Expert opinon : a conversation with Heidi Barnes and Thibault de Saint Vincent
High-end real estate is a specific component of the luxury world, which requires a perfect understanding of the requirements of each client. Heidi Barnes (founder of BARNES) and Thibault de Saint Vincent (President of BARNES) are incontestably specialists in this unusual market. Here they give us their expert analysis.
Over the last 20 years the real estate profession has changed profoundly. Particularly with the emergence of the Internet. What have been the main changes in your day-to-day working methods?
HEIDI BARNES: New technologies and the emergence of the Internet have profoundly changed the behaviour and expectations of clients. Indeed, all our clients are now Internet-savvy and almost all of them first carry out research online and/or use virtual viewings before physically viewing properties. The tools that we now make available to our clients enable them for the most part to access properties via a virtual viewing and a video to give them perfect understanding of the selected property.
THIBAULT DE SAINT VINCENT: What the client experiences online must carry over seamlessly into their physical viewing of the property. So, with all of the tools at their disposal, real estate professionals no longer have any excuses for disappointing their clients when they view a property in person. This must perfectly match their expectations, meaning that we have a duty to provide information and total transparency concerning the characteristics of the properties that we sell.
And which aspects have not changed?
TSV: Our primary role - which has always been a constant in the real estate business - is to advise property sellers, buyers and tenants. We must support them throughout the acquisition/sale processes by providing consultancy services at each stage (getting to know the neighbourhood, legal processes, financing, works, concierge services, rental management, etc.).
HB: In the luxury real estate sector, each client is different. And although the same level of service quality must be provided for all of them, it is vital to offer a tailored service that allows them to make the right decisions with complete peace of mind. High-end clients seek personalised support provided through a relationship based on trust. This value is an essential component of our business.
What are the specific characteristics of clients in each country?
HB: For each nationality and within each culture, clients differ by type (men, women, seniors, millennials, graduates, entrepreneurs, etc.) and they all require support from consultants who resemble and understand them.
TSV: Asian clients need to feel a sense of trust. They generally want to work with a fellow national who will be able to reassure them at each stage of the acquisition process. European clients, for their part, are sensitive to legal and tax issues, and need support in the areas of financing and renovation works, while Americans are accustomed to dealing with a single agent working exclusively for him or her, which means being available to them on a day-to-day basis. Finally, Middle-Eastern clients are used to calling on the services of local intermediaries, who are themselves in contact with the main luxury real estate players.
What is it that all clients have in common, despite their nationality and culture?
TSV: Most clients are wealthy families or entrepreneurs, with an extremely busy schedule. They generally own several properties worldwide and therefore require global support. In addition to consultancy, which enables them to make purchases internationally, clients seek access to a broad range of services.
HB: Our clients now frequently ask us to provide complementary services in the real estate field such as concierge services, art consultancy or the creation of private cellars, interior design, the acquisition of hunting estates, wine-growing properties or horse farms, seasonal rentals or yacht rentals, etc.
How do you adapt to this?
HB: We are progressively expanding our teams with the recruitment of specialist experts in each of these complementary areas. We have long since noticed that most of our clients are passionate about contemporary art, which is why we created BARNES Art Advisory over ten years ago.
TSV: We felt the need for this global luxury service very early on. We have always striven to respond to these needs in a professional manner, successively creating BARNES Fine Wines, BARNES Vineyards Investment, BARNES Seasonal Rental and BARNES Yachts to support this demanding clientèle through the provision of a vast range of additional services.
BARNES is now a brand that operates in a number of luxury and lifestyle fields. Is this all-encompassing approach inherent to the high-end real estate market?
TSV: Yes, because whether for a main residence or second home in the foremost global cities and the finest holiday destinations in the world, BARNES endeavours to support its customers through its luxury services offer in order to provide them with a unique experience.
HB: To make this experience genuinely unique, BARNES helps promote the French art de vivre internationally. We offer a complete range of luxury services while respecting the five core defining values of the BARNES brand and the French way of life: Global, Vision, Excellence, Trust and Elegance.
You are both entrepreneurs at heart, is that why you attract a clientèle of entrepreneurs in each country within the network?
HB: Prestige and luxury real estate clients are generally entrepreneurs. It is true that BARNES is very closely aligned with them, since the entrepreneurial spirit is a core value of our business. BARNES is continuously developing both geographically and in terms of its services; our clients guide us in making the best choices when it comes to location and the experts that best serve their requirements.
TSV: The French way of life that we promote internationally is a combination of factors that are rooted in French history and culture, such as taste, aesthetics, an eye for detail, high-standards across the board and finally liberty. This drives us all as entrepreneurs and imbues in us this spirit of conquest that brings us closer to our clients.
HNWI and UHNWI are increasingly geographically mobile, so is the concept of a main residence and second home really relevant for them?
HB: It's becoming less and less relevant. Today, many of our clients live on several continents and have three or four primary residences. Some are able to run their businesses remotely and live in Europe in the summer and in the United States in the winter, or vice-versa. Others keep their businesses in South America, Asia, Russia or the Middle-East, and live with their families in Europe and the United States.
TSV: Although a main residence is still a constant for families with children, it is no longer a must for households without children or seniors who are happy to live in several countries depending on the seasons, their professional occupations or their network of relationships. This has resulted in an explosion in residences with hotel services that perfectly match this new way of life. The Uber effect on real estate is being felt. In the relatively near future, a significant proportion of high-end clientèle will use these types of residences year-round.
How would you sum up the luxury service provision model of the future in a single sentence?
TSV: Share with the client a common vision, an eye for detail, high-standards across the board and especially an emphasis on elegance, all within a relationship based on mutual trust.
HB: Provide the client with a unique experience while offering them comprehensive support.