Real estate agents add personal touch for better price |

Real estate agents add personal touch for better price

Susan Wood
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Designer Stephanie Kennington, left, and agent Peggy Echan help set up a photo shoot Thursday for a home Echan is listing.

ZEPHYR COVE – With the Lake Tahoe Basin median market topping $1.2 million and one estate listed for $100 million, real estate agents find themselves asking: How do you impress a billionaire?

That was the question posed to Shari Chase in 1998 when her Zephyr Cove firm sold the Thunderbird Lodge for $60 million for Jack Dreyfus of the Dreyfus Fund. The answer is: You get to know him or her.

As it turns out, Dreyfus is a big Mark Twain fan. So the sharp-thinking Chase summoned McAvoy Layne – Twain’s modern-day double in Tahoe – to fly to New York City to perform for Dreyfus at his Manhattan home during a dinner party.

They spent three hours together with their feet up on the fireplace, sipping cognac, smoking cigars and trading excerpts from the Tahoe-loving Twain.

“We talked about Tahoe, and he’d finish my sentence,” Layne said Thursday, recalling a high point of his artistry. Layne said he was impressed with the creative idea. “For $60 million, you send him a dead man,” he said.

Chase said she accomplished what she intended to do.

“He was so touched by it,” she said. “I guess they were Twainites.”

But to Chase, it’s not all about the money behind a client. Simple touches can make a world of difference.

Tahoe real estate agents across the board have come up with inventive ways to sell and present a home – some can be as simple as mowing the lawn and sweeping the front porch. Many include bringing in commercial photography for the upscale homes. That’s a given to Chase, which is listing Tommy Hilfiger co-founder’s Tranquility estate at Lake Tahoe for $100 million. The home extraordinaire has been surpassed only by Donald Trump’s $125 million spread in Palm Beach and Saudi Prince Bandar’s $135 million estate in Aspen as the three highest priced properties in the United States.

“All our properties, regardless of being $300,000 or $3 million, will be spiffed up. It’s the same service,” said Chase, who formed her company 20 years ago with a specialty in the high-end homes.

She and Sue Lowe, a Chase agent, strolled through a $5.5 million home listed at Pine Point, a 2,400-square-foot abode that once served as a guest house to the seller’s main house next door. The Alpine-type home boasts granite and mahogany built-ins, along with captivating views and a central operating system where one can dim the lights in a kitchen drawer. With accents proving to be an important part of presentation, magazines such as Architectural Digest and a book on Tuscany have been carefully placed on the shelf.

Much of catering to a high-end clientele requires researching and listening.

Lowe has put out fresh fruit, Brie and caviar for some clients. When a client became motion sick in a limousine, she pulled up the sprawling vehicle to her car and handed the woman her keys and allowed her to drive. That helped.

Chase hires a copywriter and photographer for their promotional pieces, from advertisements to Web site entries.

Penny Echan of Dickson McCall has her own tricks, tips and concessions. Many involve hiring experts in their field, including designer Stephanie Kennington to manage the gutting and styling of the knotty-alder, $12 million home she’s listing on the lakeshore near Nevada Beach

Real estate isn’t always glamorous. Echan said she has spent five days from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., unpacking boxes, sweeping, dusting and throwing out the garbage for clients.

For the Bitler’s Beach house, the agent plans to bring in a personal watercraft to park at the dock where there’s a private beach, pier and boat hoist. They’ll also consider setting up a wine and cheese spread at the bar.

“We’d even serve dinner here,” she said.

The two of them were scurrying around the 8,000-square-foot house Thursday to help photographer Eric Jarvis with a photo shoot. He’s also worked for Chase.

Jarvis said he’s known many agents who “stage” home decorations by buying furnishings to give the place warmth.

“Some agents go through tremendous effort to get a home ready,” Jarvis said.

Like Chase, he recommended sellers refrain from displaying family photos. It’s too personal and presents a security problem.

To Barb Childs of Century 21 South Lake Tahoe, a little elbow grease, the aroma of baking cookies, candles and a few Starbucks ice coffees can go a long way as perks to prospective buyers. She usually puts a few in the refrigerator with bottled water.

But the most important ways to woo a buyer will still be curb appeal.

“Gone are the days where you can leave your lawn uncut,” she said, comparing the current real estate market to the buy-sight-unseen period of 1999-2000.

“The house needs to be in mint condition. If they’re seeing 10 homes, you’d better be in the Top 3 – whether it’s a $350,000 house or a $1 million one,” she said.

Examples of real estate perks or accents to sell homes

— $350,000 – Careful placement of candles

— $800,000 – Bottled water and Starbucks ice coffee

— $12 million – Personal watercraft, wine and cheese

— $60 million – A special performer flown to your home

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