Author: monarchestates

Mary Umberger| On Real Estate| Chicago Tribune

Laura Doughty

“We take care of the client before, during and after.” Laura Doughty, above, who leads Monarch, combining a real estate brokerage with concierge services for multimillionaires.

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 has 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, who heads Monarch Real Estate Concierge™, 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.

luxury real estate

Q: How did this business, this idea of being a real estate concierge, begin?

Doughty: Our roots began in Malibu, Calif., in 1998, a realization of how many homes were left empty — how many were second homes versus people who lived here year-round.  The estate management service and added concierge services began and then 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?

Doughty: 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?

Doughty: 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?

Doughty: 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.

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luxury real estate, real estate concierge, monarch estatesFull service real estate?  What is it and why does it matter?

Let’s start with the basics; the definition of full-service.  Webster defines it as offering all the necessary or expected services.  Another explanation is a business that offers the full range of services for their type of business.

Most people have a clear understanding of full-service.  I can remember when I was younger, we would pull up to a gas station and the nice man would ask you which gas you wanted, then proceed to clean your windows, check your oil and check your tire pressure.  You have to go to states like Oregon to still get that level of full-service service anymore.  Even at a young age, I knew that was so nice of that man to take such good care of us like that.

Now when it comes to real estate, the definition becomes a bit cloudy.  There are many real estate firms that boast they are “full-service”.  When it comes to defining full service real estate, it’s actually up to the consumer to decide what is really important to them.

Let’s look at some examples.  One name that is definitely synonymous with real estate is the name Trump.  Their Trump International Realty site explains they “are the premier luxury full-service brokerage in New York City.”  There are other companies like, Hawthorne Properties in Massachusetts, that give a great explanation of what full-service real estate is and is not. (click the link for details)

The key factor is the framework of your position as the consumer.  The real estate community has done an exceptional job of “teaching” the consumer what to expect from a real estate agent.  As a general rule, the consumer has come to expect that the real estate agent has the knowledge of handling the real estate transaction, usually in a specific area or neighborhood.  You may even expect tfull service real estate, real estate concierge, monarch estateshem to refer you to outside vendors – lenders, escrow or closing attorney (dependent on location) and title – but can you even trust that anymore as many brokerage firms “require” you to use their “in house” lender, escrow, title, etc.  Do you even know that it is your decision to decide on whom to use for those services?  Hence the reason I used the term “cloudy” previously when describing full-service real estate.  The fundamental word is service.  Do you, as a consumer, expect a certain level of service when it comes to your real estate transactions or have you given up?

Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword for those Brokers who go the extra mile in representing their clients.   For us at Monarch, being in luxury real estate requires a level of excellence that goes beyond the clients expectations.  That’s a choice that we make.  So, of course, we are a bit biased when it comes to our definition of full-service real estate.  We pride ourselves on not only handling the details of the transaction, which we’re not constrained by location, but also making sure our clients’ lifestyle needs are taken care of via our concierge services.  Also, our estate management division gives our clients that extra advantage – they assess the property before you purchase; allowing the client to have full-knowledge of the true cost of the home.  Upon execution of the transaction, the concierge and estate management services are continued – not only enhancing the clients’ lifestyle but ensuring a return on the investment.

We should all have that unexpected joy, as I did as a child, watching the gas station attendant make sure all our cars needs were taken care of and most of the time, you got the added bonus of a smile or a nice conversation.  Real estate is and will always be a people business.  No amount of technology will replace the human element necessary for a real estate transaction.  When you say you are a full-service real estate company, that element of human touch will ultimately be the determining factor in the clients’ experience.  Fact: a real estate transaction is as much about the contract is it is about the experience.  As the consumer, you get to decide what is acceptable and what it not from the agent you choose to work with.

The saying, “you don’t know, what you don’t know,” holds true in this example.  So, do yourself a favor and ask the tough questions.  Don’t accept status quo – even if the agent or firm boast big numbers.  Regardless of volume, service comes from the heart.