By Greta Guest
Detroit Free Press
March 12, 2011
Christie’s, the word’s largest auction house, has launched a real estate branding effort that could help local affiliate Hall & Hunter Realtor of Birmingham boost sales.
Earlier this year, Christie’s changed the name of its real estate division from Christie’s Great Estates to Christie’s International Real Estate, a move aimed at giving its luxury listings global exposure.
While Christie’s isn’t part of the Hall & Hunter name, the local brokerage’s connection to Christie’s helps it compete with SKBK Sotheby’s International Real Estate in Birmingham for the area’s most luxurious home deals. Other rivals include Max Broock Realtors, Coldwell Banker Weir Manuel, Re/Max New Trend and Real Living Cranbrook.
“Sotheby’s and Christie’s are two truly premier names,” said Milton Pedraza, CEO of the New York-based Luxury Institute. “It does give you a significant edge.”
Birmingham homeowner Sarah Deson-Fried and her husband, Harold Fried, decided to sell their $3.695-million custom home with Hall & Hunter’s Meredith Rands Colburn, an associate broker.
“I chose Meredith and luckily enough she was affiliated with Christie’s,” said Sarah Deson-Fried on a recent tour of her home. “I wanted a brand that would appeal to true luxury buyers.”
The couple, both attorneys, built the French-inspired home in 2002. The house has four bedrooms, five bathrooms and 6,324 square feet.
It features a solid mahogany front door with an etched glass insert, travertine flooring on the first and lower levels and a hand-forged wrought-iron handrail on the curved staircase. The kitchen features Italian pistachio-green Valcucine cabinetry and a solid walnut floor.
Hall & Hunter remains an independent brokerage, yet met the criteria to become a Christie’s affiliate and works under its guidelines. In contrast, Sotheby’s real estate arm is a franchise system in which local brokers take on the Sotheby’s name and use it to market all its properties. The Christie’s name only goes on local properties listed for sale at $750,000 and above.
Dennis Wolf, Hall & Hunter’s CEO, believes the affiliation with Christie’s brings amazing business. Ten months ago, the owner of 300 acres on Lake Michigan picked up a Christie’s brochure that led to listing the property with Hall & Hunter for $34 million.
Don’t expect Wolf to divulge his client roster — which has included automotive executives, business owners and professional athletes. “We deal discreetly with the clientele.”
The brokerage, founded in 1954, has always sold upper-end real estate. It was affiliated with Great Estates, a network of luxury realtors based in Santa Fe, N.M.
Christie’s ventured into residential real estate in 1995 and purchased Great Estates.
“What Christie’s brings to the table is obvious,” Wolf said. “What they brought to the table is the ability for us to market the properties not just locally but internationally.”
Christie’s real estate affiliates pay annual fees and then pay to advertise their properties in the Christie’s glossy magazine in which a full-page ad costs $3,400 and includes a listing on the Christie’s International Real Estate Web site, www.christiesrealestate.com.
Nearly 90% of the houses listed on the site are priced at $1 million and up, said Gregg Antonsen, senior vice president of Christie’s International Real Estate. And affiliates can join the Christie’s network by invitation only.
Christie’s International had sales at auction of $5 billion in 2010. Sotheby’s had sales of $4.8 billion from auctions last year. Neither reports residential real estate sales.
J. Bradley Wolf, vice president and associate broker for Hall & Hunter, said roughly 5% of the firm’s clients use its full services, which can include auctioning some of a home’s contents.
“One of the services we offer for clients with a lot of art work or jewelry is we can have someone come out from the auction house in New York to appraise things,” he said.
The image of the auction houses suffered as a price-fixing scandal sent A. Alfred Taubman, founder of Bloomfield Hills-based Taubman Centers, to prison in 2002. In addition to Taubman starting the shopping center company, his family had a controlling stake in Sotheby’s, which he sold in 2005 amid the controversy.
Still, Christie’s and Sotheby’s still have enormous clout among the wealthy, said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, a New York-based consulting firm.
But those luxury brands don’t necessarily impress the masses.
Mike Bernacchi, a University of Detroit Mercy marketing professor, said the auction house names rub off only on the well-heeled consumers and homes.
“It is a good demarcation for anyone who is interested … that is not everybody,” Bernacchi said.