pool at a high-end home she was selling.
Elliott said she's hosted open houses around jewelry parties and business meetings. That way, she doesn't wait only for clients who have seen the home marketed through the traditional Multiple Listings Service or online real estate sites.
Chris and Cindy Maher (he's president and CEO of Premier Bank) were among invited guests at the Fairacres open house. “It's good to get out and see these kinds of things to see what the market is,” Chris said.
Tracy Clevenger, who came with husband Todd, an executive vice president at Premier Bank, appreciated the peek at the luxury cars without having to listen to a sales pitch.
Caputo figured that those who could afford the nearly 7,000-square-foot home, which was expanded in 2005, could afford to buy an elite Jaguar XJL or BMW M6 Coupe, each of which sells for around $100,000. The Land Rover LR4, a little cheaper, is more of a family vehicle.
“Demographically, it fit,” Caputo said. “It's also different and fun.”