Join RESAAS Academy as we sit down with Christophe Choo to talk about luxury real estate in Los Angeles, his favorite neighbourhoods to sell in, top performing channels for promoting his listings, and advice he gives to all real estate professionals.
RESAAS Academy: Hi Christophe, it’s so great to have you with us today! We’re very grateful for you taking the time to do this interview. Why don’t we start with you telling us how you got into Real Estate.
Christophe Choo: Thanks for having me today. I love sharing what I do and hopefully help other agents achieve their goals. I’ve been selling real estate for about 24-25 years. You know after a certain point you forget [laughs]. I was a fashion model from when I was 16 to when I was about 19 or so. At 18, my wife, now of 24 years, didn’t like me travelling so much because I was travelling all around the world for long periods of time as a model. She said, “How about getting a stable job?” And at 18 years old, I said ,“What do you have in mind?” She said, “How about real estate?”
As a young 18 year old, I thought, “Oh, I can be my own boss. I can drive a nice car. I can show pretty houses and then make a lot of money.” That was my perception of real estate. So I did a home study course while I was travelling, came back, took my tests, and then interviewed with the local office near where I lived - I was living with my parents still at home. The manager for some reason didn’t like me. It was like the #1 company, the second #2 office in the city. I remember when she interviewed me, she said, “Why do you want to be in real estate?”. I said “I want to make a million dollars a year and drive a Rolls Royce.” I think she thought I was crazy. So she kind of politely said, “Thank you.” A couple of days later she calls and says, “I’m sorry. It’s not going to work for you.”
So then I went to the next closest office of the same company, which was in Hancock Park. I interviewed with the manager by the name of Joy Love, who I still talk to today. She believed in me and she hired me. So I was there for about a year doing two open houses a week, sitting at the floor desk taking the incoming calls - kind of sitting and waiting for business to happen and not much was happening. I got one referral. My first sale was a condo priced at $43,000 and I made like $1,700, which I was excited about.
But a year or so into the business, my manager came in and said, “You know, Christophe, you’ve been here a year/year and a half, you’ve only done one deal. You’ve got 90 days to do some business or you’re going to be out of the office.” I was blown away. I thought, “Oh shoot, I’m in an office I want to be in and I love this business but I have to figure out a way to get clients.” But you know, I was 19 years old, my friends weren’t buying real estate, they weren’t selling real estate. Soon after I went to a conference and the guy talked about calling expired listings and for sale by owners.
So I started doing that for literally three hours a day. I started getting contacts, started getting clients, and started going into coaching. Little by little I would get listings, appointments, and sales. It kept building and building. But that’s kind of how it started. From making no money to doing well now. It was tough the first few years. I mean, it’s always a challenge but the first few years are really tough because I just didn’t make any money. I didn’t really know what to do. I just thought “I’ll do a few open houses and wait for the phone to ring.” I was sitting and waiting for business to come to me. I guess that’s for some but when you’re new, it doesn’t make sense. I just had to go out and find it. That’s kind of how it all started.
RESAAS Academy (Part 1 of 2): Awesome, that’s a great journey you’ve been on. Our next question is a two-part question. What is your favorite part about selling luxury real estate? And what are some trends you’re seeing in the L.A. luxury market right now?
Christophe Choo: Yea, what’s my favorite part about selling luxury? I guess it’s pretty much all of it combined. I mean, I love architecture, I love art and antiques, landscape design and interior design. I love the international clients I work with. They’re very interesting people. They’re from all around the world and they’re in all different kinds of businesses - from celebrity clients to big billionaire businessmen.
Everyday is a new exciting mystery with new opportunities. So from that perspective, it’s a very interesting business. I find it all to be really fun too. I love the social elements of it. Socializing at events to meet people or socializing at events with existing clients. I love travelling around the world meeting other buyers and agents and building those relationships. I’m in a place now, where being my own boss, I can mould and create my business the way I want. Most of it is fun.
