Mary Umberger| On Real Estate| Chicago Tribune
Anyone who has ever owned a house knows that maintaining one can be demanding. Imagine what would be involved if you owned three houses. . . or six?
What if the water pipes were to freeze and burst at your Aspen ski hideaway while you’re hosting a dinner party at your Fifth Avenue co-op in New York? What if you arrived, jet-lagged and famished, at your Palm Beach manse and discovered that the refrigerator hadn’t been replenished in months?
Yes, it’s the burden of the rich: making sure that their multiple residences — from Manhattan to Malibu to Maui — are continually up and running and secure. Laura Doughty and Dallas Short have made a business niche of combining a real estate brokerage with “lifestyle concierge” services and estate management for multimillionaires who may be in residence a continent away. Their client list includes high-net-worth individuals in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and elsewhere. Wealth management is being redefined.
In an edited interview, Doughty and Short, who head Monarch Estates & Homes, explained the services they and their representatives take on — a far cry from the notion of traditional real estate, but the kinds of things that they said the uber-rich expect these days.
Doughty: Dallas started the company in Malibu, Calif., in 1998, when he noticed how many homes were left empty — how many were second homes versus people who lived here year-round. He started the estate management service and added concierge services. I came on board in 2007 having done real estate in different areas of the country. It made sense to add that arm and offer a complete real estate service.
Q: What’s entailed in concierge services?
Short: Here’s an example. You get a client who is London-based and they’re coming to Malibu to prospect for a new home. When they come out, they don’t know where to stay or what to do for fun. We set up an experience for them. If they’re bringing their kids, we arrange for nannies. Or we’ll arrange their hotel stay or a house to lease while they’re looking. We may suggest local attractions, or even book an all-day excursion via helicopter to an exclusive golf resort. We help them with their car service – whatever they need. And then we help them find a home they love.
After the transaction, we’re able to help them lease out the property while they’re absent, if they desire. Or, when they come to stay at their new home, we may shop for groceries for when they arrive, do any personal shopping they need, get their car serviced and fueled. It can get highly personalized; we have clients who want blue and white flowers in the house when they arrive, for example.
Our typical client has at least three houses, though we have clients who have six and up to over 20. It’s not unusual that we’ll start out handling one of their homes, and end up handling all of them. Some clients, if they have kids, will only visit their secondary homes during the summer or once a year. We have clients who rotate residences every couple of months. Some clients may come out only every year, if not every two years.
Q: What about keeping the homes maintained?
Doughty: Depending on what the clients require, we typically have a staff member go by the house once a week to check on it, using our detailed list of points to check – specific to that home. And we also arrange other services when required — such things as the pool service, security or landscapers, butlers, etc.
Q: What kinds of special requests do the homeowners have?
Short: One summer, a client wanted a new Ferrari. The Ferrari 360 had come out, and he said: “I want one now, I want it for the summer (while he would be at one of his houses).” We have a company that brings the cars over from Europe, and he wanted the one in red, so we found him that car. The car retailed for about $175,000, but he ended up spending about $300,000 to get it, all told. At the same time, there was a yellow one coming in from Spain, and he ended up buying the two cars, spending over $600,000 in five days. Some of our clients want everything yesterday.
The houses, too, can call for tailored services. We have companies that have trained house managers and housekeepers. Every house, of course, works differently and is different mechanically. When they go to the Hamptons or to Texas, the owners will step back and say: “How do we turn on the air conditioning?” We provide a house manual that explains everything they need to know about all the systems, like audio/visual, etc. The homeowner doesn’t want to have trouble turning on the television. We take pictures and highlight what goes left, what goes right, what button to push and what button not to push – very detailed.
Q: So, the presumption is that these clients, when it comes time to buy another house somewhere, will think of you?
Short: Absolutely. The reason for doing this is that they know we take care of them before, during and after. When someone is buying houses for multiple millions of dollars, they deserve to get an exceptional level of service – one that goes beyond the real estate transaction.
Q: How much does all of this attention cost?
Doughty: Our clients are on a retainer for all our services. Depending on the client and number of properties, typically a minimum of $5,000 a month, up to $30,000 or $40,000. It really is determined by the number of homes they have and the services the home and the client requires. Regardless, we are always able to show them how much money we are able to save them by using Monarch’s real estate concierge services.