May 23--In the sparkling world of ultra-luxury real estate it takes more than a pretty picture in a glossy brochure to hawk a home these days.
Every manse must have a story -- a lifestyles of the rich and famous fairytale -- that promises adventure or serenity or hauteur. Open houses are over-the-top show stoppers, with extravagant broker giveaways, themed-parties or designer showcases that attract big-money RSVPs.
And if a brochure is a necessity, make sure it smells of champagne wishes and caviar dreams -- or coconut.
"I requested that we absolutely have a scented brochure so when you opened it you had the feeling of the tropics and scent of coconut," said Bill Hall, founding principal of the Island Group with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services in Stuart.
The perfumed brochure was for an ill-timed condo hotel in Orlando that had a sellout price of more than $1 billion. Ultimately the project died with the real estate collapse, but the brochure was a hit, Hall said.
Through April, about 650 Palm Beach County homes have sold for $1 million or more with February racking up the highest tally of 381, according to the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches.
In truth, customized high-end homes can be the toughest nuts to crack. Well-heeled homeowners have the money to build their dream estates with unique details that may seem gaudy, unnecessary or even unsettling to potential buyers.
Not only does a tornado-proof panic room with bolting doors come with a Deerfield Beach mansion soon to be listed by luxury home Realtor Jonathan Postma, but also multiple fingerprint-recognizing gun safes built into walls throughout the house for quick and easy access.
"You don't have to put guns in the lockers. They could be for jewelry or bars of gold or whatever you want," said Postma, who has hosted a swimsuit fashion show during one of his open houses and parked 15 Lamborghinis at another. "Some people just like to go big."
Douglas Elliman Realtor Senada Adzem was stunned when she first saw the Star Trek-themed theater meticulously crafted by multi-millionaire Boca Raton homeowner Marc H. Bell. The theater comes complete with a Next Generation-style captain's ready room, a replica of the bridge of the Star Trek Enterprise and an overload of spaceship accessories that only a Trekkie could live with long-term.
But that wasn't all. Bell, an entrepreneur and former chief executive officer of the Penthouse-related FriendFinders Networks, has a full-size arcade for his vintage video games and pinball machines, and a room decked out in military accoutrement for his children to play Call of Duty.
Instead of downplaying the eccentricities of the home, Adzem made them the centerpiece, hoping to draw a wider audience that could include one buyer curious enough to take a look at the rest of the estate and pay the $35 million asking price.
"I think most homes have to have a story to be exciting to a potential buyer," Adzem said. "The trick is finding the coolness factor and playing that up."
Adzem also tries to attract media attention. She has a Boca Raton mansion on Lake Drive listed for $12.7 million with a 9-car garage, two gourmet kosher kitchens, a home theater, direct ocean access and docks for three yachts.
But that wasn't enough to set it apart. She persuaded the owner to throw in his limited edition Rolls Royce Phantom and sent out a news release.
It went viral. TV stations, bloggers and real estate magazines all publicized the luxury estate with its extravagant freebie.
"We have to reinvent how we reach the marketplace because people are just so inundated with information, especially ultra high-level consumers who have a completely different set of problems than we do."
Although a recent contract on the Lake Drive home fell through -- the buyers had trouble getting their money out of China -- Adzem said she has another interested buyer from Monaco.
Sometimes selling a unique luxury estate hinges on simple verbiage.
Instead of just marketing a 40-acre homestead in Martin County with two full residences on it, call the estate an "enclosed compound."
"Not many people need two complete homes. The description of a compound sets a different precedent," said Hall. "It sold the property."
Other times selling a unique luxury project means throwing an elaborate party at the Ritz-Carlton with five helicopters to fly people over the sale site and a hologram of a Mark Twain-like figure talking about the history of the land. That's what Hall had planned for the Orlando condo hotel, even though only the coconut-scented brochure eventually came to fruition.
But his firm did pull off a grand opening for the now-scuttled 80 Points West condominium that was planned on Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach. A 100-foot yacht was docked at the site and a lucky broker won a four-day weekend on the boat.
"Every listing I take I commit to spending thousands of dollars from Day 1 on marketing," said Postma, who has also hosted sushi and saki parties at open houses, complete with Geishas.
And he's not cowed by overly customized homes. Buyers of multi-million-dollar listings typically have enough money to renovate to their liking.
"People build these amazing homes then a buyer comes along and it's a single guy with no needs and he puts in three movie theaters, two bars and a stripper pole," Postma said. "You never know what people are going to do to another person's vision."
Copyright 2014 - The Palm Beach Post, Fla.