I also choose everyday in my affirmations to make sure I make it a fun day because there’s a lot of ups and downs. You can have ten highs in a day and ten lows in a day in real estate. Just keep moving on and keep making it a nice experience for buyers and sellers because there’s a lot of emotion in buying and selling. So I have to make it fun, easy, fluid for them, and help them achieve their goals. So that’s the fun of it for me. What was the second question?
RESAAS Academy (Part 2 of 2): What are some trends you’re seeing in the L.A. luxury market right now?
Christophe Choo: The most common trends in the last five to six years are the international buyers who are coming to L.A. is growing and growing. The trend of super luxurious homes is phenomenal. I mean six or seven years ago, there weren’t many $20 million homes. I remember when I took my first $30 million home and sold it. It was the most expensive home in that neighbourhood at that time. This was eight or nine years ago and that was in the $20-30 million range. Today there’s homes selling in that neighbourhood for over $100 million. So now when I go look at listings every week, most of the really good homes are $20 to $50 million. So that’s a trend that is quite phenomenal.
Again, there are more billionaires today than have ever been in the history of mankind. More have come to be billionaires in the last couple of years than in the last 100 years. It’s interesting to see what’s happening in the world and we’re seeing it trend in housing. As a matter of fact, there’s a local builder who is in construction for building a $500 million home here in Los Angeles. So it’ll be interesting to see when that is complete, who’s going to buy it and why. Hopefully I’ll sell it.
That’s probably the most interesting trend. The real estate market is not changing too much but the trend of super, super luxury homes is growing. Frankly speaking, the trend of design in real estate, in our L.A. marketplace, is primarily modern construction for the newer homes. Most of homes in the $20 to $30+ million range are all ultra-modern, glass walls with views, very clean lines, very modern-designes, very few Mediterranean homes and very few French homes are being built. Maybe it’s about 15% of the new homes, but 60 to 70% are modern homes so that’s another big trend I’m seeing.
RESAAS Academy: Very interesting! So to your point about foreign buyers, how do you find that foreign buyers differ from local buyers in what they’re looking for in a luxury home?
Christophe Choo: That’s a really good question. Our luxury market pretty much starts at about five million dollars. We have ranges of five to ten million dollars, ten to 20 million dollars, $20-30 million and then $30+ million. That is generally the categories of our luxury market. I would say the biggest difference with clients who purchase homes, particularly in the $10 million plus-range, are that these are the fourth, fifth, or sixth homes they own. It could be a primary residence, but typically with foreign buyers, their L.A. home is a vacation residence.
Most people around the world I find want to come to L.A. at some point in their lives. It’s one of those places where everyone wants to come to. They come here, they love the lifestyle, weather, and diversity here. They love the weather and the diversity we have here. Skiing is an hour away, the ocean is 20 minutes away, the gulf and the desert are one and a half hours away. They love that. They come here to get away, to vacation, go to Disneyland or to Beverly Hills and enjoy the life. They love it so they decide to buy a home here. That’s the number one reason why the luxury buyers buy here as a vacation residence.
It’s very common that they own these very expensive homes and make them fully staffed, even if they may only be in it for a week or two out of the year to enjoy the property. They want it at their disposal and ready for them when they come. So their chef, their security guards, their butlers, and major domos are all there. The homeowner can pick up the phone and say, “Hey, we’re coming in tomorrow, we’re going to spend three days in L.A. so please have the house ready for us.” That’s kind of the demographic of your foreigner luxury buyer here in L.A.
RESAAS Academy: That’s very interesting. Because you deal with so many foreign and luxury clients, where would you say most of your inquiries come from? What channels would they be? For example, do they come from your website? Or perhaps you have different initiatives that are bringing in a lot of your leads.
Christophe Choo: Primarily, as with everything, it’s my personal connections. I’m very fortunate to have many friends who are in the business of fashion, interior design, construction and so on. I’m involved in that world. Most of my high-end clients do come through connections. Although I would say in the last five to six years since the birth of social media and online videos, I have been attracting foreign clients through the use of videos. I record a lot of videos. And today as a matter of fact, we hit three million views on our main YouTube channel.
