By Darrell Hofheinz, Palm Beach Post
PALM BEACH (Friday, April 30, 2004) -- This week's conference of luxury-home real estate agents at The Breakers highlighted a critical fact that Palm Beach Realtors have known for years: When it comes to the super rich and the homes they buy, it's a very small world.About 70 of the country's top real-estate professionals specializing in multi-million-dollar residential sales gathered for the three-day brokers retreat sponsored by Seattle-based Who's Who in Luxury Real Estate.They discussed business trends, shared marketing ideas and explored innovations in Web-site technology. They also conducted face-to-face networking with colleagues who frequently refer high-end clients looking for property in other cities to members of the organization who do business there."Our business is about networking," said Christine Franks, a former Palm Beach Board of Realtors president who heads Wilshire International Realty, a member firm of the Who's Who network. "It helps tremendously when I can refer a client. Or when they have someone coming here, they can contact me to help this person buy in Palm Beach. Everybody knows somebody. And there are only so many people who can afford these homes."On Tuesday, Franks hosted a limousine tour of the island for about 50 conference attendees. It included a stop at an estate built by Dan Swanson of Addison Development at 1960 S. Ocean Blvd., which is listed for million and is billed as the most expensive "spec" home in Palm Beach.On Monday, principals of Palm Beach-based McCann Coyner Clarke Real Estate, Inc. took about 35 conference-goers on a tour of four Palm Beach homes in two chauffeur-driven Hummers. Led by Rosalind Clarke, Laura Coyner and Jim McCann, they visited homes at 100 El Vedado, 222 El Brillo, 860 S. Ocean Blvd. and The Vicarage, the second-oldest house in Palm Beach.During McCann Coyner Clarke's tour of the island, real estate agent Brett Ciarlo of Barbara Cleary's Realty Guild in New Canaan, Conn., said the visit to Palm Beach had been an eye-opener for him."Now I know why people from my area come down here. Many have major connections to Palm Beach," he said. "The market here is far beyond the prices of New Canaan. The high end there is the low end here."The Who's Who in Luxury Real Estate Network consists of boutique and specialty real estate firms that serve the growing international luxury real estate marketplace, according to founder John Brian Losh, chairman and chief executive officer of Seattle's oldest residential real estate firm, Ewing and Clark, Inc.The organization is an international network of more than 560 real estate brokerages and provides a reference for real estate agents worldwide in an annual directory and a comprehensive Web site, www.luxuryrealestates.com, linking member firms. Each member is selected by Losh based on the company's reputation for performance, experience with high-end properties and quality of service, he said.In addition to Wilshire International Realty and Patricia-Watts-Wearn of McCann Coyner Clarke Real Estate Inc., Palm Beach members of the organization include Linda R. Olsson, Inc., Illustrated Properties International, The Corcoran Group, Barclays International GMAC Realty and Realtor Denise Rubin.Elizabeth Stribling, president of Stribling and Associates in Manhattan, was among those who participated in the McCann Coyner Clarke tour."I think Palm Beach real estate as the glittering life, the beautiful life and those people who can afford it. I would expect the houses would reflect that Palm Beach. It's a lifestyle and a vacation spot in which people can live in the best way possible," Stribling said. "My company is known for its high-end sales, so, hopefully, I'll feel at home in Palm Beach. My clients feel at home here, anyway."Camille Pisciotto of Great Neck Realty in Great Neck, N.Y. compared Palm Beach to her community. "Palm Beach is very similar to where I live," she said. "My business is in Long Island, the North Shore – it's called the Gold Coast, but they are very old houses. Palm Beach has more water in the backyards of their homes, but we also have waterfront homes that are very expensive."During a wide-ranging workshop session Monday moderated by Losh, conference attendees discussed topics ranging from goal-setting and advertising strategies to Internet technology, especially improving company Web sites. Participants appeared to agree that an easy-to-use, customer-friendly Web site – with global links to referral firms – is critical to meet the needs of today's affluent real estate buyers and sellers.Who's Who in Luxury Real Estate's Web site, for example, provides access to more than 30,000 for-sale properties from around the world with an average price of 2.65 million, according to the organization.Conference participants also stressed community involvement as a way to meet people and make contacts that can lead to referrals and sales."My business is people. I know a lot of people think their business is real estate, but my business is people. It's my passion," said Joanne Douds of Lois Schneider Realtors in Summit, N.J. "I constantly tell people, when you're ready to move, call me. And they do."Diane Turton of Diane Turton Realtors in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. and South Florida, agreed. "I don't ever sit next to my husband on an airplane," she said. "I sit next to someone I don't know and pump them for information. I'm real estate 24/7." Jane Schweiring of Norris and Company in Vero Beach said community service and charity work – including a relationship with Habitat for Humanity – is an important part of her company's business strategy."We are out in the community constantly. We feel that if we give to the community, the community will give back to us," Schweiring said. "We really believe that local people look to you for what you do locally in the community."F.F. "Chappy" Adams III of Illustrated Properties Real Estate, Inc., in Palm Beach Gardens, spoke about his 450-broker company's Home Services department, which provides concierge services for clients, especially those relocating here. The services requested are as diverse as contracting a house painter and securing a baby sitter, he said."They'll do different things, whether it's sending a limo to the airport or even paying for their airfare down to look at a property," Adams explained.Attendees of the conference, which opened Sunday and ran through Tuesday, came from some 50 markets in Florida, New York, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Arizona, Georgia, Texas, Colorado, Louisiana, Washington, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Costa Rica.Peter Klemm of Klemm Real Estate in Litchfield County, Conn., frequently travels between Palm Beach and New England, as his parents are Palm Beachers Carolyn and David Klemm."Palm Beach," he said, no doubt echoing the sentiments of others at the conference, "is a world unto itself." Marketing Writer Christine Davis contributed to this story.