RESAAS Academy: Congratulations! That’s exciting!
Christophe Choo: Thank you! [laughs] We’re pretty excited to get a fair amount of business from videos. Social Media again has been a real big factor as of lately. And again, just like videos, geo-farming with mail, or calling, it takes time to develop all of that and to see results. We started recording videos five years ago and I think it was about four years before we made our first dollar from those.
The internet is also a big thing. I’m very big into blogging and social media. If someone types “Beverly Hills” or “Bel Air”, I’m going to appear in the search results. We now have categories for our sources of business. We’ll organize them as “Google searches for Beverly Hills”, “for Coldwell Banker”, “videos”, etc.
I also speak at other luxury real estate offices around the world when I travel. When I’m visiting any big city, I make it a point to meet my real estate friends or go to their offices to talk. I try to learn and absorb their cultures, marketplace and share my experiences. Then those agents remember me and we connect on social media. When we’re connected I try to make them remember four things about me: Christophe Choo, Beverly Hills, Luxury and Real Estate.
Then if I’m top of mind because they see me on many platforms, like RESAAS, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, they see it and will think, “Oh my past client has a friend in L.A. who’s going to sell their house.” At that point, they’ll think of me. So it’s constantly evolving on social media and I’m constantly learning how to use all of that. It’s friends and personal spheres, social media, video, the internet and past clients of course. That’s kind of where business is coming from today.
RESAAS Academy: It sounds like most of your inquiries come from a combination of global connections and online marketing. To the online component of that, what have you found to be the most beneficial part of advertising online?
Christophe Choo: When you say advertising online, what do you mean by ‘advertising online?’
RESAAS Academy: So are you advertising through your social media channels or your website? Those sorts of channels.
Christophe Choo: Ok, I don’t do paid advertising online. It’s very rare. It’s primarily on social media and through the use of video. Videos to me, you know, are an important tool in online marketing. That’s really where we see the biggest source of business is done. Plus, it’s also beneficial because people can take a moment to know you at a more personal level.
In the beginning when I was on social media, 80% of all my posts were business-related. I learned pretty soon that it’s got to be 80% personal and 20% business related posts. But then again, I have a more personal Facebook account and quite a few business accounts. My personal account is mostly personal information, with a bit of real estate mixed in. So it’s a combination of things and it’s about being top of mind.
To give you an example, I listed a house out of the area that was listed at over five million dollars. Because the listing was over an hour and a half away, I didn’t want to list it myself, so I searched for a broker on social media. I chose a particular person because they were top of mind on social media. There was also another agent who lived and worked in the area where the listing was located. So that morning when I signed the listing, I immediately posted on instagram. Within two minutes the agent who works in the area sends a comment saying “Oh my gosh, I live next door. You should’ve thought about me!”. The thing is, I like him. I really do like the agent who lived and worked in the neighbourhood. I probably would’ve worked with him but he wasn’t top of mind when I was making the decision. Someone else was because their presence was available to me with me browsing online.
So that’s why to me, it reinforced the fact that you have to be consistent and you have to post on social media a couple of times per day. Your friends may only see one post a week so I’m pretty consistent with posting regularly. I post because my whole goal is to get buyers and sellers, to promote my properties, and to get referrals from other agents. As a matter of fact, last week we got a call from an online lead. A friend asked, “Do you handle this area?”. We sold the property in a few weeks. Being top of mind is such a critical element and whether you’re in the paper, in the magazines or online, you need to be found to get the business.
RESAAS Academy: Exactly. The power of online marketing can’t be neglected or overlooked by real estate professionals anymore. When you want to showcase a luxury home, what kind of activities are you doing to promote that? What have you found works well for you?
Christophe Choo: There’s a lot of different ways to promote a luxury home. Obviously we do a lot of property websites, a lot of videos and print advertising, the broker’s open houses, and the public open houses if we can. However, in some super luxurious homes, it’s quite an interesting phenomenon. With local buyers, most of them have money and they can buy or sell whatever they want. They’re not typically looking to buy a bigger house if they already like their house. However, these local buyers in the L.A. market may have had their eye on a particular house for years. They’ll say for example, “There are five or six homes in L.A. that we love the architecture of, especially one. We love our house now but if that house were to become open in the market, I might buy that house because I’ve always loved it.” So for the super luxury market, a lot of times you can’t do a public open house. If you do a broker’s open house, it’s through invitation only. If the client is willing, we can do special events.
For example, one of the homes we did was a $30 million home. I worked out a deal with Rapaport Magazine, Fortress Vineyards, Zino Platinum Cigars, Rolls Royce and the top jeweler in Rodeo Drive. We hosted a cocktail party that was basically a place where Rolls Royce and Rapaport invited their top clients. I invited all of my past clients that would be the right people to bring in. We almost sold that house from that party alone! And with the buyer that wanted to buy the house we couldn’t negotiate the number. I did sell it, but not to him.
I think it’s very important with a luxury listing to do special events. It brands you with other luxury brands and puts you in front of the clients of the other vendors. It’s great co-branding for all of us. I basically said, “Here’s the venue and you provide the wine, you provide the beautiful cars, you provide the models and the jewelry.” It was great for everyone and it’s a really great way to promote a luxury real estate listing.
RESAAS Academy: That’s fantastic! It sounds like it was a really great event.
Christophe Choo: Definitely. It’s also one of those things where you can enter a charity. I’ll decide I’m going to host a cocktail party at this particular listing. Then I’ll say to my friends, “Ok you are invited to come but the fee is $75 to come. All the money will go to the homeless shelter in Hollywood. You can bring a cheque or you can buy gift cards right there at the event.” Then, in the evening, we’ll count all the money and write a cheque to the charity of choice for about $10,000. Or, for however much we collected that night. So always look at how you can help others build their brands or help other organizations in some capacity. If you are in that place of giving, it’ll help you when you are trying to sell.
RESAAS Academy: Apart from doing these events, video home tours are becoming more and more popular, especially with the rise of 3D technology, like Matterport. What kind of tips would you give to an agent who is just starting to do video or virtual tours?
Christophe Choo: Well, first of all, you can’t be afraid to do videos. Some surveys say that 75% of agents will not do a video because they are afraid or nervous or don’t want to be on camera. You have to decide if you’re going to break apart from the rest of the competition. When I was first told to do videos six years ago, I had never done a video. But it really resonated with me. I’m not a writer or blogger so I would take pictures of an event and I’d sit down to write the article. It would take me hours and it would never come out the way I wanted. With videos, I can turn on the camera and say what I have to say in one take and then it’s online. I can track the views, the comments, the people, and so on.
So I would say, just do it. You don’t have to be perfect. I used to make mistakes in my videos. 80% of the time when I am shooting a video I will say something silly or stupid by mistake and I’ll correct myself. But people want real. Reality TV is the biggest thing in the last few years because consumers want real, not packaged, high glossy, stuff. We did those high glossy videos but the truth is consumers more than anything in the world want a home touring video. So I’ll turn on the camera, say a quick introduction, “Hey guys, I’m in this house. Join me on what I call a virtual walk-through”, and literally walk through house. Just as if they were with me and taking a walk on the property.
So just try it. Video tours and market updates are very popular, but I’d say walking tours of the homes are the most popular. Any time that I see something that I want to record, I’ll try it. If it doesn’t do well or no one likes it, I’ll take it offline and it’s not a big deal. Don’t be afraid. Think about what you can gain from doing it and what you lose from not doing it.
RESAAS Academy: It’s great that they can have an interaction with you and connect with you personally. It’s great that the people who follow you all over the world are able to connect with you personally.
Christophe Choo: Absolutely. And one of the things is if the consumer actually picks up the phone and calls you to say, “Hey I saw your video. We’ve been watching your Beverly Hills videos and we’re coming to L.A. We need to buy a home and we want to meet with you”, then you can assume they already like you. Because if they see the video and they don’t like you, they’re never going to call you. But if they see the video and want to meet with you, that’s a good sign.
I remember one of the first calls I got from my videos was from a lady. She was in the car taking her daughter to school and had been looking for a house with a broker from the same company just across the street. We talked for 45 minutes and I was asking her lots of questions like where she wanted to live and why she wanted to buy. Then I asked, “How’d you find out about me?”. She said, “I saw two of your videos.” So I asked, “Which ones?”. She replied, “I saw your driving tour on Kenian Road.” Then I said, “Really? What did you like about the video?”. She responded, “We were about to buy a home at Stone Canyon Road but you were very honest in the video. You described how it was a canyon and you said that if you’re a sun lover, you might not like this home because not a lot of light enters it.” I didn’t want that house anymore.
And the second reason was that she saw my helicopter video. She said, “I figured if you would spend that much money on a helicopter, you would spend a lot of money marketing my home.” After the call, I had to set up a meeting to be interviewed to be her buyer’s agent, which was unusual for me. The woman and her husband were going to buy a $10-12 million house and they were going to sell their five to ten million dollar house. At 8:30pm on a Monday night, I met with her, her husband and their lawyer. I said to the lawyer, “Do you mind if I take notes?”. I was allowed to. Half an hour into interviewing them, I asked, “What are you looking for? What do you like?” I put the notepad down and I said “I’d love to just get started and be your agent.” The husband said to me, “My wife decided the first time she talked to you on the phone that you’d be our agent. So this is just a formality.”
Again, be honest and be real in thevideos. That’s just one example and that was four years after my first video. They bought a $10 million home, and sold their home for five million dollars. They referred me two other clients within four months for homes worth over five million dollars and two million dollars from just that one video. That reinforced me doing the videos. So obviously I love videos (laughs).
RESAAS Academy: (laughs) We completely agree with you. Video marketing is a powerful tool available to all real estate professionals. On a lighter note, what is your favourite local neighbourhood to sell in Los Angeles?
Christophe Choo: There are so many unique areas in L.A., which is great. I would say my favourites are the Hollywood Hills West, the City of Beverly Hills, and Bel Air. I would say Holmby Hills is probably my favourite area. It’s old money, large estates, great architecture. I also love selling in Malibu and in Venice. I like the diversity in those places and are fun to be in. I’d say those are the 3 key areas I love.
RESAAS Academy: And finally, our last question. But before we ask you, we’d like to thank you for your time today. Do you have any advice for newer or experienced agents that you’d like to share with them?
Christophe Choo: Yea, I wouldn’t say just for luxury agents but for all real estate agents:
1) Always do the right thing for your client. Take care of them. Put their needs above your own. If you do that as number one, you will always, by the laws of attraction of the universe, be taken care of.
2) Decide the kind of clients you want and keep that in your mind. 20 years ago, my first real estate coach said to write down your ideal client and it’s been memorized since then. I wanted clients that would love, trust and respect me, try to make this more fun. That’s so ingrained in my mind and it’s what I think about all the time. It’s the information I use to attract clients.
3) Constantly educate yourself. Always go to conferences and learn. I learn and network with other brokers all the time. I can share with them and build my network with other agents. Our network with other agents outside of your regular marketplace really holds a huge source of business. If those agents can bring you a certain percent of your annual income, just from referrals, that’s great! You get business when you make the call or if they call you.
Those are my key bits of advice. I’d also say saying affirmations is very important, writing down your goals, working on your business and focusing on what you want, not on what you don’t want.
RESAAS Academy: Those are wonderful pieces of advice. Thank you so much for being with us today, Christophe. We hope everyone will enjoy the interview. We definitely learned a lot from you today and can’t wait to share it with our readers. So thank you again for today’s great lessons, Christophe!
Christophe Choo: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me. I’ll hopefully see you soon at the next conference with RESAAS! (laughs)
To connect with Christophe Choo, visit him at http://www.resaas.com/christophechoo